Today's op-ed pieces on Iraq (both written by Americans) are particularly symbolic:
I'll quote the FT piece a little bit more as it is behind the subscription wall.
I have just returned from my fourth trip to Iraq in the past 17 months and can report real progress there. More work needs to be done, of course, but the Iraqi people are in reach of a watershed transformation from the primitive, killing tyranny of Saddam to modern, self-governing, self-securing nationhood--unless the great American military that has given them and us this unexpected opportunity is prematurely withdrawn.
Progress is visible and practical.
Modern, self-governing, self-securing? Was this written by Karl Rove himself? You know, write the exact opposite of the truth, and repeat it as a mantra... Well, I suppose Iraq does have the most modern Army in the world on its territory... As to "self-securing", this is so idiotic, especially in the same sentence that says that the presence of the US Army is vital, that it's beyond words.
It is a war between 27 million and 10,000; 27 million Iraqis who want to live lives of freedom, opportunity and prosperity and roughly 10,000 terrorists who are either Saddam revanchists, Iraqi Islamic extremists or al Qaeda foreign fighters who know their wretched causes will be set back if Iraq becomes free and modern.
Typical attempt to claim everybody that is not actively against you as being for you. It's a big like the Democrats saying that 55 extremist Republicans voted for a law in the Senate but 290 million Americans did not vote for it (and support the Democrats) - actually that last one sounds a lot more true...
I am disappointed by Democrats who are more focused on how President Bush took America into the war in Iraq almost three years ago, and by Republicans who are more worried about whether the war will bring them down in next November's elections, than they are concerned about how we continue the progress in Iraq in the months and years ahead.
Let these words stay for the record.
Does America have a good plan for doing this, a strategy for victory in Iraq? Yes we do. And it is important to make it clear to the American people that the plan has not remained stubbornly still but has changed over the years.
so Bush was stubborn, but now he is a flip-flopper? comes the easy snark. But why is a Democratic Senator defending the White House - this White house - against overwhelming evidence?
Coalition and Iraqi forces have together cleared the previously terrorist-controlled cities of Fallujah, Mosul and Tal Afar, and most of the border with Syria. Those areas are now being "held" secure by the Iraqi military themselves.
"cleared" = White Phosphorus burnt everything (including the skin off of children)
"held secure" - like those prisoners, right?
There's even more in the article. I sure can understand the White House writing this sorry piece of propaganda, but, again, a Democractic Senator? Defending the White House against Republican criticism? What exactly is he trying to achieve? It's beyond me.
So instead, let me offer you the kind of things we get to read in the European business press:
US global power, as presently conceived by the overwhelming majority of the US establishment, is unsustainable. To place American power on a firmer footing requires putting it on a more limited footing. Despite the lessons of Iraq, this is something that American policymakers - Democrat and Republican, civilian and military - still find extremely difficult to think about.
The basic reasons why the American empire is bust are familiar from other imperial histories. The empire can no longer raise enough taxes or soldiers, it is increasingly indebted and key vassal states are no longer reliable. In an equally classical fashion, central to what is happening is the greed and decadence of the imperial elites. Like so many of their predecessors, the US wealthy classes have gained a grip over the state that allows them to escape taxation. Mass acquiescence in this has to be bought with much smaller - but fiscally equally damaging - cuts to taxes on the middle classes.
There you have it, in two damning paragraphs. Overstretch, betrayal of the elites with their grandiose plans and no desire whatsoever to pay for them. And the corruption required to hide their bankrupt plans.
The result is that the US is incapable of waging more wars of occupation, such as in Iraq. It can defeat other states in battle easily enough but it cannot turn them into loyal or stable allies. War therefore means simply creating more and more areas of anarchy and breeding grounds for terrorism.
Again, the War on Terror (TM) in a nutshell. Bush's America can break countries, but cannot rebuild anything, and leaves chaos, hate - and terrorism.
It is important to note that this US weakness affects not only the ambitions of the Bush administration, but also geopolitical stances wholly shared by the Democrats. The Bush administration deserves to be savagely criticised for the timing and the conduct of the Iraq war. Future historians may, however, conclude that President Bill Clinton's strategy of the 1990s would also have made the conquest of Iraq unavoidable sooner or later; and that given the realities of Iraqi society and history, the results would not have been significantly less awful.
That last point is a pretty provocative one. I do remember that there was a lot of criticism of Clinton's foreign policy in the 90s (after all, the term of "hyperpower" was coined back then), and the numerous skirmishes with Saddam were a source of annoyance in Europe throughout the 90s. But the fact remains that Clinton did not invade Iraq. The fact that the USA had the potential for overstretch then does not mean that such overstretch would have happened with President Gore - we'll never know, but the point that a number of Democrats are complicit in Bush's plans is certainly true, as demonstrated by the above article.
For that matter, can present US strategy against Iran - supported by both parties - be sustained permanently without war? Indeed, given the nature of the Middle East, may it not be that any power wishing to exercise hegemony in the region would have to go to war at regular intervals in defence of its authority or its local clients?
Furthermore, the relative decline in US economic independence means that, unlike in 1917 or 1941, really serious war risks US economic disaster. Even a limited US-Chinese clash over Taiwan would be likely to produce catastrophic economic consequences for both sides.
With current policies, war is likely both to happen and to be costly. The current political fight about the War in Iraq is not just about Iraq, it is also about future American policy in the world, with direct relevance in view of the number of current hot spots and build up of pressure around them.
Anatol Lieven is not optimistic:
In theory, the desirable US response to its imperial overstretch is simple and has been advocated by some leading independent US thinkers such as Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard.* It is to fall back on "offshore balancing", intended to create regional coalitions against potential aggressors and, when possible, regional consensuses in support of order and stability. Not just a direct military presence, but direct military commitments and alliances should be avoided wherever possible.
When, however, one traces what this might mean in practice in various parts of the world, it becomes clear how utterly unacceptable much of this approach would be to the entire existing US political order. In the former Soviet Union, it could mean accepting a qualified form of Russian sphere of influence. In Asia, it could mean backing Japan and other countries against any Chinese aggression, but also defusing the threat of confrontation with China by encouraging the reintegration of Taiwan into the mainland. In the Middle East, it could involve separating US goals from Israeli ones and seeking detente with Iran.
Not relying on the military? The emperor has no clothes...
The only instrument left to the USA after having alienated pretty much the entire planet is the big hammer. And it is unaffordable.
it is pointless to dream of long maintaining an American empire for which most Americans will neither pay nor fight. My fear though is that, rather than as a result of carefully planned and peaceful strategy, this process may occur through disastrous defeats, in the course of which American global power will not be qualified but destroyed altogether, with potentially awful consequences for the world.
That's what we non-Americans all fear. A mindless rush forward, provoked by military defeat in Iraq, or another terrorist attack on US soil. The fury of a wounded animal, intent on destroying what it can no longer control.
You have to realise that: the rest of the world is really scared of what a furious, self-righteous America could do. Thus the semi-desperate attempts of the Europeans to talk to Iran; the continuous Korean efforts to egange North Korea; and the diplomacy of appeasement viz. Bush and Rice by most governments, with a motto 'let's not piss them off more, for fear they'll go crazy'.
The problem is that they have gone crazy. The CIA prisons scandal is just beginning in Europe, and it is growing, and it is soon going to make peaceful relations impossible. The diplomacy processes around Iran's nuclear programme and the enquiry into Syria's involvement in the assassination of Hariri in Lebanon are soon going to come to crunch time. A major energy supply crisis can strike at any time in the absence of spare capacity. And Iraq is festering and suffering, and is draining the US Army.
We are scared. And Lieberman's words are a sick joke.