Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Grading the Bush Doctrine, Pt. 1

In a very interesting and provocative article in the Asia Times, Tom Engelhardt argues that the Bush Doctrine has been an abject failure. Engelhardt writes that:
The Bush Doctrine, of course, no longer exists. Within a year, it had run aground on the shoals of reality on its very first whistle stop in Iraq. More than six years later, looking back on the foreign policy that emerged from Bush's self-declared "war on terror", it's clear that no president has ever failed on his own terms on such a scale or quite so comprehensively
He then proceeds to grade different applications and outcomes of the Bush Doctrine, from dealing with al Qaeda to Pakistan, from Iraq to Iran, from Somalia to Lebanon. Security Dilemmas will, over the next days consider and analyze Engelhardt's grades, going in order.


1. Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda: The "war on terror" started here. Osama bin Laden was to be brought in "dead or alive" - until, in December 2001, he escaped from a partial US encirclement in the mountainous Tora Bora region of Afghanistan (and many of the US troops chasing him were soon enough dispatched Iraqwards). Seven years later, bin Laden remains free, as does his second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, probably in the mountainous Pakistani tribal areas near the Afghan border. Al-Qaeda has been reconstituted there and is believed to be stronger than ever. An allied organization that didn't exist in 2001, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, was later declared by Bush to be the "central front in the war on terror", while al-Qaeda branches and wannabe groups have proliferated elsewhere.
Result: Terror promoted. Grade: F
Engelhardt's analysis breaks down in his very first example. Clearly, it is problematic that the US has failed to catch bin Laden. But to assert that the only outcome of the US efforts against al Qaeda is "terror promoted" is simplistic at best. Al Qaeda has been seriously degraded as a result of the global campaign against it, to the point where, for the last seven years, the organization has only been capable of conducting traditional bombing attacks, as in Great Britain or Spain. While it may be true that al Qaeda is reforming in Pakistan, that very act highlights the damage that has been done to the organization. The war on terror has forced al Qaeda to decentralize and disperse away from its former state stronghold in Afghanistan, which undermined its ability to function as a global terror organization. The effort of reforming its centralized structure in Pakistan -- which in turn increases al Qaeda's vulnerability -- demonstrates al Qaeda's own frustration with what has happened to its organizational structure. The fact that bin Laden and Zawahiri are still at large, and that al Qaeda is reforming itself are serious problems, but the war against al Qaeda has not been a failure. A grade of C+ or so is more appropriate.
2. The Taliban and Afghanistan: The Taliban was officially defeated in November 2001 with an "invasion" that combined native troops, US special operations forces, CIA agents, and US air power. The Afghan capital, Kabul, was "liberated" and, not long after, a "democratic" government installed (filled, in part, with a familiar cast of warlords, human rights violators, drug lords, and the like). Seven years later, according to an upcoming National Intelligence Estimate, Afghanistan is on a "downward spiral"; the drug trade flourishes as never before; the government of President Hamid Karzai is notoriously corrupt, deeply despised, and incapable of exercising control much beyond the capital; American and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops, thanks largely to a reliance upon air power and soaring civilian deaths, are increasingly unpopular; the Taliban is resurgent and has established a shadow government across much of the south, while its guerrillas are embedded at the gates of Kabul. American and NATO forces promoted a "surge" strategy in 2007 that failed and are now calling for more of the same. Reconstruction never happened.
Result: Losing war. Grade: F
In the case of Afghanistan, Engelhardt's hyperbole and anti-Bush rhetoric undermines his mostly trenchant analysis. Afghanistan has clearly not gone well. The country is on a downward spiral, the drug trade is booming, NATO operations have resulted in large losses of civilian life and have alienated the population, and Karzai's government is corrupt and largely ineffective. Also, serious weaknesses and flaws in NATO's military capabilities have been exposed, as the US's allies have proven themselves to be incapable of and unwilling to engage in serious military operations.

But, the Taliban is not in power. And that's a big plus. Furthermore, al Qaeda was driven out of its sponsor state, an arrangement which greatly multiplied al Qaeda's capabilities. On those two grounds alone, the US invasion cannot be deemed a failure. The situation isn't good, by any stretch of the imagination, but a grade of D is much more appropriate.

That's it for now. Over the next few days, we'll run through the rest of Engelhardt's grades, which for those interested are: Pakistan (F), Iraq (F), Iran (F), Lebanon (F), Gaza (F), Somalia (F), Georgia (F), North Korea (F), Global Public Opinion (F), the American taxpayer (F).

1 comment:

pavocavalry said...

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