Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Got it right

Guardian reported

Perhaps the neocons got it right in the Middle East
We should not be blinded by liberal prejudice when assessing Bush
Those of us who work on the gloomy side of the prediction industry about Iraq, the prospects for Middle East peace, and the sanity of the Bush administration, have been given plenty to think about lately. On the one hand, on Monday the 87th British soldier was killed in Iraq, while suicide bombs and armed clashes have accounted for more than 40 Iraqi deaths since last week. On the other, the Bush administration is in triumphalist mode. A friend who visited the White House recently described the president's buoyant account of his Iraqi crusade, which highlighted the fact that a national government has been formed. Some progress is claimed towards normalisation in Shia and Kurdish regions. Syrian withdrawal gives Lebanon a chance of making something of democracy. Washington asserts that it is involving itself more than ever in the Middle East peace process.
And a year ago, how many would have believed any of that was possible.
None of these claims should be dismissed out of hand. The greatest danger for those of us who dislike George Bush is that our instincts may tip over into a desire to see his foreign policy objectives fail. No reasonable person can oppose the president's commitment to Islamic democracy. Most western Bushophobes are motivated not by dissent about objectives, but by a belief that the Washington neocons' methods are crass, and more likely to escalate a confrontation between the west and Islam than to defuse it. Such scepticism, however, should not prevent us from stepping back to reassess the progress of the Bush project, and satisfy ourselves that mere prejudice is not blinding us to the possibility that western liberals are wrong; that the Republicans' grand strategy is getting somewhere.
Very wise
It may sound perverse to suggest that we should not measure progress in Iraq solely, or even chiefly, by counting corpses. Yet most insurgent activity is the work of Sunnis, chronically alienated by dispossession from power, or jihadists committed simply to frustrate any project sponsored by the US. The key question, surely, is how far the Shia and Kurd majority is moving towards the creation of a working society. Evidence on this is mixed. Journalists are able to travel so little outside the Baghdad enclave that the world depends for information chiefly on western military and diplomatic sources. My own contacts say that the situation is improving, but remains precarious. They suggest that criminal anarchy is gradually being stemmed. The recruitment and training of Iraqi security forces is going a little better. It is hard to derive much comfort from statistics that show a diminution in clashes between insurgents and security forces. These principally reflect a lower-profile strategy by the coalition, designed to reduce confrontation and casualties.
And also allowing the Iraqis to take the lead in running their country.
The most powerful reason for remaining cautious about Iraq must be doubt — shared by many US officers — about whether the country is sus­tainable as a unitary state. It is hard to believe that the Sunnis will quickly reconcile themselves to Shia supremacy, or that the Shias now leading the government will forswear payback for decades of subjection. The Kurds will do their own thing in their own region. Only fear of American wrath and Turkish intervention can dissuade them from breakaway. It seems wrong for either neocon true believers or liberal sceptics to rush to judgment. We of the latter persuasion must keep reciting the mantra: "We want Iraq to come right, even if this vindicates George Bush."
We all want the same thing.
Those who say that Iraqis are incapable of making a democracy work may well be proved right. But until we see what happens on the ground over the months ahead, we should not write off the possibility that the Iraqi people will forge some sort of accommodation. A premature coalition withdrawal promises catastrophe for them, not us.
Actually it would be bad for everyone but the terrorists.
The same caution seems appropriate in assessing the current dialogue between the US, the Israelis and the Palestinians. I suggested before the Iraq war that Saddam's fall might make the Israelis less tractable. For all the Muslim world's protestations of support for the Palestinians, most Arabs have little liking for their oppressed brethren, and no desire to go to the wall for them.
True. Their claimed concern for them was just to use them to beat up on Israel. If they were really concerned for them, they would have provided permanent places for them to live in other Arab countries, rather than forcing them to live in "camps" near the border.
Today, deprived of Iraqi support and with Syria also in retreat, the Palestinians are chiefly dependent for their own future upon international goodwill; a doubtful commodity. Israelis have always believed that their own security is best served by ensuring that the Palestinians are as weak as possible. Washington seems to acquiesce in this view.
That is only because they do not trust that what happened in 1967 will not happen again.
Many of us, by contrast, believe that the best chance of peace lies in creating a settlement that offers a Palestinian state the chance of political, economic and social viability. Today the new Palestinian leadership is talking, because there is nothing else it can do. The litmus test is whether Israel accepts an ultimate commitment to withdraw from the West Bank. If this remains unlikely, it seems naive to suggest that peace prospects are improving, merely because violence is temporarily eclipsed.
I do not expect them to be willing to go back to the 1967 borders, because they are not defensable, but if the Palestinian's want a state bad enough to be willing to allow Israel to have a defensable state, and if they really want to live side by side in peace, it will happen.
Washington's current optimism seems founded upon the fact that Palestinian militants command less Arab support than three years ago, because of the huge American military pressure. In short, the fundamentals still look pretty awful. Any peace founded merely upon Palestinian subjection, rather than upon territorial justice, seems unlikely to stick.
Do the Palestinians really want peace, or just freedom to build up forces to eventually destroy Israel?
Here, indeed, is the nub of the issue about American foreign policy. The Bush vision is founded upon the exercise of military power. It is hard to regard Condoleezza Rice's "charm offensive" or the state department's protestations that in the second Bush term diplomacy will blossom, as more than cosmetic. The president himself has declared that, while he welcomes more allies, they must accept that the game will be played on Washington's terms. We must respect American power, and also acknowledge that the world sometimes has much need of it. As Sir Michael Howard, wisest of British strategic thinkers, often remarks: "If America does not do things, nobody else will." We should acknowledge the limitations of the UN. The pitiful performance of many international peacekeeping contingents, not least in Afghanistan, highlights the feebleness of what passes for European security policy.

Yet it still seems reasonable to question the optimism currently prevailing among Washington's neocons, because this remains founded upon a woefully simplistic vision. It is true that, in some chronic, unstable regions, some bad governments — those of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein — have been removed by the Americans. But the fragile advantages gained will be lost, unless Washington can match its boldness in the deployment of military power with a new sensitivity to alien cultures, matched by far more subtle political skills.

Captain Ed blogged It isn't often that one reads an endorsement of George Bush's foreign policy in the pages of the British left-wing newspaper The Guardian, even with a string of caveats and wait-and-see admonitions. Today, however, the Guardian runs an opinion piece by Max Hastings warning the British Left that dismissing the efforts of Bush and the so-called neocons on transforming the Middle East risks ignoring the real progress that has been made.
It is definitely nice to hear.
Despite what Hastings believes, the issue has never really been whether Israel will fully withdraw from the West Bank. If nothing else, American pressure could guarantee that result if it actually meant that the Palestinians would stop making war on Israel. In this case, it's Hastings' turn to be simplistic and naive. The Palestinians were given that opportunity during the Clinton Administration's final months, when Ehud Barak risked his political career to offer them 95% of the territorial demands they made, excepting only Jerusalem and trading Israeli land for a few major WB settlements. Arafat declared a second intifada as an answer to Barak's offer.

The Palestinians do not want a negotiated peace for the West Bank. The Palestinians and their terror-based leadership want nothing less than the destruction of Israel and the exile of the Jews living there now. Until those circumstances change, the only peace possible will necessarily be temporary cease-fires designed to undermine the radicals and the bombthrowers until a Palestinian middle class with economic and social stakes in peace get strong enough to push the terrorists from power. So far, the Palestianians have shown little inclination to make that transition, electing Hamas and Fatah politicians who differ only in tactics, and not at all in the long-term aim of Israeli extinction.

Believing that Palestinians will suddenly embrace the existence of Israel if the world treats them with respect and kindness ignores the entire decade of the 1990s, when Bill Clinton hosted Yasser Arafat more often than any other world leader in an attempt to do what Hastings suggested. It didn't work, not because the world didn't treat them nicely, but because they didn't get what they wanted. When they stop wanting the elimination of Israel, then they will have peace.
That's the difference between European and supposed neocon diplomacy today. One deals in naive, wishful thinking, and the other understands the dynamic of power. Hastings makes the mistake of identifying the two incorrectly.

Arthur Chrenkoff blogged We've heard a lot of similar second thoughts recently, but coming from Sir Max, whose commentary over the last three years I've been reading with increasing dismay (as has Mark Steyn), it's quite timely and welcome.

Marc @USSNeverdock blogged It's nice to see the left starting to admit they are wrong and Bush is right, even if they do it grudgingly.

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