Wednesday, November 23, 2005
In Our Dreams
Yesterday on Matthews there was this little exchange between Tweety, Chuck Todd and Deborah Orrin:
ORIN: ... I think we are close to starting to pull troops out. Talk to people at the White House and the Pentagon, they feel the Iraqis really are stepping up. And some of them, if you want to be conspiracy theorists, think this was all a Democratic game so that when we announce after the elections in December, that they are a success and when we start pulling troops out, Democrats can say see, we are responsible. We did it.
MATTHEWS: You think they are that smart?
TODD: You're giving them a lot of credit.
In our dreams.
I think this withdrawal plan is the same phony drawdown that they've been talking about for the last year. They will do it to show "progress" before the 2006 election. but I'm with Atrios on this --- I don't think there's a chance in hell that George W. Cheney is going to allow himself to be portrayed "cutting and running" by anyone, and if bombs are still going off in Iraq that's exactly how it will look. The military is hurting and so it must lessen its presence and regroup. But we are not leaving there before 2008. From what I'm hearing today, they think the magic number is 100,000. troops. That means that we will have 99,999 troops there indefinitely. And they are going to keep getting blown up indefinitely.
I've written before about historian Bernard Lewis and his outsized influence on the thinking inside the Bush administration. He's the guy who persuaded the erstwhile hardliners that they were correct to be tough, macho and manly --- but they also needed to "democratize" the middle east. The arabs, you see, need our guidance, just as they've always needed somebody's guidance:
Bernard Lewis often tells audiences about an encounter he once had in Jordan. The Princeton University historian, author of more than 20 books on Islam and the Middle East, says he was chatting with Arab friends in Amman when one of them trotted out an argument familiar in that part of the world.
"We have time, we can wait," he quotes the Jordanian as saying. "We got rid of the Crusaders. We got rid of the Turks. We'll get rid of the Jews."
Hearing this claim "one too many times," Mr. Lewis says, he politely shot back, "Excuse me, but you've got your history wrong. The Turks got rid of the Crusaders. The British got rid of the Turks. The Jews got rid of the British. I wonder who is coming here next."
The vignette, recounted in the 87-year-old scholar's native British accent, always garners laughs. Yet he tells it to underscore a serious point. Most Islamic countries have failed miserably at modernizing their societies, he contends, beckoning outsiders -- this time, Americans -- to intervene.
Call it the Lewis Doctrine. Though never debated in Congress or sanctified by presidential decree, Mr. Lewis's diagnosis of the Muslim world's malaise, and his call for a U.S. military invasion to seed democracy in the Mideast, have helped define the boldest shift in U.S. foreign policy in 50 years. The occupation of Iraq is putting the doctrine to the test.
For much of the second half of the last century, America viewed the Mideast and the rest of the world through a prism shaped by George Kennan, author of the doctrine of "containment." In a celebrated 1947 article in Foreign Affairs focused on the Soviet Union, Mr. Kennan gave structure to U.S. policy in the Cold War. It placed the need to contain Soviet ambitions above all else.
Terrorism has replaced Moscow as the global foe. And now America, having outlasted the Soviets to become the sole superpower, no longer seeks to contain but to confront, defeat and transform. How successful it is at remolding Iraq and the rest of the Mideast could have a huge impact on what sort of superpower America will be for decades to come: bold and assertive -- or inward, defensive and cut off.
As mentor and informal adviser to some top U.S. officials, Mr. Lewis has helped coax the White House to shed decades of thinking about Arab regimes and the use of military power. Gone is the notion that U.S. policy in the oil-rich region should promote stability above all, even if it means taking tyrants as friends. Also gone is the corollary notion that fostering democratic values in these lands risks destabilizing them. Instead, the Lewis Doctrine says fostering Mideast democracy is not only wise but imperative.
After Sept. 11, 2001, as policy makers fretted urgently about how to understand and deal with the new enemy, Mr. Lewis helped provide an answer. If his prescription is right, the U.S. may be able to blunt terrorism and stabilize a region that, as the chief exporter of oil, powers the industrial world and underpins the U.S.-led economic order. If it's wrong, as his critics contend, America risks provoking sharper conflicts that spark more terrorism and undermine energy security.
After the terror attacks, White House staffers disagreed about how to frame the enemy, says David Frum, who was a speechwriter for President Bush. One group believed Muslim anger was all a misunderstanding -- that Muslims misperceived America as decadent and godless. Their solution: Launch a vast campaign to educate Muslims about America's true virtue. Much of that effort, widely belittled in the press and overseas, was quietly abandoned.
A faction led by political strategist Karl Rove believed soul-searching over "why Muslims hate us" was misplaced, Mr. Frum says. Mr. Rove summoned Mr. Lewis to address some White House staffers, military aides and staff members of the National Security Council. The historian recited the modern failures of Arab and Muslim societies and argued that anti-Americanism stemmed from their own inadequacies, not America's. Mr. Lewis also met privately with Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Mr. Frum says he soon noticed Mr. Bush carrying a marked-up article by Mr. Lewis among his briefing papers. A White House spokesman declined to comment.
Says Mr. Frum: "Bernard comes with a very powerful explanation for why 9/11 happened. Once you understand it, the policy presents itself afterward."
"The question people are asking is why they hate us. That's the wrong question," said Mr. Lewis on C-SPAN shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks. "In a sense, they've been hating us for centuries, and it's very natural that they should. You have this millennial rivalry between two world religions, and now, from their point of view, the wrong one seems to be winning."
He continued: "More generally ... you can't be rich, strong, successful and loved, particularly by those who are not rich, not strong and not successful. So the hatred is something almost axiomatic. The question which we should be asking is why do they neither fear nor respect us?"
For Mr. Lewis and officials influenced by his thinking, instilling respect or at least fear through force is essential for America's security. In this formulation, the current era of American dominance, sometimes called "Pax Americana," echoes elements of Pax Britannica, imposed by the British Empire Mr. Lewis served as a young intelligence officer after graduate school.
Eight days after the Sept. 11 attacks, with the Pentagon still smoldering, Mr. Lewis addressed the U.S. Defense Policy Board. Mr. Lewis and a friend, Iraqi exile leader Ahmad Chalabi -- now a member of the interim Iraqi Governing Council -- argued for a military takeover of Iraq to avert still-worse terrorism in the future, says Mr. Perle, who then headed the policy board.
A few months later, in a private dinner with Dick Cheney at the vice president's residence, Mr. Lewis explained why he was cautiously optimistic the U.S. could gradually build democracy in Iraq, say others who attended. Mr. Lewis also held forth on the dangers of appearing weak in the Muslim world, a lesson Mr. Cheney apparently took to heart. Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" just before the invasion of Iraq, Mr. Cheney said: "I firmly believe, along with men like Bernard Lewis, who is one of the great students of that part of the world, that strong, firm U.S. response to terror and to threats to the United States would go a long way, frankly, toward calming things in that part of the world."
The Lewis Doctrine, in effect, had become U.S. policy.
Do we have any reason on earth to believe that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsefeld and George W. Bush are prepared to abandon this thinking?
Let's give them at least some credit for sincerity on one thing. They honestly believe that we have been perceived as weak by the rest of the world. They've always thought this. This isn't a political calculation, they really believe it. They went into iraq with the idea that they had to show those hinky arabs that we are not going to be pushed around. When they say that everyone from Nixon on down behaved like cowards, they really mean it. This is their world view.
Norman Podhoretz even characterizes their god Reagan this way:
Having cut and run in Lebanon in October, Reagan again remained passive in December, when the American embassy in Kuwait was bombed. Nor did he hit back when, hard upon the withdrawal of the American Marines from Beirut, the CIA station chief there, William Buckley, was kidnapped by Hizbullah and then murdered. Buckley was the fourth American to be kidnapped in Beirut, and many more suffered the same fate between 1982 and 1992 (though not all died or were killed in captivity.
It is a deep article of faith that the reason we were hit on 9/11 is because we failed to respond to the terrorists and others . Therefore, we must make them respect and fear us by being violent and dominating.
I am of the opinion that alienating our allies, exposing ourselves as having an intelligence community that can't find water if they fall out of a boat and then screwing up Iraq in spectacular fashion, we have destroyed our mystique and have made this country less safe. We were much better off speaking softly and carrying the big stick than flailing around like a wounded, impotent Giant.
I see no reason to believe that these people see that. They believe that to "cut and run" is the equivalent of emasculating this country and that is what puts us at risk. George W. Bush is not bugging out.
Up on the podium, Mr. Lewis lambasted the belief of some Mideast experts at the State Department and elsewhere that Arabs weren't ready for democracy -- that a "friendly tyrant" was the best the U.S. could hope for in Iraq. "That policy," he quipped, "is called 'pro-Arab.' "
Others, like himself, believe Iraqis are heirs to a great civilization, one fully capable, "with some guidance," of democratic rule, he said. "That policy," he added with a rueful smile, "is called 'imperialism.' "
digby 11/23/2005 04:48:00 PM