Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Who's to blame for the failures of Bush's Long War? "Not me", say the conservatives

Bush's Cold War metaphor which he empasized at his West Point speech of 05/27/06 is attracting quite a bit of attention.

Tom Porteous looks at the prospect of Losing The Long War TomPaine.com 05/30/06.  He doesn't believe that Bush's Long War bears any realistic comparison to the Cold War, much less the Second World War whose image Bush's supporters like to dress up his policies with:

The fact is, however, that we are not living through any crisis remotely comparable to the Cold War or WW II (as goes the rhetoric of the Long War). The "threat" from Islamism remains limited to random acts of political terrorism, horrifying for the victims and entirely reprehensible, but of no major strategic threat to the West. The balance of economic, military and political power remains overwhelmingly on the side of the United States and its allies. All Muslim states except Iran are subservient to America's interests. For the vast majority of Westerners, the Long War impinges hardly at all on their daily lives.

The same cannot be said of the impact on Middle Easterners. The occupation of Iraq, the unqualified support for Israel's coercive and expansionist policies, the continuing support for authoritarian regimes, the brutal counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism techniques, and the deeply worrying doctrine of pre-emptive coercion (detention, torture, economic sanctions and war) have very real and catastrophic consequences for millions of Middle Easterners and serve to strengthen the political influence of precisely those extremist and anti-Western forces the West is seeking to suppress.

Guy Dinmore reports on Republican dissent from Bush's Long War policy in US right questions wisdom of  Bush's democracy policy Financial Times 05/30/06.  He writes:

Neo-conservative commentators at the American Enterprise Institute wrote last week what amounted to an obituary of the Bush freedom doctrine.

"Bush killed his own doctrine," they said, describing the final blow as the resumption of diplomatic relations with Libya. This betrayal of Libyan democracy activists, they said, came after the US watched Egypt abrogate elections, ignored the collapse of the "Cedar Revolution" in Lebanon, abandoned imprisoned Chinese dissidents and started considering a peace treaty with Stalinist North Korea.

This is part of what the "stab-in-the-back" alibi looks like.  The hardline conservatives of the less forthright variety have to find their way to a position that blames the loss in the Iraq War - and the less-than-spectacular results of the Afghanistan War to date - on The Liberals.   Since Bush, Cheney and Rummy have been running the foreign policy show for the last 5 1/2 years, that's kind of a challenging task for them right now.  But they're getting there.  Dinmore is reporting some signs of a "Bush sold out to The Liberals" line being eagerly manufactured.  Dimore also writes:

Graham Fuller, former diplomat and intelligence officer, suggests the US is suffering from "strategic fatigue" brought on by "imperial over-reach".

"The administration's bark is minimised, and much of the bite seems gone," he writes in the Nixon Center's National Interest journal. "Has superpower fatigue set in? Clearly so, to judge by the administration's own dwindling energy and its sober acknowledgment that changing the face of the world is a lot tougher than it had hoped."

The article is scheduled to appear in the Summer 2006 issue of The National Interest; an excerpt is posted here at Graham Fuller and Superpower Fatigue Washington Realist blog 05/17/06.  The direct continuation of the quote is:

Of course, some degree of wear and tear is normal five years into any administration, regardless of policies. But fatigue emerges in direct proportion to the ambitiousness of the undertaking. From its early days, this administration adopted a strategic vision and peremptory posture whose implementation would prove exhausting under the best of circumstances. Administration documents and statements have regularly indicated that ”we are at the beginning” of “a long war” fought globally in well over one hundred countries, probably “lasting for decades”, until “victory over terrorism” is achieved. Even more, this is all ties in with “the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” The task is Sisyphean, the enemy generalized, the goals unclear, the scope open-ended.

The taxing character of U.S. foreign policy betrays signs of morphing into “imperial over-reach.” And there should be no doubt that we are talking about empire here, albeit in a new form. Neoconservatives embrace the term openly, while the ultra-nationalists, headed by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, do not disavow the concept. The extent of U.S. global reach - the overseas military installations and complex base-rights agreements that often dominate our relations with small nations, the peripatetic military-command representatives who overshadow ambassadors, a broad variety of active military presences, a worldwide intelligence and strike capability - are all well documented. The U.S. global “footprint” - a revealing word regularly employed by the Pentagon without irony - is massive and backed by the world’s most powerful military machine in history. While different in structure and intent than the British, French or even Roman imperial presence, current U.S. ambition for projection of power is sweeping. And pursuit of this goal generates ever newer challenges that quickly contribute to strategic fatigue.  (my emphasis)

I like the distinction he makes between "neoconservatives" (like Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowtz) and the "the ultra-nationalists, headed by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld".  I have the impression of a real distinction, even though Cheney clearly nurtered and enabled the neocons.  Some of the neocons seem to actually believe in their rhetoric of bringing democracy to the Middle East through wars of liberation.  Cheney and Rummy are just warmongers who would use any rhetoric that works to  facilitate their plans.

Also the use of "footprint", as in "we want to leave a light footprint in Afghanistan", has become common to refer to the amount of US military presence (soldiers, airfields, bases).  I don't believe the obvious metaphorical implication that the targeted countries are mean to be put under the foot of the US had occurred to me before.

Matthew Rothschild at The Progressive also harshes on Bush over the Cold War analogy in Bush at West Point: Vows Long Middle Eastern War, Spreads the Fallacy of the Cold War Analogy 05/27/06:

“So long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place where terrorists foment resentment and threaten American security,” [Bush] said. He added, a few sentences later, “The message has spread from Damascus to Tehran that the future belongs to freedom, and we will not rest until the promise of liberty reaches every people and every nation.”

Since Bush delivers the promise of freedom by gunpoint and in a bomb crater, people in Syria and Iran ought to take note.

And we, as citizens of the United States, ought to take note, too, that Bush’s appetite for war is not yet sated.

Rothschild talks about how Bush used the Cold War analogy:

At West Point, Bush also spread the fallacy of the Cold War analogy to terrorism. He spent eleven paragraphs waxing nostalgic about the fight against Communism and exalting Harry Truman and his “ideological struggle between tyranny and freedom.”

Bush did so for a reason: He wants the American public to be at least as afraid of Al Qaeda as it was of Stalin's Soviet Union.

And so Bush did a crude compare-and-contrast. ...

Bush neglected to point out a much bigger difference: The terrorists cannot destroy the United States, however. Stalin could have.

Actually, Rothschild's chronology is a bit off there.  The USSR had successfully tested a hydrogen bomb before Stalin's death, which came in 1953.  But it wasn't until years later that they had the ICBM missiles that would have enabled them to "destroy the United States". 

Still, the larger point is well taken.  International jihadists can kill a lot of people.  But they are not the "existential" threat, a threat to the existence of the US itself, that the USSR at least had the military capability to be.

And Rothschild catches a phrase that didn't particularly register with me in Bush's speech:

But Bush wants us to think we face a challenge akin to the ones posed by Hitler and Stalin. Bush said that terrorists are trying to acquire “weapons of mass murder” - evidently, “weapons of mass destruction” is no longer the term of choice.

Colin Gray, writing on Stability Operations in Strategic Perspective: A Skeptical View in the US Army War College's journal Parameters Summer 2006 also challenges the administration's view of Bush's Long War:

Let us begin by identifying official US claims that are manifestly untrue. Americans are told that their enemy today seeks “to destroy our free way of life.” Terroristic foes, globally, are said to be the enemies of “freedom,” that magical, but alas contestable, value-charged concept again. So, Americans, and their armed forces in particular, are gearing up to wage the virtuous irregular, global fight on behalf of good against evil. But isn’t this highly idealized view of the strategic context a notable distortion of reality? Is al Qaeda, including its franchised spin-offs and its imitators, at all interested in destroying “our free way of life”? I doubt it. Are those bad guys even the enemies of freedom? In their eyes they are not, nor may they be so identified in the eyes of key target populations.

We should reconsider whether it is accurate or helpful to postulate as the centerpiece of our national security policy a long global war against terrorists who are plotting our downfall. Of course, violent extremists are a menace and should be disposed of when possible. And of course a catastrophic marriage between such folk and weapons of mass destruction is a threat we must approach with the utmost seriousness. But, still, do we not flatter to deceive ourselves.  ...

We are in danger of inflating the significance of al Qaeda and its imitators and, as a consequence, of setting off boldly to wage a long global war that is considerably misconceived. Above all else, we are likely to mistake local discontents for evidence of the evil influence of the global enemies of freedom. As a result, the United States may be moved to employ its armed forces on inappropriate missions.  ...

The most potent force in both the 19th and 20th centuries was nationalism. It is probable that, notwithstanding the alleged erosion of frontiers by globalization, nationalism will be preeminent in the 21st century also. Naturally, terrorists and would-be insurgents will hijack issues of national pride opportunistically. If America overreacts to some evidence of terrorism, and is prone to interpret most political violence as proof of the unfolding of devious plans by religious extremists, it is likely to seek to apply the wrong medicine in line with its faulty diagnosis. American efforts to aid local stabilization could well backfire painfully, because a foreign presence would feed the discontent and contribute to the delegitimization of the extant authorities.  (my emphasis)

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