Monday, June 27, 2005
I agree that Cassandra assembled a brilliant post. But I want to put GWBush back into American diplomatic historical context. We have always operated internationally, having chosen to go to war, at the intersection of moral and strategic interest.
War has not been waged purely for strategic reasons, nor have we pursued war with purely a moral dimension, though one might make the case that the Balkans conflict were primarily moral and materially less strategic.
The Iraq war, and our expressions of desire for freedom in the Middle East, once again are directly in the path of American history. They are not a departure in the least -- except to the extent of location, that is. For anyone to suggest that the Persian Gulf and its future is not an area of vital strategic interest to our country would be foolish. The question of tactics -- how do we achieve our aims in this area of vital interest -- this has changed markedly.
But that change -- to focus on freedom and the moral dimension -- reflects the end of the Cold War. And it was the Cold War which had been a departure from the traditional American desire for a moral dimension. We determined that in order to defeat Soviet aggression, we would accept and bargain with unattractive, totalitarians.
No longer, sort of. If China or Iran tomorrow cracks down on dissidents, we aren't going in. That should be the cautionary point here - we will not sacrifice our blood and treasure without a vital strategic component - but we will infuse our action with a powerful moral dimension as well. And this will be a force multiplier of enormous proportion. History will treat this very well, even if journalism will not.
Iraq will become our West Germany. That bulwark at the Wall, at the Iron Curtain. When we succeed in Iraq, it will erode Saudi Arabia's ability to condemn its people to Wahhabi fascism. The Saudis will demand the rights accorded to their Arab brethren in Iraq. It has already reverberated to Egypt, the cultural center of Arabia. The Iranians will similarly demand their freedom and self governance as well.
Imagine a speech given by an American President, in the center of Baghdad, in the Iraqi Parliament. Imagine that speech broadcast to every nation surrounding the Persian Gulf by al Jazeera (of all things). It won't be by Bush, I don't think. It took 44 years from the end of WWII, and 29 years from the construction of the Berlin Wall, for Reagan to ask Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down this wall." Well, it's been 38 years since the 1967 Israeli Arab war; 32 years since the first Arab/Saudi Oil Embargo; 26 years since the Iranian Islamic revolution and related Oil Embargo II; and 14 years since PG I.
I think we're finally turning the ship around. And we're doing it by getting back in touch with our history, not departing from it.
What is most amusing is that for all the intellectual criticism that gets laid at Bush's feet , his understanding for American history is simply outstanding.
I think I perhaps failed to express my point well (not uncommon for me, since I tend to get up at 4 and light on something, then just start writing with no real idea of where I'm going... not a good strategy for coherence :)
I definitely see the ME as strategically important to us, and believe Bush does too, and I think I said that. Where I think he departs from history is in asserting the moral cause as being just as valid as the strategic causes. And that, in many ways, is causing him enormous grief, because people tune out that part of his speeches.
They didn't even hear it in 2003 - all they heard was blah, blah, blah...fear...WMDs. Strange, because I got it loud and clear. The Dems have beatified FDR, yet he turned away boatloads of Jews before WWII - much to the chagrin of his wife, who pleaded for him to let them land. He was a pragmatist - he knew the American people would not support him.
Bush, to his credit, seems to assert the right, whether or not he thinks there is the support. He leads, and trusts the American people to discover that what he is doing is right. And I think, in the end, with all their doubts they actually do realize that.
That is the subtlety the polls don't show: that although voters may fuss, *they don't want us to leave, either*. It's an interesting paradox.
But to me, that's what a leader does: he doesn't follow, he blazes the trail. This seems to be an outmoded concept to those who think an executive should reflect the latest focus group results.