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Losing the Peace?

Losing the Peace?

Mini Teaser: At the time of triumph a year ago when Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled and the Iraqi army vanished, the most ardent supporters of George W.

by Author(s): Geoffrey Kemp

At the time of triumph a year ago when Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled and the Iraqi army vanished, the most ardent supporters of George W. Bush's war argued that Iraq was merely the second stage, following the Afghani operation, of a grand campaign to rid the Greater Middle East of corrupt regimes. It was said, "Men go to Baghdad, but real men go to Damascus and Tehran." Another phrase was popular: "The road to Jerusalem lies through Baghdad", implying that the victory in Iraq would make an Arab-Israeli settlement easier. A year later, the most powerful military establishment in history finds itself bogged down fighting a vicious insurgency in a country that has shown little appreciation for our loss of blood and treasure. At home, many of the original cheerleaders for the war are now blaming various individuals and agencies of the Bush Administration for the many mistakes that have been made. Their internecine quarrels have intensified in the wake of the disasters of April and May 2004.

To be fair, there is good news out of Iraq that does not make the headlines everyday. A vigorous free press, an open and intense political discourse, and a restored oil industry provide evidence that the Ba'athi totalitarian era is over and that, whatever happens after July 1, 2004 when Iraqi sovereignty is restored, the old regime is gone and a more pluralistic society will evolve. Whether it will be united, secular, humane and supportive of women and minority rights remains unclear. But even if Iraq has to undergo further civil strife, with serious fighting among the various groups, it is difficult to imagine a situation that could be any worse for the majority of Iraqis than it was under Saddam.

However, for the Bush Administration, things can indeed get much worse in the Middle East. A march on Damascus has been stalled. Instead, economic sanctions have belatedly been imposed on Syria, but they are expected to have little impact since U.S.-Syria economic ties are minimal. As for Tehran, the conservative mullahs, though hated by most Iranians, are stronger than ever and are well on their way to achieving a nuclear weapons capability. Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has likened the United States in Iraq to a "wounded beast." Iran has a growing presence in Iraq and, should it wish, it could cause far more trouble for the Coalition as it prepares to hand over sovereignty to Iraqis. On a related front, Iran has used its leverage in Iraq to dissuade the Bush Administration from tough, unilateral activities to stop its nuclear program. Instead, Washington has wisely chosen to work with the eu and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to constrain Iran's nuclear program. However, it is unlikely this will be successful unless the United States is prepared to offer Iran large carrots, including an agreement not to push for regime change. This will be a difficult choice for any American administration given continuing animosity towards Iran, especially in Congress.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is in reverse gear. There has been no postwar bonus. The United States, rather than acting as a powerful and honest broker using its great clout to influence both the Israelis and the Palestinians to compromise and reach a deal, has instead decided to bypass the Palestinians and side with Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and support his unilateral plans to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. While this policy has some clear upsides, the side letter Bush wrote to Sharon essentially endorsing Israel's annexation of large West Bank settlements and denying the Palestinians the right of return to Israel is seen by the rest of the world as politically motivated capitulation. To make matters worse, Sharon's plans were rejected by his own party in a referendum held on May 2, leaving the future of the proposal in doubt.

Concerning his initiative to spread democracy to the Middle East, President Bush gave a high decibel speech to the National Endowment for Democracy on November 3, 2003. He argued that "sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe." It says volumes about the gap between the Bush Administration's theory and practice of changing the Middle East when one of the few examples touted as proof of American success is the rehabilitation of Libya's dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Bush would appear to have rejected his own advice and seems happy to cut deals with authoritarian regimes on behalf of the national interest of the United States. Bob Woodward, in his book Plan of Attack (Simon & Schuster, 2004), informs us that Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan was privy to the decision to go to war before Secretary of State Colin Powell was told. Indeed, the war that was to change the Middle East could not have been fought without the active cooperation of key authoritarian Arab regimes including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the lesser Gulf states. Likewise, the war in Afghanistan, which is still underway, requires that the United States coddle the dictator of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, and give Pakistan's dictator, Pervez Musharraf, a free pass on one of the most horrendous violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in history, namely the black-market sale of nuclear material by A.Q. Khan to an "axis of evil" country or two.

All these compromises are perfectly understandable and justifiable. Qaddafi has, after all, given up terrorism and weapons of mass destruction; Saudi Arabia is now cooperating on anti-terrorism and is a responsible player on oil prices; without Uzbekistan and Pakistan, we would have lost the war in Afghanistan. However, how does the reality of American policy appear to those Middle East audiences who themselves are yearning for reform? When Bush hosted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at his ranch in Crawford on April 12, and a few weeks later apologized to Jordanian King Abdallah at the White House for the treatment of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, the image of what America stands for can only be described as confusing. A healthy dose of realism has always been present in the administration's actions on international relations. This would be more acceptable to many around the world if its policy pronouncements were trimmed of the intense ideological rhetoric that accompanies them.

Clearly the most troubling problems for the Bush Administration are not the slow pace of reform in the Middle East, but rather the growing doubts of the American people about the prudence of initiating the Iraq War. Bush has lost the support of those Democrats who supported him for the war in Afghanistan and the initial phases of the Iraq War. However, the erosion of confidence among independent-minded Republicans is a sure sign of "buyers' remorse." Woodward informs us that Powell pleaded with the president prior to the war to think carefully about what he was planning. Powell put it very bluntly: "you are going to be the proud owner of 25 million people." This advice was prescient.

Ultimately, the views of Powell and Congress are not as important as those of the American people. On this score, the public has a high tolerance for the loss of blood and treasure if the goals are in the national interest and, equally important, achievable. Americans will accept casualties, but they will not do so if the goals are fuzzy and those we are trying to liberate are resentful and will not fight for their own freedom. The number of active combat casualties in the current insurgency suffered by coalition forces is far higher than to those suffered by Iraqi loyalists. If this number does not change very soon, the American people will quit on the war, and an early exit strategy will be demanded. Invariably, it will be difficult and we will probably leave behind a mess, but far worse would be an open-ended presence which could embroil the United States in a major uprising. For months, there have been warnings about the dire consequences of quitting Iraq. Now a small but growing number of voices have begun to talk about the dire consequences of staying.

Essay Types: Essay