Saturday, June 16, 2007

Foreign Policy Schizophrenia

No one can claim that George w. Bush hasn't pursued an aggressive foreign policy. His weakness may be in getting caught in too many, conflicting foreign policies due to far too much aggression.

Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine - all are paying the price of this incompetence. As noted by Malcolm Rifkind in a previous post on this page, Afghanistan will never be sorted out until its boundary dispute with Pakistan is resolved and until India is told to back off from Afghanistan. Bush doesn't want to push Pakistan or India. There's a dubious fear that nuclear Pakistan can fall into Islamist hands unless Musharraf is kept in power. At the same time, Washington has chosen to draw closer to India in hopes of gaining a counterfoil to China.

Then there's the Sunni/Shia chasm that has the US taking both sides. At first it was all about confronting and defeating Sunni al-Qaeda. That was followed by toppling the Sunni regime of Saddam Hussein. The reward for that was the installation of a Shia-dominated government in Iraq with close ties to its religious brethren in Iran.

Iran was said to be fomenting trouble in Lebanon and Palestine by supporting Hamas and Hezbollah. To counter this the US began arming Lebanese Sunni groups linked to al-Qaeda. At the same time it cinched the lid on the pressure cooker that is today's Palestine.

Meanwhile, back in Iraq, US commanders opted to provide arms and assistance to the Sunni insurgents - the same bunch who routinely target American soldiers - on the strength of the insurgents' promise to use those weapons to hunt down al-Qaeda forces. Meanwhile the Baghdad government of al Maliki is widely believed to be in league with the Shiite militias and violence continues to spread through Baghdad and other Arab Iraqi centres while the Kurds are on the brink of launching their own civil war of independence that may bring Turkey into the fray.

Even a genuine statesman would find this melange of contradictory forces and alliances utterly daunting but there are no real statesmen in Washington, just a bunch of ideologues who started this madness in the belief that, with a healthy dose of American military supremacy, all would be made well. Oh, and al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization that sparked this whole thing? They're doing just fine and spreading throughout the Muslim world.

What to do? For starters, scrap the messianic delusion. Cutting one's losses isn't cutting and running. Stop expecting the Islamic states to do your bidding. That's not working, even in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Focus, instead on how to put out all the fires you started.

First and foremost. Enforce a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Impose it - on both sides - if necessary. Israel withdraws to its pre-1967 borders. Jerusalem is made an open city. Israel either grants a right of return or offers full compensation for displaced Palestinians. Create a demilitarized zone between the parties and have it occupied by neutral peacekeepers who have authority to use force where necessary. No more negotiations if only because there really isn't time for yet another succession of failures. The West created Israel and has every right to dictate these terms.

Promote genuine democracy and start that effort where you can do the most good right now - Saudi Arabia and Egypt. If you want democracy to flourish in the Arab Middle East, that's where it has to begin. Parlour games in Iraq or Iran are no substitute. Make it clear that autocratic rule and suppression of democratic reform is over.

Reduce tensions between Pakistan and India while you still can. Draw attention to India's role in Afghanistan and how it is undermining Pakistan's security. Make India back off. Then compel Pakistan to establish ordinary, civil authority in the tribal lands. Tell Afghanistan (and they're in no position to argue) to accept the Durand Line for the border between the two countries.

Accept that the West cannot prop up a corrupt and feeble regime in Kabul indefinitely. Understand that Afghanistan may need to find its own way to democracy, in its own good time, and may be better off with strongman rule until then.

Decide whether democracy truly has a chance in Iraq without your perpetual military intervention. If not, have the country carved up fairly. Don't leave Iraq's Sunnis at a desperate disadvantage that could draw in regional Sunni powers such as Saudi Arabia and ignite a much larger Sunni/Shia conflict that will spill over Iraq's borders.

Do the best you can, do it quickly and then get out. Leave. The genie is out of the bottle and you're never going to drive it back in. You can no longer demand to micromanage the agendas of these nations or their region. These people have an awful lot of sorting out to do. At times it will probably be bloody and you may even feel guilty for unleashing this instability but, at this point, that can't be helped.

Try to unravel as much of this as you can in the time remaining in your term. Don't dummy up with "stay the course" in hope of escaping responsibility for your failures. Don't let this brew boil until your successor moves into your office. Admit you messed this up. That's something the Islamic world needs to hear if only to let them begin to hope that you genuinely want to set things right. Then apologize to your own people and to the world.


Karen said...

Well put, but of course, even if he were inclined to follow your advice, he simply doesn't have the credibility to do it, nor does his administration, imo.

I do not know who will occupy the Office next, but imagine the courage it takes to actually seek that job, knowing what you're faced with?

The Mound of Sound said...

You're right about the courage that will be needed by the next president. That said, have you spotted anyone among the candidates on either side that's up for the challenge? While damning Bush, most of the Repug frontrunners promise to out-Bush the guy on Iraq, Iran and the Middle East generally. They must be convinced this approach isn't going to cost them at the polls. As for the Dems, they appear to be in a state of utter, intellectual chaos, testing the winds to see which way to bend. Hillary is utterly feckless and I'm not sure Obama is any better. Gore, I believe, has the courage of his convictions and the right vision to attempt the task. God I hope the Americans see the light and draft the guy to run.

Anonymous said...

Why should India back-off from Afghanistan to keep the Pakis happy? Will you back-off from Iraq to keep Iran happy?

This is a silly advice. Splitting Pakistan further is a major Indian agenda and we will achieve that within the next 20 years.