Thursday, August 31, 2006

Bush Cranking Up the Rhetoric for a Third War

Any pretense that Bush had last spring of turning more towards diplomacy and a more sane foreign policy is pretty much dead. Condi Rice's Iran initiative, concocted in a single weekend, may have been well-meaning but without the backing of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and John Bolton, it too was dead on arrival.

Keep in mind that for nearly five years Iran has had some interest in talks with the US; Europe, Russia and China would like very much for Iran to honor nuclear nonproliferation but that's difficult given the clumsy way the United States has handled North Korea; Donald Rumsfeld's incompetence in Iraq has weakened our strategic position rather than strengthened it. Iran's leaders do not want war with the US and would like to ease tensions but in some ways they're not much brighter than Bush and yet they are rationally concerned about the military presence of the United States on three sides of their borders. If Bush had been serious about diplomacy, there are a number of steps he could have taken to assure the Iranians he meant it. Who knows? Perhaps Bush is serious about diplomacy. Given the incompetence of the Bush Administration, it's not always easy to tell, though many of the finest foreign policy experts in the world are in the United States and any of them would be willing to help our incurious president.

We are at the end of August. On Tuesday, Rumsfeld gave one of the worst speeches of his misbegotten career and is now trying to backpedal from his unhelpful smearing of his critics. But Bush has given a speech of his own and Americans are now waking up to just how delusional our president is. Here's an excerpt from a post by Glenn Greenwald of Unclaimed Territory:
The similarities between what the President said about Iraq in the months before our invasion and what he is saying about Iran now are too glaring to miss. They seem to be intentionally repeating most of their rhetoric, almost verbatim, complete with the same incoherence (if Iran is such a crazed, Nazi-like regime, how can we ever trust that they have given up nuclear weapons development? And even if they do that, they still "sponsor terrorists," and thus must be "held to account" under the "Bush doctrine"). Don't all of those premises make regime change via war not an option, but an inevitability?

All of that means one of two things (or some combination of both): (1) the President has decided already that we are going to wage some sort of military attack on Iran and is saying the same things as he said once he decided to wage war on Iraq while pretending to have not yet decided pending "diplomatic efforts"; and/or (2) the White House is trying to have its top officials, including the President, sound like Michael Ledeen because that's necessary to (a) motivate its crazed warmonger base itching for more wars and/or (b) enable Karl Rove to create the warrior/appeaser dichotomy that has worked so well electorally for Rove for two straight elections (and for Republicans for 35 years).

Personally, I think (without knowing) that the President really is committed to military action against Iran...

I suspect Bush wants military action but I don't think Bush is fully committed to military action as yet. For one thing, the military is balking. For another, the saner Republican heads in Washington are balking (it's always worth noting that not all Republicans are right wingers). For another, it's unlikely that Bush can get Congressional approval for the third war of his presidency (if one doesn't count his clumsy involvement in Israel's war against Hezbollah; count that as another of Bush's foreign policy fiascoes). But, if Bush wins another public relations battle, he might get Congressional approval. If he can trick Iran into war, he might get what he wants. A back door maneuver might be to fire generals and colonels until he gets a compliant group. Another maneuver may be getting Israel to start a war. This is why it is imperative that if Americans are tired of Bush's wars, they need to speak loud and clear that enough is enough.

According to the administration and its most avid supporters, Iraq was supposed to be a quick and cheap war. Instead, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld showed poor judgment and were wrong on a wide range of issues. They also lied their way into the war. They also make ideological assumptions about the world that don't make much sense to anyone who knows anything about foreign affairs. Therefore, one can assume fairly easily that they are making huge mistaken assumptions about Iran, including mistaken strategic assumptions. Nothing in foreign policy is more unforgiveable that making a major strategic mistake.

Bush has already made a series of strategic blunders. It's turn out unilateralism is an utter failure as a strategic assumption in the world we now live in; no country is truly powerful enough to single-handedly impose its will on the world and unilateralism in the end merely breeds enormous distrust. The preemptive strike principle is extremely dangerous because it makes the world less stable, not more stable—you risk playing a game with your opponent of trying to outguess each other to no one's benefit. The itch that Bush officials have to use nuclear weapons only lowers the threshhold for others to use nuclear weapons. The use of torture exposes our soldiers to the same treatment, and it also turns out we had ridiculous terrorist alerts based on false information developed by torture. Trying to impose democracy on others at the point of a gun or by using torture simply makes a mockery of the idea of democracy.

The biggest strategic failure of the Bush Administration is that it has badly undermined the credibility of our word, the credibility of our reputation for getting things done and our status as the leader of the free world. Already, nations are creating informal alliances to take care of themselves in the absence of real American leadership. Until the 2004 election, many nations were patient and thought Bush's excesses were a temporary aberration of American politics. After Bush won in 2004, American popularity in the world plummeted like a rock. Right wing conservatives in middle America can shrug but this will have consequences for years to come.

If none of this impacts on those wondering if Bush is right or not, there's finally this: a war with Iran, at a minimum, will drive oil to a $100/barrel but that only depends on how bad things get; a third war may be the war that ignites the entire Middle East. Our troops in Iraq also may face a real threat from Shiites who may feel betrayed by an attack on Iran just as they felt betrayed by Israel's attack on Hezbollah; three and a half years of war have eroded much of the trust that Shiites had when we first came to Iraq. The religious sects, ethnic groups and politics of the Middle East is not something our president has understood very well and we are already paying the consequences of his ignorance.

Here's an excerpt from an article in the Boston Globe by George Soros:
THE FAILURE OF Israel to subdue Hezbollah demonstrates the many weaknesses of the war-on-terror concept. One of those weaknesses is that even if the targets are terrorists, the victims are often innocent civilians, and their suffering reinforces the terrorist cause.

In response to Hezbollah's attacks, Israel was justified in attacking Hezbollah to protect itself against the threat of missiles on its border. However, Israel should have taken greater care to minimize collateral damage. The civilian casualties and material damage inflicted on Lebanon inflamed Muslims and world opinion against Israel and converted Hezbollah from aggressors to heroes of resistance for many. Weakening Lebanon has also made it more difficult to rein in Hezbollah.

Another weakness of the war-on-terror concept is that it relies on military action and rules out political approaches. Israel previously withdrew from Lebanon and then from Gaza unilaterally, rather than negotiating political settlements with the Lebanese government and the Palestinian authority. The strengthening of Hezbollah and Hamas was a direct consequence of that approach. The war-on-terror concept stands in the way of recognizing this fact because it separates ``us" from ``them" and denies that our actions help shape their behavior.

A third weakness is that the war-on-terror concept lumps together different political movements that use terrorist tactics. It fails to distinguish among Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, or the Sunni insurrection and the Mahdi militia in Iraq. Yet all these terrorist manifestations, being different, require different responses. Neither Hamas nor Hezbollah can be treated merely as targets in the war on terror because both have deep roots in their societies; yet there are profound differences between them.

Broadening the definition of terrorism to include everyone we don't like is insane. It only leads to escalation of hatred and eventually violence. Now the war in Afghanistan made sense as a direct and rational response to 9/11; clearly, terrorism is real and people like Osama bin Laden and organizations like al Qaida have to be dealt with because of the substantial threat they can mount. But most of the people and organizations labeled terrorist can be dealt with through police work, intelligence and cooperation with other nations or they can be dealt with through negotiations and political settlements; both approaches are extraordinarily cost effective.

Sometimes, right wing Republicans treat everyone they dislike as a target worthy only of attack. There is no pragmatism or wisdom in their approach and that too is yet another strategic blunder. And if they do this to everybody they dislike outside our country, right wing Republicans sooner or later may well do this inside our country. I believe a majority of Americans finally see through years of right wing nonsense but it's going to take time to turn things around. But the first thing to do is to stop any more foreign policy blunders that can lead to wider wars and damage our country even further.


Blogger Tom Hilton said...

Did you see the Sy Hersh article in the August 21 New Yorker about how the administration encouraged Israel's attack on Lebanon in order to weaken Iran? (Yeah, it's as crazy as it sounds.) It talks about a point Soros makes--that Israel's failure should make us extremely wary (as any sane person would be already) of trying to invade Iran. But of course the people who most need to understand this are the least likely to acknowledge it...

10:53 AM  
Anonymous Craig said...

Tom, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad you mentioned Hersh's article. I recommend it highly. I also recommend the two Iran articles he's done in the last five months.

I'm afraid you're right about the people in the White House not being able to draw the right conclusions.

11:05 PM  

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