When the Democrats regained control of Congress in 2006, many of us, I think, thought tha the Bush era was over and a change would begin. The voters in particular had clearly rejected the Iraq war--as had Washington's traditional establishment, embodied in the Baker-Hamilton commission--and we now expected de-escalation to begin. The resignation of Don Rumsfeld (who was actually fired, we can now see, because he opposed escalation in Iraq) encouraged this illusion. But that was not what happened. Nearly a year after the election we have more troops (but less casualties) in Iraq than ever. More importantly, it seems that the course that the Bush Administration set us on five or six years ago--a futile attempt to rule the Middle East, if not the whole world, by force--may be so firmly entrenched that even another election will not reverse it.
I am glad that I managed in 2002 to recognize how revolutionary the new foreign policy was, and to reject it on fundamental grounds. (Anyone who is interested can find what I had to say on the H-Diplo internet list archives for the fall of that year.) Our new National Security Strategy had proclaimed that we had the right and the duty to overthrow any unfriendly regime that was trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction, and that we would do so alone if necessary. Meanwhile, President Bush announced that Israel would (in effect) keep whatever land it had settled and wanted to keep in any peace with a new Palestinian state. Each of those stands, in different ways, repudiated critical provisions of international law and flung the door open to international anarchy. Both were far, far more important than the President's attempts to promote democracy. Indeed, it is partly because the President has proclaimed that both the United States and Israel will take, and keep, whatever they want, that elections in the Middle East have turned out so badly for us.
Now for the last two months in Iraq, the purely military news has been remarkably good. After averaging over 90 per month from last October through this August, American deaths were at 69 last month and should be about 40 this month. It is hard to believe that such a spectacular and precipitous decline can actually represent the destruction of enemy capability, and it is possible that some enemies are waiting it out, but what does this mean, both for the situation on the ground and for our foreign policy?
It appears to mean that by 1) temporarily increasing our troop presence and 2) making political deals with traditional authorities, we have been able substantially to quiet down Sunni areas. Those deals have involved giving Sunnis arms, standing up police forces, and isolating extremists. There are, however, two big problems with this. First of all, the new strategy is not finding favor with the elected Shi'ite government at all, as today's New York Times explains, because we are strengthening the Sunni side in the ongoing civil conflict. Secondly, any gains depend entirely on a continuing American presence. Essentially, we have discovered that the combination of a larger American presence and a large measure of assistance for Sunni leaders, including former insurgents, can create a fairly safe Sunni area while the Shi'ites, and in particular Moqtadar Al-Sadr, consolidate their position in the South. It is a disguised partition of the country--but one that depends upon a more or less permanent American occupation to work.
That is not, of course, the whole story. We have also detained thousands and thousands more Iraqis, some of whom we are trying to re-educate, and we are relying more and more on air power, which kills large numbers of civilians. All this may make the whole edifice rather shaky--at some point the Iraqis may in fact conclude they have had enough of us and force a crisis. But meanwhile, in northern Iraq, the chickens that our bold new National Security Strategy let loose in 2002 are coming home to roost. The liberation of Iraq Kurdistan was the most striking consequence of the Iraq war, and some Kurds apparently feel that this will lead to the liberation of Turkish and Iranian Kurdistan as well. Turkish soldiers have been dying at the hands of Iraqi Kurds, and the Turkish government is claiming the same right that we claimed in 2001-2 and the Israelis have claimed since the 1950s--to cross borders to strike at terrorists. Although the President, ever the world's wise parent, tells the Turks that crossing the border is not in their interests, they astonishingly do not seem to agree. They are already bombing across it and seem certain to send in troops. No one knows where all this will end.
And meanwhile, the Administration is beating the drums and escalating its rhetoric for war on Iran. President Bush, indeed, has ratcheted up his demands. We must act now, he said last week, not to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, but from having the knowledge to build a nuclear weapon. States that do not share our values, in short, must be denied even the possibility of building weapons that could actually hurt us. This is a yet more sweeping claim to rule the world, and we should not be surprised that Vladimir Putin, in particular, has refused to accept it. Our view, of course, was stated by then-National Security Adviser Condolezza Rice in 2003, when she rejected the idea of multipolarity because it led to the two world wars and the Cold War. American hegemony, she argued, was the world's only way out. She and her bosses still obviously believe this.
And now it is time to raise another issue on which I have rarely touched here--the power of the conservative American Jewish lobby, represented in Washington most powerfully by AIPAC. John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt, who created such a stir by writing about this a couple of years ago, have now published a book on the subject. It hasn't created much of a stir--the opposition seems to prefer to ignore it. When they published their initial article, Michael Massing in The New York Review of Books, as I pointed out here, did a fine job of pointing out, first, that AIPAC does not represent American Jewry--its leadership is far more conservative than most American Jews--and of showing how the organization has managed to frighten the entire Congress by equating any opposition to Israeli policies with support for terrorism. Now, AIPAC's main goal is to precipitate war with Iran.
Don't believe me? Think I'm being paranoid? Then simply click aipac.org. There you will find that AIPAC doesn't deny its importance, it brags out it, proudly citing a New York Times statement that it is "the most important organization affecting the America's [sic] relationship with Israel." Most of the site is devoted to progress towards war on Iran, including accounts of new sanctions, a report of a briefing AIPAC gave on Capitol Hill on the Iranian nuclear threat, and a headline noting Condolezza Rice's promise to maintain Israel's military edge in the region. Inside the site reports that a bill authorizing new sanctions against Iran has passed, 397-16, while a measure to allow state and local governments and fund managers to sell off holdings in any companies helping the Iranian petroleum industry passed 408-6. (Two co-sponsors of the latter measure are Barney Frank and Barak Obama.)
AIPAC, I suspect, is partly responsible for Hillary Clinton's vote to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, with all that that implies. Her vote, in turn, implies that she shares the goal of bringing down the Iranian regime and is once again willing to give the Bush Administration a pretext for doing so. And while some other Democratic candidates are less enthusiastic for such a course than she is, none have been willing to endorse the idea of national sovereignty, or the actual goals of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (complete nuclear disarmament by everyone), or the idea that we might indeed have to live with some hostile nations that have nuclear weapons--though hardly on the scale of our adversaries during the second half of the last century.
A new war on behalf of non-proliferation, in my opinion, will further spread terrorism in the Middle East and beyond. It will also, I think, vastly increase the probability that a nuclear weapon will go off in an American city in the next ten years, because that will become our adversaries' only possible response to our insistence that we and our allies and we and they alone must dispose of this ultimate weapon. And such consequences will, I am afraid, eventually break down the solidarity of the advanced industrialized world, with consequences we can only imagine. Millions of Americans, in my opinion, understand this at some level, but as another Presidential election nears, they appear to be almost leaderless.