All over the world, scoundrels are ascendant, rising on a tide of American weakness. It makes for a perilous future.
President Bush bet his presidency – and America’s world leadership – on the war in Iraq. Tragically, it looks as though he bit off more than the American people were willing to chew.
The United States is failing in Iraq. Bush’s policy was repudiated by the American people in the last election. And now America’s enemies and rivals are pressing their advantage, including Iran, Syria, the Taliban, Sudan, Russia and Venezuela. We have yet to hear from Al Qaeda.
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman had it right this week in saying that America has two choices in Iraq – a 10-month strategy of withdrawal or a 10-year strategy of “re-invasion” and rebuilding the country from the ground up, probably requiring 150,000 additional U.S. troops.
Along with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the editors of the Weekly Standard and some formerly antiwar retired generals, I favor the latter option, but it’s obvious that the American people don’t.
Conceivably, they could be persuaded to support a true “victory” strategy if President Bush made a strong case for more troops, more money and more time. But he is not doing so.
On Nov. 7, the public rejected his old strategy, based on a limited U.S. “footprint” and training for Iraqi forces – a strategy that has not worked to produce a stable Iraq.
To the contrary, the savage enemies of stability and democracy – Sunni insurgents, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen and plain old criminals – have turned Iraq into a slaughterhouse. The Iraqi government is either unable or unwilling to stop what’s become a low-grade civil war.
Bush reiterated more than once this week that he will “not leave until the job is done,” but his only change in tactics seems to be to shift some troops to Baghdad and hasten a transfer of security responsibilities to the inept Iraqi government.
Next week, the Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., will issue a report that is likely to weaken Bush’s hand even further.
Advance indications are that it will call for a phased withdrawal of U.S. troops, without a timetable, as well as regional negotiations involving Syria and Iran – countries that have been doing their utmost to destroy America’s position in the Middle East.
As evidence mounts that Bush and America are in a weakened position, America’s enemies are on the advance.
With maximum chutzpah, Iran’s radical president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, went so far as to write an open letter to the American people this week seeking to undermine Bush’s domestic position by denouncing “the many wars and calamities caused by the U.S. administration.”
That won’t have much effect, but the fact is that Iran is winning its struggle against the United States. In Iraq, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards are equipping the Mahdi Army of anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Moqtada Al-Sadr, which is gaining strength amid the sectarian warfare.
Iran continues working on a nuclear arsenal, protected from international sanctions by Russia and China and Bush’s international weakness. Along with its ally, Syria, Iran is financing and arming the radical group Hezbollah, which is seeking to bring down the government of Lebanon.
Lebanon’s expulsion of Syrian forces in 2005, following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was one of the high points of U.S. influence in the Mideast.
Also in 2005, nearly 75 percent of eligible Iraqis – including Sunnis – voted for a new constitution and then a new government, another high point for Bush and his drive to bring democracy to the Middle East.
Iraq’s progress was stopped by the destruction of the al-Askari Mosque in Samarra on Feb. 22, 2006, apparently by Sunni jihadists, which set off the sectarian strife that is now spinning out of control. Progress was also stopped by the failure of Iraqi politicians to form a strong government.
Lebanon’s progress was halted this summer by Hezbollah’s capture and killing of Israeli soldiers, which led to massive Israeli bombing raids that shook the country’s democratic government.
Now, Lebanon is in grave danger as Hezbollah tries to block a U.N. inquiry into the Hariri killing – which would surely implicate Syria – and to gain control of the Lebanese government.
In the process, someone – presumably Syria, maybe Hezbollah – this month assassinated anti-Syria Minister Pierre Gemayel, possibly presaging a civil war in Lebanon. That would be another victory for the forces of chaos.
Meanwhile, Iran and Syria’s radical ally, Hamas, dominates the government in Palestine and rejects Israel’s right to exist. Ahmadinejad rejects it, too, and tried in his letter to split Americans from Israel.
America’s once-defeated enemy, the Taliban, is regaining ground in Afghanistan, and a politically weakened Bush has not been able to get many NATO countries to help fight the movement.
Sudan’s radical Islamic regime feels emboldened to reject an enhanced United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force to stop genocide in Darfur, another impending defeat for the forces of peace and order.
Whether or not Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered the assassination of his critic Alexander Litvinenko, there is no question that he is pressuring former-Soviet countries – and U.S. allies – such as the Ukraine and Georgia to knuckle under to Russian dominance.
And in Latin America, just as Cuba’s Fidel Castro is fading away, Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez is spreading anti-U.S. populism to one country after another. The Bush administration is too pre-occupied with the Middle East to counter him.
Whether by choice or inability, Al Qaeda has not hit the United States since 2001. But it’s always been Osama bin Laden’s view that Americans don’t have the stomach for lengthy conflict. That seems to be proving true in Iraq. It would be surprising if he did not try to take advantage of America’s evident weakness.
I heard recently that one of America’s most distinguished historians had played a little game with a presidential candidate, asking him which five years were the most perilous in American history.
When the candidate offered the first years of the Republic, the Civil War, World War II or the Cold War, the historian supposedly said, “No, the next five years.”
The historian told me through an aide that the story wasn’t true and that he doesn’t believe that the next five years are America’s most perilous. That’s good to hear, but I don’t agree.
(Morton Kondracke is executive editor of Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill.)
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