September 07, 2004

Sullivan's Loss of Faith in Bush

Andrew Sullivan:

I agreed with almost everything in the foreign policy section of the speech, although the president's inability to face up to the obvious sobering lessons from Iraq is worrying. I get the feeling that empirical evidence does not count for him; that like all religious visionaries, he simply asserts that his own faith will vanquish reality. It won't. We heard nothing about Iran, North Korea or even anything concrete about Iraq. We heard no new bid to capitalize on the new mood in France or to win over new allies in the war on terror. We heard nothing about intelligence reform. And the contrasts with Kerry were all retrospective. There was no attempt to tell us where Kerry and Bush would differ in the future over the Middle East, just easy (and justified) barbs about the past. But Bush's big vision is, I believe, the right one. I'm just unsure whether his profound unpopularity in every foreign country has made real movement more or less likely. I do know that the rank xenophobia at the convention did not help American foreign policy or American interests.

You know, I've often felt grateful to Sullivan for his passionately intelligent writing or, perhaps, a poem he digs up that well reflects the national mood. Two days after 9/11, he posted this poem on his blog:

There is sobbing of the strong,
And a pall upon the land;
But the People in their weeping
Bare the iron hand;
Beware the People weeping
When they bare the iron hand

This Melville poem, somehow, provided some much needed strength that day. I remember scrawling the poem down on a piece of paper and placing it in Union Square just days after the attacks.

Um, so what's my point? Well, I view Sullivan as someone who has a lot of integrity (for example, he rightly and forcefully called this Administration to task for the FUBAR going-ons at Abu Ghraib). And so, I guess, I was particularly saddened to see him fall (if in limited fashion) for the relativistic argument peddled in large swaths of lefty-Europe that Dubya is as much of a religious nutter as UBL (" all religious visionaries, he simply asserts that his own faith will vanquish reality.")

Sorry, but Bush is much more pragmatic than that. He has shown such pragmatism (put differently, a willingness to learn from his mistakes and engage with reality) repeatedly in Iraq. When Garner wasn't up to the job; he canned him and put in Bremer. After giving the U.N. short-shrift; Bush later gave Brahimi and the U.N. free rein to help broker Iraqi electoral modalities. He refused to flatten Fallujah, like a religious visionary might have done, in favor of sending in Iraqi forces (a strategy that looks to be proving highly problematic; though likely less problematic than if Bush had simply carpet-bombed said town). Similarly, the Sadr situation was handled, all told, with some subtlety (the Imam Ali mosque stands, Sadr hasn't been made a martyr, a political space for Sadr might still be allowed going forward). Some of the worst excesses of de-Baathification have been reversed. Rapprochment with Ankara and Berlin has proceeded apace. And so on.

Are these the actions of a wild-eyed, religious visionary? Well, no, of course they aren't.

And what of this "new mood" in France that Andrew espies? Right now, Le Monde's chat rooms are in full-blown schadenfreude mode that seven Marines died today, speculation that the CIA is behind the taking of the two French hostages (to drag the French into the Iraq imbroglio!), and that the U.S. is imperiling the freeing of the two French hostages.

Chat rooms certainly aren't scientifically accurate gauges of the national mood--whether in the U.S. or France. Still, they provide a window into some of the to and fro of national sentiment and debate. Relatedly, check out this article:

La concomitance de l'assaut contre Latifiya, décidé par le premier ministre Iyad Allaoui, et des négociations, très délicates et très médiatisées, relatives aux otages français n'est pas passée inaperçue à Bagdad.

Lors d'une conférence de presse, dimanche, le cheikh salafiste Mahdi Al-Soumeïdaï, en annonçant qu'il avait "promulgué une fatwa - décret religieux - appelant les ravisseurs des deux journalistes à les libérer immédiatement", a estimé que l'opération de Latifiya a "perturbé le processus de libération".

Translation: The occurence in connection with one another of the assault against Latifiya, decided by Prime Minister Iyad Allaoui, and very delicate...negotiations regarding the French hostages did not pass unnoticed in Baghdad. During a press conference on Sunday, the Salafist Sheikh Mahdi al-Soumeidai announced that he had "promulgated a fatwa--a religious decree--calling on the kidnappers to liberate the two journalists immediately," and averred that the Latifiya operation has disturbed the liberation of the hostages."

Similar stories are appearing in the leading center-right French daily Le Figaro--strongly suggesting that the U.S.'s latest military actions are risking scuttling the hostage release deal.

Now, is it possible that joint U.S.-Iraqi counter-insurgency operations are having a negative impact on the hostage release negotiations? Oh, maybe. But might not it be more warranted for the French press to, just perhaps, instead explore with more vigor the fanatical Islamic group's culpability in this whole sad affair? Instead of the old and tired 'blame the brutish Americans' song and dance? (Regardless, someone will have to clue in the French government that U.S. military actions in Iraq will not be calibrated and timed so as to ensure optimal conditions for various Salafist sheikhs to deem the time ripe for release of their two nationals. Fair, non?)

My point? There really isn't a "new mood" in France for Bush to have capitalized on. Any appeals by Bush to France in his Convention speech would, more likely, and I say this with real regret, have been met by Gallic scoffs, scorn and mockery rather than truly open and receptive ears.

Sullivan also complains that detailed Iran and NoKo plans weren't put on the table at MSG. But is a convention speech really the time to say:"..and if Iran doesn't cooperate with the latest IAEA requests I plan to ask my Euro-troika counterparts to bring this matter to the UNSC for consideration re: bringing punitive sanctions to bear on Iran"? Eyes would glaze over; the bounce would be smaller, and anyway, Bush would be castigated for going foward war-mongering.

Instead, as Sullivan admits, Bush made a powerful speech largely about the civilizational nature of the struggle we are involved in (the "big vision"). A speech that sounded, in parts, similar to this passage:

The forces of barbarism have clearly struck an extraordinary blow against freedom this morning. This is not about the United States alone. It is about the survival of free societies in an open, interconnected world where forces deeply hostile to freedom can wage a new kind of war against our humanity and our success. Words fail me. But my hope is that this will awaken the sleeping tiger. When our shock recedes, our rage must be steady and resolute and unforgiving. The response must be disproportionate to the crime and must hold those states and governments that have tolerated this evil accountable. This is the single most devastating act of war since Nagasaki. It is the first time that an enemy force has invaded the precincts of the American capital since the early nineteenth century. It is more dangerous than Pearl Harbor. And it is a reminder that the forces of resentment and evil...can no longer be appeased. They must be destroyed - systematically, durably, irrevocably. Perhaps now we will summon the will to do it.

The author? Andrew Sullivan, writing the day of 9/11. I wonder if Andrew, in his heart of hearts, truly believes Kerry will "summon the will to do it"?

I doubt he does. And, I suspect, many of my and his readers do to.

A final note. My Beltway spies tell me that a Bush II team (even sans Colin) will have a more pragmatic, realist tilt. Wolfy/Feith are not in the ascendancy anymore. Put differently, regime change is not coming to Iran in February of '05 in any Bush II (Bush just hinted at this strongly saying diplomacy had been given 12 years in Iraq; just one so far in Iran...)

Now, don't get me wrong. There's not going to be any Poppy restoration with Brent Scowcroft and Jim Baker rushing about hither dither. But a Bush II team is likely going to feature foreign policy practitioners more tethered to reality than some in Bush I. If nothing else, people are going to have learned from their mistakes. Wars (particularly securing the peace) takes soldiers. Lots of them. Intel needs to be judiciously and cautiously examined without histrionics and hyperbole. People, once liberated, turn on liberators quickly (ingrates abound in this world, let's never forget!). Exiles, particularly of the Knightsbridge variety, twist and turn with the winds with breathtaking gall.

Compare a more sober and realist Bush II team to Kerry's prospective line-up. Holbrooke might do a great job--but who will occupy the vast sub-Holbrooke ranks at State (key 6th floor appointees and such)? Who will man the Pentagon?

The bench is light, I fear. More on that soon.


A reminder. Comments are often unmonitored and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author of this blog. That said, I will exercise, at my sole discretion, the right to delete any and all posts that I view as off-topic, hateful, or otherwise offensive (even by regular commenters whose views I might often value). Thanks for your understanding and patience--even if I've deleted a comment of yours that you might have viewed as within the confines of appropriate discourse. Sometime it's a close call--but my space, my rules.

As for Kerry's prospective foreign policy team--check this article out. Sorry, but I'm just not that impressed (some quite junior people are being touted as heavy-weights-to-be). This link is registration required; so go check this out too.

As I said, more on this soon. I'm traveling on business to the States all week. Blogging may occur but will be somewhat irregular, erratic etc. Thanks for your patience.

STILL MORE: On France's current take on the hostage crisis, don't miss this either:

Frustration in Paris at delays in releasing the hostages kidnapped in Iraq is leading to suggestions that military action by the US-led coalition is undermining diplomatic efforts and jeopardising the lives of the captives.

Fouad Alaoui, secretary-general of the Union of French Islamic Organisations, said new US military operations might have made it harder to arrange a handover. "I think that it is making the mission difficult," said Mr Alaoui.

In an implicit criticism of the coalition's post-war planning, Michele Alliot-Marie, the French defence minister, told LCI television: "This country [Iraq] is in complete chaos, so that poses major difficulties."

A British diplomat in Paris yesterday said: "The current coalition operations are part of regular ongoing activity and have no connection with the French hostages. We continue to offer the French our full support."

This isn't from a Le Monde chat room. It's a statement from the French Minister of Defense.

Again, where is the "new mood"? Why are French government ministers suggesting the U.S. is to blame for the plight of their nationals--rather than the fanatical terrorists who have kidnapped and threatened to kill them? Really, why?

Posted by Gregory Djerejian at September 7, 2004 01:02 AM
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