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Bush Didn't Squander The World's Sympathy. He Spent It.
National Journal ^ | 5/9/03 | Jonathan Rauch

Posted on 05/10/2003 6:08:57 AM PDT by Lyford

By Jonathan Rauch
© National Journal Group Inc.
Friday, May 9, 2003

Quagmire? Sure, the war in Iraq was a quagmire. It was just a short quagmire. On the spectrum of quagmires, it was the shortest since the Six Day War.

Bush is no sophisticate, but he has the great virtue of knowing a dead policy when he sees one.

In fairness, the war's critics feared a quagmire not so much during the fight as after, and they had a point. One reason the first Bush administration didn't drive to Baghdad in 1991 was to avoid an American occupation of a major Arab country. And now there we are.

Still, George W. Bush can probably do a better job in Iraq than Saddam Hussein did. The new quagmire is unlikely to be as bad as the old one. The stronger objection to the war invokes not the "Q" word but the "S" one: squander. As in: President Bush won in Iraq, but in the process he has squandered the world's goodwill.

Howard Dean, a Democratic presidential candidate and former Vermont governor, blames Bush for turning the "tidal wave of support and goodwill that engulfed us after the tragedy of 9/11" into "distrust, skepticism, and hostility.... It could well take decades to repair the damage." George McGovern accuses Bush of converting "a world of support into a world united against us, with the exception of Tony Blair and one or two others." And so forth.

Poll numbers suggest that America's war in Iraq did indeed come at a very high cost in international support and sympathy. In countries throughout Europe -- including Britain, Italy, and Spain, all of whose governments supported the war -- public opinion turned sharply against the United States. Favorable ratings of well above 60 percent in many countries declined to the 30s, 20s, and even teens.

In March, on the eve of the American invasion, Ipsos (an international public-opinion research firm) asked people in Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and Spain whether their government's foreign policy should "get closer to the U.S. or distance itself more from the U.S." In all of those countries except Germany, respondents called for more distance from the United States, usually by large ratios: 63-28 percent in Japan, 60-13 in Spain, 54-38 in Canada, and 52-36 even in the U.K. The Germans split 44-46 percent, hardly a vote of confidence.

Bush's supporters retort that post-9/11 sympathy was ephemeral. At the end of the day, they argue, a strong America will attract more support than a weak one. In any case, France and Russia were determined to play the spoiler; it was the world that squandered America's goodwill, more than the other way around.

Probably, possibly, and maybe. It's all very complicated. But those arguments miss the larger point. The talk of squandering is fundamentally misconceived. Bush did not squander the world's goodwill. He spent it, which is not at all the same thing.

The Cold War was a five-decade confrontation in which the United States often found itself aligned in awkward and even obnoxious ways but remained, through it all, on the right side of history. In the end, the Soviet Union fell not because of Star Wars or glasnost, but because Communism was a dysfunctional system that lost the ability to fool even its friends.

Perhaps the most awkward and obnoxious of America's Cold War alignments were in the Arab world. Washington supported tyrannies and monarchies that wrecked their economies and stunted their politics. The Arab regimes wallowed in corruption and incompetence. They entrenched poverty and blocked middle-class aspirations. They jailed liberal dissidents and political moderates. They fertilized the soil for militant Islamists who provided the only outlet for dissent. They then attempted to neutralize Islamism by diverting its energies to hating liberalism, Americans, and Jews.

In both Iran and Iraq, Washington supported or tolerated corrupt and brutal regimes, with disastrous results in both places. Saudi Arabia has been a different kind of disaster, propagating anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism all over the world. Syria and Libya are disasters. Lebanon is between disasters. Egypt is a disaster waiting to happen. Maybe Jordan is, too.

In short, the United States has been on the wrong side of Arab history for almost five decades, and it is not doing much better than the Soviets. The old policy had no future, only a past. It was a dead policy walking. September 11 was merely the death certificate.

Bush is no sophisticate, but he has the great virtue -- not shared by most sophisticates -- of knowing a dead policy when he sees one. So he gathered up the world's goodwill and his own political capital, spent the whole bundle on dynamite, and blew the old policy to bits. However things come out in Iraq, the war's larger importance is to leave little choice, going forward, but to put America on the side of Arab reform.

Reform will take years, decades even, and it will mean different things in different countries. In Iraq, it meant force. In Syria, it means hostile prodding; in Saudi Arabia, friendly prodding. It means setting a subversive example for Iran, creating the region's second democracy in Palestine, building on change in Qatar and Kuwait, leading Egypt gently toward multiparty politics. Progress will be fitful, at best. But the direction will be right, for a change.

This is a breathtakingly bold undertaking. The difficulties are staggering. Everything might go wrong. But the crucial point to remember is that everything had already gone wrong. No available policy could justify optimism in the Arab world, but the new policy at least offers hope. It offers a path ahead, a future where there had been only a past. It is not dead. It puts America on the right side of history and on the right side of America.

Much of Europe is alarmed by the change, but then, it would be. American troops in Saudi Arabia guaranteed the flow of oil while turning the United States (along with Israel) into the scapegoat of choice for millions of angry Muslims, some of whom live in Europe. From Paris's or Amsterdam's or Bremen's point of view, what's not to like about that deal? Why must Washington go and stir everything up?

Not long before the Iraq war began, the Heinrich Böll Foundation sponsored a debate in Washington between Richard Perle and Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Perle, of course, is a hawkish American neoconservative who supported the Iraq war. Cohn-Bendit, a Frenchman, leads the Green faction of the European Parliament, but is perhaps better known as "Danny the Red" for leading student uprisings in France in the 1960s. In a telling moment, Cohn-Bendit blurted out that Perle, the conservative, was now the revolutionary, trying to reform the whole Arab world -- whereas Cohn-Bendit, the former radical, was now the conservative.

"Suddenly you want to bring democracy to the world," Cohn-Bendit said. "Recently, your government has been behaving like the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. You want to change the whole world. Like them, you claim that history will show that truth is on your side." Savoring the irony, Danny the Red accused America of "revolutionary hubris."

He was right about "revolutionary," though the administration would prefer a gradual revolution. But "hubris"? Not exactly. The effort to reshape the Arab world would indeed seem hopelessly overweening but for the fact that the old policy had already collapsed beneath America's feet. It had also collapsed beneath the Arab world's feet. The question is whether the fall of Baghdad might be the sort of wake-up call for Arabs that September 11 was for Americans.

On April 14, The Washington Post rounded up some examples of what it aptly called "fear and rethinking in the Middle East" -- there being plenty of both. "With the fall of Baghdad," wrote Shafeeq Ghabra, the president of the American University of Kuwait, in Lebanon's online Daily Star, "Arab thought as we knew it since the 1967 defeat collapsed. The nationalism that misled Saddam and our peoples has also collapsed, as well as a pattern of Arabism many of us exploited in favor of autocracy, oppression, dictatorship, and the confiscation of other people's rights."

Abdul Hamid Ahmad, the editor of a United Arab Emirates-based Web site called Gulf News, wrote, "With the stunning and shameful collapse of the Iraqi regime and its Baathist reign, another Arab era has vanished.... And a stark reality was revealed: that these institutions were virtual phantoms as far as the people were concerned." Single-party monopolies "only lead to the suffocation of people, politically and socially."

Just straws in the breeze, those opinions; but at least now there is a breeze. Spending the world's goodwill on reform in the Arab world is the most dangerous course the Bush administration could have set, except for all the others.

Jonathan Rauch is a senior writer for National Journal magazine, where "Social Studies" appears.


TOPICS: Editorial; Foreign Affairs; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: aftermathanalysis; arabstreet; bush; bushdoctrine; history; iraq; iraqifreedom; middleeast; newnwo; quagmire
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Searched and didn't find this. I think there's some very good analysis here...

It's all very complicated. But those arguments miss the larger point. The talk of squandering is fundamentally misconceived. Bush did not squander the world's goodwill. He spent it, which is not at all the same thing.

...

In short, the United States has been on the wrong side of Arab history for almost five decades, and it is not doing much better than the Soviets. The old policy had no future, only a past. It was a dead policy walking. September 11 was merely the death certificate.

Bush is no sophisticate, but he has the great virtue -- not shared by most sophisticates -- of knowing a dead policy when he sees one. So he gathered up the world's goodwill and his own political capital, spent the whole bundle on dynamite, and blew the old policy to bits. However things come out in Iraq, the war's larger importance is to leave little choice, going forward, but to put America on the side of Arab reform.

1 posted on 05/10/2003 6:08:57 AM PDT by Lyford
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To: Lyford
I enjoyed this. Thanks for posting. When it opened, I thought I was going to be on the other side, but it was well written.
2 posted on 05/10/2003 6:17:14 AM PDT by FryingPan101 (Ya know?)
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To: Lyford
Bump, excellent article.
3 posted on 05/10/2003 6:17:14 AM PDT by xJones
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To: Lyford
good piece, and correct....
4 posted on 05/10/2003 6:24:43 AM PDT by The Wizard (Saddamocrats are enemies of America, treasonous everytime they speak)
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To: Lyford
A wonderful read.
5 posted on 05/10/2003 6:29:08 AM PDT by MEG33
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To: Lyford
The question is whether the fall of Baghdad might be the sort of wake-up call for Arabs that September 11 was for Americans.

Interesting analogy. I've never thought of it that way, but the author's right. The Arab world was stunned when the mighty and invincible Saddam fell so easily. The statue in the central Baghdad square has become their twin towers.

6 posted on 05/10/2003 6:34:06 AM PDT by randog
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To: Lyford
Wars are messy. And then afterwards you have to clean up the mess.

But the point missed here is in this sentance.

In both Iran and Iraq, Washington supported or tolerated corrupt and brutal regimes, with disastrous results in both places. Saudi Arabia has been a different kind of disaster, propagating anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism all over the world. Syria and Libya are disasters. Lebanon is between disasters. Egypt is a disaster waiting to happen. Maybe Jordan is, too.

Can someone tell me who supplied those bolded countries with arms? Hint: It wasn't the US.

7 posted on 05/10/2003 6:40:03 AM PDT by Harmless Teddy Bear (There is nothing you can do with that computer that I canít do with my little pad and pen. ĖMy Dad)
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To: Lyford
Excellent article. It reminds me of something I heard W say. I think it was during the 2000 campaign, when some reporter asked a question implying he was too stupid to be president. W said, "I know how to get political capital and I know how to spend it." That stuck with me.
8 posted on 05/10/2003 6:59:18 AM PDT by Marylander
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To: Harmless Teddy Bear
Can someone tell me who supplied (Iran Iraq Syria Libya Lebanon) with arms? Hint: It wasn't the US.

In general I agree with your point about arms. However, the U.S. did support the monarchy of Iran, in part because it gave us access to its border with the USSR. Iran received (among other goodies) F-5 and F-14 fighters, and has managed to keep some flying despite 24 years of not having "manufacturer approved" spare parts available.

But I think the author's point was that, in the past, our support for regimes in the middle east was not based on the principles of democracy and freedom, but containing the USSR. Twenty years from now, will libs be playing the same obstruction game on the U.S. by saying things like, "we were the ones who armed the (Saudis Pakistanis Turks Jordainians Egyptians Germans), so we don't have the moral authority to decry their actions now"? If we blindly keep on supporting (or tolerating) these despots, the answer will be YES.

9 posted on 05/10/2003 7:05:12 AM PDT by Fudd
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To: Fudd
But I think the author's point was that, in the past, our support for regimes in the middle east was not based on the principles of democracy and freedom, but containing the USSR.

My point is that with many of these regimes we not only did not support them, we wanted them gone even at the highth of the Cold War. So to say that we supported them is a lie.

You can not ignore the fact that the USSR was arming them and supplying them with training.

The Iraqi Army for example was based on the Soviet model. (Which is why Russia is taking the defeat so personally.)

Our position on most of these countries has not changed at all.

10 posted on 05/10/2003 7:13:49 AM PDT by Harmless Teddy Bear (There is nothing you can do with that computer that I canít do with my little pad and pen. ĖMy Dad)
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To: Lyford
Excellent and well written. We have to rid America of the pro terrorists Rats in Congress.


11 posted on 05/10/2003 7:15:11 AM PDT by Grampa Dave (Free Republic, where leftist liars are exposed 24/7!)
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To: Fudd
However, the U.S. did support the monarchy of Iran, in part because it gave us access to its border with the USSR.

Point.

Counterpoint, who armed the Ayatollah's who came afterwards?

And which was a better government for Iran, the monarchy or the Ayatollahs?

12 posted on 05/10/2003 7:16:49 AM PDT by Harmless Teddy Bear (There is nothing you can do with that computer that I canít do with my little pad and pen. ĖMy Dad)
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To: Lyford
A good article with excellent analysis. This deserves a bump.
13 posted on 05/10/2003 7:23:14 AM PDT by MWS (Errare humanum est, in errore perservare stultum.)
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To: Lyford
.....but the new policy at least offers hope. It offers a path ahead, a future where there had been only a past. It is not dead. It puts America on the right side of history and on the right side of America.

And that is exactly why the America-hating left, yes, that includes Democrats, hate it and hate Bush. They want America down, not up, so they can replace it with any kind of reorganization that puts them and their failed policies at the top. They will support anything or anyone, no matter how despicable, that is against America.

14 posted on 05/10/2003 7:31:15 AM PDT by Mind-numbed Robot
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To: TexKat; Miss Marple; Nam Vet
Great analysis of reason to invade Iraq,change middle east policy.
15 posted on 05/10/2003 7:33:31 AM PDT by MEG33
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To: Harmless Teddy Bear
My point is that with many of these regimes we not only did not support them, we wanted them gone even at the highth of the Cold War. So to say that we supported them is a lie.

I agree with you on this in regards to many of the ME nations. Egypt, Iraq, Syria, post-rev Iran, were all client states to the Soviets during the Cold War. However, my point still remains that we support, to varying degrees, nondemocratic regimes: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, pre-rev Iran, and Pakistan come to mind. With the end of the Cold War and aftermath of 911, we need to re-evaluate our alliances with these nations. I'm old enough to remember the Iranians storming the embassy gates after the Shah left Iran.

Counterpoint, ... which was a better government for Iran, the monarchy or the Ayatollahs?

My hope is that Iran can find for itself a better government than either of these choices.

16 posted on 05/10/2003 7:37:00 AM PDT by Fudd
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bump
17 posted on 05/10/2003 7:39:02 AM PDT by Non-Sequitur
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To: Lyford
Agree with this article. Boldness on our part has changed, and hopeflly will change the world for the better.

I disagree with this, however.

In fairness, the war's critics feared a quagmire not so much during the fight as after, and they had a point.

Have we already forgotten? Millions of Iraqis killed by US Bombs. Thousands of dead American troops. Bagdad surrounded and thousands starved to death. A defiant Saddam, lobbing WMD at us. And all for some oil. Haliburton and oil. Bush the evil corporate oil man. This is the rant I remember the leftists making. It was anti-freedom, anti-American, anti-capitalism. And they were SO wrong. So now, with them proved wrong, should we believe them when they shout about all the numerous perils about the aftermath of the war and occupation and reform? NO! It is a long row to hoe, but with guts and determination, we'll get it done. Don't count on the left to roll up their sleeves to help. They'll continue to whine and snipe. I can only hope people see through this.

18 posted on 05/10/2003 7:52:52 AM PDT by Alas Babylon!
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To: Harmless Teddy Bear
And which was a better government for Iran, the monarchy or the Ayatollahs?

OK, I'll entertain you. I work with a guy who is of Persian ancestry. He is old enough to remember living in Tehran, and he says life there was great. If he were still there, he would be living like a prince. However, he left Iran on the last Pan Am flight from Tehran. I suspect he is romanticizing things to some extent. My coworker definitely thinks Iran was better off with the Shah.

He did tell me one story I take at face value. His uncle went to mosque for the five daily proayers, and sent my coworker to Koran school as a youngster. At the same time, this uncle told him to never believe that mumbo-jumbo. Uncle's observance of Muslim rituals were just for show, to keep him out of trouble with Muslim society.

19 posted on 05/10/2003 7:55:25 AM PDT by Fudd
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To: Grampa Dave
NICE poster, Grampa! (#11)
20 posted on 05/10/2003 7:56:24 AM PDT by nutmeg (USA: Land of the Free - Thanks to the Brave)
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