The Amorality of the Stability Seekers
Something larger is at works in Washington than a simple changing of the congressional guards. Republicans who had forgotten the primary tenets of republicanism were for two years feebly unwilling to pass legislation which the majority of the public eagerly endorsed. In the tug-of-war struggle between lobbyists and constituencies, they balked, chose the former, angered the latter, and for that will pay the price of losing the House and Senate. But representatives come and go every twenty-four months with midterm cycles. Domestically, changes are frequent and commonplace; they are to be expected, and even in losing graciously, to be welcomed.
That civility in defeat must stop at the water's edge.
Overseers of American foreign policy have both applauded and chastised the bold detraction of doctrine we have witnessed during the Bush II administration. Much has been written about the infighting over the grand ideas which were designed to steer the United States, and the world for that matter, in this strange age of terror. Both within the intelligentsia and amongst the practitioners in the field, many faces have come and gone. Seasoned generals which brought us the quick takedowns in Afghanistan and Iraq - Tommy Franks, Richard Myers, Mike DeLong, Jim Mattis - have either been replaced or overshadowed by the likes of John Abizaid, Peter Pace, George Casey, James Conway, and others who now bear the responsibility of solidifying earlier tactical victories into long-term strategic triumphs. Our proconsul Paul Bremer has been replaced with the keen Muslim ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad. Colin Powell and his power-lifting top aide Richard Armitage have handed control of the State Department over to Condi Rice. Paul Wolfowitz resigned at the Pentagon and took the reigns at the World Bank.
But no change in personnel will have as much significance on policy than the resignation of Don Rumsfeld. Along with Vice President Cheney - who is considered by many to be amongst the most influential ever to hold the position - Rumsfeld was as dominant a force as there was inside the administration; some would say for the better, some would be inclined to say for the worse. We have not seen a Pentagon chief quite like him since the National Defense Act of 1947. His retirement would not be particularly surprising - no defense boss has ever stayed on for two successive presidential terms - if it were not for the record of his replacement, former CIA Director Bob Gates.
Policy will still undoubtedly be made by President Bush, but we should take note of his hiring of Bob Gates - as well as his recent mingling with former associates of his father and his talks with the Iraq Study Group (of which Dr. Gates was once a part). The theme from the administration has remained startlingly consistent - a fight against evil, ideological struggle, generational challenge, freedom verses fascism, etc. - but a supporter of democratizing the Mideast subcontinent suddenly has reason to begin becoming unnerved. The recent ascendancy of the so-called realists within the Bush camp is not something to disregard. News comes out that Henry Kissinger is advising Mr. Bush on Iraq. One must wonder if the doctor and honorary Harlem Globetrotter reminisces about his days aligning with autocrat and junta alike - and if he offers this as an alternative to an elected Iraqi parliament. Secretary Rice wonders out loud if a theocratic Hamas regime is preferable to their ganglia's violent street antics prior to coming to power. Perhaps all jihadist organizations should ascertain control of their respective states? It would, after all, be easier to make a deal with an omnipresent sultan ruling the domineering caliphate than with a cave-hopping Mullah Omar, would it not?
This seems to be a fantastic time to jump ship. Francis Fukuyama has conceded history has not in fact ended, and subsequently retracted his support for a war he once encouraged. George Will has withdrawn his advocacy. Iraqi dissident Ahmed Chalabi blames the former Coalition Provisional Authority (with a large degree of accuracy, one could say). A recent piece, slyly entitled Neo Culpa, goes over in detail how the neoconservatives who once advocated regime change in Iraq are now having second thoughts. (All of those interviewed, particularly Richard Perle, claim their views and words were misconstrued by Vanity Fair.)
The primary threat to our noblesse oblige in supporting Muslim democrats and Arab reformers in the Mideast is not a resurgent Democratic fever or Congress falling under the sway of the other party. No, the true menace rests not within the leftist and pacifist factions - who have not, and will continue not to, offer any worthwhile alternative - but within the isolationist and stability-seeking conservative camp, which advocate a return to our previous realpolitik of the Cold War. Liberal objections to the Iraqi war were dominant in the prewar period: no blood for oil, we'd install a puppet, we would easily crush a helpless opponent, and the like. But as the postbellum period of the war became more difficult, intricate, and idealistic - let us not forget the current hardships in the Afghan theater, as well - it was the likes of Colin Powell, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Henry Kissinger, and their former deputies and subordinates (read, Bob Gates) who came across as the sober pragmatists uneager to enter the Pottery Barn for fear of breaking something. It is precisely this strange psychosis which brought us the conditions where Islamist fanaticism would seem like an attractive alternative to autocracy for millions of oppressed Arab youths across Southwest Asia and North Africa.
For this and more, I think it must be stated that those who support democratic revolutionaries in Cairo, Beirut, Tehran, and Baghdad are not the only ones who have any explaining to do. The moment we begin to abide by the colossally amoral wisdom of an "Anonymous" or a James Baker, it begins to slip our mind that our enemies are not utopian universalists but primordial fascists which blame all societal ills on Western classical liberalism. Sheikh Taj Aldin al Hilali is not just resistant to our policies, but contends all uncovered women are akin to uncovered meat; alas, when the cats eat the meat - when an Islamic male rapes an uncovered Islamic female - "who is really to blame in the first place?"
Their grievances rest not only with our preponderance to support a liberal Israel or topple an autocratic Hussein, but with human rights activists that challenge the theology behind clitoris mutilation. They have particular contempt for emancipated women, Jews, the European operagoer, Russian schoolchildren, Wall Street businessmen, the artist, the tasteless Dutch novelist or cartoonist, and the secularist intellectual.
Michael Rubin has diagnosed this situation accurately: liberal progressives have abandoned progress and conservative realists are ignoring reality. We would do ourselves a great service if we remain wary of those - Baker, Scowcroft, etc. - who overlook the inherent nature of the Wahhabi fatalist and the Khomeinist nihilist. Realism is not without its compliments; its adherents are quite aware that state power, and not global consensus, determines which way the tides of the international system will drift. Credibility rests within the ability to do â€"â€" and nothing more. But where these proponents of realism falter is on the issue of stability.
We need look no further than the proposals of James Baker and his fellow commissionaires of the Iraq Study Group, who are set to wave their magic wand and release their almighty recommendations soon. In the spirit of the preemption they so abhor, I found it prudent to do all the prejudging of their conclusions President Bush swears he will not do. Until their report is out in full text, there is only so much to challenge and discredit. But apparently it will be bifurcated into two pieces: Redeploy and Contain and Stability First. The former is a fruit basket of euphemisms indistinguishable from Mr. Murtha's suggestion of "redeploying" to areas where there apparently isn't any adversary to kill. It should be promptly disregarded. The latter, and far more telling piece, asserts the United States "should aim for stability particularly in Baghdad and political accommodation in Iraq rather than victory." What would this "political accommodation" that nixes victory entail? It would mean quite ignobly retracting all of our attempts at Mesopotamian democratization. This is idealistic and messy, they say. Democracy is destabilizing. The stability-scoundrels want insurrectionists of all stripes to join the Iraqi government in the belief that, if given power, they would use that responsibility not to plunder but to mature into well-greased and subservient stabilizers.
It appears their only interests are those of which are most shortsighted and dishonorable. Have we not realized the lunacy in using a fascist Iraq against a fascist Iran, or vice versa? Are we unaware that regimes we oppose house populations that love us, whereas the tyrannies we coddle house peoples that kill us? Have we not learned our lesson by including warlord Muqtada al Sadr into the political fray? And what of Hezbollah, where its theocratic ministers resign the democratic parliament and its sheikh leader promises a new, better, "cleaner" Lebanese government? Those who promulgate the notion that the likes of Hamas are better in power than "in the street" - Dr. Rice sadly amongst this crowd - are talking a dangerous tune in which the United States, for the sake of "regional stability," ought to oversee the empowerment of sadist and fascistic political blocs with jihadist armed wings to ascertain control of the state. The idea that unity parliaments must incorporate poisonous authoritarians antithetical to unity and parliamentarianism is, in essence, suggesting we hand over strategic attainment over to those we would otherwise annihilate and embarrass on a tactical level. Should we hope al Qaida dissects itself into a political organization with which we could parley?
But the Iraq Study Group will not stop there in its faux genius. Not only should the United States forgo democracy promotion and include terrorist movements into governments we seek to build and enhance, but, as its member Bob Gates advises, we should begin talking directly with Khamenei and his mullahs in Tehran, along with the Assad family mafiosos in Damascus. And for what end? Stability, of course. Forget about finding and linking our policies with the interests of Iranian and Syrian dissidents. Just as an unhelpful Charles Percy blasted Solidarity for going - too far - in its effort to rid their Polish countrymen of Soviet domination, so too many policymakers in Washington today view the Arab and Persian democrat with deep distrust and suspicion, while seeking to Arafatize every unmentionable and illegitimate thug and criminal in the region. One offers the uneasiness of constitutional change; the other cold-steel assuredness. "Just pump oil, keep the Commies out, and do whatever else you want."
Perhaps this explains why Ahmed Chalabi is as villianized within some Washington circles as Saddam Hussein. Perhaps this is why 2004 presidential hopefuls chastised Iyad Allawi, while members of Congress shunned Nouri Maliki this past year. The false premise contends there are few Middle Easterners akin to Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, and Natan Sharansky. And when such men and women in the Middle East show their faces and speak out - Farid Ghadry, Mithal al Alusi, Amir Abbas Fakhravar, Ayman Nour, Kianoosh Sanjari, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and others - they are ridiculed in the West as puppets, surrogates, and Western stooges detached from popular opinion in their theocratic and autocratic home states. Rather than embrace calls for introspection in the Arab world, liberalization, the opening up of ideas and economies, joining globalization, women's rights, and religious and ethnic tolerance, such democratic dissidents are viewed as obstacles to regional stability. They seek a revision of the present warped status quo, and therefore, as with Eastern Europeans who fought for freedom two decades ago, many in Washington render anyone in the Middle East who wants to topple their tyrannical oppressor as a radical revolutionary undermining our negotiations with that very same oppressor.
The realists have it all wrong. This policy was tried for decades on end and it resulted in scenarios where the only prominent opposition to a secular dictator came in the form of even worse religiously fanatical masses. Look for a moment at Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood and likeminded Salafists are the main resistance to Mubarak's rule. Look at the Jordanian kingship, where its people tended to sympathize with Abu al Zarqawi before he started blowing them up. Look at Kuwait - a nation that was liberated by the United States and subsequently ethnically cleansed all Palestinian nomads - where its people polled the highest anti-American sentiment in the region. Look at the Saudi royal family, which brainwash and indoctrinate their youth in systematic fashion in order to get them hating our liberalism just a little bit more than they hate their lack of significance.
Not only must we not talk to our enemies - just ask Sharansky how much he and his fellow dungeon dissidents preferred Reagan's unapologetic and open moralism to Nixon's detente - but we must become increasingly suspicious of our once-cherished Arab allies. Dwight Eisenhower once remarked that if one could not solve a problem, he would be wise to enlarge it. The solution to our current quandary in the Mideast is not a reversal and return to the old order, but to rile up a few more hornet nests. We are engaged in an audacious counterinsurgency across hostile Sunni municipalities with hundreds of thousands of indigenous Iraqi allies at our side. If we were to accept any of the ridiculous Vietnam comparisons, at least let us acknowledge that we have not only toppled the adversarial government (which was not done then), but we have also, wisely, skipped the half-decade as loner and have moved on to contemporary Vietnamization.
Keeping the historical analogies alive, if this is in fact the decades-long struggle we are told it is, and victory, as only a determined few define it, rests not only with the capture of specific terrorists or with the continued prevention of domestic attack, but with the transformation of an undemocratic, self-righteously puritanical, and intolerantly hierarchical part of the planet, then let us not embrace a new detente. George Bush Sr., the stone-cold pragmatist, should creep out anyone who champions the promotion of human freedom. Like his associates, the so-called "wise men" from Powell to Baker, Bush the elder served the United States with credit and as he saw fit, in service and in government. But as he saw fit - as Baker, Gates, and that gang see fit - is wrong.
We must never forget their keeping Hussein in power, or their reinstalling of the Kuwaiti thugocracy, or their assurances to the Iraqi people they would receive American assistance in the event of an uprising - and then their ensuing butchery when the aid they believed we would provide never showed up. We must never forget their golfing with loon tyrants and crass despots for the sake of dictatorial constancy. We should not forget Scowcroft apologizing for Wahhabism, or his lunching with the slaughterers of Tiananmen to "avoid isolating China." We must never forget their nonchalance as the Berlin Wall fell, or their attempts to preserve the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and continued existence of the Soviet Union. We should not overlook their aversion to change - democratic change, above all.
I am under no delusion. We may have to work with certain autocracies for immediate purposes. But these relationships must have the precondition of liberalizing, or, in the least, abiding by human rights and the cessation of blatantly false anti-American indoctrination. But mini-genocides unabated, and the theory of playing an Uday Hussein (who throws babies into wood-chippers) against a mullah (who bombs Argentinean skyscrapers) is not an untarnished past. Democracy movements abandoned, genuine allies and admirers of the United States left to fend for themselves; this is not the moral or intellectual compass I want to follow for how to appropriately wage this war. However more "nuanced" than the "simplicity" of calling a spade a spade, the record of these reviving realists is not only morally ambiguous, but strategically suicidal. This neurosis, our obsession with stability, our admiration for a subservient totalitarian, got us here.
The British diplomatist of whom I am studying, Sir Harold Nicolson, did not believe the Cold War would end at the bargaining table but within the gulags and dungeons behind the Iron Curtain. His bold and early prediction - "The West in the end will be rescued by the heretics of the East" - was in fact correct, but only after the West abandoned coexistence with the Soviets and sought their internal overthrow. We would be wise to replicate our vindicated Western predecessors. Forcing our enemies to incorporate themselves into illiberal democracies they want no part of, in the attempt to cease bloodshed, is not going to work. Negotiating with those who aid the irregulars killing our servicemen is foolish and undercutting. Relying on the supposed brilliance of a hastily assembled commission full of old and discredited men, who have been out of government for over a decade, is absurd. Bringing in an heir of these men to run the Department of Defense is unsettling. In the end, this is not about stability but instability -unpredictably and without warning perpetrating instability, and destabilizing everything and everyone that deserves to be destabilized.
The theme from the administration has remained startlingly consistent - a fight against evil, ideological struggle, generational challenge, freedom verses fascism, etc. - but a supporter of democratizing the Mideast subcontinent suddenly has reason to begin becoming unnerved.
the true menace rests not within the leftist and pacifist factions - who have not, and will continue not to, offer any worthwhile alternative - but within the isolationist and stability-seeking conservative camp
liberal progressives have abandoned progress and conservative realists are ignoring reality
Realism is not without its compliments; its adherents are quite aware that state power, and not global consensus, determines which way the tides of the international system will drift. But where these proponents of realism falter is on the issue of stability.
The stability-scoundrels want insurrectionists of all stripes to join the Iraqi government in the belief that, if given power, they would use that responsibility not to plunder but to mature into well-greased and subservient stabilizers.
It appears their only interests are those of which are most shortsighted and dishonorable. Have we not realized the lunacy in using a fascist Iraq against a fascist Iran, or vice versa? Are we unaware that regimes we oppose house populations that love us, whereas the tyrannies we coddle house peoples that kill us? Have we not learned our lesson by including warlord Muqtada al Sadr into the political fray?