March 16, 2004

The World As Espied from Ann Arbor

"Since Bush administration militarism and desire to go about overthrowing most of the governments in the Middle East actually was highly destabilizing and created enormous numbers of potential recruits for al-Qaeda, the Spanish actions are a great victory for the counter-insurgency struggle against al-Qaeda." [emphasis added]

Juan Cole, concluding a long screed denigrating those who might have the temerity to view the Spanish electoral results as a strategic victory for al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, over in, er, the real world, Robert Kagan gets it about right (though is a tad hyperbolic):

"The terrorist attack in Madrid and its seismic impact on the Spanish elections this past week have brought the United States and Europe to the edge of the abyss. There's no denying that al Qaeda has struck a strategic and not merely a tactical blow. To murder and terrorize people is one thing, but to unseat a pro-U.S. government in a nation that was a linchpin of America's alliance with the so-called New Europe -- that is al Qaeda's most significant geopolitical success since Sept. 11, 2001." [emphasis added]

I'm not quite sure Euro-American relations are at the "edge of the abyss."

Note, for instance, that many European nations continue to have troops in Iraq and, post-Madrid, have no plans to pull them out.

But the ramifications of the Spanish vote are having effects in world capitals far removed from Europe even.

Domestic pressure to reduce cooperation with the U.S. will likely increase vis-a-vis allied governments like Britain, Italy and Australia in the coming days--even if London, Rome or Canberra aren't attacked (though an anti al-Qaeda backlash is possible too--borne of renewed revulsion at their malicious tactics).

In places like Ann Arbor and Berkeley, this is being hailed as good news.

Indeed, a "great victory."


Let's briefly summarize Cole's argument.

1) The Iraq war diverted critical resources from the Afghanistan effort--the real war on terror.

Listen, flip triumphalist assertions that the U.S. can walk and chew gum at the same time are bogus and the stuff of ill-informed Fox green room rants.

Of course, resources were diverted, in material fashion, from the Afghan war effort.

That said, through the Iraq war, I believe we continued to exert very significant pressure on al-Qaeda and neo-Talib forces throughout Afghanistan and Afghan-Pakistan border areas.

But let's concede this point to Cole regardless.

2) Bush is a clueless provincial who, under cover of 9/11 and pulled along by a cabal of neo-cons hell-bent on protecting Israeli settlers in Gaza and Hebron, recklessly invaded Iraq with disastrous results.

Cole, like so many, continuously overstates the neo-con influence in Washington DC.

If Richard Perle and Doug Feith are so omnipotent amidst Beltway precincts, why aren't U.S. GIs encamped in Teheran and Damascus by now?

3) The Bush administration's strategic doctrine and tactics are the stuff of folly and go well beyond Iraq.

Paul Wolfowitz, pace Cole, trolls about for "coalitions of the willing" like Hugh Hefner casting about for his next pair of 36-Ds--hell-bent on pushing a "Perpetual War" down the world's collective throat.

And, thanks be to Dios, the Spanish voter is putting an end to the madness!

The voters have spoken and are beginning to create pressure, the theory goes, to force a renunciation of Bush's perilous perma-militarism.

Of course, Cole ignores diplomatic efforts currently underway, rather than the alleged "Perpetual War", in Tripoli, Damascus, Teheran and points beyond.

He feeds us more of the steady diet of hyperbolic musings propagated by the Paul Krugmans, Maureen Dowds and George Soros' of the world (a happy billionaire, I guess, unlike Cole's fictitious legions of "unhappy" ones who control the world press).

To be sure, Juan Cole is a passionate and informed observer of the Middle East scene.

But his analysis of the Spanish election is an embarrasment which brings to mind an old William Buckley quip about preferring to have the U.S. government led by the first thousand or so names randomly plucked from the Boston phone book--rather than by the estimable ranks of the Harvard faculty.

I'm not trying to score cheap partisan points here or attack a blogger I read often and respect. I'm merely issuing a call for a modicum of common sense when taking in the geopolitical scene.

To say that 11-M didn't represent the biggest tactical victory for al-Qaeda since 9/11 is to be blind--either out of myopic partisan bias or out of a woeful inability to judiciously digest the strategic impact of the attacks in Madrid.

After all, al-Qaeda just pulled off something of their own version of a regime change in Spain. Is that a "great victory" for those combatting the terrorist organization?

Of course it isn't.

Posted by Gregory at March 16, 2004 10:28 AM
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