Saturday, October 07, 2006

Has Bush Thrown In the Neo-Con Towel?

Wolfowitz, Feith and Perle banished; Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bolton in retreat; Kissinger, Baker and Scowcroft returned, triumphant. What a difference a war can make!

When George Bush first ran for President, Cheney recommended himself as his running mate. After the election Cheney proceeded to fill most major cabinet positions with a new breed of political animal, the neo-conservatives or "neo-cons." This nasty gaggle of supremacists had been stewing about since the days of Bush I. They even had their own organization called "The Project for the New American Century."

The neo-cons wanted Washington to use their nation's unquestioned military supremacy to cement America's dominion over the planet: economically, politically and militarily. They wanted the United States to become the new Rome but on a genuinely global scale. Their platform was positively bellicose to foe and friend alike.

The U.S. would use its military force to transform smaller nations, particularly in the Middle East, into American-style, pro-Israel democracies. In respect of more advanced, industrial nations, Washington would use its force to prevent any other nation or bloc of nations from ever being able to rival the United States militarily. Any nation or bloc that threatened America's military dominance would be attacked and reduced.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, the neo-cons had no trouble persuading Bush to embrace their policies of world domination, repackaging it as the "Bush Doctrine." From that moment on, America would honour no treaty except on its own terms, accept no restraint on its absolute global supremacy. Co-operation, henceforth, would be very much a one-way street and leaders such as Tony Blair were quick to fall into line. These people, Bush included, absolutely believed they could make the world do their bidding in perpetuity.

Following the twin towers disaster, planning began almost immediately for the invasion of Iraq. Even though Iraq had no connection to the 9/11 plotters, Bush was determined to oust Saddam Hussein. The neo-cons welcomed the attack, not because of terrorism concerns, but because it would offer other nations a lesson in what America could do to any of them, any time it wanted. Iraq was going to send a clear message that a new world order was in place. Iraq was going to be made an example for any other little countries that might deign to defy Washington.

The history books are full of accounts of leaders of powerful nations who believed themselves stronger than they were and saw their enemies as weaker than they turned out to be. George Bush will soon join their ranks. The neo-con adventure in global empire began in Iraq and that is where it will end.

Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld believed their nation's power irresistable. They completely ignored military history and sent an army to invade Iraq that was plainly unsuitable to anything beyond destroying a few, second-rate army divisions in the field. They didn't plan for an occupation because they didn't intend to stay. That's why they didn't send an army of occupation. When they found themselves as occupiers they still stubbornly refused to accept reality and wound up spending years instead of weeks wrestling with an insurgency that they never had the numbers or tactics to defeat. Like Napoleon in Moscow, they created their own fiasco, a complete quagmire.

The neo-conservative fantasy died in Iraq and the world should be thankful that Washington wasn't able to pursue any more adventures like it. The American army got bogged down in Iraq, strained to the limit if not broken. A relatively small insurgency demonstrated the very real limits of American power and its inability to adapt. America learned, again, that it had very little prospect of winning anything without the co-operation of other nations.

Having squandered its power swinging at shadows of its own making in Iraq, America hasn't been able to tackle genuine threats, particularly North Korea. For all the talk from the White House about 'staying the course' in Iraq there is a growing realization that America needs to extricate itself from that nightmare in order to be able to meet greater dangers.

After scorning his father's presidency and his father's policies, Bush very quietly made way for the realist camp to return to Washington. Kissinger was revealed to have become a key advisor to Bush and Cheney. Meanwhile, Dick Baker III quietly set up an Iraq advisory group, gathering America's best experts on that country with a political core made up equally of Republicans and Democrats. This group meets in total secrecy and there are no leaks to the media. Baker's group is expected to present Bush with a strategy to get out of Iraq - but not until the November elections are over.

The Baker group are, if nothing else, realists, not idealogues. I expect they will fully recognize the role that the Palestinian question has played and will continue to play in Middle Eastern affairs until a settlement is reached. They will also likely acknowledge that a negotiated settlement is unlikely and that terms may ultimately have to be imposed on Israel.

Despite all their talent and best intentions, it remains to be seen if George W. can actually bring himself to completely part company with the neo-cons. He has a lot of hurdles. His vice-president and his defense secretary are neo-cons. He has staked his legacy on their policies. He risks making himself appear gullible and ineffectual if he abandons the Bush Doctrine and its imperial underpinnings. We have to remember that this is a guy who believes that God works through him. Bush's messianic tendencies may be tough to shake.

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