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Wednesday, July 23, 2003

The Heart Of The Matter

Josh Marshall has a great post up today that shoots straight to the heart of the Iraq situation and finally asks the right question.

If it wasn't the WMD and it wasn't the al Qaeda connection (and we can be absolutely sure in light of the situation in Liberia --- a country founded by Americans --- that it really wasn't about "liberating the Iraqi people") then why in the hell did we do it?

The Grand Strategy

Marshall says that it was about putting American troops on the ground in large numbers in the mideast in order to "bring to a head the country's simmering conflict with its enemies in the region, and kick off a democratic transformation of the region which would over time dissipate the root causes of anti-American terrorism and violence: autocracy, poverty and fanaticism."

This tracks with the basic PNAC doctrine and, more explicitly, with the Thomas Friedman "drain the swamp and a thousand flowers will bloom" theory. And, to a large extent, I agree. But, it ignores a couple of things that I think are awfully relevant and change the picture to some degree.

Rumsfeld convened the Defense Policy Board for a series of meetings shortly after 9/11. That board, headed by Richard Perle, reports to Deputy Defense Secretary Douglas Feith (of the infamous 2nd guessers intelligence team) and it wasn't long after that James Woolsey was dispatched to find evidence of connections between al Qaeda and Iraq.

This is important to bring into the picture because of the history of Perle and Feith (among others) and the document they wrote for Benjamin Netanyahu in 1995. This, according to Ambassador Joseph Wilson (as nicely reported by Uggabugga in this post) is the basis upon which the strategy was formed. It is hard to believe that it did not have some influence considering the fact that the people involved in writing it were intimately involved in the Bush administration planning --- and that so much of it has been done or publicly contemplated by hardline neocons in the administration like John Bolton. *see note

The desire to provide for Israel's security is certainly not a bad thing in and of itself. And, according to the "Clean Break" document, the long term goal is for Israel to eventually find itself in a position of such strength that it will no longer need the US to be so intimately involved in its security . (It must be noted, however, that the document does call into question whether Perle and Feith et al have the best interests of the US at heart by suggesting that Israel is being unfairly manipulated by US policy. One is tempted to call these fellows "blame America firsters" and call their patriotism into question, particularly since they hold such high positions in the US government and wield such influence over the intellectuals in the neocon movement. But, I'll resist this temptation for the time being.)

But, what is most interesting about this document is the clear concept, which Marshall does not discuss but is quite obviously part of the Grand Mideast Strategy, is the idea that the Israeli Palestinian problem will be solved by the removal of unfriendly arab regimes, beginning with Iraq, rather than any "peace process" or "road map." Acknowledging that the region will continue to simmer until this problem is resolved (and that instability and continued violence against Israelis is likely to continue) the Neocon claque has actually been quite open in their belief that the road to mid-east peace goes through Baghdad, Damascus, Tehran, Tripoli and possibly others. And this belief, although separate, converges with those whom Marshall discusses as believing that radical Islamic terrorism will also continue until the region is stabilized by ridding it of "rogue" states and "failed" states.

I'm not sure how important this Israeli security question is, other than to say that it's likely to cause a lot of misunderstanding of the type that compells me to set forth the disclaimer that I am a supporter of Israel, in the main, and have no anti-semitic ax to gind in bringing this up. The real question, it seems to me, is whether this strategy is realistic and whether it is likely to succeed.

I have serious doubts about the efficacy of American occupation in Iraq as a tool to bring stability to the region. I think the outcome of our current policy will make terrorism more, rather than less, likely considering the nature of asymetric warfare. (Jonathan Swift has some lessons about Giants and foreign entanglements, I believe.)

As for the fantasy of a reverse domino effect and democracy blooming throughout the desert once the arabs see the wonders of Iraqi democracy well...it simply doesn't merit serious consideration. No responsible leader should ever be allowed to get away with such a pollyanna view of the future and put lives of his countrymen on the line in service of it.
And, as much as I think that the think-tank ivory tower elite of the GOP are completely out of touch with reality, I find it hard to believe that even the most starry-eyed of them actually believe it. Thomas Friedman is the only one who seems to have truly bought into the Romantic Crusade version of mid-east strategy. It is obvious to me that the Neocon intellectuals believe that force and violence are the only way to bring about a stable middle east and if it takes US troops marching into every single capital in the region, so be it.

They also believed, by the way, that the only way to end the cold war was through force and violence. Before this country buys into their simplitically satisfying worldview of bloodlust and power, it would do for people to research these guys' track records. Their predictions and assessments of the past will not exactly inspire confidence in their prescience or their analytical abilities. And it simply cannot be stated too often, apparently, that the plans that are currently being put into action were formulated long before global terrorism was seen as a threat and until 9/11 there was virtually no connection between the PNAC/AEI cabal's insistence on remaking the middle east and any kind of threat from terrorists. It is fundamentally dishonest to attach the arguments outlined in the Bush Doctrine (Defense Policy review) with terrorism, since it was cribbed almost verbatic from the PNAC statement of 1997 and Wolfowitz's draft DPR from 1992.

When Rumsfeld said that everything was viewed differently through the prism of 9/11, he fails to explain how anything changed except to accelerate plans to invade Iraq. If what we are told is correct, it seems certain that the Bush administration did not even take one day to look through that prism and consider whether the old plans might actually exacerbate the problem of terrorism.

This is a serious criticism of the Grand Strategy that was addressed by the CIA in the recently released NIE and completely ignored by the administration. It is fundamental to understanding why these people felt the need to lie about the urgency to overthrow Saddam.

If the argument centered upon whether "remaking the middle east" through military action and bellicose threats would work, there is a cogent case to be made that it would not. And, that case begins with our own intelligence analysis of the probably effects of invasion and tests the theoretical pie-in-the-sky naivete of the "I think I can" intellectuals at the Pentagon.


In addition, Marshall dismisses the idea that this is about oil, and he is right in the picayune sense that it's only about providing Dick Cheney's owners with more money or about boosting Chevron and BP's profits. It is a much larger strategic issue than that.

The US uses at least 25% of the world's oil. Even if we substantially reduced our consumption with an intelligent approach to automobile milegage standards and alternative fuels, it is likely that we will continue to be the world's largest consumer for some time and, more importantly, our economy requires that we have access to cheap oil far into the future. There are, of course, other ways of dealing with this problem than putting American troops in the region from whence it comes, but it appears that this administration has opted for control of one of the largest oil reserves in the world as a way of balancing OPEC (and Russia's potential) hold on the world oil supply. This is the new Great Game and explains the desire for Empire better than anything else. It's about resources, just as it's always been.

I read that this may be the main reason for Bush's photo-op trip to Africa --- aside from the obvious political ones. There is a desire to put American bases on the continent, ostensibly to combat terrorism, but more likely to protect certain abundant oil fields. This may explain why he was, strangely, accompanied by a large group of oil executives on this trip. I would expect to see action in Latin America and Indonesia in the near term, although it is likely that it will be dealt with with "private contractor" military.

The War On Terrorism is now inextricably connected to America's gluttonous thirst for oil. When historians in the next century review the era, I have little doubt that the global strategy of a Pax Americana will be seen as largely a desire to protect and defend the United States' access to cheap oil.

The question is whether or not the world has changed to the extent that such old fashioned concepts as Empire or even a post modern concept of "virtual" colonialism are workable.

I have very serious doubts.

* It is interesting that Netanyahu has been apppointed to an economic post in the cabinet and apparently is rapidly bringing to fruition many of the "economic reforms" urged in the Clean Break document. As John Kerry said about Iraq before the war, "If you want regime change in Iraq, send in the Bush economic team. They'll bring the country to its knees." Gawd help the Israelis.