Anticipate This

“I’m trying to think differently,” President Bush said in New Dehli. If that doesn’t give you the willies, nothin’ will.

Yes, folks, the same crack (or on crack) foreign policy team that pushed North Korea back into the plutonium processing business, didn’t anticipate Hamas would win the Palestinian election even though their own poll said it would, and whose crowning achievement is the war in Iraq, has taken us another step closer to destroying civilization as we know it. David Sanger writes in the New York Times (emphasis added):

Mr. Bush took a step in his efforts to rewrite the world’s longstanding rules that for more than 30 years have forbidden providing nuclear technology to countries that do not sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

“I’m trying to think differently,” Mr. Bush said in New Delhi, referring to the administration’s argument that a new system is needed. But in treating India as a special case — a “strategic relationship” — he has so far declined to define general rules for everyone.

In essence, Mr. Bush is making a huge gamble — critics say a dangerous one — that the United States can control proliferation by single-handedly rewarding nuclear states it considers “responsible,” and punishing those it declares irresponsible. For those keeping a scorecard, India is in the first camp, Iran is in the second, and no one in the administration wants to talk, at least on the record, about Israel or Pakistan — two allies that have embraced the bomb, but not the treaty.

At WaPo, David Von Drehle writes,

In case you missed the memo, the world is multipolar now.

Gone are the days of go-it-alone foreign policy, of unilateral preemption and epoch-making events scheduled solely “at a time and place of our choosing.” That’s all so 2002, back at the climax of what columnist Charles Krauthammer calls “the unipolar moment” of unlimited American power. Unipolar means the big dog, Uncle Sam, bears the burdens and thus calls the shots.

These days, America is into “regional partnerships,” as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained earlier this year, because “emerging nations like India and China and Brazil and Egypt and Indonesia and South Africa are increasingly shaping the course of history.”

Condi Rice. The course of history. Be afraid.

A few weeks ago Sebastian Mallaby pointed out that Condi Rice’s foreign policy theories are a work in progress.

In January 2000, as the Bush campaign got underway, Rice published a manifesto in Foreign Affairs that laid out the classic “realist” position: American diplomacy should “focus on power relationships and great-power politics” rather than on other countries’ internal affairs. “Some worry that this view of the world ignores the role of values, particularly human rights and the promotion of democracy,” she acknowledged. But the priority for U.S. foreign policy was to deal with powerful governments, whose “fits of anger or acts of beneficence affect hundreds of millions of people.”

The “great-power politics” perspective was, I assume, the basis of the Bush Administration’s decision to dismiss the importance of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden in March 2001. Another Bush foreign policy triumph. Mallaby continues,

Even six years ago, this was an outdated position. The Clinton administration was certainly preoccupied with powers such as Russia and China, but it was also tracking Islamic terrorists who had already attacked the World Trade Center. The importance of other non-state actors, from rebels to environmentalists to bond traders, had become a cliche of globalization commentary; AIDS had been recognized as a security threat. The era of great-power politics was widely thought to have ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rice seemed like a Sovietologist who hadn’t quite caught up.

Kissinger-style realpolitik is so 1970s, Mallaby writes. The realists were on the wrong side of history — American support for the Shah of Iran is just one example. “Time and again, the idea that diplomacy consisted mainly of relations with powerful governments proved wrong,” Mallaby writes. “As a rising cadre of neoconservative Republicans argued, diplomacy was often about judging the currents within countries — and backing democratic ones.”

Mallaby explains that recently Rice seems to have caught up with the 1990s consensus that weak, destabilized states can prove to be dangerous, and in the long run the best hope for world peace is a world of stable democracies. And I can’t argue with that. The question is, how does that theory translate into policy?

The Bush Administration seems to think that if the all-powerful U.S. can just find the right combination of carrots and sticks, plus the right message strategy, it can re-shape the world to its liking. Robert Fisk provided a glimpse into this thinking recently:

Last week’s visit to Beirut by one of the blindest of George Bush’s bats – his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice – was indicative of the cruelty that now pervades Washington. She brazenly talked about the burgeoning “democracies” of the Middle East while utterly ignoring the bloodbaths in Iraq and the growing sectarian tensions of Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Perhaps the key to her indifference can be found in her evidence to the Senate Committee on International Affairs where she denounced Iran as “the greatest strategic challenge” facing the US in the region, because Iran uses policies that “contradict the nature of the kind of Middle East sought by the United States”.

As Bouthaina Shaaban, one of the brightest of Syria’s not always very bright team of government ministers, noted: “What is the nature of the kind of Middle East sought by the United States? Should Middle East states adapt themselves to that nature, designed oceans away?”

Fisk quotes Maureen Dowd: Bush “believes in self-determination only if he’s doing the determining.” Heh. David Von Drehle writes,

But can a unipolar president find happiness in a multipolar world? We got a few hints last week, as President Bush visited one of Rice’s emerging shapers of history, India. Like a clumsy groom who has learned precisely one dance for his wedding day, Bush went carefully through the steps of multipolar diplomacy, yet there was no mistaking his natural tendencies. You got the feeling that if George W. Bush is going to embrace “partnership,” it’s going to be on his terms, pardner.

Now the Bushies are playing Santa Claus and deciding who’s naughty or nice. And the Bush/Cheney/Rice team now decides on its own which nations deserve nuclear arms and which don’t. And they do so on the basis of their dumbly one-dimensional world view that attempts to sort all people into neat binary categories — good or bad, friend or foe — without taking in the complexity of nations and their multifaceted relationships with each other. How will the India deal affect the dicey relationship between India and Pakistan? Between Pakistan and the U.S.? Between Pakistan and the terrorists who live there? What about Israel? And what about China? The deal with India is supposed to help counter the power of China. But some critics of the deal point out that India’s economic relations with China are critical to New Dehli. If, someday, India found itself having to choose between China and the U.S. … well, Santa comes but once a year; China is on their border all the time.

In other words, this deal could have all manner of bad outcomes that even smart people might not anticipate. Which means you can assume the anticipation-challenged Bushies haven’t considered them.

See also: Ron Beasley and upyernoz.

Update: Great cartoon.