Wednesday, August 23, 2006

An Alternative to Bush's Foreign Policy

Steve Clemons of The Washington Note points to an article in the September issue of American Prospect by Flynt Leverett, former Bush official and later, adviser to John Kerry, and contrasts Leverett with Elliott Abrams:
My colleague Flynt Leverett has just published a stunning American Prospect article that I discuss below -- but its excellence compels me to start with concerns about the President's key advisor on the Middle East, Elliott Abrams.

Few would question that Elliott Abrams is a brilliant guy. In many ways, he's a much more sophisticated version of the bombastic John Bolton, who has been quite successful in a pugnacious way at promulgating Jesse Helms' vision of American foreign policy -- as disagreeable and alarming as most find that to be.

But Abrams is a great strategist. Many like him, but he is a shape-shifter when it comes to figuring out who he ultimately works for and collaborates with. Sometimes his boss is Stephen Hadley. Sometimes it is Cheney himself or Cheney's chief of staff, David Addington. Other times, Abrams works hard to convince Condi's people that he is on their side -- though they know not to trust him. George Bush is so unclear about the direction he wants to go that in times when Abrams needs ambiguity, Bush is saluted as his task-master.

Abrams is Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy (with a special focus on Middle East Affairs), and he is one of Israel's protectors, defenders, and key stewards in the White House. Frankly, there are many defenders of israeli security in the White House -- and I would be one as well, but not at the cost of long-term stability in the Middle East that secures 'both' Israeli and Arab interests.

If he was also concerned about America's state of relations over the long term with the Arab Middle East in addition to Israel's security, Abrams' hyper-closeness to Israel would not be a problem. But Abrams has done much to inculcate many in the White House that helping Israel ultimately means not yielding credible progress on an Israel-Palestine deal or not progressing on deal-making with other Arab neighbors.

Abrams has helpd turn the Middle East into a zero sum game between the US and Israel on one side and Arab states on the other. As Senator Chuck Hagel stated in a powerful speech at Brookings recently, juxtaposing Israel security against our interests in the Middle East is a dangerous "false choice" that must be avoided.

For new readers, I should point out that no one is questioning Israel's right to exist or defend itself but there is good reason to believe that the Bush Administration yields to Israeli right wingers on too many points in our foreign policy. I don't know that much about Elliot Abrams except to summarize him somewhat quickly as one of those neoconservative intellectuals who provide the Bush Administration with a certain amount of intellectual cover for its failed policies.

In the article quoted below, Flynt Leverett offers an alternative to Bush's foreign policy such as it is but he uses the term 'realism' in a way that I'm not comfortable with, though his actual policy suggestions are quite good in dealing with the broader Middle East. The term 'realism' for me is tied too much to negative connotations like 'realpolitik,' 'cynicism,' 'expediency,' and perhaps 'deception.' Leverett refers to Kissinger as a realist but that too carries a certain amount of negative baggage despite Kissinger's accomplishments in Russia, China and the Middle East. Then again, a progressive and pragmatic 'realism' sounds considerably better than the neoconservative fantasies we are faced with these days. Here's two excerpts from Leverett's American Prospect article:
The current Bush administration argues that 9-11 exposed the Middle Eastern “stability” provided by the realist paradigm as an illusion. The region’s radicals -- whether running “rogue” regimes or operating through non-state movements -- were too threatening to be managed through diplomatic engagement and long-term political processes. And so-called “moderate” regimes in the Arab world, while they might cooperate with the United States militarily and strategically, indirectly encouraged radical forces by refusing to liberalize internally; in some cases, these regimes seemed to directly support radicals through internal security strategies that sought to buy off domestic opponents by quietly funding their activities abroad.

To address what it perceived as the shortcomings of realism, the Bush administration articulated its alternative approach to the Middle East. The conceptual discontinuities between the Bush approach and that of its predecessors make the record of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East in the five years since 9-11 as close to an “experiment” as one is likely to get in the indeterminate realm of strategic analysis. The results of this experiment so far have been devastating: Over the last five years, U.S. policy in the Middle East has emboldened radicals and weakened moderates.

The Middle East is today more unstable than at any point in the post–Cold War period, and there is no evidence to suggest that this instability will give rise to a more secure and prosperous region in the future. Look at the trends: With regard to rogue regimes, Saddam may be gone, but Iraq has become a greater source of regional instability than it was during the last years of his rule. Iran’s influence in the region is growing and the Iranian leadership is increasingly inclined to use that influence to threaten U.S. interests. Despite the forced withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon last year, the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has actually strengthened its grip on power and bolstered its support for Hamas and Hezbollah. The administration’s biggest success in taming a regional rogue -- Libya’s abandonment of its weapons of mass destruction programs and ties to terrorists -- was achieved through traditional “carrots-and-sticks” engagement with the Quaddafi regime, an idiosyncratic exception to the broader pattern.

(snip)

To repair the American position in the Middle East, the United States must reject the false premises of the Bush approach. The most dangerous illusion guiding recent U.S. policy toward the Middle East is that stability somehow “caused” 9-11.

Under current circumstances, a realist strategy for restoring American leadership in the Middle East would include at least five elements:

• The United States needs to widen its approach to defusing the current crisis to include direct engagement with both Syria and Iran. To facilitate a cease-fire and introduction of a multinational force in southern Lebanon, Washington should recognize that Hezbollah’s disarmament would come about only as part of a broader political settlement in the region.

• The United States should convey its interest in a broader strategic dialogue with the al-Assad regime in Damascus, with the aim of re-establishing U.S.-Syrian cooperation on important regional issues and with the promise of significant strategic benefits for Syria clearly on the table.

• Washington should indicate its willingness to pursue a “grand bargain” with Iran, in which the Islamic republic would accept restraints on its nuclear activities and abandon its support for the terrorist activities of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah in return for U.S. commitments not to use force to change Iran’s borders or form of government, to lift unilateral sanctions, and to normalize bilateral relations.

• The United States and key partners should articulate a more substantive vision for a two-state solution to the Palestinian question, including parameters for resolving key final-status issues that would meet the minimum requirements of both sides. This vision should incorporate the Saudi-initiated Arab League peace plan, which offers normalization of Arab states’ relations with Israel to complement peace treaties that end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian and Syrian territory.

• While the United States should engage moderate Arab partners more systematically on economic reform and human rights, Washington should drop its insistence on early resort to open electoral processes as a litmus test for “democratization.”

These excerpts don't do full justice to Leverett's article. One thing Leverett makes clear is that if Bush continues to 'stay the course,' we can expect more problems in the near future.

I've noticed that articles on foreign policy are sometimes addressed to multiple audiences across political lines but I'm uneasy that Leverett may be giving Bush more credit than he deserves; I find it very difficult to believe that some of the Bush inner circle members such as Cheney, Rumsfeld, Bolton and probably Bush himself have much interest in democracy. For them, democratization may be nothing more than a public relations cover for an old-fashioned 'realpolitik' that was more about a style of regime change that was designed to install a friendlier government, whatever the style of governing turned out to be. More than likely, Bush has never put the effort into forging a consistent policy among advisers who range from a diverse group of right wing ideologues to ordinary conservative hawks to a handful of moderate Republican realists (though most moderates are now gone); it is likely Bush does not have the skills to articulate and forge such a policy beyond his vague gut-feeling generalities, hence the constant in-fighting by his advisers in an effort to shape policies. As a result, Bush Administration policies are an amalgam of ideas frequently in conflict with one another (purple thumbs in the foreground and Abu Ghraib in the background is just one example of Bush's conflicted administration).

Of course, Condi Rice is one of those who follows Bush's wishes closely (insofar as she understands them) and she has clearly pursued democratization on occassion. Still, there's signs that she's possibly being marginalized somewhat and it's possible she has misread Bush on the democracy issue. Of course, Rice's flawed performance as Secretary of State has to be a concern as well.

But clearly Leverett and others are offering real alternatives while Bush remains in his bubble swatting imaginary opposition arguments in his usual dishonest fashion. Neither Republicans nor Democrats can afford any longer to rubberstamp the president's inarticulate visions and delusions.

2 Comments:

Blogger Tom Hilton said...

Interesting post.

I remember Abrams as the ultimate mad dog frothing-at-the-mouth Contra supporter; in my mind's eye his mouth is perpetually twisted into a vicious snarl. Later, of course, he was one of the people who should have gone to prison for the criminal conspiracy known as Iran-Contra. It is deeply depressing but not at all surprising to see him returning as one of the primary architects of Bush's foreign policy.

3:58 PM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

The ideas put forth in the article are excellent. They smack of common sense. Unfortunately, that probably makes them nonstarters for at least a couple of years.

That this is likely the case makes our situation all the more frustrating and dangerous. That's because where foreign policy is concerned, Bush is a vacuum of extremely modest capacity — a vacuum that tends to be filled with Dick Cheney's thinking, I suspect.

Precisely because meeting and arriving at an understanding with Iran's leaders makes so much sense, there's almost no chance this administration will have anything to do with the idea.

12:23 AM  

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