All too real
I have been going through the recent report, “Iran: Time for a New Approach” co-chaired by Zbigniew Brzezinski (in charge at National Security during the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979) and Robert Gates (involved in Iran-Contra). It makes depressing reading in its call for new talks with the dictators in Iran, since we have done that for 20 years, and should have learned that they lip-synch back only when they feel they have more to gain than lose. Churchill understood that when he put an end to Tory backchannel efforts to talk with ascendant Nazis after the fall of France. And surely we should learn something from the recent Hamas step back and apparent willingness to rethink talking to Israel—given its loss of millions in Western handouts and tough Israel retaliation against Gaza.
Next will come the Baker group report on Iraq—no doubt with more calls to reassure regional dictatorships and to ask them to help “stabilize” Iraq, as if such creepy strongmen would find anything to their advantage in having a successful democracy next door.
And we should remember a few things about the return of “realism” which is really just an academic veneer to the old isolationism. This was a policy that gave us the arming of Osama bin Laden et al. to stop the Soviets in Afghanistan, sort of played Iran off against Iran in their murderous war of the 1980s, abandoned the Kurds, favored the Soviet Gorbachev over the Russian Yeltsin, stopped outside Baghdad and let the Shiites and Kurds be gunned down after urging them to revolt, let Milosevic do his murdering unopposed, and established a revolving door in the Middle East in which former American officials simply went out of office and into great profit by using their past contacts to be rewarded with legal, financial, and arms links to petro-dollar rich dictatorships. Could we not have a simple rule: bar anyone from official duty in American Middle East affairs, Left or Right, who currently or in the past, has had profitable business conducted with the region’s dictatorial governments? De facto, they become suspect when they return in their latest incarnations as senior statesmen. Indeed, it is hard to find very many senior realists who at one time or another have not been consultants, academics, lawyers, salesmen, or investors whose income was not in some way enhanced by Gulf state oil money
As a sidebar: those reformers in the Middle East who used to rail against this realpolitik never said a word in support of recent American efforts to offer a democratic alternative in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to pressure Arab dictatorships to reform. And so when the realist mindset returns, Americans will hardly listen to any of their renewed cries of help, since their train left the station years ago.
Ditto those who now cry for action in Darfur. They were some of the harshest critics of trying to help Iraq, and apparently think we could intervene in the Sudan without the sort of mess that is intrinsic anywhere Westerners must fight jihadists and Islamicists on the ground. Saddam killed just as many innocents as the Muslims did in Darfur, and it would be just as messy in righting that wrong there as it was in Iraq.
Our friends, the Kurds
The Kurds are landlocked, surrounded by Turks and Iranians, often challenged by Iraqi Wahhabists—and booming. With all the talk of Iraq’s “failure” and the need to pull up stakes and call it quits, no one is talking about what happens to Kurdistan, a strong U.S. ally that did everything we have asked of it, and is a model of reform in the Islamic world. Surely, we owe these brave people with a tortured history our continued friendship, and to keep faith to our promises to stabilize Iraq—especially after the debacle of 1991, and of course our earlier realist indifference to their gassing by Saddam. How odd we now contemplate leaving Iraq and the Kurds hanging and getting closer to those of the House of Saud, when the former have offered us only friendship and success at trying to open their economy and establish freedom, and the latter little other than (high-priced oil) and stealthy subsidies for those who have killed us.
Lost in all the campaign rhetoric over the war also is the position of the United States, and its military—if we leave Iraq before it is stabilized. Far from “freeing” up our “overburdened” forces by getting out, we will be instead ensuring that they really will be overworked as crises with Iran and North Korea flare up, and jihadists pour into Afghanistan as Pakistan goes ever more Islamic. In contrast, if the military can defeat the jihadists, train the Iraqis in counter-insurgency, ditto the Kurdish economic model in Iraq and ensure constitutional reform lasts, then opportunistic enemies will hold back. You could have a 5-million-man military after a defeat in Iraq, and it would be kept busy and stretched too thin trying to deal with all the strongmen who thought they smelled weakness and wished to take advantage of American impotence.
Language is the keystone to politics. This past week I gave some lectures about illegal immigration. I noticed how the supporters of open borders so often prefer to demonize their opponents as “anti-immigrant”, hoping to reframe the debate into Americans’ supposed animosity against individual arrivals, legal and illegal. And why not when a rational defense of illegal immigration is indefensible? “Undocumented worker” is another favorite. But with 25% of all illegal alien households on entitlements in California, it is hard to think that all aliens are working or simply forgot their documents at the border. “The borders crossed us” is yet another deliberate misnomer, when the vast majority of Mexicans and Mexican-American in the United States cannot trace their family lineage in America past three generations. You get the picture: when an argument is indefensible then language is contorted to do what reason cannot.
Whom do we admire?
How odd that today we admire Ronald Reagan whose coattails never could translate into a House majority, who was nearly destroyed by Iran-Contra, and who left office in uncertainty over whether he had really changed much the Cold War calculus. Harry Truman finished with about a 25% approval rating, winning no credit for the birth of containment. After his crankiness, the Democrats wanted a more “thoughtful” liberal like Adlai Stevenson as their leader. Churchill—demonized after Gallipoli, and ostracized during the 1930s—was then voted out of office in 1945 after saving Britain from its enemies. Lincoln was perhaps the most hated man in the United States by August 1864.
I mention all this because George W. Bush, who won two wars after September 11, and changed the course of U.S. foreign policy to encourage reform abroad, and prevented so far another 9/11 like attack, can obtain a similar respect from history—as long as he realizes two truths: he must persevere, and no more give into realist seducers than did Churchill to those who called for dialoguing with Hitler; and he must accept that he will leave office hated. But if he flip-flops to get his approval ratings back up to 50%, he can be assured that history’s will be no kinder to him than it was to LBJ, Nixon, George Bush Sr., or Bill Clinton.
For all the present gloom, if Bush hangs tough and gets Iraq stabilized, does not appease North Korea and Iran, and sees movement in the Middle East toward more reform, then in 10 years he will be seen as a rarely successful American President.