Monday, November 5, 2007

Pakistan debacle exposes our overreach

By Rick Morris

I wonder how many people heard the news that Pakistan President/General Pervez Musharraf’s seizure of power over the weekend and assumed that he led off his announcement with a little sample from Jay-Z (THIS … IS … STATE OF EMERGENCY!). Nobody? Just me?

Regardless, the move represents a major black eye for the United States and exposes in humiliating fashion once again the consequences of our imperial overreach over the last five years.

In justifying the Iraq War, Bush administration officials disparaged the policies of their predecessors (including the president’s father!) over several decades in “tolerating” the repressive regimes of the Middle East. The deposing of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, we were told, represented a radical change in how we would utilize our power in the Middle East. No longer would we dirty our hands by dealing with repressive dictators and Third World thugs – freedom was now on the march! The president’s second Inaugural Address made this theme the centerpiece, which came as a surprise to pundits of the time.

Although it’s hard to remember clearly though the fog of our hard times in Iraq over the next two years, George Bush did have some momentary wind at his back as he took his victory lap in early 2005. Iraqi elections had just been held, and the images of jubilant voters waving their ink-stained purple fingers at the camera were compelling. Also at about that time, in a part of the world not far away, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine peacefully toppled a corrupt government trying to cling to power by illegitimate means. Shortly thereafter, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon drove out the brutal occupiers of Syria by rallying the country in protest. No less a Bush Administration critic than Jon Stewart wondered aloud whether Bush might be on to something with his insistence on the mandatory, immediate and unfettered institution of democracy anywhere and everywhere.

But inevitably, the moment did not last and the world was reminded again why sager minds had resisted the suicidal path of placing Wilsonian democracy above all else that Bush had embraced. Homicidal Hamas won the Palestinian elections and turned the Gaza Strip into even more of a terrorist hub than it had been previously (which really says something!). Iraqis subsequently elected tribal leaders and warlords to their government who, to put it mildly, had no appreciation for the sacrifices our country had laid down for them. The democratic experiment in Afghanistan was fraught with difficulty as well, with a similar ingratitude from many who we had freed there as well.

Granted, we had no choice but to promote democracy in Afghanistan as an alternative to the terror state we rightly annihilated after 9/11, but we should not have become so intoxicated by the early signs of success in that country that turning decades of established policy on its head could ever become an attractive option. After driving the Taliban from power, we were at a stronger point strategically in the world than we had been at any time since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, and arguably the most powerful position since our arrival as a world power with our decisive presence in World War I. We accomplished in weeks what the mighty Red Army could not all throughout the ‘80s and we rebuilt the credibility that had been squandered by Bill Clinton’s cowardice in the ‘90s in the face of terrorist attacks on our interests worldwide. We had the world in the palm of our hands in early 2002, while still maintaining the sympathy of peoples everywhere in the wake of the devastating attack we suffered the previous autumn. Since the security and prosperity of the American people and free peoples everywhere depend on U.S. capacity for deterrence against war and terror, the tragedy of 9/11 had yielded, however briefly, a better world in its horrific aftermath.

Our previous Iraq War FAQ column addressed the crumbling of our military deterrence in the sands of Mesopotamia in the last half-decade. But equally damaging to our deterrence has been the disintegration of our diplomatic capacity. While promoting the “Freedom Agenda” as the cornerstone of our foreign policy efforts worldwide, we have done ourselves terrible damage by blowing our hard-won credibility:

^ While pronouncing democracy as a vital and non-negotiable concept in our dealings with repressive regimes, we never seriously challenged Saudi Arabia and the oil-rich Gulf states we rely on so completely – and the world noticed.

^ We talked tough on North Korea and said that we wouldn’t reward that murderous regime for their behavior – until we did – and the world noticed.

^ Now, we have rewarded Musharraf’s backsliding from democracy not with the calm backroom diplomacy that would have been available to us had we not made such a fetish out of imposing complete democracy anywhere as soon as possible but with the impotent whining of a country whose bluff has just been called – and the world noticed.

In its haste to pronounce George W. Bush as the Ronald Reagan of his time, a designation that could have seemed fair for as long as six months after 9/11 but now seems a grotesque insult to the Great Communicator, the American right has embraced the imperial overreach that has so damaged our national interest these past few years. This is largely because the neoconservative wing of the movement has taken hold almost completely in the 2000s and driven out the traditional adherents of the Old Right, who believed that the only relevant question to ever be asked was “does this serve America’s vital national interest?” Contrary to what today’s “mainstream” conservative followers remember, Reagan’s presidency featured a blend of neoconservative and paleoconservative policies (for example, while Reagan believed largely in free trade, he did not allow Harley-Davidson to be victimized by cutthroat foreign competitors). His United Nations ambassador, Jeane Kirkpatrick, famously distinguished between authoritarian regimes (bad guys aligned with us) and totalitarian regimes (bad guys working against us). Once upon a time in this country, we used to put our own national interest ahead of sweet-sounding ivory tower dreams about filling the world with daisies and democracy. Now, in a world in which we have disavowed working with authoritarians who could be useful to us, we have been exposed as powerless without them. Did that decision make us safer? I think not.

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