Monday, May 03, 2004

Surreal though it may seem, the time has come to defend the Bush administration against criticism from Steven of USS Clueless.

It feels like the edge is off. There's a certain ruthlessness needed to fight and win a war, and in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks the Bush administration showed that ruthlessness. But now it feels like that's beginning to fade. It feels like the fire is going out.

It feels like the Bush Administration has decided to put the war onto the shelf until after the election. That's what it feels like. And that worries me. This war is much too important to permit such considerations to affect its prosecution.

Iraq is a tinderbox. Whatever illusions they may have had before, they know that now. We could easily bomb Najaf and Fallujah into the ground, but it would not help us rebuild Iraq. We could send large quantities of troops into those cities - but all the evidence is that the result would be a bloodbath. We are capable of making sure most of the blood is Iraqi, but not of making sure that most of it is from people already committed to fighting the United States. That would not help rebuild a stable Iraq either. All other courses of action may seem weak to some. In fact, it will take Machiavellian brilliance to avoid total failure in Iraq. I have suggested some of the things I think would help in previous posts, but I'm under no illusion I could do it if they put me in charge. American military restraint is not sufficient to resolve this problem, but it is a necessary precondition.

This is where I think that the Bush administration has failed. In an SOTU speech, Bush famously (or notoriously) said to the leaders of the world, "Either you are with us or you are with the terrorists." But he no longer seems to be following through on that.

In particular, it is regarding Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan where I think the Bush administration has failed the worst.

A few paragraphs later:

Unfortunately, what this smells like is old-style "but he's our son-of-a-bitch" cynical realpolitik which is part of how we got into the mess we're in. (There were good reasons to do that in some cases during the Cold War, but the Cold War is now over.) Bush himself made a speech in which he said that we would no longer support despots simply because they were friendly. Why is Mubarek being given a pass?

We are supporting dictatorship in Pakistan because we believe if the Pakistani government falls nukes will fall into the hands of terrorists from Pakistan's arsenal. A democratically elected government might well give tacit support to this, but even if not they would be less willing to step on popular toes to prevent it. Does Bush have a long term plan to prevent it? No. But endangering their government without a careful plan specifying how to prevent the nuke situation from becoming worse will make it become worse in all probability. I believe there are geniuses who could do it, but I don't believe Bush is one. I think Iraq has brought us a couple of steps closer to the brink, and in that respect he has made it worse, but I myself don't know how he could do better in his dealings with Pakistan so I won't criticize those.

In Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in particular, Steven is demanding that Bush carry through on two contradictory policies. Of course Bush has in fact enunciated both halves of this contradiction, but not at the same time. At times I have been in sympathy with attacks on his family ties to the Saudi's, but in truth they are no deeper than the rest of the country. The Saudi's have been supporting terror abroad for short term ease at home. We have been supporting the Saudi's for pretty much the same reason. This is not good, but if we plan to stop, the first thing we have to do is stop pretending democracy will not mean higher oil prices. This is an American pretense more than a Bush pretense. As in Iraq, it may now be too late to stop the Wahibi juggernaut. The Saudi's may be overthrown whether we want it or not, but the result will not automatically be decreased terrorism - or a step back from the brink.

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