Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Grading the Bush Doctrine, Pt. 2

Continuing from my last post, let us keep analyzing Tom Engelhardt's analysis of the outcomes of the application of the Bush Doctrine.

3. Pakistan: At the time of the invasion of Afghanistan, the Bush administration threw its support behind General Pervez Musharraf, the military dictator of relatively stable, nuclear-armed Pakistan. In the ensuing years, the US transferred at least $10 billion, mainly to the general's military associates, to fight the "war on terror". (Most of the money went elsewhere.) Seven years later, Musharraf has fallen ingloriously, while the country has reportedly turned strongly anti-American - only 19% of Pakistanis in a recent BBC poll had a negative view of al-Qaeda - is on the verge of a financial meltdown, and has been strikingly destabilized, with its tribal regions at least partially in the hands of a Pakistani version of the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda and foreign jihadis. That region is also now a relatively safe haven for the Afghan Taliban. American planes and drones attack in these areas ever more regularly, causing civilian casualties and more anti-Americanism, as the US edges toward its third real war in the region.
Result: Extremism promoted, destabilization in progress. Grade: F
The situation in Pakistan is exceedingly complicated, and Engelhardt's analysis is far too simplistic. Only 19% of Pakistanis have a negative view of al Qaeda...but so what? What makes that a relevant metric of anything? Is the other 81% supporting al Qaeda in any way? It's true that al Qaeda and the Taliban have been regrouping the mountainous regions along the Afghan border and that US airstrikes have provoked anti-Americanism. But those airstrikes have also forced Pakistan to act more forefully against al Qaeda. More specifically, Pakistan has begun adopting an Iraq-style strategy of bringing local tribesmen into the fight, using them against the guerrilla elements. Musharraf has been removed from power, and while Pakistan is far from a liberal democracy, there are signs that the government is establishing stronger civilian control over the military. I'd say a grade of C- is much more appropriate here.

4. Iraq: In March 2003, with a shock-and-awe air campaign and 130,000 troops, the Bush administration launched its long-desired invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, officially in search of (nonexistent) weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad fell to American troops in April and Bush declared "major combat operations ... ended" from the deck of a US aircraft carrier against a "Mission Accomplished" banner on May 1. Within four months, according to administration projections, there were to be only 30,000 to 40,000 American troops left in the country, stationed at bases outside Iraq's cities, in a peaceful (occupied) land with a "democratic," non-sectarian, pro-American government in formation. In the intervening five-plus years, perhaps one million Iraqis died, up to five million went into internal or external exile, a fierce insurgency blew up, an even fiercer sectarian war took place, more than 4,000 Americans died, hundreds of billions of American taxpayer dollars were spent on a war that led to chaos and on "reconstruction" that reconstructed nothing.

There are still close to 150,000 American troops in the country and American military leaders are cautioning against withdrawing many more of them any time soon. Filled with killing fields and barely hanging together, Iraq is - despite recently lowered levels of violence - still among the more dangerous environments on the planet, while a largely Shi'ite government in Baghdad has grown ever closer to Shi'ite Iran. Thanks to the president's "surge strategy" of 2007, this state of affairs is often described here as a "success".
Result: Mission unaccomplished. Grade: F
Absolutely absurd and blinkered. As the Iraq Study Group made clear in its final report, while Iraq may not have had any actual WMD at the time of the invasion, Iraq was maintaining the capability to start its WMD program up once sanctions ended. And at the time of the invasion there was every indiciation that those sanctions were crumbling. At a minimum, the US invasion removed the inevitablility of an eventual Iraqi CBW capability. Of course, the administration did a terrible job of planning for the occupation-phase of the war. But, the US stuck to its guns, implementing the surge which was brought improved levels of stability to the country. Al Qaeda has suffered mightily in Iraq, and as a result has been forced to reconstitute its centralized organizational structure in Pakistan (which is a good thing for counter-terror efforts). The political process is proceeding and the longer it advances that more it will coalesce. Engelhardt's failure to recognize this in any way totally undermines his argument. At the moment, I would give a C- (again, I know) grade.

5. Iran: In his January 2002 State of the Union address, Bush dubbed Iran part of an "axis of evil" (along with Iraq and North Korea), attaching a shock-and-awe bull's-eye to that nation ruled by Islamic fundamentalists. (A neo-con quip of that time was: "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.") In later years, Bush warned repeatedly that the US would not allow Iran to move toward the possession of a nuclear weapons program and his administration would indeed take numerous steps, ranging from sanctions to the funding of covert actions, to destabilize the country's ruling regime. More than six years after his "axis of evil" speech, and endless administration threats and bluster later, Iran is regionally resurgent, the most powerful foreign influence in Shi'ite Iraq, and continuing on a path toward that nuclear power program which, it claims, is purely peaceful, but could, of course, prove otherwise.
Result: Strengthened Iran. Grade: F
Here, Engelhardt is more or less right. The toppling of Hussein has had two direct effects on Iran: By removing Iraq as a balancing counterweight, Iran has been freed up to act and Iran has become more intent on developing nuclear weapons. Nothing that has been tried -- the EU-3, sanctions, pressure -- has worked. Perhaps President-elect Obama's bent towards negotiations will alter the current stalemate, but Iran seems determined to develop NW. For once, I agree with Engelhardt's grade: F.

That's it for today. Next time, I'll consider Lebanon, Gaza, Somalia, and Georgia.

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