..."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,
The same goes for diplomatic clout:
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.
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.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.
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.
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.