Bush's Dangerous Wishful
By Nat Parry
May 23, 2005
Iraq, George W. Bush has demonstrated an old truism of geopolitics –
wishful thinking mixed with bellicose rhetoric makes for a deadly
cocktail, as it certainly has for tens of thousands of Iraqis and more
than 1,600 U.S. soldiers. The question now is: can the U.S. political
system wean itself from an addiction to this poisonous brew of swagger
So far, the Bush
administration shows no sign of getting on the wagon and looking at the
facts with a clear eye. Instead, it’s still talking tough and demanding
that everyone concentrate on the few glimmers of progress amid the death
“We don’t have an exit
strategy,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld boasted during a trip to
Iraq on April 12. “We have a victory strategy.”
Yet, on the ground in
Iraq, the violence gets worse. A U.S. offensive called Operation
Matador, near the Syrian border, was met by fierce Iraqi resistance,
decimating one Marine unit. Insurgents also carried out a wave of car
bombings that left about 450 Iraqis dead, including many police and
American analysts also
seem to have missed much of the significance of Iraq’s Jan. 30 election.
In part, it was a vote by the Shiite majority to consolidate its new
political dominance over the formerly powerful Sunni minority. But the
vote also was a repudiation of the U.S.-handpicked leaders closely
associated with the occupation.
Interim Prime Minister
Iyad Allawi and other Iraqis in the U.S.-installed government were
trounced at the polls by the United Iraqi Alliance, whose platform
called for “a timetable for the withdrawal of the multinational forces
from Iraq.” Delays in forming a new government and lack of a withdrawal
schedule were factors in the new wave of violence.
Meanwhile, prospects for
a stable Iraqi government – or a near-term defeat of the insurgency –
still don’t seem promising. Breaking with the official optimism in a
briefing to New York Times reporters, American military commanders “gave
a sobering new assessment” of the war. One officer said the U.S.
military might have to remain in Iraq for “many years,” the Times
reported. [NYT, May 19, 2005]
Yet, despite the grim
present and the daunting future, there is almost no talk inside the U.S.
political establishment about demanding a formal review of the situation
or for contemplating a withdrawal.
Instead, the U.S. Senate
unanimously passed an $82 billion spending bill for the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, pushing the total price tag to about $300 billion and far
exceeding spending on many major domestic programs. For instance, the
federal government has earmarked only $6.7 billion for job training for
the entire fiscal year 2005.
As the unanimous Senate
vote revealed, the Democrats have decided not to challenge Bush’s Iraq
policies. Even Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean, who rose to
prominence in 2002 by opposing the Iraq invasion, has argued that there
is no alternative but to pursue the war until victory.
“Now that we’re there, we’re there and we can’t get out,” Dean
told an audience in Minneapolis in April. “The president has created
an enormous security problem for the United States where none existed
before. But I hope the president is incredibly successful with his
policy now that he’s there.”
“Hope,” of course, has been the one consistent
element of the U.S. policy in Iraq. To espouse realism has always been
deemed political suicide. [For more of our coverage about the lack of
realism, see “Bay
of Pigs Meets Black Hawk Down,” “Sinking
in Deeper,” “Neocon
Neocons Unbridled” or “Bush’s
Kiss of Death.”]
The continued absence of a vigorous U.S. debate about the war is
especially remarkable considering the recent publication of a British
government memo revealing that Bush had made up his mind to invade Iraq
in July 2002, contradicting longtime White House claims that Bush was
then pursuing a diplomatic solution in good faith.
The document summarized a July 23, 2002, meeting between British
Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top security advisers, reviewing a
visit to Washington by the head of Britain’s MI-6 intelligence service.
said, “Bush wanted to remove Saddam through military action,
justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD,” despite a weak case
that Hussein’s government was a threat to regional or world security.
The highly classified memo, which was leaked during the British
parliamentary elections, stated that “the intelligence and facts were
being fixed around the policy.” [For more details, see
Bush, Iraq Lies Are Fundamental."]
While this memo was explosive in Britain, it has
received only modest attention in the United States. The administration
brushed it aside with bland denials and major U.S. news outlets treated
it like old news. A
survey by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that U.S.
newspapers ran relatively few articles about the memo and buried them on
inside pages. There was even less coverage in the broadcast media.
Not only is the U.S. political establishment
resistant to reexamining the war policies in Iraq and Afghanistan, there
remains a stubborn refusal to rethink some of the basic assumptions of
Bush’s War on Terror, namely that it can rely predominantly on military
force, mass detentions and “public diplomacy,” essentially image
polishing that has little credibility in the Islamic world.
The Bush administration has rebuffed serious
multilateral approaches that would take aim at the underlying causes of
terrorism, such as economic inequality, Western exploitation of Arab oil
reserves and the repression of Palestinian nationalism.
Instead, Bush has added to the Muslims’ list of
grievances, with the rising death toll in Iraq and violations of the
human rights inside the sprawling worldwide network of U.S. detention
centers. Many Arabs were repulsed, too, by the London Sun’s
publication of photos showing Saddam Hussein in his underpants –
images apparently taken by U.S. military photographers.
Bush also has shown rigidity in his approach toward
the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran – again placing tough-guy
rhetoric ahead of practical strategies.
Many observers warn that North Korea is on the
verge of testing its first nuclear weapon, and Iran has recently
declared that it intends to resume its nuclear enrichment program, which
could lead to a collapse of the talks Iran has been holding with France,
Germany and Britain, known as the EU-3.
The U.S. claims that Iran’s nuclear program has
military intentions, but has maintained a hands-off approach to the
negotiations between Iran and the EU. In exchange for giving up its
nuclear program, Iran has sought regional security guarantees, as well
as guarantees it could someday join the World Trade Organization.
Only Washington could provide these guarantees. So,
by staying disengaged, the Bush administration has either intentionally
or inadvertently sabotaged chances for success, possibly to demonstrate
that the European method of multilateral diplomacy doesn’t work in
dealing with “rogue states.” A European diplomat involved with the talks
claimed the Americans were trying to “torpedo the process.”
Some Europeans have noted that American
neoconservatives are itching to use more force for “regime change” in
the Muslim world. After the fall of Baghdad in April 2003, the question
for some administration officials was whether the U.S. should go “left
or right,” to Syria or Iran. Some joked that “real men go to Tehran.”
Bush has fed these war suspicions even while
supposedly discouraging them. Responding to questions about a possible
assault on Iran, Bush
said, “This notion that the United States
is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said
that, all options are on the table.”
One option on the table might be the use of air
strikes against Iranian nuclear and missile facilities.
According to the think tank GlobalSecurity.org,
there are perhaps two dozen suspected nuclear facilities in Iran. The
1000-megawatt nuclear plant Bushehr might be one target of potential
strikes. The Nonproliferation Policy Education Center
claims that the spent fuel from this facility would be capable of
producing 50 to 75 bombs. Other potential targets include suspected
nuclear facilities at Natanz and Arak.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Iran is
taking the threat of a U.S. attack seriously, but added that he does not
expect it, considering the difficulties the U.S. has encountered in
“We must always be ready because the threats could
become concrete,” Khatami
said. “But practically, I don’t think such an attack can happen
because the Americans’ experience in Iraq was very bitter.”
Yet, there are indications that American
forces already have begun covert military operations against the Iranian
regime. According to veteran journalist Seymour Hersh,
the Bush administration has been carrying out
secret reconnaissance missions in Iran to learn about nuclear, chemical
and missile sites in preparation for possible air strikes.
These missions have been
taking place since the summer of 2004 and involved “extensive
planning” for a possible attack, Hersh
reported in an article in the
New Yorker magazine. “The goal is
to identify and isolate three dozen, and perhaps more, such targets that
could be destroyed by precision strikes and short-term commando raids,”
But even limited strikes carry enormous risks.
A U.S. cruise missile attack could be countered by
sophisticated anti-ship missiles that Iran has installed on the Island
of Abu Musa in the Strait of Hormuz. In the event of an attack, the
Strait of Hormuz could be
shut down, potentially blocking Persian Gulf-bound oil tankers and
causing oil prices to skyrocket past $100 per barrel.
almost certain that an attack by Israel or the United States [on Iran’s
nuclear facilities] would result in immediate retaliation,”
according to an
analysis by the Monterey Institute of International Studies.
retaliatory response, the Monterey Institute said, includes an immediate
Iranian counterattack on Israel and U.S. bases in the
Gulf, as well as intensified
efforts to destabilize Iraq and promote all-out confrontation between
the United States and Iraq’s Shiite majority.
scenarios provided by the U.S. government are not much more optimistic.
reported in September 2004, “the CIA and [Defense
Intelligence Agency] have war-gamed the likely consequences of a U.S.
pre-emptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. No one liked the
outcome. As an Air Force source tells it, ‘The war games were
unsuccessful at preventing the conflict from escalating.’”
Nevertheless, U.S. officials
continue the bellicose rhetoric. “The missiles haven’t yet been fired,
but that doesn’t mean they won’t be if the Iranians don’t stop their
attempt to develop nuclear weapons,”
said Dan Kurtzer, U.S. ambassador to Israel.
The possibility of military action against Iran also has caused
worries in Europe. As German president Gerhard Schroeder
told the World Economic Forum, “The last thing we need is another
Rather than relying primarily on military force to deal with threats,
the Europeans have
promoted a combination of international law, diplomacy and
multilateralism, a so-called “global approach” that “insists on the
respect, development and effective implementation of international
multilateral treaties and conventions to ban or to minimize the recourse
to and development of WMD.”
In a European Security Strategy issued in December 2003 after the
invasion of Iraq, some of the key methods advanced by the EU involved
strengthening multilateral agreements on WMD proliferation; reinforcing
export controls; working towards the criminalization of activities that
lead to proliferation; and financially supporting efforts conducted by
multilateral institutions like the International Atomic Energy Agency,
the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the
Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organization.
“Proliferation may be contained through export controls and attacked
through political, economic and other pressures while the underlying
political causes are also tackled,” the EU said.
One component of the strategy is to lead by example, and to promote
confidence-building by showing that European countries are serious about
their own international non-proliferation obligations. Toward this end,
the document calls for all EU member states to ratify and implement the
Additional Protocols of the IAEA.
Complementing the European Security Strategy, the EU also has issued
a Strategy Against Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction. This
document credits international treaty regimes and export controls in
slowing the spread of WMD, but acknowledges that a number of states
continue to seek such weapons.
“The possession of nuclear weapons by States outside the NPT,” the
said, “risks undermining non-proliferation and disarmament efforts.”
Countering proliferation therefore “must be a central element in the
EU’s external action,” and in doing so, the EU “must use all instruments
and policies at its disposal.”
In advancing its comprehensive strategy, the EU is offering an
alternative to the doctrine of “pre-emptive war” put forth by the Bush
administration. Although the European Security Strategy does not say so
explicitly, its adoption can be seen as a response to the U.S.-led
invasion of Iraq and the U.S. National Security Strategy that was issued
by the Bush administration in September 2002.
The U.S. strategy document celebrated America’s unparalleled power
and called for direct military intervention against security threats.
“The only path to peace and security is the path of action,” the Bush
stated. [For an early critique of Bush's pre-emptive war strategy,
see Consortiumnews.com's "Bush's
The invasion of Iraq was the grand send-off for this doctrine. The
“shock and awe” bombing campaign was meant to put “rogue states” on
notice that if they did not submit to U.S. dictates regarding weapons
programs, they could face similar consequences.
But the Iraq War has had unintended consequences. Since Saddam
Hussein had, in fact, complied with international demands that he rid
himself of WMD and even accepted UN inspectors, the U.S.-led invasion
sent a signal to other “rogue states” that compliance didn’t guarantee a
Indeed, Hussein looked foolish. He failed to defend his country; he
watched thousands of Iraqis, including his two sons, die; he was
humiliated after his capture, including being photographed in his
underpants; and he may well end up dangling from a noose.
So what’s the lesson for the rulers of Iran or North Korea? One
logical conclusion would seem to be: press ahead with nuclear or other
WMD programs with the hope that those fearsome weapons might deter a
Plus, the U.S. military has found itself bogged down in Iraq,
limiting its options for dealing with Iran and North Korea now. That
gives a strong incentive for those two governments to move quickly, thus
accelerating the potential for nuclear proliferation, not slowing it.
Bush’s unilateralist foreign policy also has served as an incentive
for the EU to fashion and promote its own foreign policy. The Europeans
are showing their own sense of urgency in trying to create a viable
alternative to Bush’s confrontational approach, thus possibly
diminishing U.S. international standing in the long run.
Whether or not an EU alternative is possible remains to be seen. In
the face of both U.S. belligerence and intransigence from Iran and North
Korea, there may be no viable short-term means to stop nuclear
proliferation or to prevent the spread of terrorism.
But the European approach at least provides a theoretical alternative
for American policymakers who might wish to reconsider their strategy
rather than to continue on an intoxicating binge of wishful thinking and
to Home Page