Bush's hollow fiction of Iraq war (behind subscription wall)
Like a novelist who wishes to inject verisimilitude into his fiction, George W. Bush, US president, began his speech on Iraq with a reference to a historical fact all too tragically well known to his audience. The evocation of the monstrous crime of September 11 2001 served as his introduction to the spin that followed: that Iraq was complicit in 9/11 and thus, in effect, attacked the US; that the US had no choice but to defend itself against Iraq's aggression; and, finally, that if America does not fight terrorists in Iraq, they will swarm across the ocean to attack America.
Since fiction is not ruled by the same standards as history, Mr Bush was under no obligation to refer to his own earlier certitude about Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" (or, rather, to their embarrassing absence), or to the inept sequel of the initially successful US military campaign; or to the fact that the occupation of Iraq is turning it into a huge recruitment centre for terrorists. Similarly, there was no need to deal with the perplexing fact that the Iraqi insurgency does not appear to be in "its last throes", or with the complex choices that the US now confronts.
Bush is not reality-based. We know it, but it's nice to see it on paper - in a respectable paper and under the signature of a respected member of the foreign policy establishment.
But a more disturbing aspect of the speech was the absence of any serious discussion of the wider regional security problems and their relationship to the Iraqi conundrum. That connection poses the danger that America risks becoming irrelevant to the Middle East - largely through Mr Bush's own doing. Much depends on how long the US pursues unrealistic goals in Iraq. And on whether the US becomes seriously engaged in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, on how the US relationship with Iran is managed and on how the advocacy of democracy in the Middle East is pursued.
The reality in Iraq is that 135,000 American soldiers cannot create a stable "democracy" in a society rent by intensifying ethnic and religious conflicts. US military commanders, contradicting Mr Bush, have publicly stated that the insurgency is not weakening. It is useful to recall in this regard Henry Kissinger's wise observation (made in regard to the war in Vietnam but pertinent here) that guerrillas are winning if they are not losing. The longer US troops are involved in Iraq, the more victory will remain "on the horizon" - that is, a goal that recedes as one moves towards it.
After recommending that serious attnetion be paid to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he sees as a focal point for anger against the USA, and which would require serious pressure on both sides, he concludes:
The fictionalised account of America's war against terror in Iraq failed to take into account the reality that the conflict there mobilises hostility towards the US, that the persistence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict stimulates regional anger against America, that continued US threats of "regime change" in Iran harden Iranian enmity towards the country and that heavy handed advocacy of democracy poses the risk of legitimising populist hostility toward the it. In explaining the causes of imperial failure, Arnold Toynbee ultimately ascribed it to "suicidal statecraft". Of course, he was dealing with history and not fiction.
Bush, a liar taking the USA on a suicidal path. Pretty strong stuff...