Thursday, May 05, 2005

Perhaps The Neocons Got it Right in The Middle East

The Guardian acknowledges U.S. successes in the Middle East, but they still get it wrong:
Those of us who work on the gloomy side of the prediction industry about Iraq, the prospects for Middle East peace, and the sanity of the Bush administration, have been given plenty to think about lately.

On the one hand, on Monday the 87th British soldier was killed in Iraq, while suicide bombs and armed clashes have accounted for more than 40 Iraqi deaths since last week. On the other, the Bush administration is in triumphalist mode. A friend who visited the White House recently described the president's buoyant account of his Iraqi crusade, which highlighted the fact that a national government has been formed. Some progress is claimed towards normalisation in Shia and Kurdish regions. Syrian withdrawal gives Lebanon a chance of making something of democracy. Washington asserts that it is involving itself more than ever in the Middle East peace process.

None of these claims should be dismissed out of hand. The greatest danger for those of us who dislike George Bush is that our instincts may tip over into a desire to see his foreign policy objectives fail. No reasonable person can oppose the president's commitment to Islamic democracy. Most western Bushophobes are motivated not by dissent about objectives, but by a belief that the Washington neocons' methods are crass, and more likely to escalate a confrontation between the west and Islam than to defuse it.

Such scepticism, however, should not prevent us from stepping back to reassess the progress of the Bush project, and satisfy ourselves that mere prejudice is not blinding us to the possibility that western liberals are wrong; that the Republicans' grand strategy is getting somewhere.

It may sound perverse to suggest that we should not measure progress in Iraq solely, or even chiefly, by counting corpses. Yet most insurgent activity is the work of Sunnis, chronically alienated by dispossession from power, or jihadists committed simply to frustrate any project sponsored by the US.

The key question, surely, is how far the Shia and Kurd majority is moving towards the creation of a working society. Evidence on this is mixed. Journalists are able to travel so little outside the Baghdad enclave that the world depends for information chiefly on western military and diplomatic sources.

My own contacts say that the situation is improving, but remains precarious. They suggest that criminal anarchy is gradually being stemmed. The recruitment and training of Iraqi security forces is going a little better.

It is hard to derive much comfort from statistics that show a diminution in clashes between insurgents and security forces. These principally reflect a lower-profile strategy by the coalition, designed to reduce confrontation and casualties.

The most powerful reason for remaining cautious about Iraq must be doubt — shared by many US officers — about whether the country is sus­tainable as a unitary state. It is hard to believe that the Sunnis will quickly reconcile themselves to Shia supremacy, or that the Shias now leading the government will forswear payback for decades of subjection. The Kurds will do their own thing in their own region. Only fear of American wrath and Turkish intervention can dissuade them from breakaway.

It seems wrong for either neocon true believers or liberal sceptics to rush to judgment. We of the latter persuasion must keep reciting the mantra: "We want Iraq to come right, even if this vindicates George Bush."

Those who say that Iraqis are incapable of making a democracy work may well be proved right. But until we see what happens on the ground over the months ahead, we should not write off the possibility that the Iraqi people will forge some sort of accommodation. A premature coalition withdrawal promises catastrophe for them, not us.

The same caution seems appropriate in assessing the current dialogue between the US, the Israelis and the Palestinians. I suggested before the Iraq war that Saddam's fall might make the Israelis less tractable. For all the Muslim world's protestations of support for the Palestinians, most Arabs have little liking for their oppressed brethren, and no desire to go to the wall for them.

Today, deprived of Iraqi support and with Syria also in retreat, the Palestinians are chiefly dependent for their own future upon international goodwill; a doubtful commodity. Israelis have always believed that their own security is best served by ensuring that the Palestinians are as weak as possible. Washington seems to acquiesce in this view.

Many of us, by contrast, believe that the best chance of peace lies in creating a settlement that offers a Palestinian state the chance of political, economic and social viability. Today the new Palestinian leadership is talking, because there is nothing else it can do. The litmus test is whether Israel accepts an ultimate commitment to withdraw from the West Bank. If this remains unlikely, it seems naive to suggest that peace prospects are improving, merely because violence is temporarily eclipsed.

Washington's current optimism seems founded upon the fact that Palestinian militants command less Arab support than three years ago, because of the huge American military pressure. In short, the fundamentals still look pretty awful. Any peace founded merely upon Palestinian subjection, rather than upon territorial justice, seems unlikely to stick.

Here, indeed, is the nub of the issue about American foreign policy. The Bush vision is founded upon the exercise of military power. It is hard to regard Condoleezza Rice's "charm offensive" or the state department's protestations that in the second Bush term diplomacy will blossom, as more than cosmetic. The president himself has declared that, while he welcomes more allies, they must accept that the game will be played on Washington's terms.

We must respect American power, and also acknowledge that the world sometimes has much need of it. As Sir Michael Howard, wisest of British strategic thinkers, often remarks: "If America does not do things, nobody else will." We should acknowledge the limitations of the UN. The pitiful performance of many international peacekeeping contingents, not least in Afghanistan, highlights the feebleness of what passes for European security policy.

Yet it still seems reasonable to question the optimism currently prevailing among Washington's neocons, because this remains founded upon a woefully simplistic vision. READ MORE

It is true that, in some chronic, unstable regions, some bad governments — those of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein — have been removed by the Americans. But the fragile advantages gained will be lost, unless Washington can match its boldness in the deployment of military power with a new sensitivity to alien cultures, matched by far more subtle political skills.

The Guardian believes the reason for the recent successes in the Middle East rests entirely with President Bush's willingness to use military power. Without question military power has been necessary to create a new environment in the Middle East, but the changes that are now occurring have more to do with ideas. The people of the Middle East now see the idea of freedom, self-determination and democracy as something available to them. This is why the people of Lebanon are now seeing a transformation in their country and these same ideas are taking root through out the Middle East.

The Guardian still mocks the "woefully simplistic vision" of the Bush administration. They claim the U.S. needs greater cultural insensitivity and need for more political skills. Perhaps. But without a vision to unite, no amount of sensitivity or skill will create peace and stability in the Middle East.

Perhaps it is easier for them to admit the success of U.S. military power than to admit the power of Bush's "vision." Perhaps those at the Guardian need a vision themselves.