March 02, 2005

Quote of the Day

"Oh my God, I couldn't believe it, it worked. Our chants have been heard and Karami respected our voices and resigned."

--from the Daily Star

And why wouldn't he be so awestruck and incredulous? This isn't how it has been or, indeed, how it was supposed to be. The rules of the game in the Middle East are undergoing great flux and real bona fide history is being made in our midst. The only question is whether these are but ripples that will prove short-lived--simply borne of lucky happen-stance, destined to prematurely wilt and become stillborn--or whether instead they will pick up momentum, flourish and blossom though the coming decades. But the fact that the leader of the world's sole undisputed superpower is deeply convinced of the justness of such democratization, that he has put the very blood and treasure of his nation in pursuit of it smack dab in the middle of the region undergoing these shockwaves; well surely that counts for a lot, no? Of course it does. This is prima facie self-evident.

Ignore the petty carping that Bush didn't cause Arafat's death. Or Hariri's--the direct catalyst for the Cedar Revolution in process today. Or that Bush didn't cause Qadafi to seek a deal for hard currency and to come out of the cold. Piffle and sour grapes. Bush has, rest assured, done plenty in four short years to further democratization in the broader Middle East. Lest we forget, of course, he unseated a viciously reactionary Taliban government in Afghanistan; and a grotesque neo-Stalinist genocidaire thug in Saddam. Toppling two totalitarian style states is no mean feat, to say the least. Another thing, not previously mentioned and too often ignored? Importantly, Bush has communicated firmly from the top down to one set of front-line troops in this struggle, his diplomats stationed from places like Rabat to, yes, far-away Karimovian Tashkent, that democratization is a key item on the agenda of each and every bilateral relationship. No, it's not and never can be an out and out litmus test. Yes, we sometimes look away from the Karimov's and Musharraf's excesses when the national interest demands it. And, of course, there have been moments of abject hypocrisy (renditions to Syria, anyone?).

But put the carping and nay-saying and exceptions aside and look at the broader Middle Eastern picture. It is one of a region that may well be on the cusp of revolutionary change. A vast region that never went through the Englightenment, one where the revolutionary fervors of the 18th and 19th Century mostly passed it by, its moment may finally be arriving now (ironically, in the midst of an era in the West marked by a sad, spoiled cynicism manifested by those unmoved by such great events). Indeed, and contra sophisticates poo-pooing Georgie's misadventures in Mesopotamia, people in the actual region impacted are listening to what the U.S. will say and do next, and watching intently--both in the steets and in the presidential palaces--with suspicions, yes, but also a sense of deep expectation and wonder (well, at least those in the vaunted Arab street).

In Bush we do not have an intellectual who sets dinner companions atwitter on the Left Bank and Islington; but, and putting it plainly, we have someone who is not a bullshiter (like his predecessor, who was an unusually good one). He walks the walk. And people know it (I have a friend who was recently deep in the Amazon. An Indian, in a primitive and remote hamlet, said he was scared of Bush's electoral victory. Why? Because he really means what he says came the response, ie more wars could be in the offing the Latin American, lefist-infused thinking went). Chuckle at my feverish cheerleading in trotting out such vignettes. But the fact is that when a typical President might have said something like "I call on the great and proud nation of Egypt to bla bla" the typical reaction in Cairene ministries would have been to ignore the prattle deeming it was meant mostly for domestic consumption. Not this time; as Mubarak felt compelled to start pushing forward real reforms. Again, Bush is judged to really mean it. The Saudis ostensibly get this too--despite all the Mooerian distortions of the House of Saud's relationship with the Bushies. And, of course, there was the specter of millions of Iraqis risking very life and limb to vote in convincing number. This too is Bush's legacy--the bad WMD intel aside. It took boots on the ground to have those elections come off (even if we didn't have enough at critical junctures allowing the insurgency to fester). Look, anyone who thinks Bush's forward-leaning posture on the entire democratization issue has had no impact on the Lebanese filling the streets of downtown Beirut are in denial of reality; or rabidly partisan fools, or both. There are many variables at play, yes, but Bush's post 9/11 policies have been an undeniable and major motor driving the developments we are currently witnessing with such expectation and hope. No one serious can deny this anymore.

P.S. I'll try to stop "crowing" soon...

Posted by Gregory at March 2, 2005 04:43 AM | TrackBack (8)
Comments

Ha'aretz is reporting that "Lebanon may declare martial law until elections".

Posted by: Guy at March 2, 2005 06:56 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

By the morning of September 12, 2001, I had phrased the problem as "How can we change the world so that this will not happen again?" I supported George Bush because he appeared to be asking the same question. Like you, like the Iraqis and the Lebanese and the Egyptians, I am watching intently to see if his answer will turn out to be correct.

Posted by: sammler at March 2, 2005 08:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,

"Ignore the petty carping that Bush didn't cause Arafat's death. Or Hariri's--the direct catalyst for the Cedar Revolution in process today."

I would go farther than that. No one causes most of the events that lead to change. They can however set in motion things which can lead to events, and then take advantage of them. If Bush hadn't treated Arafat as a pariah would the stage now be set for the rapprochement between the Palestinians, The US and Israel? I doubt it.

The new leadership, after Arafatís long overdue passing, most likely would have seen the existing process as sustainable. Instead by supporting Sharon (at least to an extent) ostracizing Arafat, and openly pointing out the corruption, Arafat's passing provided a chance without insurrection for the change in approach. Arafat could be mourned, and his approach repudiated without actually having to tear down a hero to many. Without Bush and Sharon turning the intifada into a disaster Arafat's legacy could have been much more enduring.

The same with Hariri. Without the feeling that the world and most specifically the US was watching, and that that watching was being done with troops close by makes a difference to people on the ground.

I have a friend who used to say that Larry Bird had more easy rebounds fall into his hands than any other player in the league. He even called them "Larry Bird" rebounds. He was smart enough to know that the key to a Larry Bird rebound was being where you needed to be and actually getting the ball when it fell into your lap. There are always balls bouncing off the rim, some people are there when it does and do something with it, others never seem to be where they need to be or do anything when the opportunity presents itself or push the game to put the other side in the position to fail.

Bush has done that. Maybe incompetently, though I see plenty of areas where they have been quite competent, but if you aren't where you are supposed to be and willing to do something it doesn't matter how gracefully you do what you are doing. That is true in basketball and in foreign policy.

Posted by: Lance at March 2, 2005 03:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

heh.

Posted by: praktike at March 2, 2005 05:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ignore the petty carping that Bush didn't cause Arafat's death. Or Hariri's

Giving Bush credit for the benefits that followed from those events is just like giving Clinton credit for the tech boom. You have to be petty or partisan to do one but not the other. I prefer to do neither, because frankly, neither makes much sense.

I don't mind the "carping" part. A carp is a fishy, and fishies are cute!

Posted by: fling93 at March 2, 2005 07:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hey, let's not forget how Bush the 1st brought down the Berlin Wall and led Eastern Europe to cast off its chains!

Sheesh.

Posted by: Anderson at March 2, 2005 08:26 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oh c'mon, guys, let the Bushies have some credit. I don't doubt that liberal sympathies lie with the spread of freedom; but it's purely sour groups to pooh-pooh the fact that a political adversary has been far more effective at getting results than the Democratic leadership. Even Yglesias concedes the point. And in any case the challenge is on all nations to continue to do what's right. Bush supporters and critics alike have a responsibility to continue demanding that this administration and all administrations to follow do their part to support the kinds of changes in the world that most resonate with the values that went into building America.

Posted by: Bruce at March 2, 2005 08:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg,
What have you been smoking? How naive to think that democracy is coming to the middle east. Remember to apologize for your misguided cheerleading a couple of years from now, when it becomes all too clear that this was another PR exercise meant to give people like you another vacuous soundbyte to cheer about.

You need to understand a simple point: it is not in the interest of the US to have democracy in the Mideast. Pakistan would fall to the mullahs, Egypt would become a hotbed of a similar radicalism. Democracy in Saudi Arabia might threaten access to oil. All this would make situation much worse for Israel. The US wants to create the impression that it stands for freedom, when really what it wants is security so that it can return to the status quo prior to 9/11.

My dear boy, when will you grow up? You can't act like a cynic but talk like an idealist.

Consistency helps if one wishes to be taken seriously.

Posted by: john at March 2, 2005 09:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

yes,
i agree with john. when the 'democracy' that comes turns out to be another chalabi style puppet regime that will do what the u.s. wants, people like greg will go around crowing, 'see, i told you it would happen! we finally have democracy in the middle east! just like we had it with somoza in nicaragua and batista in cuba and suharto in indonesia and marcos in the philippines! all democracies brought to you by the good old u.s.a!'

give me a break.

Posted by: tani at March 2, 2005 09:13 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

John -- you completely miss the true power of democracy. Iranian style mullahcracy could never (and will never) survive in a democracy. Since we're forecasting here, I'll predict that Iranian mullahcracy will be history in less than five years. And to Tani, you seem to have no sense of the historical context that led to the rise of nascent democracies in the countries you mentioned.... and to the abysmal consequences of the absence of democracy, the proof of which abounds.

Posted by: JOK at March 2, 2005 09:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I guess it would be sour grapes and carping to point out that the Syrian presence in Lebanon (which we once supported whole heartedly) had been made less tenable by Ehud Barak's decision to withdraw troops from Lebanon (an act that the neocon's were none too pleased with).

After Israel's withdrawal, there was nothing compelling about Syrian presence - no protection was needed, and no mitigating force for Israeli action.

It's great that it happened on Bush's watch. It's also admirable to think that his rhetoric might have assisted the process. But are you really saying that if John Kerry had been elected, the Lebanese would not be demanding Syria's withdrawal?

To put it in Lance-speak, Kerry is tall enough to grab a few boards as well.

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 2, 2005 10:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I imagine Tani's point is that the U.S. does not have a record of backing up words with actions when it comes to democracy promotion, historically preferring realpolitik instead, even if that means supporting U.S.-friendly dictatorships and overthrowing unfriendly democracies.

Indeed, it's too early to know whether Iraq will buck that trend or continue it. Bremer tended to overrule Allawi when he made decisions we didn't like (e.g. amnesty for insurgents). We'll have to see if the same happens to his elected successor.

Posted by: fling93 at March 3, 2005 12:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One of the salient arguments for the war, in my view, was that the US desperately needed to restore its credibility in the eyes of the world--at least, the parts of the world where credibility is indispensable.

In his 1998 declaration of war on America, OBL quite clearly elucidates the logic of his position. Much of it is taken up with arguing that US strength is illusory, it is the ďweak horse,Ē because guns are useless without men who have the courage to wield them. A fair point. He cites Beirut, Somalia, Vietnam, etc., to illustrate, and mocks Clinton and his defense secretary as blustering cowards.

Iraq has changed this perception for all parties. The fact is, the Lebanese people can engage in non-violent civil disobedience and know that they cannot be touched, that the US military stand behind them just as surely as if they were physically present. Thatís the credible threat of force. Essentially, any Middle Eastern government that uses mass violence to crush a populace peacefully demanding reform runs an unacceptable risk that Washington will intervene. Theyíre stretched out on Americaís anvil and their people have the hammer at hand, looking for a reason to pick it up. What these governments will want to do is keep a low profile and placate their publics enough to keep them out of the streets.

But as an aside, itís a measure of global progress that the question of this century is the same as the last, except that it is asked today in the diametrical context: Reform or revolution?

Posted by: Elizabeth at March 3, 2005 01:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

fling93.... Yes, I would concede your point and its historical validity. But, is this not what GWB has repudiated as wrong and as a root cause of so much trouble? I don't recall now which speech it was (SOTU 2002... axis of evil speech?) when he said "The future of the world will be determined by free people." You may think this silly, but those words still give me goose bumps. To me, it was a declaration of independence for all the peoples of the world. I keep those words very close.

Posted by: JOK at March 3, 2005 01:30 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

fling93: "I imagine Tani's point is that the U.S. does not have a record of backing up words with actions when it comes to democracy promotion"
JOK: "Yes, I would concede your point and its historical validity. But, is this not what GWB has repudiated as wrong and as a root cause of so much trouble?"

But they're still just words, and after all, Bush is a politician (why our country seems to think a politician ceases to be a politician when they win an election is beyond me). And any successful politician of any party knows how to say one thing but do another when everyody's stopped paying attention. Speeches are not policy. Speeches are a politician's marketing spin on policy. They're a bigger waste of your time than the Oscars.

Posted by: fling93 at March 3, 2005 02:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

fling93 "And any successful politician of any party knows how to say one thing but do another when everyody's stopped paying attention. "

I think the important point here is that the world (at least, and most importantly for this discussion, the Arab world) has learned that Bush means exactly what he says, and does something to follow up. Otherwise we'd still be enforcing the no-fly zone over the Kurds for another decade.

Sorry to disagree, but NOTHING would be a bigger waste of my time than the Oscars.

Posted by: Disillusionist at March 3, 2005 03:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think the important point here is that the world (at least, and most importantly for this discussion, the Arab world) has learned that Bush means exactly what he says, and does something to follow up.

Heh, that's exactly what he wants you to think.

Posted by: fling93 at March 3, 2005 07:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Fling 93,

Your view of this is rather circular. Every time Bush does do something, backs it up with actions (leaving aside the wisdom of those actions) and words, it is just further proof of his deviousness, because in the end he will pull the rug over our eyes and out from under us. What a conveniently unfalsifiable premise.

Your history is rather stunted as well. While the US has undoubtedly engaged in Realpolitik, at times it has not. Usually it has been a combination of the two. I assure you we will fall short under Bush (and any other administration) as reality all too often precludes being pure in our support of freedom and democracy. The question is the weight we give to those worthwhile goals. Time will tell if Bush is adopting a mix of the two we can be proud of, my sense is he is. Whether it works we will have to see.

Eric,

It is good to hear from you.

I believe Kerry is also tall enough to gather a few boards, but we'll just have to disagree on whether it would be as many as Bird or if he is a Joe Barry Carroll, who was much taller but was rarely where he needed to be and putting far less effort in the right spots and getting far fewer easy boards as a consequence.

Maybe invading Iraq is like jumping off a bridge and having a truck full of hay drive underneath you at just the right time. You survive, but it hardly makes it a smart thing to do. I can accept that even if I am not sure I agree. Still, since it worked out it must be said that it is highly unlikely that what we are seeing take place in the Middle East as a whole would have taken place without Iraq, and yes, I include Lebanon.

The willingness to stick it out in Iraq, to have elections and stand up to Assad has been a key psychological factor. Even if the demonstrations would have occurred with Kerry, Assad with Kerry in office might not be acting so hands off. Whether Assad would be correct about Kerry or not, I suspect both he and the opposition feel the Lebanese version of Tiananmen Square is much more likely to be forcefully countered with Bush at the helm. Maybe an unfair impression (though I suspect Assad would be right) but impressions do matter when it comes to risking your life and power.

Bush for good or ill has upset the established order. I have always been at least marginally optimistic that in the long run it would prove beneficial and was willing to take the risk. I still feel that way, and the events throughout the Middle East are at least moving in the direction for hope. Could it all end up badly? Undoubtedly, and Bush may have little say in the end. However, you canít have a say sitting on the sidelines, and without change we may not have risked grand failure, but success was even less likely. Bush has changed the pace of the game; I wonít deny him credit for picking up some easy baskets that result. You are an honest enough critic to give him credit if he squeaks out a win from what I can see.

What would be a close win? A stable if imperfect democracy in Iraq, a slow consolidation of Afghanistanís state, an isolated Syria and Iran, a more pluralistic if limited democracy in Egypt, and further moves by the other Gulf powers towards democracy. In Palestine a functioning state would be good enough for me, even if it is across Sharonís Wall. If we do any better than that, say a bunch of emerging democracies and backsliding states such as after the collapse of the Soviet Union and/or a true settlement of the conflict between Israel and its neighbors and he is an icon. I have made my peace with Roosevelt during WWII despite his numerous flaws, mistakes (should we really have bothered invading Iwo Jima? Donít even get me started on the post war accommodations of the Soviet occupation) and that I feel he mishandled the economy, etc. None of that takes away from having waded in (and he wanted to even earlier) and fighting to do the right thing. I suggest Democrats be prepared to do the same here. Noble efforts should be treated with respect, even if they ultimately fail. Whatever Bushís real motivations (in case fling93 is correct) the effort is noble and inspiring.

Posted by: Lance at March 3, 2005 07:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lance: Your view of this is rather circular.

Just responding to Disillusionist's comment which referred exclusively to a political speech. Like other forms of advertisement, such things are best ignored altogether, so I think basing judgment of a politician upon one of them is foolhardy.

As for the actions, I'm not condemning them. I just say it's too premature to judge. I still think what happens in Iran will be key, and time will tell whether the invasion of Iraq made it harder or easier to deal with them. Right now, it looks to me like the occupation has cost us leverage and accelerated Iran's efforts at obtaining the nuke. And it remains to be seen what relationship the new Iraq (with its Shia majority) will have with Iran. We don't know yet, but it might end up that the biggest effect of the invasion would have been to remove an important check and balance on Iran. Too early to tell.

Lance: Your history is rather stunted as well.

I'll admit it's definitely my weak point. I hated history in school, which is why I'm an engineer. Nowadays it piques my interest more, though.

Lance: While the US has undoubtedly engaged in Realpolitik, at times it has not. Usually it has been a combination of the two.

True, but whenever the two conflict, it seems to me that we've always picked the former, which means realpolitik (or supporting U.S. interests) has always been a clear priority. And again, speeches are not policy. I've yet to see evidence that our priorities have shifted. This is why I say the first real test will be when Iraq's new government makes a decision we don't like. Then we will truly see whether democracy-promotion now trumps realpolitik in our foreign policy.

This is not a criticism of any particular party. Our government in general is influenced heavily by special interests, regardless of who wins the elections. I think that is the biggest reason realpolitik dominates. After all, you don't see nearly as much campaign contributions tied to democracy promotion.

Posted by: fling93 at March 3, 2005 09:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Fling,

That was a nice response and it is much appreciated. I would like to ask though, if removing Iraq was a mistake because of us removing a bulwark against the mullahs (which was the primary reason we supported Saddam in the 80's, though that was exaggerated) then I assume you would be in favor of removing him now. To not would be engaging in Realpolitik, no?

As I said, I think democracy promotion requires looking after our interests. The dead hand of Realpolitik has been unrealistic in seeing how much in our interests democracy promotion is. The only way for an invasion of a place like Iraq to be in our interest is if it succeeds in introducing stable democracies in the Middle East. There is no other benefit (at least as long as Saddam has no WMD's.) It is a very expensive way to get oil, it would be much cheaper to bribe Saddam like the French. Can Bush be an absolutist about it, of course not. Can he push hard in that general direction, yes. I sure see lots of pushing.

Posted by: Lance at March 3, 2005 10:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lance: That was a nice response and it is much appreciated.

Well, do know that the level of time and thought that goes into a response of mine tends to be what I have to work with and the likelihood that the response will actually be read.

Lance: I would like to ask though, if removing Iraq was a mistake because of us removing a bulwark against the mullahs (which was the primary reason we supported Saddam in the 80's, though that was exaggerated) then I assume you would be in favor of removing him now. To not would be engaging in Realpolitik, no?

I am not (yet) schooled enough in the intricacies of international relations to be able to offer a valuable opinion on the best balance between realpolitik and democracy-promotion in our foreign policy. I suspect we've overprioritized realpolitik from all the times that it seems to have bitten us in the ass, especially now that the WoT is, at its core, a war for the hearts and minds of Muslims and the whole world. But I am primarily just echoing tani's doubt that Bush has actually changed this balance, and I am simply unwilling to take a political speech as evidence. Realpolitik doesn't lend itself to speeches in the first place, so of course he's going to talk about more idealistic goals.

My initial reaction to the proposed invasion was to support it, as it was a rare case where realpolitik coincided with the interests of the foreign civilians (which obviously wasn't the case when we overthrew democratically elected leaders). I switched to opposing it when I realized that all the arguments used to support it were more applicable to Iran, and very little was said to address that point, or about the projected cost or the aftermath. That hinted to me that something was seriously amiss, especially in the administration's reaction to the estimates offered by Lawrence Lindsey and Eric Shinseki.

Would I support ousting Saddam now? I don't think he was our top priority then and wouldn't be our top priority now (neither in terms of threat to us nor in human rights or democracy promotion). So only if we could do it in such a way that wouldn't reduce our options in dealing with other higher priorities, which I think is doubtful.

Lance: The only way for an invasion of a place like Iraq to be in our interest is if it succeeds in introducing stable democracies in the Middle East. There is no other benefit (at least as long as Saddam has no WMD's.)

My suspicion was that Bush was hoping for a political benefit, ascertaining that he was unlikely to capture bin Laden and hoping for a quick and easy way to demonstrate tangible progress in the WoT to the American public (which would explain why the Bush administration kept hinting that there was a connection between Saddam and 9/11).

That it didn't seem to pay off (or maybe it did) was due to their miscalculation of how easy it would be, which I think was a product of cognitive bias. They saw Iraq as an opportunity, and thus tended to overlook or downplay evidence that contradicted this view, like Lindsey's projected cost or Shinseki's troop estimates or the Energy Department's assessment of the aluminum tubes. You see a frighteningly similar approach in Bush's marketing of his tax cut, which he initially pitched during a boom and then -- without altering it -- a recession.

At this point, the invasion could actually still be to our benefit if we can station military bases within Iraq. Indeed, this seems to have been the original goal of many neocons who saw Iraq as merely a stepping stone to further military conquests within the Middle East, especially Iran, which is otherwise very difficult to invade. However, what happens if a democratic Iraq is resistant to the idea? What happens if a democratic Iraq makes it harder to diplomatically and economically isolate Iran?

I don't think the Bush administration plans to let Iraqis make that choice for themselves. I think we would use whatever leverage we have available (quite considerable, since we're occupying it) to make the decision come out in our favor. Like Bremer overriding Allawi's asylum proposal. That was always the reason we ousted democratic leaders, like Mossadeq in Iran or Arbenz in Guatemala. And not too dissimilar to how we tried to get Turkey's cooperation by tying a substantial foreign aid package to it. And I think it's telling that we've never used similar leverage to try to get Turkey to lighten up on the Kurds. Another reason I doubt our priorities have really changed.

Posted by: fling93 at March 4, 2005 12:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Fling,

Hmmm....

Your skepticism of Bush seems a little apriori to me. Possibly it is my lack of comprehension skills. I would point out that just because you feel Iran should have been the priority does not mean that Iraq was chosen for any reasons other than a different ordering of those priorities. They may be wrong, but it doesnít mean they were ordering the priorities insincerely. Similarly, even if the administration did see Iran as a higher priority, it doesnít flow you always tackle, at least directly, your highest priority first. Sometimes you go after the easier target first, or use a lower order objective to help accomplish the more important long range goal. It doesnít mean an invasion was the right way to go, but it shows the invasion cannot be judged as an insincere venture just because it doesnít fit your judgment of what the priorities or approaches should be.

As for using our leverage to affect the policies of the Iraqi government, that is not necessarily anti-democratic. That is what foreign policy is, the French try and influence us, if clumsily. Now, if you mean that if they do not want permanent bases or some other such issue and we topple the government, then Iíll have to say you were right.

What I find interesting is you are criticizing the policy choices of the administration for doing things which you do not believe are in our best interest, which is a realist critique, while simultaneously attacking them because you do not believe they are really trying to promote democracy. It seems they are damned if they do, damned if they donít. They overthrow a vicious dictator, which in your argument was not in our best interest. So therefore you are attacking them for ignoring our own best interests. Simultaneously you are saying that if they act purely in our own interests and stifle the young democracy in its cradle, we must be insincere. How about the possibility that they felt it was in our best interest and wanted to promote democracy? That might be bad policy, but from everything I see many neo-cons and the administration do believe both things. Wolfowitz can be criticized for many things (I am not agreeing or disagreeing with those criticisms) legitimately, but being insincere about democracy is not one, nor that he doesnít care about our own interests. This belief that those who disagree with you must be in some way morally bereft or stupid is a cancer, and it affects us all.

We may see this all to a very bad end, but it will not be because Bush doesnít believe in democracy and freedom. He could have done many things differently if he didnít. It also will not be because Bush doesnít care about our own interest or the long range implications of our policies, he could have chosen to be far more idealistic than he has been as many have pointed out (such as Ericís nominee for worst oxblogger, Mr. Adesnik. I happen to enjoy him by the way Eric, stepoff! :) Do Bush and Co. know what they are doing? That is a much harder question for me.

Posted by: Lance at March 4, 2005 01:21 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lance: Your skepticism of Bush seems a little apriori to me.

Perhaps it would help to know that I am a long-time registered Republican, although I usually vote for libertarians. Politically, I'm pretty close to Tyler Cowen, Megan McArdle, and Dan Drezner. I like to think that I'm a lot more likely to be an objective non-partisan than your average blogger. But then again, I have a very high opinion of myself.

Lance: I would point out that just because you feel Iran should have been the priority does not mean that Iraq was chosen for any reasons other than a different ordering of those priorities.

Sure, but why not just say so? The Bush administration could have explained why they felt Iraq was a bigger threat than Iran, or explain exactly how an occupation of Iraq would not reduce our options in dealing with Iran. But they seemed to just ignore the issue altogether. Felt like they didn't because they knew the American public wasn't up enough on geopolitical issues to press the point. Ditto for the reaction to Lindsey and Shinseki. They should have explained why they thought the estimates were wrong instead of just downplaying them.

Lance: As for using our leverage to affect the policies of the Iraqi government, that is not necessarily anti-democratic.

There are degrees, though. Trying to influence another country is a very different kettle of fish from trying to directly manipulate another country's internal political processes, which we'll have the ability to do. And an occupying power that is the most powerful country in the world is definitely going to have a much higher degree of leverage than France does over us. Will we use that leverage in favor of our own interests even if it conflicts with the wishes of Iraqis? That's not a question we can answer now.

Lance: What I find interesting is you are criticizing the policy choices of the administration for doing things which you do not believe are in our best interest, which is a realist critique, while simultaneously attacking them because you do not believe they are really trying to promote democracy. It seems they are damned if they do, damned if they donít.

Because it is my impression that these choices appear to be neither realist nor idealist. I'm not sure exactly what motivates them, but it could be self-serving or merely short-sighted. At the risk of blatant self-promotion and for the sake keeping this brief, I've made that case at length here. In a nutshell, the best example is that he passed a supply-side tax cut to fight a CapEx recession. That makes no sense from a supply-side or Keynesian standpoint. Ditto for the steel tariffs, which hurt us economically and conflict with conservative ideology.

Posted by: fling93 at March 4, 2005 02:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Ignore the petty carping that Bush didn't cause Arafat's death."

What evidence is there that Bush didn't cause Arafat's death?

He might very well deserve whatever credit you want to give him for that.

Posted by: J Thomas at March 4, 2005 03:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lance, for the record, I think it is Praktike who is grinding his ax for the ox of Adesnik. I have not made my preferences known.

Otherwise, I enjoyed the back and forth with you and fling. Yes I am more than willing to give Bush credit if deserved. But let's be a little more patient about declaring this or that a victory, or a cause of the invasion of Iraq. If I had to say right now, I would say that Bush, either by deed or rhetoric, has got the ball rolling in some quarters, and has been in good "rebounding" position in others. But nothing yet is so dramatic that it would merit raising the...Mission Accomplished banner so to speak.

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 4, 2005 05:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And Lance, you goad me to make some musical suggestions, and then nothing in response?

Posted by: Eric Martin at March 4, 2005 05:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

fling93: "But they're still just words, and after all, Bush is a politician (why our country seems to think a politician ceases to be a politician when they win an election is beyond me)."

So are the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The point is that when words have REALITY closely connected to them, they mean things.

When Bush made the suggestion that the US and France would be rather unhappy if Syrian troops did not withdraw from Lebanon, Abbas took him seriously. The reason he was taken seriously is because it is now known that Bush says what he means.

Posted by: Mamapajamas at March 7, 2005 01:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

fling93: "Because it is my impression that these choices appear to be neither realist nor idealist. I'm not sure exactly what motivates them, but it could be self-serving or merely short-sighted."

And if the end results of a self-serving policy are good for the people in the region affected... such as ending up with a democratic government... what difference does it make in the end result?

You seem to be looking for problems where there may not be any. An expression defining that mode of reasoning is "borrowing trouble".

Posted by: Mamapajamas at March 7, 2005 01:37 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"When Bush made the suggestion that the US and France would be rather unhappy if Syrian troops did not withdraw from Lebanon, Abbas took him seriously. The reason he was taken seriously is because it is now known that Bush says what he means."

Well, no. It's known that Bush doesn't mean what he says or vice versa. But he is getting the reputation of being rather unpredictable and dangerous.

As for syria, how much do you know about them? Their occupation of lebanon may have given them favorable trade agreements, but did that make up for what the occupation cost them directly? When they went into lebanon, lebanon was teetering on the edge of an xuslavia-type ethnic cleansing. The syrians mostly stopped that. When they're gone will it start up again?

The syrians might have been looking for an excuse to cancel their obligation to keep the peace in lebanon, and our threats gave them a convenient excuse.

We'll have to wait and see whether the results are good for lebanese or syrians. It isn't really very important for us to decide about that in the short run. Bush will do whatever he wants no matter what we think.

Posted by: J Thomas at March 7, 2005 02:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mamapajamas: When Bush made the suggestion that the US and France would be rather unhappy if Syrian troops did not withdraw from Lebanon, Abbas took him seriously. The reason he was taken seriously is because it is now known that Bush says what he means.

Is it really that... or is it because Syria is low-hanging fruit (like Iraq was)? After all, that would explain why Iran and North Korea -- whom Bush has been warning for years -- just keep accelerating their nuclear programs.

Mamapajamas: And if the end results of a self-serving policy are good for the people in the region affected... such as ending up with a democratic government... what difference does it make in the end result?

No, it doesn't make a difference. But we're a long way from that point, and the odds of getting to that point will be greatly affected by whether our policy is self-serving or short-sighted. Not to mention that the likely negative impact of such a policy upon the hearts and minds of the world would greatly hamper the WoT.

Posted by: fling93 at March 7, 2005 07:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Fling93,
Ideologically we are probably not that far apart. Cowen, McCardle, Drezner and I are all certainly in the same ballpark, though I have never been a registered Republican. Still, I think you are assuming an awful lot in your dissection of Bush's rhetoric and actions. I see a group with goals which are basically pretty admirable trying to execute them amidst a politically difficult environment at home, an even more treacherous environment overseas and all the while dealing with the enormous amount of wildcards that come from not having control over the actions of most of the relevant players. Throw in the vagaries of fortune, very imperfect information and the inevitable follies of your own behavior and we get back to the old libertarian argument against entangling ourselves in the affairs of others.

Actions, and words in the real world have meaning, but they rarely track precisely with what you do in the press of circumstance. Much of what you say is evidence of Bush and Co.'s perfidy seems to me a group trying to make the best of what they have. Are they competently doing that? Not sure, but some of the results are encouraging in any case.

Eric,

"But let's be a little more patient about declaring this or that a victory, or a cause of the invasion of Iraq. If I had to say right now, I would say that Bush, either by deed or rhetoric, has got the ball rolling in some quarters, and has been in good "rebounding" position in others. But nothing yet is so dramatic that it would merit raising the...Mission Accomplished banner so to speak."

Patience! I don't need no stinking patience!

Except of course you are right. I am sure you know I feel exactly the same.

Posted by: Lance at March 7, 2005 10:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Lance: Still, I think you are assuming an awful lot in your dissection of Bush's rhetoric and actions.

I certainly could be. Any specific assumptions you disagree with? They'll be hard for me to spot myself.

Lance: I see a group with goals which are basically pretty admirable trying to execute them amidst a politically difficult environment at home, an even more treacherous environment overseas and all the while dealing with the enormous amount of wildcards that come from not having control over the actions of most of the relevant players.

Are you listing your assumptions or your conclusions here? And I think I would disagree with "politically difficult environment at home." His own party controls Congress (which was not true for Clinton, Bush Sr., or Reagan). And after 9/11, the country has seen heightened nationalism and a higher prioritization of security issues, which he's been able to harness in support of his policy goals (and perhaps his own reelection). Not to mention the foreign goodwill after 9/11. It seems to me that he faced a much more cooperative world than his predecessors, and if there's a "treacherous overseas environment" now, it was a direct result of the invasion of Iraq. Given that most of the world opposed the invasion (even many of our "allies" had electorates largely opposed to it, like in Spain, Britain, and Australia), I can't see how that could have surprised anybody.

I'm not arguing that we should make our foreign policy conform to the world's desires. I'm just saying that I don't exactly see too many difficulties other than those that were self-created. Besides, what exactly do you think he would have done differently given a "friendlier" environment? I don't really see what he was prevented from doing. Even the recession bolstered his tax cut policy.

Posted by: fling93 at March 7, 2005 10:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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