Saturday, July 15, 2006

The price of thumbing your nose at the world-- they won't be there when you need them.

A few weeks ago, I blogged on how Zarqawi's cellphone contained the numbers of some members of the government that we helped set up.

In that post I wrote,

"You're either with us or you're with the terrorists."

Those were the words of George W. Bush when describing the war on terror. And it is in a larger degree, a reflection of the conservative view of the world, the one you see on all those old westerns, war movies and cop shows, where there is no shade of grey, only larger than life heroes who stand for everything that is good, decent and right, and villainous villains that stand for nothing but evil. There is no room in this view for moral relativism, or the idea that the good guys might be fighting for anything other than a righteous cause....

Where the conservative view falls apart however, is that the idea of 'with us or against us' rarely if ever applies in the Byzantine world of Middle Eastern politics....

It is in fact that way across the middle east. The United States is just one of many players in an arena full of shifting allegiances, where the enemy of my enemy is my friend, until I make friends with my enemy, when his enemy becomes my enemy. People who live there understand that.

And President Bush's predecessors understood that. That is why his father was able to broker a coalition to go after Saddam in 1991, even including Syria. Not only did Syrian tanks take part in the invasion of Kuwait, but the fact that Syria was in the coalition probably reduced the resistance the coalition faced as the Iraqis had to divert troops to their northern border even though in the end there was no invasion from Syrian territory. He could not have done that if he hadn't at least kept the lines of communication open. Bill Clinton kept them open with the Iranians and in fact a gradual thaw in relations was happening during his term. And when Israel did withdraw from southern Lebanon several years ago, it was after receiving assurances that guerillas (at that time) would not launch rockets into Israel-- assurances that given the support Hezbollah has always had from Tehran, had to have involved Iran. And even keeping some sort of a channel open to the leaders of terrorist groups themselves, have at times been useful in for example, gathering information on rival groups and arranging the release of prisoners (yeah, we never negotiate with terrorists-- if you believe that then you probably believe WMD's were found in Iraq.)

George W. Bush, however, by taking a largely black-and-white view, and further by taking a 'my way or the highway' approach on everything from terrorism to Iraq, has painted himself into a corner. So we now see today's article, U.S. options few as Mideast erupts.

WASHINGTON - The United States has few options and limited leverage as old animosities in the Middle East overtake hopes for peace and democracy.

One problem is there aren't many people the U.S. can talk to....

The United States has no diplomatic relations with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in the Gaza Strip, militant groups fighting with Israel. The United States also has no relations with one of their backers, Iran, and only limited dialogue with the other principal backer, Syria.

Another problem is that the people the United States can talk to aren't able or willing to do as much as President Bush would like.

Moderate arab governments might be useful to us in say, Iraq, but are more afraid of their own people if they made a deal to help us end a war that would leave Israel pretty much unscathed, than they are of us (and there's always that darned oil addiction that gets in the way-- they know we won't stop trading with them because we aren't willing to pay $5 a gallon at the pump). The Europeans, who have their own large and politically powerful Muslim populations, certainly feel that the goodwill that they had towards America in the days after 9/11 has been squandered by an American administration which wanted to use them as 'supporters' but refused to even ask their advice on how to fight the Afghan war or deal with Iraq, where they believe that we are now reaping the seeds that George Bush sewed. The only real card that Washington holds anymore is that we can talk to the Israelis more firmly than probably anyone else, but the Israelis also have a mind of their own, and it is unlikely that Israel is in any mood to talk right now. If negotiations occur later, bringing that one card to the table won't make for a very strong hand by Washington, particularly in a Middle East where the view that they have of us will be filtered through the past and present in Iraq.

Clearly, a new war in the Middle East endangers everything from our efforts in Iraq to the already weakening economy. But George W. Bush has very little he can do about it. That's because when you burn your bridges, they aren't there when you need them.

The consequences of this, fall where they may, is that we are now past the 'cowboy diplomacy' stages of the Bush administration and now have to deal with the fallout from electing a rigid and stubborn [mule] to do a job that requires a diplomat.


Karen said...

"but the Israelis also have a mind of their own, and it is unlikely that Israel is in any mood to talk right now"...

...they are hiding behind the United States shirt tails who funds their every move. i'm sure if we threatened to suspend funding them they would be *in any mood* to talk.

but you know how i feel about this whole mess as discussed over at my place.

Sar said...

Eli, very well said. The exit strategy in Iraq is clearly not the only example of this administration's long-term thinking neglected in favor of selfish & stubborn driven direction.

Btw, congrats on a year of Deep Thought and happy blogiversary my friend! :)

Lammy said...

That's really a hard part of the world to understand. The Romans went in there and tried to get those guys to be civilized but then they started new religions to combat politics. Their extreme conservatism bred liberals like Jesus and Mohammed who's radical new ideas soon petrified into stone cold conservative ideas after a while. I just don't get this stuff. Some places over there even still have their burning bush, but now days they call it an effigy.

Eli Blake said...

Some places over there even still have their burning bush, but now days they call it an effigy.

Good zinger.