Sunday, August 20, 2006

Bush's Foreign Policy Endangers Our Interests

I'm convinced now that Bush's diplomatic gestures towards Iran this spring was largely a sham. It was a half-hearted diplomatic effort largely designed to buy time and partly to position Bush so that he could claim that he 'tried diplomacy.' Of course, he has done no such thing. This summer, Bush made a mistake by quickly siding with Israel and giving it a green light instead of working hard for a ceasefire after Israel's initial response to Hezbollah. With the damage done to our foreign policy by actively supporting Israel as it was bombing Lebanon and going far beyond strictly dealing with Hezbollah, Bush has done serious damage to our national interests. He has alienated friends and foes alike. And he has potentially put our soldiers in Iraq at risk. Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer points out some of the problems; Rubin is a Middle East expert in her own right and in her current column, she passes on some concerns of Vali Nasr, one of our top experts on Shiite Islam:
...Iraq's preeminent Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, is a moderate who accepts the idea of inclusive, constitutional government (with a strong role for clerics in the background). Such a religious/constitutional model could have set a new trend.

But U.S. missteps in Iraq opened the door to a virulent Sunni insurgency that deliberately targeted Shiite civilians. The late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his al-Qaeda followers in Iraq wanted a civil war and used hatred of Shiites to recruit Sunni Arab jihadis.

Iraq's Shiites have grown increasingly impatient with the inability of the United States to curb Sunni attacks on their civilians. Many Shiites suspect that the United States, nervous about Iranian influence, is turning against them and moving back toward its traditional support of Arab Sunnis.

Sistani's calls to refrain from revenge are heeded less and less by his followers; the Shiite militia led by radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has murdered innumerable Sunni civilians and is growing in strength.

Enter the war in Lebanon.

Iraqi Shiites, Nasr told me, have close ties to their co-religionists in Lebanon and are shocked by the U.S. support for Israeli bombing of Shiite areas. "Now, Iraqis see the United States as anti-Shia in Lebanon," Nasr says. "We are close to losing the Shia in Iraq."

He worries that Iraqi Shiites will believe that the United States has turned its back on them and will now turn to Hezbollah's Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah as their model rather than the moderate Sistani. If this happens, Shiite militias will soon start attacking U.S. troops, which would make a U.S. exit from Iraq almost inevitable.

After that exit, a Shiite-Sunni civil war would explode into full force in Iraq, threatening Sunni regimes in the region and driving oil prices beyond the stratosphere.

Nasr argues that the United States would have been (and still would be) smarter to engage with Iran over Iraq and Lebanon. That means putting our demands on the table, but being cognizant of theirs. "This might create a certain stability that allows you to contain some of these trends," he says. "The moment of opportunity," he adds, "is fast closing."

In the last three years, windows of opportunities have been closing rather frequently in Iraq. Bush continues to talk about bringing democracy to the larger Middle East but he remains largely ignorant that religious Shiites are the majoritiy in many of the areas he would bring democracy to; it's time for him to pay attention and it's time to talk to the Iranians or it is likely that our incompetent president will lose control of events. It's no longer about the Iranians. It's about the Shiites. Thanks largely to Sistani, Iraqi Shiites have been very patient for more than three years (they would argue they have been patient since 1991 when the senior Bush asked them to rise up in rebellion against Saddam Hussein and we failed to go to their aid). If Sistani loses faith in Americans or if he is simply pushed aside by angry Shiites, we are all going to have problems. It is not a good time to rattle sabers with regard to Iran. It is time to sit down and talk with a range of people in the Middle East. Bush's right wing ideology is bankrupt and has nothing to offer in the current situation. It is likely that Bush needs to bring in some new people and quickly. Ten minute phone calls to selected capitals of the Middle East and otherwise sending Condi Rice to play the piano or Karen Hughes to play verbal patty cakes will no longer suffice. Not that they ever did.

Think Progress has a segment on those who think war with Iran is a poor idea. Here's what CIA analysts said two years ago:
“‘The U.S. capability to make a mess of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is formidable,’ says veteran Mideast analyst Geoffrey Kemp. ‘The question is, what then?’ NEWSWEEK has learned that the CIA and DIA have war-gamed the likely consequences of a U.S. pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. No one liked the outcome. As an Air Force source tells it, ‘The war games were unsuccessful at preventing the conflict from escalating.‘”

The war games were unsuccessful at preventing the conflict from escalating. Two years ago, the price of oil was about $30/barrel cheaper and oil supplies were not nearly as tight as they are now. Like I said, the president needs to pay attention.


Blogger TruthToPower said...

I could not agree with you more, and thank you for the insight regarding the Shi'a/Sunni situation. The current Bush administration is too closely allied with the wrong factions to be able to see the forest through the trees, and we are paying a huge price in lives, dollars and international respect. The chickens are coming home to roost.

10:37 AM  
Anonymous S.W. Anderson said...

I find Trudi Rubin's columns about Mideast matters to be about the best thought out and most informative available. Her two recent columns on the conflict in Lebanon are excellent examples.

Re: Bush and attacking Iran, I imagine he wants to do it so much that he's dealing with something he's rarely had to deal with: frustration.

He's got our land forces in a state of unpreparedness the likes of which I've never seen. The danger is that the Air Force and Navy are in sufficiently fit condition that he might be tempted to start something.

As Rubin and others have mentioned, what then? If Bush thinks he can bomb hell out of the Iranians and let it go at that, and that they'll be so beaten down and chastened they will let it go at that, he's Capt. Queeg crazy.

I wish I could send Bush a plaque for his desk. It would bear the words of Adolf Hitler to his General Staff in the weeks before the invasion of the U.S.S.R.

Hitler told his generals Russia was like an old weatherbeaten barn, that if you were to kick the front door hard, the whole rotten stucture would collapse.

I've wondered if any of those generals recalled Hitler's words when the Red Army rolled into Berlin's suburbs, its artillery bringing down what was left of the whole rotten structure of Nazidom.

12:12 AM  

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