Sunday, July 23, 2006

Troubled World and Challenges to American Leadership

Not that anybody believes much when Pres. Bush and his team preach America that Democracy in other countries is good for America and hence it is worth for Americans to die in the Iraq war. Everybody kind of understands that as a cheap way of selling Administration’s Iraq policy – stay the course, do not admit any mistakes, keep the high ground – to American voters. Hopefully events of last few weeks around the world should ‘shut up’ such foolish talk.

It is not foolish to advocate Democracy in countries where there is no such thing. Of course America should always stand for Democracy and from time to time America will need to sacrifice her lives and dollars for this goal. What is foolish is trying to sell this as a policy to counter terrorism. As like Iraq war which never could have been the central part of Global War on Terrorism, promotion of democracy in rogue regimes has been a careless foreign policy. It is a policy which abducts the responsibility in securing America.

The reasons are clear – either you would get political forces legitimized via election who advocate ‘state terrorism and fanatic ideology’ (Hamas in Gaza) or a weak state which can not control forces of terrorism (Lebanese state which can not control Hezbullah and elected Iraqi government which can not control Sadre militia). It is utterly nonsensical that this Administration failed to visualize such possibilities and kept on justifying the wrongs of starting Iraq war by talking democracy promotion. It is not just Pres. Bush, Condi Rice, NeoCons; but many non-conservatives fell for such thinking. Tom Friedman in NYT at least had the humility to admit that he was wrong in this case.

Democracy promotion and taking steps to secure America are two different things and Pres. Bush mixed those two for his political convenience and his political benefits. It is the same pattern of mixing Iraq war with Global War on Terror. It is sad to write it but this Administration used America and gullible American voters. That will be the legacy of this Pres. Bush.

What should be done now? It is fine for ‘Time’ to write a cover story declaring ‘end of cowboy diplomacy’ as an eye catching cover; but that neither accurately describes the reality nor a way out. There never was any meat in Pres. Bush’s aggressive, unilateral, militaristic foreign policy when early on it became clear that Iraq war would bog down America’s ability to use force in executing Global War on Terror. Remaining illustrious members of Axis of Evil (Iran and N. Korea) were never in any danger after the Iraq war fiasco and refusal of Pres. Bush to increase American Army. The Administration realized this dark reality soon, Americans realized too and rest of the world has been knowing it for a long. So the cowboy foreign policy was only in name.

Iraq war has fundamentally sapped all available bandwidth of this Administration as well as has bogged down America’s Army. With every passing day it is becoming clear how this Administration has cornered itself and effectively dropped balls about the real wars. No wonder we have many pundits who wish ‘how America had been at war with Iran instead of Iraq’. (America's Nemesis by James Kitfield, National Journal Friday, July 21, 2006. http://nationaljournal.com/about/njweekly/stories/2006/0721nj1.htm) Implicit to this lament is a thought that even if America was to get bogged down in Iran as like how it has in Iraq; it would have been acceptable. Discussing merits of such an argument is beside the point and in any case reality is not that. But it does show how desperate and ineffective America’s position has become as well as how the true enemy Iran has become after friendly Shiite regime in Iraq. This other sub plot of President Bush’s grand scheme – Iraq is a key to Arab-Israel conflict – turns out to be equally wrong as like other parts (removing Saddam is a step in Global War on Terror and dieing for Democracy in Iraq is worth the price in securing America). One rather wonders whether resolving issues with Iran could have helped in addressing back room dynamics of Arab-Israel conflict.

So does the solution lie in what Time, many Media outlets and duo of Sen. Kerry and Sen. Finegold advocate – negotiate whosoever wants to talk with USA and pull out from Iraq? It is not that simple.

It is imperative to understand that there are people (Islamic Fundamentalist primarily) who basically are against the Western Democratic Nations, their reasonably secure way of life and any one who works with them. History has conclusively shown that all those who attempted some kind of justification of Hitler and his policies were completely wrong. Hence West and the World must not take threats posed by these Mullahs lightly. If Hezbullah and Hamas are dieing to start Third World War – they will get it and they will be ‘wiped out’ – that is the resolve required by America and those who want to come along with America. Then how does talking with these extremists help? It does not help, assuming that ‘talk means negotiations and negotiations mean giving something’. You don’t give anything to Terrorists, elected or not elected. Then it matters much less whether you don’t talk at all or you do all the talk but do not negotiate.

It is possible that many European countries and many other democracies of the world (India, Brazil, etc.) may not see this danger and would not like to commit so much themselves for this fight. Russia and China will also sit on the fence for as long as it is possible. (In any case China gets around 20% of it’s oil from Iran and Russia would like to see high price of oil for quite long.) So the goal should be to reposition forces from Iraq to the extent it adds capability in addressing other theaters of war because other countries are unlikely to help much. Force withdrawal or reposition from Iraq should be dictated by America’s security needs and not some political needs to avoid Civil War in Iraq. Stopping Civil War in Iraq may be beneficial to an extent, but in the unavoidable part of prioritizing limited resources it goes down the list of priorities America needs to address.

What we want is repositioning plan which will change the focus of American forces from stabilizing Iraq to contain and stop Iran- Syria nexus. Supporting Israel in the current conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon is the first right step. Cutting support of Syria to Hezbollah is the second step. Meanwhile, if Iranian regime thinks it needs to jump to the war it will try to stop oil deliveries of it’s own and of other countries from the Gulf. That is the single most battle scenario America needs to be ready for.

Any leader, Democrats included, who want to argue an alternative Foreign Policy must need to spell out plans along these lines. And for such plans to be creditable with American People, the ones who pay the price in the end; it will be useful if those come from the people who in the first place did not wrongly sold Iraq policy.

Repositioning of forces form Iraq, coordinated action with Israel and relentless pressure on Iran on global stage are some of the required steps. Russia and China will surely block any meaningful action against Iran. Then there is no choice for America to go along with all those who are willing to work with her. It is no time to worry about America’s International Image. True, Pres. Bush has roiled it lot and that can not be excused. But American voters do not elect their leaders to be Mr. or Mrs. Nice to the world. They are elected to solve the challenges America faces in a troubled world.

Umesh Patil
San Jose, CA 95111
July 22, 2006.

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