Bush Administration, Middle East

Anatol Lieven writes in today’s Los Angeles Times,

Remember the argument for the Iraq war — that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would lead to a stable, democratic Iraq and bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians? Remember the argument that the key problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was lack of Palestinian democracy? Remember Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s promise that the U.S. would “support the new Lebanon”?

In truth, reliance on democratization was always not so much a strategy as an excuse for the lack of one. It provided a flimsy cover for the Bush administration’s inability or unwillingness to address the key challenges and opportunities of the region. These failures included walking away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and refusing to consider deals with Iran and Syria when, in the wake of 9/11, these regimes were extremely eager for compromise. As investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and Mideast scholar Flynt Leverett, among others, have argued, Bush forfeited the chance to recruit these two states as allies in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Sunni extremist world, which the Syrian and Iranian regimes have their own good reasons to hate.

Is there any part of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy that isn’t an unmitigated disaster?

The neoconservatives who shaped Bush’s “strategy” toward the Middle East always embodied a quite Orwellian contradiction. On the one hand, they professed to believe that early democracy is possible for the Middle East and that it would solve the region’s problems, including the Israeli-Arab dispute. On the other hand, many made no secret of their belief that, as neocon scholar Michael Ledeen has written (quoting Machiavelli), “it is better to be feared than loved.” Raphael Patai, whose book “The Arab Mind” influenced neoconservative thinking, argues that Arabs chiefly respond to the language of force.

To a large extend, IMO, the whole problem with right-wing foreign policy is that reasons and motivations are poles apart. If you could dig through the hardened sediment of a neocon’s psyche I’m sure you’d find that the real motivation is American control. Beneath the calls for benevolent hegemony is a desire to make scary foreign places more docile, and more like America, so that they won’t be so scary and so foreign. And, of course, if American corporations can have full use of the resources and markets of those foreign places, so much the better.

Neocons speak of spreading democracy, but it never seems to occur to them that a sovereign foreign people, once democratized, might not make the policy choices the neocons want them to make. This tells me neocons are not being honest with themselves about their own motivations.

You can say the same thing about Iraq. Righties might talk about bringing democracy to Iraq, but IMO their real motivation regarding Iraq was to punish Muslims for September 11. Iraq is a proxy war, standing in for the war of retribution against stateless terrorism that many of desire but can’t have. Because motivations and reasons don’t match, actions and policies work at cross-purposes. While we (meaning Americans, collectively) say we want Iraq to be peaceful and pro-American, our actions — at Abu Gharab and Fallujah, for example — say that we want to kick ass. We say we want Iraq to “stand up” (so that we can stand down) but we’ve exhibited a terrible reluctance to let go.

Robert Kuttner wrote in yesterday’s Boston Globe,

The Iraq war was going to display American power, promote democracy, strengthen moderates, and secure Israel. Instead, the quagmire has demonstrated the humiliating limits of US military power, fomented anarchy, recruited Islamist extremists, and strengthened a more radicalized Iran.

Palestinian moderates have been marginalized, leaving nobody for Israeli moderates to negotiate with. Hamas and Hezbollah have more support among Arabs than ever. Israel finds itself more vulnerable militarily, prone to excess, and dangerously isolated from world opinion. As for democracy, our few allies in the region are dictators and kings. Democratic Lebanon is a shambles. The democratically elected government in Iraq has just denounced Israel, and a democratic Palestinian election empowered Hamas.

Bush said you couldn’t negotiate with bad guys. In Iraq, where Saddam turned out to be telling the truth about nuclear weapons and Bush turned out to be lying, diplomacy was forsaken for war. Syria, which gave the US genuine intelligence help after 9/11, was deemed a nation not worth diplomatic engagement. As former National Security Council official Flynt Leverett documented, an overture by the then-moderate Iranian government in 2002 was blown off by the United States.

Bush insisted that we go it alone. Now, having rejected diplomacy, an isolated Bush administration is more dependent than ever on the European Union, the Russians, and the UN. In Bush’s four minutes of open-mike fame at the G-8 summit, he plaintively told Britain’s Tony Blair, “I felt like telling Kofi to call, to get on the phone to [Syrian President] Assad and make something happen.”

But when UN General Secretary Kofi Annan told the Security Council Thursday that we need an immediate cease-fire and expanded multilateral peacekeeping, America’s UN ambassador, John Bolton, rejected the idea. Bolton and the other radicals in the administration want Israel to keep pummeling Lebanon a while longer. The Bush policy has produced a codependency of the most extreme elements on all sides — the party of mutual Armageddon. This is the war party of Hamas, Hezbollah, the Israeli right, the Iranian ultras, Rumsfeld, and Cheney. Right-wing strategists like William Kristol, who often reflect the thinking of Cheney, are now openly calling for war with Iran.

Kristol was a chief proponent of “benevolent hegemony,” note.

Iran is the source of those Hezbollah missiles, the spawning ground of Islamist militancy, the greatest threat to Israel. So let’s just have it out. Not a ground war or an Iraq-style regime change — we blew that option– but a war on the cheap, of missile strikes (with a risk of mass civilian casualties). That would sure make Iran think twice about supporting Hezbollah, promote democracy, and respect America.

Can these people be serious?

Yes, they are serious. Delusional, but serious.

You’ll like this — Joe Conason writes in Salon that the neocons see the war in Lebanon as a chance for vindication.

Whatever the neoconservatives may lack in prudence they more than compensate for with persistence. Their policies are failing spectacularly in Iraq, where civil war and insurgency threaten to destroy the unstable unity government. Their policies are failing more quietly in Afghanistan, where resurgent Taliban rebels imperil the fledgling democracy. But rather than reckon with the damage and reconsider their actions, they have seized on the confrontation between Israel and Lebanon to renew their old ambitions.

William Kristol, the Weekly Standard editor who bears as much guilt for the Iraq debacle as anyone outside government, suggests military strikes against Iran and perhaps Syria. Newt Gingrich, the old chicken hawk, is eagerly anticipating World War III. Michael Ledeen demands “hot pursuit” across the borders of Iraq into Syria and Iran as the prelude to World War IV.

What are their motivations? Forget benevolence; as Conason says, this is “bloodthirsty irresponsibility, not to say insanity.” And how can these people remain so arrogant when they clearly have so little to be arrogant about?

This should scare the stuffing out of you, assuming you’ve still got stuffing — Richard Wolffe writes at about President Bush at the G8 Conference:

Over the next several days, Bush huddles with presidents and prime ministers, showing how far he has traveled since 9/11—and also how little he has changed. Bush thinks the new war vindicates his early vision of the region’s struggle: of good versus evil, civilization versus terrorism, freedom versus Islamic fascism. He still believes that when it comes to war and terror, leaders need to decide whose side they are on.

Kinda takes your breath away, huh?

I’ve long believed that the President’s underlying motivations have to do with unresolved issues with his parents. He’s still acting out adolescent rebellion; letting the world know he doesn’t need the grown-ups to tell him what to do. But for the Right in general, I think it’s all about backlash. They’re fighting modernity, science, multiculturalism (and the swiftly shrinking planet), us, each other, and ultimately themselves. And it appears to be a fight to the death.

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  1. a517dogg  •  Jul 23, 2006 @3:39 pm


    I highly recommend Anatol Lieven’s book “America Right or Wrong.”

    Also, for all of Bush’s unresolved issues with his parents, that doesn’t explain why the dozens of people in his administration (the grown-ups) allow him to send the world to hell in a handbasket in a temper tantrum.

  2. maha  •  Jul 23, 2006 @5:11 pm

    why the dozens of people in his administration (the grown-ups) allow him to send the world to hell in a handbasket in a temper tantrum.

    Probably because of their unresolved issues with their parents.

    Seriously, I read somewhere that executives from dysfunctional families tend to replicate those families in their staffs, and I’ve seen this happen in real life. The White House is a vast right-wing co-dependency.

  3. Swami  •  Jul 23, 2006 @5:47 pm

    God bless America.. and Freedoms on the march!

    I’m no Bruce Catton…but I know enough about history to know we lost the war in Iraq. Bush and his buddies didn’t do their homework because all the lessons to be learned that would have prevented our defeat have been laid out previously in history. Vietnam serves as a prime example of how being dishonest about the situation on the ground can undermine support from the home front. The American public has turned so many corners in Iraq that we’re beginning to get dizzy.

  4. erinyes  •  Jul 23, 2006 @6:53 pm

    “we’re begining to get dizzy”
    Um, more like car sick, Swami!
    But seriously, how about a class action suit against BoB Barr and Mr. Kristol? They are the instigators of this whole mess, along with Wolfowitz, Perle, Ledeen, Gaffney, Pipes,Frum, Feith,Mylorie,and the rest of that demonic bunch.
    When Kristol speaks of what “we” should do, makes me want to puke, I’d like to see his ass in kevlar in Beruit, or better yet in Baghdad…Sadir City to be exact!

  5. erinyes  •  Jul 23, 2006 @7:02 pm

    Karen kwaitkowski refers to Washington D.C. as “Israeli occupied territoy”. I fear a terrible backlash from Bush’s failure in foreign policy and his blundering in Iraq, another week of bombing in Beruit should turn the whole world against us………

  6. Swami  •  Jul 23, 2006 @8:42 pm

    Bush has another 2 years before he can make it to the finish line and pass off the baton of defeat. Will he make it? Iraq is really coming apart at the seams at a rapid pace. The unoffical word on the street is that full fledged civil war has broken out, contrary the neo-con assertions that it’s just terrorist killing terrorists. Every day we have a mass killing larger than the day before and every other day we hear about a new strategy to contain the violence.

    I guess if we bombed Iran or Syria the Iraqis get the message that Bush isn’t someone to mess with and they’d get with the program in a hurry….sound right, huh?

  7. Preston  •  Jul 23, 2006 @11:20 pm

    These bastards will start another war by extending the current one. Why are we letting them get away with it? Their kids are not in the kill zone. What does it take to start the revolution that we all know needs to be started, fought, and won? John Dean’s book, Conservatives Without Conscience, should be required reading for every American.

  8. thorny1  •  Jul 24, 2006 @2:05 am

    I have to say that it is horrifying and compelling to see how completely deranged the whole situation has become. To note the difference between “motivations” and “reasons” is very insightful and helpful, but will somebody please get the picture? This is a terrible, hypocritcal situation that appears to be worsening. What will the world come to?

  9. mikefromtexas  •  Jul 24, 2006 @3:58 am

    If you haven’t been by the Whiskey Bar yet, please do so. Billmon has a few really good post up.

  10. maha  •  Jul 24, 2006 @6:19 am

    Why are we letting them get away with it?

    How do you propose to stop them?

  11. rachel  •  Jul 24, 2006 @7:10 am

    Why is it that all these people who quote Machiavelli on whether it is better to be feared than loved, always forget that he also said, “Nevertheless a prince ought to inspire fear in such a way that, if he does not win love, he avoids hatred,” and observed that being hated will sabotage a prince as surely as not being feared will.

  12. Chris  •  Jul 26, 2006 @10:15 pm

    I just want to say that after 9-11 we should declare war on every single country that supports or is associated with a militant, terrorist group. ( muslim or not)

    after Pearl Harbor we went to war with Japan….. we even nuked their asses. No mercy! We need to show the world that they cant mess with our country and live. not like europe , who is scared of the terrorists.

    Its not like the US doesen’t have an arsenal of nuclear bombs.(thermo- nuclear, neutron, the one that messes up electronic devices)

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