OxBlog

Thursday, July 20, 2006

# Posted 11:59 AM by Taylor Owen  

SPEAKING OF LIBERAL CRITICS OF THE ADMINISTRATION: Kupchan and Takeyh have a scathing op-ed in yesterdays IHT. They hold no punches:
Instead, Washington's ideological hubris and practical incompetence have succeeded only in setting the region ablaze, awakening extremist and militant voices.

The toppling of Saddam Hussein was intended to send shock waves across the Arab world, intimidating the region's brittle tyrannies while encouraging the spontaneous civic movements that have brought democracy to much of post-Communist Europe. In Iraq itself, democrats were to replace a brutal autocrat, providing a model for the region.

Precisely the opposite has happened. The war has not only engulfed Iraq in violence and made the country a magnet for jihadists, but it has also awakened sectarian tensions that are spreading beyond Iraq's borders. From Saudi Arabia to Lebanon, Shiites and Sunnis are cautiously eyeing each other, heading for a mounting rivalry that has already helped plunge Lebanon into chaos.
...
The Bush administration may well be seeking the right end in the Middle East - the pacification of the region through economic and political liberalization.

But we already have ample proof that it has chosen the wrong means. Its errant attempt to impose democracy through force has backfired, only stirring up a hornet's nest and risking a region-wide crisis.

Iraq lies in ruins, Islamist forces are strengthening, and the Palestine-Israel conflict threatens to become a full-scale war. Even more ominously, the Middle East is being polarized along sectarian lines, empowering an Iran with nuclear ambitions. The mistakes of the Bush administration are coming home to roost.
TGA echos the argument, with what he calls new 'messy multipolarity'. Gone are the days of hyperpower and unipolarity, he argues, and the new multipolar world may not be what many wished for.
(17) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
The Israel-Pal situation was deteriorating fairly dramatically before Iraq, even before 9/11. The notion that everything would have gone well, or even gone better there, had we not invaded Iraq is far from proveable,and is in fact unlikely. Its even possible it would be worse.

I wonder if those who attribute everything bad happening in the region from Afghanistan and Iran to Lebanon and Gaza, to the situation in Iraq, also were among those who attributed the cedar revolution, the shift in Libya, and the withdrawl from Gaza to the situation in Iraq, or if they were the ones who insisted those events had their own dynamic.

Its simply too difficult to tell at this juncture what the world would have been like had we not entered Iraq.

Its also not clear what the policy implications are.

But its a great way to play the I told you so game, and to silence those who held the "wrong" view on Iraq. Thats routine on blogs from left and right, but one expects something different here.
 
Substantively, I don't necessarily disagree with you. While I would question the implicit historical relativism in your argument, I do agree with you on Libya and the Gaza pullout. What about the rise and influence of radical Iranian elements though? Surely Iraqi instability has added to their increasing regional belligerence?

As for your continued questioning of what this site is and is not, I think I'll leave that up to its proprietors. I would think, however, that ours is the very conversation one would hope would occur on a site such as this?
 
They pulled some punches. How does the article read with some of their assumptions made explicit?

Washington's ideological hubris and practical incompetence have...awakening extremist and militant voices that had much less influence and popularity in the Arab world before 2003.

The war has not only engulfed Iraq in violence which had not been present before US intervention and made the country a magnet for jihadists who would not have acted against the US otherwise, but it has also awakened sectarian tensions which had been non-issues in the region prior to 2003 that are spreading beyond Iraq's borders. From Saudi Arabia to Lebanon, Shiites and Sunnis are cautiously eyeing each other, heading for a mounting rivalry that has already helped plunge Lebanon into chaos, a condition previously unknown to both government-controlled and Hezbollah-occupied sections of Lebanon.

Iraq lies in ruins which was not the case when Saddam was in charge, Islamist forces are strengthening when they had been political nonentities pre-invasion, and the Palestine-Israel conflict threatens to break out of continuous low-level violence to become a full-scale war for the fourth time. Even more ominously, the Middle East is being polarized along sectarian lines in contrast to the ethnic comity in pre-invasion Iraq or the bonhomie of relations between Iran and KSA, empowering an Iran with nuclear ambitions which it didn't have prior to 2003, and would not have developed if the instigator of a 9-year war against that nation had been allowed to continue to try to resurrect his own nuclear program.

I'm sure Iran sees an opportunity in Iraq to develop a client state, and is more active than it would be if Saddam had his boot on the neck of Iraqi Shia. That was inevitable so long as the Mullahs outlasted Saddam. The Iranian nuclear program and support of Hezbollah predates the Iraq invasion by decades, and would have occurred regardless.
 
What about the rise and influence of radical Iranian elements though? Surely Iraqi instability has added to their increasing regional belligerence?

Ah, so we're back to defending the policy of cheering on the Iran-Iraq War, then, and missing Saddam because he could keep Iran in check? Not precisely the sort of argument I associate with the Left, but I admit that it's one that can be made. Presumably they'll start defending those photos of Rumsfield shaking hands with Saddam back then as the type of tough decisions that had to be made?

Shi'ites and Sunnis (and Christians and Druze) were "cautiously eyeing each other" and more in Lebanon 20 years ago, when we refused to get rid of Saddam and he was keeping Iran in check. And of course Father Assad did a little more than "cautiously eye" the Sunni Muslim Brotherhood in Hafa then too.
 
"Substantively, I don't necessarily disagree with you. While I would question the implicit historical relativism in your argument,"

Im not sure what about what I said was historically relativist.

"I do agree with you on Libya and the Gaza pullout."

Odd, since I did not say if I thought they would have happened anyway. I merely pointed out that when good things were happening in the region, some folks in the Iraq hawk camp gave all credit to Iraq, while the Iraq doves insisted these would have happened anyway. Now that things are going badly, we see opposite claims. I believe (after having spent much time at soc.history.what-if( that what if questions are very difficult, and can only be resolved well after the fact, when, more information is available.

" What about the rise and influence of radical Iranian elements though? Surely Iraqi instability has added to their increasing regional belligerence? "

Surely you dont mean to call Hezbollah an "Iranian" element, since they are all Lebanese by nationality? Do you mean the belligerence of radicals IN Iran? The case that they are more belligerent cause the US is tied up in Iraq, cause their enemy Saddam is gone, and folks like Sadr are gaining strength, is superficially appealing. Of course when it comes time to justify the Iranian nuclear program, the usual line is that the presence of American troops in Iraq makes them LESS secure. Im not sure how those positions are reconciled. I would suggest that the election of Ahmadinajad, due to internal Iranian concerns (the discontent with mullah corruption, and the fact that within the semi-authoritarian Iranian polity that discontent could only be expressed by voting for an Islamist-populist).

as for the militancy of Hezb, that has been growing since the Israeli withdrawl from Lebanon, which was seized on by Hezb as a triumph. Some in Israel would say that the withdrawl from Gaza, and the failure of the govt of Israel to respond strongly to terror from the territories, and rockets from Lebanon, have added to Hezbs belligerency.

I think theres also a relationship between Hezbs belligerency, and the Syrian withdrawl from Lebanon, which left Syria more dependent on Hezb as its remaining source of power in Leb, and which threatened Hezb with res 1559 and the new Leb govt. Now if you think those events are independent of IRaq, then it follows that yet one more causal factor on Hezb is independent of Iraq.
 
"As for your continued questioning of what this site is and is not, I think I'll leave that up to its proprietors. I would think, however, that ours is the very conversation one would hope would occur on a site such as this"

well I realize the proprietors use it one way, and what i get out of it something different. They like to talk about all kinds of issues related to political science and philosophy. I see it as one of the few blogs thats genuinely centrist, where current issues of foreign policy are discussed. I also find it a place where the kind of partisan sniping that detracts so much from the blogosphere, is generally absent (at least in the posts) Such sniping as does take place is from the center,and so is a rarety in the blogosphere.

Now it may well be that you consider yet another reevaluation of the costs and benefits of the intervention in Iraq is a valuable contribution to political thought. I see such debates generally as part of a process of sniping and oneupsmanship between Republicans and prowar Dems on the one hand, and all those who opposed the war on the other. I admit freely i dont say this from a veil of ignorance - I supported the war, and I now that right now the situation seems to support those who disagree with me. However I STILL insist that whatever the state of the war in Iraq, and whichever side is using it to score a point, it will result in an endless and circular rehashing of things we already know (1% solutions, the reliability of exile sources, the dishonesty of Dick Cheney, the role of an individual at the Iraqi embassy in the Phillipines wrt Al Qaeeda, the latest US Army recruitment stats, etc, etc)

To summarize - its too late to change history, and too early to understand this piece of it.
 
Libhawk, "I merely pointed out that when good things were happening in the region, some folks in the Iraq hawk camp gave all credit to Iraq, while the Iraq doves insisted these would have happened anyway. Now that things are going badly, we see opposite claims."

Understood in your first comment and still agree.

re. re-arguing the war's rationale. If Iraq were a stand alone case, I would completely agree with you. However, as it is an example of a standing foreign policy doctrine, I think understanding the continually evolving costs and benefits of the policy choices is a wise thing to do. I, like you, and anyone else who was politically engaged over the past 5 years, have biases, certainly. But surely part of moving on requires a rationale discussion of ongoing events - particularly as the conflict becomes increasingly complex and spreads through the region.

BGates. I don't think the authors would dispute many of your proposed assumptions. In most parts, agree or disagree with them, it probably doesn't change the reading of their argument that much. There are of course, some assumptions in some of your assumptions that I am sure the authors would point out...
 
"However, as it is an example of a standing foreign policy doctrine, I think understanding the continually evolving costs and benefits of the policy choices is a wise thing to do."

well i differ on that. I think Iraq is sui generis, and i have thought since at least 2002. Iraq was in a legal position, owing to the ceasefire agreements that ended the first gulf war, the sanctions regime that followed, etc, etc that set it apart from Iran or Syria. It was also more totalitarian than any state in region. It was never a template for an invasion of Iran. OTOH the Iranian nuclear program is well advanced,and consists of numerous documented centrifuges, power plants, etc, etc while the Iraqi nuclear program in 2003 consisted of only the existence of some nuclear scientists, and even in the claims of the Bush admin was little more - a few scientists, some small scale research, and a few attempts to buy yellowcake (lets please not start on THAT)

If you think that the present situation in Lebanon, and its relation to the situation in Iraq, provides useful lessons for how we deal with Iran,say, that would be interesting. However only if your views of those lessons are made explicit is it possible to intelligently discuss them.
 
"particularly as the conflict becomes increasingly complex and spreads through the region."

except im not sure it IS becoming increasingly complex or more spread throughout the region. Ive been following events in the region since 1973, and I would venture to say theyve been quite complex at least since then, and that theyve been interconnected across the region since then. Id say the Iran-Iraq rivalry, and the Israel situation, have been connected since the fall of the Hashemite kings of Iraq, and the withdrawl of Iraq from the Baghdad Pact, and the growth in relations between Israel and the Shah, the alignment of Iraq with the USSR, the complex relations among Iraqi and Syrian Baathists and Egyptian Nasserites, etc, etc, all of which were BACKGROUND for the fall of the Shah, the attitude of the Iranians revolutionaries toward the US and Israel, etc, etc.

I think you unduly privilege recent events in general, not just the Iraq war.
 
libhawk, all good points. What is your take on the broader goals of the current US strategy? I agree that Iraq may never have been an example of the specific military tactics of the FP doctrine as is relates to Iran, Syria, etc. But it is certainly representative of a far broader use of force in the region. How do you see the regional objectives of the current policy playing out?
 
By current policy I assume you mean the Rice-Negroponte-Khalilzad policy, which seems to have triumphed over the Rummy-Cheney policy, which was never quite the same as the Wolfowitz pure neocon policy.

AFAICT the objectives of the (for short) Rice policy are the weakening of both AQ and the Iran-Syria-Hezb-Hamas alliance, by primarily realist-multilateralist means, without entirely giving up on the democratization strategy.


How those objectives end up "playing out" is dependent on too many things I dont know at this point.

For example

1. Will Sistanis call today against ethnic violence have an impact, or is it too late, are Shiites, even outside Sadr city, no longer listening?
2.Whats really being said in those secret talks between Maliki and the Sunnis? Are both sides as recalcitrant as some say?
3. Do the leaders of Iran still think that Russia and China will veto sanctions? If not, how afraid are they of sanctions? If they prove unafraid, and drag things out, will Russia and China in fact veto any sanctions res? If not, what impact will sanctions have on Irans internal politics? If they do, will the Europeans join the US in seeing the UNSC route as a dead end?
3. How effective is the Israeli air campaign in actually destroying Hezb assets? Tzahal says theyve destroyed half of Hezb. Is that true, or is this like Kosovo, when the tactical air campaign was less effective than advertised? (OTOH the Israelis arent striking from 50,000 feet). Whats the real reaction of ordinary Lebanese - we've seen quotes showing them anry at Hezb, as well as Israel. Whats the real combat capability of the Leb army, and how infiltrated is it by Hezb sympathizers? If theres a proposal at the UNSC for a UN force with a mandate to disarm Hezb, how will Irans friend on the UNSC react? How will it work in practice?
4. How long will Tzahal stay in Gaza? What will happen when they leave? Where the hell is Mohammad Dahlan? Is Abbas considering a coup against Hamas? Is the US admin ready to support one?
5. How hard are the Pakis really trying to take back the NWFP? Will the US exert real pressure? What would be the result if we did?
6. How many folks are the Taliban losing in their spring offensive? Has Kharzai figured out a way to run the Pashtun south without nepotism?

and yes, all of these are interconnected. So, I dont know how it will play out, and neither does anyone else.

Life is contingent. Is that what you mean by "historical relativism"?
 
I have a real problem with the assumption, namely that things were on a track to get better before Iraq was taken down.

How so?

The UN embargo of Iraq was not going to hold much longer - the economic interests of the French & Russians (among others) wouldn't stand for it.

There's every reason to believe that Saddam's weapons programs would ratchet back up as soon as he was rid of the UN, etc. And that there'd be no practical way - short of an arms, which the authors couldn't possibly favor - of preventing that program from eventually succeeding.

That Saddam saw himself as a modern day Saladin is well known, as was his antipathy toward the United States (and Israel). He surely wasn't seeking nuclear, etc. weapons simply for their deterrent value - he intended to use them to gain advantage in the region. To the extent he'd be the only one in that game, he'd surely obtain at least significant influence in the region.

Coupled with a demonstrated track record of overplaying his hand, it's hard to see how Saddam with nuclear weapons in the Middle East doesn't eventually lead to an extraordinary disaster.

These critics could say much the same thing about England in, say, Spring 1941 ... that by choosing to go to war with Germany over Poland, they started the chain reaction of events which led to the blitz through the low countries & France and the ejection of the British Expeditionary Force from the Continent - that if they'd just left it alone, things would've been better off .....

Their position is premised on it being possible to avoid completely and forever any conflict with Islamofascism. It ignores the fact that they've been at war with us for 20 plus years and puts all the blame on us for finally noticing & doing something about it.

Those who want to say everything would be better now and for the future have an obligation to back that thesis with argument - "Isn't it horrible?" doesn't cut it.
 
Timothy Garton Ash's evidence of this new multipolarity is, at very best, weak. He should realize that simply saying the world is multipolar doesn't make it so. Putin, Yeltsin, Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, Yevgeny Primakov, Jacques Chirac, and most realists (interesting company for a liberal internationalist like TGA to keep) have all figured this out.

http://alendalux.blogspot.com/2006/07/multipolar-myth.html
 
I'll join Allenda's argument and offer my own, still developing, take as well:

http://duckofminerva.blogspot.com/2006/07/american-primacy-cutting-through-noise.html
 
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Oh no the poor Sunni's and shiite"s, too bad for them they might have to sit down and work things out when they get tired of blowing each other up...everyones been through this..social advancement..all the unarmed arabs want to get rid of the "bully" hezbullah types and get on building a society for all of them to enjoy..i'm glad we're helping out.
 
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