Thursday, July 13, 2006

Once again...

... here's what happens with a presidency of incompetence that completely missed the boat regarding the role of legitimacy and shared norms as tools of leverage in the international sphere. I'm feeling like a broken record on this issue, talking about how the administration has been painting the US into a corner throughout its foreign policy. This administration's archaic view of global politics has run them aground, the view that all it takes is a big military and a big economy. For example, in a post on the Hamas election earlier this year, I wrote,
..."Caught off-guard" suggests, rather, that the administration has taken on the role of covering its tracks in order not to appear as weak as it really is. They're now in a reactionary position praying for any spinnable little thing on the positive side that comes their way. When it doesn't - and it usually doesn't - they resort to the language of either blame ("caught off-guard" - you mean you, Condi, or some poor staff member?) or ignorance. Pleading ignorance has had some purchase thus far with the American public because it plays into the public's own confusion about what to do in Iraq. But it no longer plays with the international audience. They have read this administration correctly.
Now we're seeing outright consequences of the incompetence at the level of quickly depleting international leverage and power. Isn't it astounding that a nation that spends as much on its military as the rest of the world combined is losing even its military leverage? Warren Strobel writes,

In Iraq and to some extent Afghanistan, "events have revealed that our military superiority is not as great as we originally imagined. We are tapped out," said Andrew Bacevich, a Boston University international relations professor and West Point graduate.

That has implications for dealing with challenges such as Iran's suspected drive for nuclear weapons and North Korea's recent test launch of missiles in defiance of world opinion, Bacevich and others said.

"We're really not in a position to dictate to others," Bacevich said, a trend that he noted isn't lost on America's adversaries.

The same goes for diplomatic clout:
Bush's recent emphasis on diplomacy is "all fine. But there's no reason to believe any of these diplomatic measures will be successful," said Gary Samore, a nonproliferation expert who worked in the Clinton White House and is now a vice president of the MacArthur Foundation.

Samore, who met recently with a group of Iranians, said they told him that the leadership in Tehran is convinced that the Bush administration cannot attack them. "The Iranians are feeling very protected from U.S. military action" by what has happened in Iraq, he said.

"The administration is seen as so deeply wounded by Iraq and by the fading presidency, that a lot of people (in other capitals) are thinking about the next presidency."...

"But what are they going to do? They're going to keep on keeping on," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid retribution. "It's not the hand they were dealt. To some extent, it's the hand they dealt themselves."

Samore and other analysts said Bush would have had a much stronger hand if he'd pursued diplomacy earlier - for example, immediately after the Iraq invasion, when Iran, fearing it would be next, quietly proposed talks on a broad range of issues.

But after Saddam Hussein was toppled, Bush and his aides were emboldened, thinking they saw the beginning of a democratic wave that would transform the Arab Middle East.

I disagree with the implication that pursuing diplomacy after the Iraq invasion and occupation was even possible any longer. Nonetheless, the point is that we are witnessing a presidency that has very little position left to salvage anything out of its foreign policy. This represents at once something positive as well as an extreme danger. The positive point is that the administration has been wrong all along. Perhaps it's in no position to break anything further, even if it can't fix anything. The danger is obvious. We're seeing it unfold daily in Iraq, in negotiations with Iran, and with Israel's invasion of Lebanon today and continued bombing of Gaza. This is not to mention urgent human rights issues, environmental problems, and so on.

The state of the world and the position of the US in the international sphere are much worse off than they were six years ago.

UPDATE (2:45, July 13th):

Here comes the Washington Post, bringing up the rear behind Knight-Ridder's Warren Strobel and yours truly.


Jean said...

"The state of the world and the position of the US in the international sphere are much worse off than they were six years ago."

True, but on the plus side (if you look at this from the Rummy-Cheney worldview)the U.S. has fourteen (that we know about) permanent military bases inside Iraq--"lily pads" from which the U.S. can project force throughout the region--which was certainly not the case before the invasion. Since this was one of the neocon goals (only thinly veiled), the Bush regime was not as "incompetent" in its execution of the war and occupation as is commonly perceived. Thanks in no small part to John Negroponte and his team, including those engaged in black ops, it has also effectively stirred up sectarian violence among Iraqis, making it more difficult for them to unite against the occupiers. So in some respects the Bush administration, or more specifically the neocons within it driving foreign policy, is indeed achieving its goals. It's just that the rest of us find these goals, not to mention the means by which they are achieved, reprehensible. And there will be hell to pay in the long run.

I thought the analysis here was quite perceptive:

troutsky said...

Lily pads are all well and good in a "weak state" but in a region of failed states they are only dangerous liabilities

Anonymous said...

Good post, helmut!

I've been dragged down lately by the feeling that we all are saying the same things over and over again, and it doesn't seem to matter. But I guess we have to keep saying them.

A little thought has been creeping into my head that possibly, just possibly, something good can come out of this. Maybe, just maybe, our next president will have, in effect, a clean slate in foreign policy. He/she will be able to, for example, press a serious peacemaking effort in the Middle East, or put forth an American policy to eliminate nuclear weapons.

The down side is, of course, that the Iraq war is draining funds, and a war between Israel and Iran (which both seem to be stomping for), along with who knows what, may preclude other actions.

We can just hope the world can hold on until the US gets another president.


Anonymous said...

The way the US sees its own foreign policy is very much around its national interest, considering a positive attribute by the US itself, but not so by the international community. In a time when the opinion of the US about itself is drifting far from the way it is perceived by others, see the recent Pew Forum survey, it is definitely worthwhile for Americans to read about international relations perspectives from other nationalities. I would recommend for some sense of how US actions have been perceived by outsiders.

helmut said...

Jean - I think Troutsky has an important point, one more in line with what I've been trying to say on this blog: that military might only goes so far. If Iran and Israel go to war, Iraq continues to implode, Pakistan moves more in a fundamentalist direction, Afghanistan continues to collapse, and the general mood in the Middle East continues to deteriorate into further anger, I'm not so sure how much the US military - even with its bases - could serve the goal of maintaining an oil supply. It becomes trickier and trickier.

Yes, the goals may have been the ones you point out, but the means just aren't there. And by means, I don't mean simply military and economic. So, regardless of the actual goals, the overall foreign policy is incompetent in my view.

helmut said...

Raj - I posted the Pew studies earlier. Thanks for the the Irrational Mag link - I didn't know of its existence.

Jean said...

I agree that the policy is ultimately futile as well as wrong-headed, and in that sense, yes, "incompetent." But when I see domestic critics of the Bush administration accuse it of incompetence, or rather of "not having a plan," I think they're overlooking something important: the invasion of Iraq was never about WMD, or fighting terrorism (obviously), still less about liberating Iraqis (even more obviously, unless it was to liberate them of their natural resources and national wealth), but about the global projection of American military power. This mindset is stamped all over the national security strategies of the last few years, the PNAC manifesto, and similar documents. And this is the goal, the plan that the Bush regime went into Iraq with, and pursues to this day, ruthlessly. To the extent that the sprawling, fortified permanent bases and U.S. embassy are well along the way to being constructed, and Iraqi society is disintegrating into violence and chaos, they have succeeded in their plan. Less successful is the effort to install a puppet regime, especially with the latest known atrocities committed by American soldiers. Ultimately there will be--already is--backlash and blowback, and the whole thing will prove to be a fiasco from which the U.S. may never recover (I hope Iraq will, though it will take decades if not generations). But I feel it's missing the mark to put it all down to incompetence and lack of planning.

Maybe the real agenda of the Bish regime in Iraq and beyond will come out during the war crimes trials.

Helmut, I'm glad I discovered your blog. It's a good read. I won't always comment so much, though!

Troutsky, you may be right. I think the necons were gambling that they could turn Iraq into a weak state and client regime, and underestimated the possibility of a failed state. They're cocky bastards, after all.

helmut said...

Thanks, Jean.