January 24, 2007
WAR: The President And The Wider War
Undoubtedly the most important part of last night's State of the Union speech - well, other than the section on Dikembe Mutombo; you can never get too much Dikembe Mutombo - was this:
In the last two years, we've seen the desire for liberty in the broader Middle East -- and we have been sobered by the enemy's fierce reaction. In 2005, the world watched as the citizens of Lebanon raised the banner of the Cedar Revolution, they drove out the Syrian occupiers and chose new leaders in free elections. In 2005, the people of Afghanistan defied the terrorists and elected a democratic legislature. And in 2005, the Iraqi people held three national elections, choosing a transitional government, adopting the most progressive, democratic constitution in the Arab world, and then electing a government under that constitution. Despite endless threats from the killers in their midst, nearly 12 million Iraqi citizens came out to vote in a show of hope and solidarity that we should never forget. (Applause.)
A thinking enemy watched all of these scenes, adjusted their tactics, and in 2006 they struck back. In Lebanon, assassins took the life of Pierre Gemayel, a prominent participant in the Cedar Revolution. Hezbollah terrorists, with support from Syria and Iran, sowed conflict in the region and are seeking to undermine Lebanon's legitimately elected government. In Afghanistan, Taliban and al Qaeda fighters tried to regain power by regrouping and engaging Afghan and NATO forces. In Iraq, al Qaeda and other Sunni extremists blew up one of the most sacred places in Shia Islam -- the Golden Mosque of Samarra. This atrocity, directed at a Muslim house of prayer, was designed to provoke retaliation from Iraqi Shia -- and it succeeded. Radical Shia elements, some of whom receive support from Iran, formed death squads. The result was a tragic escalation of sectarian rage and reprisal that continues to this day.
It's crucial to recognize that the battle to change the nature of government in the Muslim and Arab worlds is a regional battle and not simply a series of isolated struggles. President Bush has, in my view, not been detailed enough in making this point - he makes it in almost every speech, but specifics are crucial. The regional nature of the struggle is why, as the president noted, there are often repeat players in multiple theaters:
Al Qaeda and its followers are Sunni extremists, possessed by hatred and commanded by a harsh and narrow ideology. Take almost any principle of civilization, and their goal is the opposite. They preach with threats, instruct with bullets and bombs, and promise paradise for the murder of the innocent.
Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments, and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty. They would then be free to impose their will and spread their totalitarian ideology. Listen to this warning from the late terrorist Zarqawi: "We will sacrifice our blood and bodies to put an end to your dreams, and what is coming is even worse." Osama bin Laden declared: "Death is better than living on this Earth with the unbelievers among us."
These men are not given to idle words, and they are just one camp in the Islamist radical movement. In recent times, it has also become clear that we face an escalating danger from Shia extremists who are just as hostile to America, and are also determined to dominate the Middle East. Many are known to take direction from the regime in Iran, which is funding and arming terrorists like Hezbollah -- a group second only to al Qaeda in the American lives it has taken.
The Shia and Sunni extremists are different faces of the same totalitarian threat.
One thing the Cold War taught us is that the "Domino Theory" is not just real - it works both ways. Societies that are democratic, respect basic liberties, or both are just as subversive of their tyrannical neighbors as those neighbors are aggressive. If democracy or a close approximation survives in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian Authority (the latter obviously being the toughest case), we will see a belt of free societies north of the Arabian Peninsula and south of the old Soviet Union, stretching from the Agean Sea in the west to the Ganges River in the east, leaving four islands isolated in the stream - Iran, Syria, Pakistan and Jordan. The latter two nations' governments have essentially accepted this trend, albeit while resisting its influence within their own borders. That leaves the Iranians, the Syrians, their Hezbollah proxies and the Sunni radicals in Al Qaeda and Hamas as the principal rejectionists. I am disinclined to support long-term policing of internal disputes in Iraq, let alone having any American set foot in the Palestinian territories or even Lebanon. But one way or another, we are in the center of this struggle, and Iraq is as important to the battle as, say, Poland and East Germany were in the Cold War. Which is why we can't accept defeat there.
By the way, little though I am a fan of bipartisanship for its own sake, I liked this idea:
Both parties and both branches should work in close consultation. It's why I propose to establish a special advisory council on the war on terror, made up of leaders in Congress from both political parties. We will share ideas for how to position America to meet every challenge that confronts us. We'll show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory.
The Democrats were always going to flay Bush no matter what - because they are the opposition, because they are the Democrats, and especially because of how he came to office - but a lot of grief could have been averted if he had introduced a formalized bipartisan War Council much earlier to avoid endless claims that the Administration "lied" or failed to share information with Congressional leaders. Making a record on that front could have focused more debates on the merits. Similarly, the move to expand the size of the Armed Forces really should have been taken in the Fall of 2001.
One thing the Cold War taught us is that the "Domino Theory" is not just real - it works both ways
Sometimes I feel like we've read different history books, Crank. ;-)
It's too late now for Bush and Iraq. Iraq is a debacle and all must fear the consequences. There is no way anyone is going to get the American people to support our continued presence there. The blame for this lies entirely on Bush's shoulders. Sure the media and the Democrats were not helpful, but at the end of the day the President is the executive and has the bully pulpit. As Commander in Chief he mismanaged the occupation. Rumsfeld deserves blame for this too, but he reported to Bush. Cheney also deserves a lot of blame, but why did Bush farm out this important mission to Cheney? With all that, Bush did very little to enlist public support except to mutter "stay the course" from time to time.
The only hope now is the emergence of an independent Kurdistan that isn't strangled by Turkey, an Arab Shia state that resists Iranian domination, and a rump Sunni Arab state where decent people come to their senses and root out the terrorists in their midst. Very doubtful that any of that would occur.
Best hope for the US is a concentrated effort to free ourselves from depending on Arab oil and then tell that part of the world to f___ off.
OMG. The Saudi family are Bush's BEST FRIENDS. (Prediction: within 10 years of stepping down as Prez, his family will reap 100 mil. from the House of Saud). Bush doesn't give a flying *%&$ about democracy, it is mere cover for calamitous mistakes and arrogance.
Bush says..."A thinking enemy watched all of these scenes, adjusted their tactics, and in 2006 they struck back." -- what is this Jaws or Friday the 13th? Key the two low notes on the organ. There is no monolithic enemy!! Just like there wasn't one in the cold war. What we are seeing in Iraq is human nature. Take away a competent police force, set laws and punishments from any city in the world, and it will descend into chaos -- not because Jason is hiding in the woods waiting to attack, but because when rape, murder, assault, and theivery go unpunished, what's left for a victim to do but retaliate. When the cycle continues unabated for four years, well, welcome to Baghdad.
Actually Patrick, there WAS a monolithic entity in the cold war. And as much as I am against the war in Iraq, it has NOT decended into chaos because of anarchy; the chaos is a result of a calculated war on order (sounds a lot like Roger Zelazny's Amber series).
That said, the problem with the "surge" is that it's yet another reaction, instead of an intelligent action. Boy, those are two words not often heard together in the Oval Office these days.
"there WAS a monolithic entity in the cold war"
Sure the Soviet Union was quite expansive, with its hegemony over Eastern Europe. But Nixon himself proved to the world that all communists didn't share the same vision. Remember he went to China and exploited the differences between Mao and the Kremlin. This was about the same time we were starting to realize that Ho Chi Minh wasn't going to start saluting Moscow the minute we left.
Once again, we're blurring together all of our enemies, and the only thing they really have in common is that they're subject to the same wants, needs, desires and weaknesses all societies.
I believe Ho was dead when Nixon went to China.
"Now what kind of government are you going to establish? Is it going to be a Kurdish government, or a Shi'ia government, or a Sunni government, or maybe a government based on the old Baathist Party, or some mixture thereof? You will have, I think by that time, lost the support of the Arab coalition that was so crucial to our operations over there," Cheney said in 1992. This was all predicted, the only question is what motivated Cheney to act and create chaos. I believe House of Saud is the answer there. Bush and Cheney are puppet government of the House of Saud. This was not a mismanagement, this was a known and predictable outcome.
AstroFan, if you were paying attention, you would realize that (1) the House of Saud was a key part of the "Arab coalition" Cheney was talking about in 1992 and (2) they were not so hot on taking out Saddam this time around, when it was for keeps.
Crank, an update on that "special advisory council." Spkr. Pelosi and Sen. Reid pre-emptively rejected the President's offer to join such a group. This rejection demonstrates (1) that the Democrats' strategy has no plan for actually fixing anything, but merely criticizing, (2) that any earlier attempt at bipartisanship would likewise have been futile, and (3) who's really at fault for all this political bickering.