Friday, April 16, 2004

post and riposte
From Stratfor, today:

Bush's inability and/or unwillingness to articulate a coherent strategic justification for the Iraq campaign -- one that integrates the campaign with the general war on Islamists that began Sept. 11 -- is at the root of his political crisis right now. If the primary purpose of the U.S. invasion of Iraq was to bring democracy to Iraq, then enduring the pain of the current crisis will make little sense to the American public. Taken in isolation, bringing democracy to Iraq may be a worthy goal, but not one taking moral precedence over bringing democracy to several dozen other countries -- and certainly not a project worth the sacrifices now being made necessary.

If, on the other hand, the invasion was an integral part of the war that began Sept. 11, then Bush will generate public support for it. The problem that Bush has -- and it showed itself vividly in his press conference -- is that he and the rest of his administration are simply unable to embed Iraq in the general strategy of the broader war. Bush asserts that it is part of that war, but then uses the specific justification of bringing democracy to Iraq as his rationale. Unless you want to argue that democratizing Iraq -- assuming that is possible -- has strategic implications more significant than democratizing other countries, the explanation doesn't work. The explanation that does work -- that the invasion of Iraq was a stepping-stone toward changes in behavior in other countries of the region -- is never given.

This is not only odd, but also it has substantial political implications for Bush and the United States. First, by providing no coherent answer, he leaves himself open to critics who are ascribing motives to his policy -- everything from controlling the world's oil supply, to the familial passion to destroy Saddam Hussein, to a Jewish world conspiracy. The Bush administration, having created an intellectual vacuum, can't complain when others, trying to understand what the administration is doing, gin up these theories. The administration has asked for it.

Was a democratic Iraq the plan all along? Is it plan B? If so, what was plan A)? From Juan Cole

I have concluded that the Bush administration is like Iran. The Iranian government has two of everything. It has a relatively liberal president, and a hardline supreme jurisprudent. The reformists control the foreign ministry, the hardliners control the military. The reformists have some parliament representatives, the hardliners control the Guardian Council, which has the power of judicial review over parliament. You never know with the Iranian government who is on top or what a policy means, since it could be coming from either competing section of the same government.

Likewise, in the Bush administration, the Pentagon has its own foreign policy, which competes with and often trumps the foreign policy of the State Department and the National Security Council. Thus, Gen. Myers is pointing fingers at Iran and Syria and making all sorts of wild accusations at them, darkly hinting they will be overthrown if they don't shape up. And Colin Powell is writing them polite letters about bilateral relations and could they please use their good offices to help the Americans in Iraq. It is bizarre, and the urbane, canny leaders in Damascus and Tehran (who have long experience of residence in the UK and Germany respectively), must be scratching their heads in wonder at this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde American hyperpower that rages about an axis of evil and goes about preemptively invading countries on the one hand and then comes politely, hat in hand, to request selfless assistance on the other.

I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that there isn’t a plan at all. 9/11 was a severe insult to the US psyche, destroying the whole notion of US exceptionalism and the response since then has as much been an attempt to restore the national virginity as a substantive attempt to punish the perpetrators or re-order the Islamic world. It’s post traumatic stress disorder masquerading as geopolitics. In policy terms there was an urgent need for something that convinced everyone that a hard line was being taken. Those around to take that hard line happened to be fixed on the invasion of Iraq, which resonated more widely as unfinished business. How could something that felt so good be wrong?

Can a hyperpower be so frivolous? Part of the point of being a hyperpower is that you make the weather. Your own visions become other people’s realities.