Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 10, 2004
WAR: War Aims
The Belmont Club identifies a key problem in the War on Terror: the absence of publicly announced goals for the next stage of the war. The first step in the WOT was obvious: removing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and closing up the terrorist camps there (although it did have its Chomskyite detractors on the Left). The second was an interim measure: making clear that the United States wasn't going to waste its time negotiating with Arafatistan, and would essentially back-burner the "peace process" until there was new Palestinian leadership. This caused only a relatively minimal controversy because the policy ended up simply leaving the status quo in place. The third step was also obvious but controversial, removing Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.
Wretchard identifies six areas where we need to identify our goals, but #4 is about Iraq and the last two are about Europe; I'm more interested in the problem presented by the first three:
Now, I have little doubt that George Bush will pursue a more aggressive policy as to each of these than John Kerry would, given how steeped Kerry is in the diplomatic status quo and how little enthusiasm he seems to have for viewing the WOT as a war at all. But the fact is, Bush has not committed anything but the barest of his energies to building a public case - at home or internationally - to #2 & 3, and none at all to #1.
Thus far, the steps taken have been the imposition of sanctions on Syria, the naming of Iran as part of the "axis of evil," the slow-motion (as these things always are) nuclear inspections of Iran, and Bush's occasional rhetorical bone thrown to democracy in Iran. As to the Saudis, they remain nominally our allies.
But here's the problem that the broad strategy in the WOT has faced all along, and that is now approaching a crossroads, especially as to the Saudis: at some point, with the obvious steps taken care of, the president needs to put the squeeze on these three regimes - but at the same time, maintaining some modicum of support with our other, tenuous allies in the region may be impossible if we declare openly our intention of overturning these regimes. In other words, it may not (at least yet) be in our national interest to announce our next steps.
At the same time, eventual public support will need to be prepared - not just for the future but to buck up support at home during the long twilight struggle in Iraq - and there is, of course, an election coming in which the people ought to be told why it is that Bush has a strategy for dealing with these three regimes and Kerry doesn't.
Put another way, Bush may have to choose between honesty and a certain amount of deception (or, more properly, silence and ambiguity), where honesty is in his best political interest but ambiguity is in the nation's interest. I fear the consequences of either course.