Whoever wins the presidency in two weeks will
have to put his own stamp on the United States' foreign and security policies.
Though constrained by an economy that can no longer afford guns and
butter, the U.S. president can pretty much call the shots on foreign policy,
subject only to limited congressional oversight and the occasional bleating
of a generally complaisant media.
If the next president is John McCain, one might well expect a continuation
of the Bush Doctrine, with its disregard of world opinion and its emphasis
on preemption and the use of the military to solve complex international problems.
If it is Barack Obama, he will hopefully have a predilection to negotiate before
bombing and a greater willingness to listen to the views of America's foreign
allies. But on key issues such as the Middle East, where Obama is advised by
neocon-lite Dennis Ross and other Clinton administration holdovers like Madeleine
Albright and Richard Holbrooke, one can expect little change. There might even
be a regrettable tendency to demonstrate an Obama administration's seriousness
by picking a "small crappy little country and throwing it against the
wall" just to make a point, something that leading neocon Michael
Ledeen has recommended.
Sarah Palin has said that America is "the greatest force for good in
the world." That may play well in Kansas, but the rest of the world doesn't
exactly see it that way, quite the reverse. The next president will be well
advised to consider seriously what has been going on for the past seven years,
if only to avoid the mistakes that have reduced the United States' favorable
rating to single digits and produced two wars in Asia that are dragging down
the economy and might well be unwinnable. Nothing succeeds like success, and
the next president should seriously consider just what successes or failures
there have been in the foreign policy area.
First and foremost must be Iraq. In 2001 Iraq was ruled by an unpleasant dictator
presiding over a collapsed economy, with a military that was broken and unable
to threaten any of its neighbors. There were neither terrorists in Iraq nor
weapons of mass destruction, and the country posed no danger to the United
States. Iraq, for all its weakness, was the Arab frontline state restraining
the hegemonic ambitions of Iran. By the end of 2008, the U.S. intervention
will have cost more than 4,200 American lives plus the lives of as many as
a million Iraqis. The cost of the occupation is currently $12 billion per month,
and the total price tag for the war, even if it were to end soon, might well
exceed $3 trillion, much of it borrowed from China and Japan. The instability
in Iraq has displaced 2 million Iraqis internally and 2 million more to neighboring
countries. Inside Iraq, unrelenting ethnic cleansing has divided Sunni from
Shi'ite. The Iraqi Christian community, among the oldest in the world, has
been targeted by militants and is disappearing. The average Iraqi has less
potable water and less electricity than he had under Saddam Hussein, and the
Iraqi public health and education systems have largely collapsed. Unemployment
is impossible to gauge accurately, but it is estimated to be in the 60-70 percent
range. The only revenue for the Iraqi government comes from oil exports, while
much of the actual oil production is stolen or corruptly diverted. The Iraqi
government itself is sectarian and corrupt, with Kurdistan constituting a virtual
state within a state and the Sunni areas hopelessly disaffected. Terrorists
now roam Iraq, with al-Qaeda in the Sunni areas and the Marxist PKK in Kurdistan.
Car bombings and suicide attacks are a daily occurrence, and the United Nations
rates Iraq the most dangerous country in the world. Most Iraqis would like
to see the United States leave. Iraq's closest friend is Iran.
So what did the United States gain by invading Iraq? Absolutely nothing. Zero.
And then there are Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2001 Afghanistan was ruled
by the Taliban, a group of intolerant Muslim fundamentalists who provided a
refuge for Osama bin Laden, though they reportedly were willing to surrender
him to the United States after 9/11, an offer that Washington rejected. There
was no drug production in Afghanistan and no internal terrorism problem. The
Taliban were mainly a problem for the Afghan people. Nor were there any terrorists
in neighboring Pakistan, which was relatively quiet under the rule of President
Pervez Musharraf, a former general who had seized power. Today, one third of
Afghanistan is too dangerous to enter without a heavily armed escort, and in
another third the security situation is bad and deteriorating. Both the British
and French have recently gone on record as saying that the war against a resurgent
Taliban is unwinnable. Reconstruction efforts have largely failed because of
the bad security, and many Afghans now support the return of the Taliban to
restore order. More than 600 Americans and more than 10,000 Afghans have died
in the fighting, and hundreds of thousands more live in refugee camps in Pakistan.
The war is costing the U.S. taxpayer $3 billion a month to wage. The regime
of President Hamid Karzai is completely corrupt and only remains in power thanks
to U.S. military support. Narcotics production is the only viable source of
income for many Afghans, and the country now produces most of the world's heroin.
In neighboring Pakistan a new government is weak and unstable. The tribal
areas are largely in revolt, and there is now a Pakistani Taliban operating
alongside the Afghan version. Osama bin Laden, whose death or capture was the
objective of the invasion of Afghanistan in the first place, is still around,
and attempts to assassinate him using drones have mostly killed civilians,
leading most Pakistanis to regard the United States as public enemy number
one. Al-Qaeda operates both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are reports
that the Pakistanis have dispersed their nuclear weapons to keep the United
States from trying to neutralize them in a crisis, meaning that the nukes might
well be up for grabs if the country implodes.
Another zero, for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The United States has gained
absolutely nothing, and both countries are much more unstable and dangerous
than they were in 2001.
As for the so-called Global War on Terrorism, the only terrorist groups that
have an international reach are the so-called Salafists, including al-Qaeda.
In 2001, al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan with numerous supporters in other countries,
mostly in the Middle East. Today, al-Qaeda's core group is in both Pakistan
and Afghanistan, it continues to have supporters worldwide, and it has expanded
into Iraq, North Africa, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Palestinian territories, and Lebanon.
It has been involved in major terrorist attacks in Madrid and London. U.S.
military and intelligence chiefs describe it as a major threat and have recently
indicated that it has not sustained serious damage over the past few years
in spite of losses sustained because it has successfully replaced its leaders
and has adjusted tactically to deal with new threats. Though often described
as having a "medieval" mindset, it has employed technology better
than the Bush administration and has been successfully propagandizing and communicating
on the Internet. Other groups that the U.S. defines as terrorists are also
doing well. Hezbollah won a war against Israel and is now part of the Lebanese
government. Hamas won an election in Palestine and is now in charge of Gaza.
One might also add that the piecemeal destruction of the U.S. Constitution
through PATRIOT Acts I & II and the Military Commissions Act has been another
massive failure. Not one actual terrorist who was in place and capable of carrying
out a terrorist act has been detained as a result of the liberties granted
to law enforcement to violate the privacy and rights of U.S. citizens. Unlike
the outrageous foreign policy blunders of the past seven years, which are largely
attributable to the Bush administration, the rape of the Constitution has been
bipartisan, with Democrats and Republicans alike uniting to make the U.S. a
safer place by dismantling the Bill of Rights. That should rate another zero.