Waging A Long Peace
Elizabeth Spiro Clark is a retired Foreign Service officer who writes extensively on issues of global democratization.
No one with a good fix on George W. Bush’s geopolitics should have been surprised when the president said at his March 21 press conference that “future presidents and future governments of Iraq” would make the decision on when American forces would leave Iraq. In other words, U.S. forces will remain in Iraq at least as long as Bush is in office. Thus, the president made explicit what has so far been implicit. U.S. bases have been consolidated and “hardened.” Despite Bush's past assurances, there will be no “give Iraq back to the Iraqis” or “declare victory and come home” policies.
Among other new reasons for staying in Iraq, the Bush administration has begun to lay the groundwork for an aggressive policy toward Iran. Rumsfeld and his generals have told Congress the United States would now take military action against Iran, limited, for the moment, to Iranians who are in physically in Iraq supporting the insurgency. This presents putative Iranian “troublemaking” in the same light as Saddam Hussein’s fictional collusion with Al Qaeda. Thus, it ostensibly provides the basis for a self-defense rationale for launching air strikes against Iran. Ongoing U.S. presence in Iraq is of course necessary for that rationale. With his announcement of a “three more years in Iraq” policy, the president has bought himself time in which to threaten Iran militarily, in response to its activities inside Iraq as well as for its nuclear plans.
In view of the president’s tanking popularity it might seem ill-advised for him to admit that troops aren’t going to be out of Iraq during his term of office. However, he may be betting that if U.S. troops hunker down, U.S. casualties in Iraq could continue to decline, increasing the American public’s tolerance of long-term occupation, even one coupled with an attack on Iran. The U.S. public is already being misled in to thinking Iran has nuclear weapons and poses an imminent nuclear threat to the United States and Israel. The Bush administration's newNational Security Strategy declares Iran to be the country that is our greatest challenge and asserts the U.S. right to take "anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy's attack." As Anatol Lieven said last week in a Financial Times op-ed on the NSS, "Preventative war against possible future dangers represents a deeply menacing revolution in international affairs.”
However, what good will come from critics pointing out the significance of this menace? The administration has already claimed that Bush has the power, as commander in chief, to take such action unilaterally. Congressional and public opposition, thus, are meaningless.
This is a scenario that should give the Democrats pause. We cannot wait while three more years of Bush-created global anti-Americanism hardens into permanent threats to the security and well being of Americans—to say nothing of fear-driven damage to American democratic institutions and culture. To predict how those threats might shape up, only ponder such sentiments as those of a reformist Iranian businessman whom I heard tell a Washington audience that an air strike on Iran would turn him into a Hezbollah supporter. Nothing could better ensure the self-fulfilling prophecy of a “long war” against Middle Eastern Muslims and permanent U.S. occupation of Iraq than an air strike on Iran.
It could be even worse. In three years we could find the nation electing an anti-war Republican for president. What is to stop a Republican candidate from running on a “bring the troops home” platform and a promise to be a competent manager of U.S. global power, with minimal or no changes in underlying Republican ideology? And what is to stop that candidate from winning if Democrats remain paralyzed for three years?
It is promising that Democrats are sensing that security is a winning issue for them in 2006, even if their specific positions are puzzling—tough on Dubai and mum on illegal NSA wiretapping. Democrats are right to stress the Bush administration’s incompetence. However, they must avoid the tendency to limit their critiques to Bush’s handling of his misadventures overseas. Instead, they should also attack the core assumptions of Bush’s catastrophic foreign policy. If not, they risk sounding like they’re running a “me too but better” campaign. In 2008—and for that matter in 2006—the Democrats must avoid at all costs a campaign in 2008 that promises merely “to do better ,” without offering voters an alternative view of the world. “Doing better” is what the Republicans will be promising.
The Democrats, as all agree, need a vision. There are plenty of ideas out for a security policy that disarms enemies instead of making them. Bush talks about a “long war.” As a start on changing the debate, here’s a proposition for the Democrats to try on: How about spelling out a “long peace” based on meaningful efforts to promote peace making and regional security in the Middle East through U.S. leadership rather than unilateral military force?