Sept 11 Journal
~ Saturday, April 24, 2004
Back in March I responded to an article by Gabriel Kolko with the first paragraph below. I have since added several more paragraphs where I explicate some of the threats posed by the Bush administration to our current system. A link to the Kolko article follows.
Gabriel Kolko’s article for Counterpunch is a fun or scary riff on the Cockburn/Nader view that Kerry is just as bad as Bush, maybe worse. The article is interesting nevertheless because it shrewdly emphasizes that the real or ultimate targets of the neocons running this administration are Russia and China. Administration policy makers have been undermining the old international order because they feel that negotiation, alliances and treaties are for wimps. They are the same people who were trotting out notions of nuclear war fighting in the first years of the Reagan administration but were quickly silenced. As Kolko admits, a second Bush term would give them the initiative.
Kolko implicitly acknowledges that the neocon philosophy is not realistic, but is rather romantic and irrational. It is very likely to make life more miserable or impossible for hundreds of millions if not billions of people and conceivably could bring down the whole system through war, nuclear war or economic collapse leading to war.
Kolko’s vision of a second Bush term in which the U.S. would be hobbled and unable to wreak havoc as a result of its bellicose initiatives and its disdain for diplomacy is unrealistic. It’s not as if in a second Bush term, the rest of the world will be able to remove the U.S. from the world scene. America will continue to be a humongous and terrible player in many ways, with or without strong or lasting allies. The U.S. will still have a relatively powerful economy as well as the world’s largest nuclear weapons arsenal, and quantities of biological and chemical weapons. The rest of the world will not be able to ignore it or combine against it beyond a certain point. As an example, even though Bush discarded the ABM treaty and insisted on provoking Russia by enlarging NATO up to Russian borders, nevertheless Russia well understands that it must continue to cooperate with the U.S. in many areas. The Russians cannot simply ignore the U.S. or force them off the world scene.
Not that it’s going to be easy in a post Bush world. Even under more rational U.S. regimes, tensions will mount among the great powers. It is already evident that the rising standard of living in China is putting pressure on world oil supplies, soybeans (which have reached record high prices) and many more commodities and will contribute to increasing international tensions. The neocons are distinguished by an agenda which is furthered by such tensions and they endeavor to exacerbate them.
It’s not unlikely that international tensions will lead to some kind of cataclysm down the road in the not all that distant future. But why rush things? World oil supplies will last for another 10 years or more at current consumption levels. If we manage to dislodge the Bush crowd it may be possible to begin to plan for the transition to considerably higher priced oil in concert with allies.
Next to oil scarcity, the most serious threat to world peace is an Israel directed by Ariel Sharon. My own view is that a Kerry administration could not possibly be more in thrall to Sharon’s Likud government than is the current U.S. government if only because it would not include such figures as Cheney and Bush, Eliot Abrams, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton , Rumsfeld, and others. While a Kerry government would have much less room to maneuver than before Bush signed on to the April 2004 agreements (read: demands) of the Sharon government concerning the Palestinian right of return and the acquisition of territory acquired by war, nevertheless it would have at least the hope of moderating the most outrageous excesses of Sharon’s perverse brainstorms.
March 12 / 14, 2004
The US Must be Isolated and Constrained
The Coming Elections and the Future of American Global Power
By GABRIEL KOLKO
~ Friday, April 23, 2004
I agree with virtually everything in the important articles you will find below. Nevertheless I can't resist the opportunity to advance my quibble with Sniegoski/Raimondo and others who think Bush is dimwitted or actually stupid. True, he’s inarticulate, illiterate, generally ignorant and extraordinarily narrow minded and ideological –very much like the bulk of his supporters, but there is definitely a brain there. He played a key role in his father’s 1998 winning campaign. Indeed, he many have been the Karl Rove of that campaign, as the latter was sidelined for a time due to campaign improprieties which became public.
I make my case for a shrewd and calculating George W. Bush on the widely publicized information from Richard Clarke’s book where we find George W. Bush himself badgering and attempting to intimidate Clarke into connecting Iraq with the events of 9/11. The incident seems to implicate George W. Bush himself as one of the chief evildoers and masterminds of war -- not merely the pawn of Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Feith, et al.
His motives are perhaps somewhat more obscure than the others. But Bush’s intent to make war on Iraq may have been simply a Rovian calculation that such a war would be good politics – a calculation that despite the horrors of current headlines may yet turn out to close enough to the mark to secure his re-election – along with ballot problems in many states including Florida such as unverifiable touch screen voting, the purging of tens of thousands of likely Democratic voters from the roles, intimidation of such voters, etc. –all of which he is clearly apprised of. Moreover, the romantic view of war for its own sake is at the heart of the neocon vision of the importance of demonstrating American power, especially to enforce Israeli hegemony. In their world there is no other foreign or domestic agenda to speak of besides deregulation and tax benefits for the wealthy. --RB
----- Original Message -----
From: Stephen Sniegoski
To: Sniegoski, Stephen
Sent: Wednesday, April 21, 2004 7:22 AM
Subject: Raimondo: War on Iraq as a "Covert Operation"
Raimondo: War on Iraq as a "Covert Operation"
Raimondo asks and answers the question that mainstream Bob Woodward dares not consider. "Bob Woodward says the neocons set up a 'separate government' – but to what purpose?" I am not even sure Woodward dared to utter the word "neocon," but that was the cast of characters he identified. Raimondo writes: "While mind-reading George W. Bush is like trying to discern the hidden meaning of a blank page, the neoconservative mindset is hardly a state secret. In understanding what motivates them in their relentless pursuit of ‘regime change,’ not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East, one only has to ask: Who benefits, and who pays?" Of course, America pays, Sharon’s Israel benefits.
Regarding the benefits to Sharon’s Israel, Raimondo points out:
"Israel's West Bank annexation – piously described as a ‘unilateral withdrawal’ by Sharon and his amen corner in the West – is the first big payoff"
"The de facto disintegration and break-up of Iraq as a unitary nation, an increasingly likely consequence of the U.S. invasion, is an outcome that, again, benefits Israel, to the detriment of American interests. A campaign to similarly atomize Syria is next, with economic sanctions already in place, and a border incident waiting to happen. But the War Party's agenda doesn't end in Damascus: it's on to Tehran, Riyadh, and, eventually, Cairo."
Of course, destabilization of the Middle East was long time Likudnik policy—Oded Yinon’s policy paper entitled, "A Strategy for Israel in the 1980s," proposed a plan for the destabilization and fragmentation of Israel’s Middle East enemies. [http://www.theunjustmedia.com/the%20zionist_plan_for_the_middle_east.htm].
And, as I pointed out in an earlier message [Iraq in Israel’s Grand Strategy], the idea of breaking up Israel’s Arab neighbors actually was Zionist policy prior to the independence of Israel in 1948, and was promoted by David Ben-Gurion himself. http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/print/2003/634/op2.htm
What Woodward describes as the "separate government" (run by neocons) actually became THE US GOVERNMENT.
Raimondo writes: "In effect, the neocons pulled off a coup d'etat, a palace revolution in which veteran government officials like Richard Clarke, and the CIA and Pentagon ‘old guard,’ were pushed aside. . . . If the purpose of the U.S. government is to protect American security and interests, then why did there need to be a "separate" and competing government – unless that government was pursuing other, non-American interests?"
Raimondo goes on to describe the war on Iraq as a successful "covert operation."
"There is, however, no way to understand where we are, and how we got here, unless we see the push to get us into Iraq as a successful covert operation. A success, that is, not in terms of American interests, but in the terms of those who carried it out."
"On the other hand, the concept of the Iraq war as a successful Israeli covert operation is altogether plausible. It would hardly be the first time a foreign government made a concerted effort to drag us into war on their side. And just look at the pattern of recent events: Israel gains, America pays: Israel assassinates, Americans die: Israel conquers, and the American government concurs wholeheartedly: Israel says ‘Jump!’ and the government of the United States only wants to know how high. Israel's partisans inside the U.S. government – who, according to top officials and other ‘defectors,’ set up their own ‘separate government’ – seized the helm and steered the American ship of state into turbulent waters."
Raimondo has done an excellent job in pointing out how the neocons were the fundamental driving force for this was and actually drove the build-up for the war. He has been on this issue from the very beginning, and must be commended for having the courage to do so. However, I disagree with his description of the neocon operation as a "covert operation." There was nothing very covert about Israel or the neocons, and their very open support of Israel. They have made it quite public. And many openly hold important positions of power regarding national security in the Bush administration. Obviously, some of their operations have been secretive, and they didn’t just come out and say that they were leading the US into war to advance the interests of Israel. However, the link between the neocons and Israel and Israel and the war on Iraq was quite obvious. It has even seeped out in the mainstream media. But most mainstream folk have not have the courage to pursue the issue very far and give it the publicity that it needs. Hence, average Americans are generally unaware of the neocons’ role. Of course, this failure and fear is due the taboo on saying anything that displeases powerful Jewish organizations, which can bring about the lethal charge of "anti-Semitism."
I discussed all this in my "The War on Iraq: Conceived in Israel." http://www.thornwalker.com/ditch/conc_toc.htm
The only activity that was definitely "covert" (if it did exist) was the possible links between Administration officials and Israel to the September 11 terrorism. Did leading members of the Bush Administration intentionally avoid authorizing actions that might have stopped the terrorists? What was the connection to 911 of the Mossad agents in the US, some of whom lived near chief terrorist Mohammed Atta in Hollywood, Florida, while others took pictures of the burning World Trade Towers and celebrated? In short, the neocon push for war was pretty open, although more can still be learned, but the September 11 terrorism still has its significant mysteries, which may never be uncovered (and, of course, will definitely never be uncovered if no one dares to make an extensive investigation).
April 19, 2004
Plan of Attack
Bob Woodward says the neocons set up a 'separate government' – but to what purpose?
by Justin Raimondo
It was a twofer for the serial killers at the helm in Tel Aviv. Israeli helicopter gunships had just taken out a blind paraplegic, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, when his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi, also went up in a puff of smoke. The United States, as usual, exculpated Israel, while the Arab world blamed Uncle Sam. What made it all so typical of Israeli behavior was the timing.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had barely stepped off the plane, back from his triumphant visit to Washington – where the President of the United States had capitulated to his every whim, agreeing to the annexation of key portions of the West Bank. While the Arabs writhed in helpless fury, and the fighting in Iraq rose to new heights of blood-drenched fury, Rantisi was struck down along with several bystanders, and the Arab are blaming us for that, too.
Israeli policies are undeniably fueling the Iraqi insurgency, and swelling radical Islamist ranks. In a statement issued by a previously-unknown group claiming responsibility for the horrific death-by-mutilation of four American quasi-military contractors in Fallujah, the link was made explicitly:
"'This is a gift from the people of Fallujah to the people of Palestine and the family of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin who was assassinated by the criminal Zionists,' said in the statement from the 'Brigades of Martyr Ahmed Yassin.' 'We advise the US forces to withdraw from Iraq and we advise the families of the American soldiers and the contractors not to come to Iraq.'"
How many more Americans soldiers will die in Iraq as a result of Sharon's calculated murders is a grim statistic to contemplate. As an emboldened Israel continues its rampage through Palestine, that number will surely grow.
Far from trying to mitigate these fatal consequences, the Israelis revel in their leverage with the Imperial hegemon. As one member of the Israeli delegation put it:
"I think this will probably be remembered as one of the most important successful political initiatives that Israel has ever undertaken vis-a-vis the United States. It takes into consideration all the important elements: that the (Palestinian refugees') claim of return is not to Israel but to a Palestinian state, the need for defensible borders and the recognition that Israel cannot return to the 1949 lines and a recognition of the demographic realities. As far as the statement is concerned, the outline of any future permanent agreement with the Palestinians has been documented and signed by the president of the United States."
Recent events have greatly clarified the exact meaning and motives of the War Party in recklessly invading Iraq without a plan, without enough troops to police the place, and without a clue as to the consequences. As the body-bags come home and the bills come in, a growing number of conservative Republicans are beginning to ask: whatever possessed him to do it? Why did he go against the advice and example of his own father, and listen to the false counsel of the neocons – and what was their motive, anyway?
While mind-reading George W. Bush is like trying to discern the hidden meaning of a blank page, the neoconservative mindset is hardly a state secret. In understanding what motivates them in their relentless pursuit of "regime change," not only in Iraq but throughout the Middle East, one only has to ask: Who benefits, and who pays?
Israel's West Bank annexation – piously described as a "unilateral withdrawal" by Sharon and his amen corner in the West – is the first big payoff. That it comes just as the American casualty rate is beginning to soar underscores the essence of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. While America's fight against Al Qaeda and defending the homeland against terrorism is made more difficult by the occupation of Iraq, the Israeli goal of leveling any and all threats to its national security has been advanced – and the chaos, too, is a benefit.
The de facto disintegration and break-up of Iraq as a unitary nation, an increasingly likely consequence of the U.S. invasion, is an outcome that, again, benefits Israel, to the detriment of American interests. A campaign to similarly atomize Syria is next, with economic sanctions already in place, and a border incident waiting to happen. But the War Party's agenda doesn't end in Damascus: it's on to Tehran, Riyadh, and, eventually, Cairo. As Laurent Murawiec, the ex-LaRouche cultist who famously briefed the Pentagon Policy Board at Richard Perle's invitation, put it:
"Iraq is the tactical pivot,
Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot,
Egypt the prize."
While Murawiec may not have fully recovered from his decade-plus immersion in a nut-cult, one has to wonder if the leaders of our own government are any less nutty. Which raises the question, just who is running things, anyway? The answer, according to Colin Powell, reports Bob Woodward in his new book, Plan of Attack, is not at all clear:
"Powell felt Cheney and his allies – his chief aide, I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith and what Powell called Feith's 'Gestapo' office – had established what amounted to a separate government."
In effect, the neocons pulled off a coup d'etat, a palace revolution in which veteran government officials like Richard Clarke, and the CIA and Pentagon "old guard," were pushed aside. (Go here for an up close and detailed description of the purge by former Pentagon analyst Karen Kwiatkowski.) If the purpose of the US government is to protect American security and interests, then why did there need to be a "separate" and competing government – unless that government was pursuing other, non-American interests?
Not only the Woodward book, but the series of whistleblowers who have come out of the closet and revealed the inner workings of the Bush administration, lead us into territory that, for want of a better word, can only be called a "conspiracy theory." Which, one supposes, is one way of saying that everything is not an accident. There is, however, no way to understand where we are, and how we got here, unless we see the push to get us into Iraq as a successful covert operation. A success, that is, not in terms of American interests, but in the terms of those who carried it out.
The Iraq war, the diversion away from the real authors of 9/11, the costly obsession with Saddam Hussein, the professed intention of "staying the course" of an unsustainable policy – none of it makes any sense when viewed through the prism of American national interests. The entire thrust of our Middle East policy is counter-intuitive and counterproductive. Only two parties benefited from the invasion of Iraq: the Likudniks (and their American branch office) loyal to Sharon and the jihadists associated with Osama Bin Laden.
Sharon now has a weapon to wield against the radicals in his own party, who want all the settlements to stay in the West Bank, and the Labor Party, which accuses him of being too intransigent. Also, perhaps, his triumph has provided him with a shield to ward off the growing stench of personal scandal. Bin Laden, on the other hand, is winning a worldwide following and recruiting hand over fist, forging the next generation of suicide-bombing fanatics, who dream of two, three, many more 9/11s.
No, I'm not saying that agents of Osama bin Laden have taken over the US government. Although Coleen Rowley and her co-workers at the FBI used to joke that headquarters acted at times as if it had been infiltrated by Al Qaeda, and Clarke quips in his book that Bush must have been "channeling Osama bin Laden" in coming up with the scheme to invade Iraq, this kind of rhetorical flourish is not meant to be taken literally.
On the other hand, the concept of the Iraq war as a successful Israeli covert operation is altogether plausible. It would hardly be the first time a foreign government made a concerted effort to drag us into war on their side. And just look at the pattern of recent events: Israel gains, America pays: Israel assassinates, Americans die: Israel conquers, and the American government concurs wholeheartedly: Israel says "Jump!" and the government of the United States only wants to know how high. Israel's partisans inside the US government – who, according to top officials and other "defectors," set up their own "separate government" – seized the helm and steered the American ship of state into turbulent waters.
The storm, I fear, is only just beginning. What began as a police action, a "mopping up" of Ba'athist "remnants," is now taking on the scope of a nationwide anti-American insurgency. Americans want to know how and why we were rushed into war – and by whom.
This war, and the policy that gave birth to it, is criminal in so many different ways, but surely treason is not the least of the crimes that can be ascribed to the leaders of the War Party. The investigation into the machinations of this group – who acted, in effect if not consciously, as agents of a foreign power – is a ticking time-bomb for this administration – or, at least, for the "separate government" set up by the Cheney-Wolfowitz-Feith junta.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I hate to say "I told you so," but, hey, didn't I predict that military operations in Iraq would soon come to resemble the siege at Waco? The news that our "psyops" brigade is playing heavy metal rock really really loud in hopes of flushing out Fallujah's defenders confirms it. Okay, so I was writing about the siege of Najaf, not Fallujah, where the heavy metal weapon is being deployed, but, hey, it's all the same, isn't it – at least according to professional ignoramus Andrew Sullivan, who writes:
"SADR CAPITULATES: I'm unnerved by the presence of Iranians helping to broker some kind of deal with al Sadr, but heartened by the fact that the extremist revolt in Fallujah seems to have been quelled – largely by Marine force and by moderate Shiite realism."
But of course Sadr is in Najaf, not Fallujah, which is Sunni, not Shi'ite. And somebody ought to tell those rebellious Fallujans they've been "quelled," because they don't seem to have realized it as yet. Why anyone takes Sullivan seriously – gay affirmative action? – is waaaaay beyond me.
Find this article at:
Nobody does it like Billmon, the proprietor of the Whiskey Bar blog. He’s the first I’ve seen to spell out so clearly the U.S. ship of state heading directly into the iceberg. Also, I subscribe to his view that as compromised as he is, Kerry is the better choice since this terrible monster that has turned out to be Israeli directed U.S. Middle East policy (is it easier to see now that Israel and its fellow travelers have gotten us into this?) will inevitably be run by someone and the only other option is the exposed, clueless murderous and cruel neocons who are now doing so. Since I’m still alive, I have to hope, if not believe, that Kerry has a better shot at keeping the game going somewhat longer. --RB
Billmon's Whiskey Bar
April 20, 2004
Against the Middle
As previously mentioned, I spent most of Monday afternoon at a conference co-sponsored by the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, an advocacy group that has ambitions of eventually becoming sanity's counterpart to the Project for a New American Century, hopefully before the neocons have completely destabilized the Middle East and plunged the United States into World War III -- or IV, by their reckoning.
But after listening to the various conference speakers -- academic scholars, mostly, with a smattering of defense analysts -- I'm starting to suspect the worst effects of the PNAC agenda can no longer be avoided, at least not without a fairly sweeping revolution in American politics, too sweeping to be credible.
I think the invasion of Iraq may go down in history as one of those decisions -- like Germany's decision to back Austro-Hungary's ultimatum to the Serbs, or the U.S. decision to cut off oil shipments to Japan until it withdrew from China -- that have consequences extending far beyond what the makers of those decisions ever expected. The neocons, who have been failing upward for the past three decades, may have finally created a mess too big to be cleaned up.
John Mearsheimer -- the University of Chicago professor last seen in this space reducing the NewsHour's Jim Lehrer to near despair -- provided a fairly definitive post mortem on the failure of the neocons' grand design.
The three key elements of the original neocon strategy, Mearsheimer argued, were:
Unilateral action, which would allow the United States to avoid the inevitably restrictions of a UN or even NATO-sanctioned operation.
Creating a "bandwagon effect," in which uncommitted players (either inside and outside of Iraq) would jump to follow an America that acted decisively.
A strategic and political transformation of the Middle East, one that would sweep away anti-American and anti-Israeli regimes and lay the groundwork for "democracy" -- or at least, for an unbroken network of pliable pro-American goverments.
As described by Mearsheimer, these three elements were intended to be both sequential and self-reinforcing. By moving unilaterally, the neocons hoped to gain a free hand to remake Iraq as they saw fit -- in defiance of international opinion and even international law, if need be. This display of U.S. resolve would then help create the desired bandwagon effect, which in turn would promote regional transformation.
If necessary, the same force that conquered Iraq in less than three weeks could be sent into Syria or Iran to crack a few more heads -- another exercise in what Mearsheimer called "social engineering at the end of a gun."
A Confederacy of Dunces
It's easy -- and Mearsheimer wasn't the only conference speaker to find it so -- to poke huge holes in this "strategery," which really does sound like something Shrub and a bunch of his old frat brothers might have dreamed up in a lost weekend at Camp David. You could write this off as just another example of 20/20 hindsight, if not for the fact that so many of these flaws were pointed out before, during and immediately after the invasion -- by Mearsheimer and others, including Whiskey Bar's humble proprietor.
Some of the holes were political -- like the historical tendency of weaker actors to resist, rather than bandwagon with, a hegemonic power seeking to unilaterally alter the status quo. Some were almost metaphysical, as when Bush and the neocons promised to unleash a wave of "democratization" in the Middle East, but provided absolutely no concrete ideas for how that transformation was supposed to take place.
But the fatal flaw was military, which is ironic, given the universal assumption a year ago that whatever else might go wrong, the U.S. war machine was invincible. But the neocon program rested almost entirely on Rumsfeld's grandiose theories of military transformation -- the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs. "For the theory to work, the Pentagon has to be like Muhammed Ali -- able to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee," Mearsheimer said.
This essentially forced the neocons to adopt their Pollyanna scenario of a post-Saddam Iraq that could be quickly pacified and entrusted to the tender mercies of Ahmed Chalabi. A ten-division army simply couldn't handle anything else -- as Gen. Shinseki tried, in vain, to warn us.
It still can't. While Shrub and Rummy can lie, repeatedly and brazenly, to the American people about giving Gen. Abizaid whatever he needs to "win" the war, the general certainly knows better. The force Centcom has now -- 130,000 troops, give or take -- is as big a force as it's ever going to have, unless Bush is willing to bite the political bullet and call up the entire National Guard, instead of just a third of it.
Even then, if the conventional rule of thumb for peacekeeping duties is correct (and given the Iraqi realities, it probably wouldn't be unreasonable to double it) the Army wouldn't have anything like the number of troops it needs to restore a semblance of security in Iraq. And now that the truth has become unavoidable (except, of course, to the ever clueless American voter) the bandwagon is running in reverse, shedding Hessians and defense contractors as it goes.
Waist Deep in Big Sandy
All very Vietnam-like. But Iraq isn't Vietnam, no matter how much the senior managers of the two wars may resemble each other. In the end, America left nothing of strategic value behind in Indochina, just a trail of human devastation. The Persian Gulf is another story. Access to cheap oil may or may not have been a neocon motive for the conquest of Iraq, but it could easily become the main motive for the next Middle Eastern invasion, if the chaos in Iraq spills over into rest of the region.
In other words, the neocons may have screwed the pooch (to borrow a bit of pilot slang from Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff) so ferociously the poor beast can't be patched back up again. Instead of World War IV, America may find it's been dragged into a Middle Eastern version of the Thirty Years War, if not the Hundred Years War.
This isn't the kind of war the Revolution in Military Affairs is designed to fight. Sooner or later (probably sooner) the Uncle Sam is going to need more soldiers -- many more than the relatively modest increases now being talked about in Washington, and probably more than the global supply of Hessians can furnish.
Even if the necessary supply of cannon fodder can be found, or created, the economic burdens of a long war -- costs which are only now beginning to appear on Wall Street's radar screen -- aren't going to fit easily into a federal budget, not when 20 or 30 million baby boomers are about to become wards of the state.
Two hundred years ago, Britain was able to cover the better part of the tab for defeating Napoleon, and emerge from the contest stronger than when it entered -- just as America was able to subsidize its World War II allies and pay for the postwar reconstruction of Europe, and actually increase its share of world GDP in the process. But those days are gone, as America's mounting foreign debts already testify. If, as I suspect, the business of pacifying the Middle East grows into a war that will be measured in decades, not years, the United States could emerge bled as white as Britain and France at the end of World War I. As somebody (my notes aren't clear on exactly who) at the conference said: If America has become an empire, it isn't a condition that's likely to last very long.
You Can't Go Home Again
But solutions -- strategic as well as political -- were as scarce at the conference as problems were abundant. Mearsheimer argued that America should return to a policy of using naval and rapid reaction forces to police the Middle East from "over the horizon," as it did in the pre-Gulf War I days. This, at least, would be within the competence of Rummy's "transformed" high-tech warriors.
But it's hard to see how the status quo ante can be restored, not when the pillars of the old "realist" order -- a strong, centralized Iraq under Sunni control, and a House of Saud free to run its medieval house in its own corrupt way -- have been destroyed or fatally weakened. By all accounts, Iran's hardline security services are now well established in southern Iraq, bringing the Hezbollah wolf hard up against the door to Saudi Arabia's primarily Shi'a eastern provinces -- the source of about 15% of the global oil supply. That's not the kind of threat that can be handled by dispatching another aircraft carrier to the gulf. To paraphrase the military historian Andrew Bacevich, America may not be pursuing old-fashioned empire in the Middle East (of the sort the sun never sets on) but it definitely has some old-fashioned imperial problems. And thanks to the neocons and their idiot president, they're no longer the kind that can be dealt with from "over the horizon."
Ship of Fools
Unfortunately, even though the supertanker U.S.S. Foreign Policy is heading straight for the rocks, it doesn't look like we're going to change course any time soon. If anything, the current captain and his would-be replacement appear to be competing to see who has the best plan for ripping the ship's belly open a little more quickly -- as demonstrated by last week's little menage a trois with Ariel Sharon.
Turning the ship, or at least throwing the engines in reverse, would require a foreign policy revolution even more dramatic than the one that brought the neocons to power -- a process, remember, that took decades.
Even if we had that kind of time (which we don't) I doubt the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy will be able to match the political (as opposed to policy) successes of the neocons -- first creating an institutional base for their ideas, then grooming a team of experienced bureaucratic players, and then, as their penultimate triumph, capturing control of one of the two major political parties, while reducing the other to a state of extreme ideological dependency.
Strategically, the neocons and their neoliberal collaborators now hold the center of the political spectrum. The anti-imperialists hold the two edges -- historically not an enviable position. To continue the military analogy, the hawks enjoy the advantage of "interior lines of communication." The two wings of the anti-war movement, on the other hand, barely speak the same language.
The fact that realism has been pushed to the fringes of the political debate says a lot about America's collective mental condition. Sanity isn't very popular these days -- not for those desperate to rescue Israel from its demographic predicament, or for those dreaming of a world that looks "just like us," and certainly not for a president who believes he's God's vice-gerent on earth, or for the 15%-20% of the population that's counting down the days until the Rapture.
We seem to have reached the point where a half-baked strategy for endless war in the Middle East is actually easier to sell politically than a sensible energy policy, an end to American subservience to worst instincts of the Israeli national security state, and a focused campaign to destroy Al Qaeda while drying up the pools of hatred in which jihad festers and grows.
Clausewitz, that ultimate realist, once said that "he who neglects the possible in quest of the impossible is a fool." That just might end up being the epitaph for America's imperial adventure in the Middle East.
Whither the Popular Front?
For libertarian conservatives, the great fear is of a state that gradually overwhelms and crushes human liberty. For progressives, it's a state that ignores the needs of the weak and the powerless at home, while acting as an engine of oppression in the developing world. Thanks to the war in the Middle East, it looks like our worst fears could both come true. Thus, the idea of a coalition of both ends against the middle.
But it's hard to see how an alliance of the "realist" edges can seriously challenge the pro-war center without becoming another example of Clausewitz's axiom in action. We are, both separately and collectively, a movement without a party. Even leaving aside the futility of third-party politics, many, if not most, progressives aren't going to vote for a Libertarian candidate just because he or she is anti-war, just as many libertarians aren't gong to vote for Ralph Nader or the Greens just because they're against the war.
On the other hand, a Popular Front that includes the likes of Bill Kristol and Frank Gaffney (another neocon nut job who's suddenly discovered the latent virtues of John Kerry) is a total contradiction in terms.
I'm left, in the end, still flying the vote-for-Kerry flag, for all the reasons I've stated in my previous posts. It's roughly the same logic as Noam Chomsky's: When you're dealing with a superpower as large and potentially destructive as the United States, even minor political distinctions can make huge differences in real world outcomes. The neolibs, for all their sins -- mortal as well as venal -- at least are still living in the same reality as I am. The Republicans, on the other hand, have followed the neocons off into the Twilight Zone. And I don't think they're ever coming back.
But while I may still be flying Kerry's flag, I'm definitely not waving it. Being reduced to such fine distinctions between greater and lesser evil probably doesn't deserve a name as grand and heroic as the Popular Front. A Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy, on the other hand, is too much of a mouthful.
Let's just call it "Americans for Sanity," and leave it at that.
Posted by billmon at April 20, 2004 03:48 PM | TrackBack