Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Bush Legacy

And how Iran may define it

I've long found the seemingly endless diatribe of comparing the current President of the United States to that of a particularly dull child or, worse yet, a 21st century incarnate of Adolf Hitler to be as narrow minded as it is tedious. This isn't due to my undying devotion to either President Bush (though I did cast a ballot for him in '04) a la Sean Hannity, or the Republican party. While my political tendencies lean decidedly right, there will be no cartwheeling, waving pom-poms around and shouting something to the effect of "Give me a G!" While many are quick to demonize or sanctify the Bush legacy I take a more dynamic view of it. A brief reflection:

The Good:
W's administration is something of a love/hate conglomerate regarding foreign policy. In some respects capable of excellent diplomatic or strategic maneuver, yet in other cases Bush policy is much more equivalent that of the bored twelve year old sitting Indian style in right field, twiddling dandelions. To wit:

The redistribution of American strategic focus from the Cold War theater of Europe to the more cogent theaters of both Africa and Asia are a welcome change in dynamics. In essence the bristling umbrella that staved off Soviet aggression has become a global network of small scale operations whose basis is as much diplomatic as it is kinetic. All this while conducting overt wars in two theaters.

The apparent success of Christopher Hill in brokering a cessation of nuke proliferation with the North Korean regime.

The backing via Ethiopia of Somalia's essentially defunct transitional government against a powerful Islamic fundamentalist revolt.

The advent of a new strategic realm of geo-influence, AFRICOM (which should find a home in Ethiopia, IMO.)

The "shock" to the Middle East that the invasion of Iraq entailed which begat two effective initiatives:

Tacit support or protection of the likes of al Qaeda or other networks that seek to rid the Middle East of a US presence through terrorism will be erased. Even if the US invents connections (as done prior to Iraq II,) they will cease to be. And the US maintains both the military assets and the networkcentric approach to very effectively make near any offending regime a footnote in history.

A rude kick in the ass for nearly every regime from the static humdrum of regional existence to the dynamic reality of global connectivity. A clear message that "Yes, what you do does have an effect on what we do. And we're getting more involved in that process."

The Bad
Other than Britain the Bush doctrine has divided the US from it's most powerful NATO allies, most of whom found the Iraqi invasion to be a decidedly bad idea. Additionally the idea that Iraq is a bellwether for eroding domestic support for ops in Afghanistan among NATO allies (I'm thinking of Germany in particular) doesn't at all seem a far fetched idea.

The 2006 Palestinian election. The very predictable outcome was between both the "providers" and the "geopolitical recognized bastards who've siphoned aid into their pockets under Arafat." Naturally the Palestinian's chose the element that traditionally (despite the ire and actions of the Israeli military) provided both security and some semblance of infrastructure: Hamas. The US (and "western") approach was to simply delve into the very myopic vision of "terrorist" and malign the newly elected party. Ignoring the lesson of history that marked the British struggle with the IRA from 1919 to 2005 and the evolution of Sinn Fein from "terrorist/separatist" group to a, thus far, responsible political party under the likes of Gerry Adams.

The tacit support of Israel's painful operations in Lebanon during the summer of 2006. Destabilizing a western friendly regime (amidst a Syrian backed opposition) in a war that should have been localized along the shared border, yet instead found the likes of Tripoli and Beirut tactically feasible. Instead such tactics proved to be strategic and political failures both in terms of the perception regarding the failure of Ehud Olmert to crush the Hezbollah and very real ramification of Hezbollah as a "provider" among the Lebanese as they served a crucial pipeline of humanitarian relief in the war's aftermath.

The Iraq war in which the Rumseld doctrine proved to be both one of the most brilliant and effective martial doctrines in history and of the largest strategic failures along the same lines. Hedging a bet that the Powell doctrine would entail the same fatalistic and eventually unfounded prescriptions that defined it prior to the Kosovo initiative, the US military devastated Saddam Hussein's defense in short order. Stabilizing the remnants of conquest amidst a society that found itself divided not only along the sectarian line of thought but also the primary loyalty of tribalism has proved to be the bane of Bush.

The Ugly:
Which brings me to the subject of Iran and it's apparent pursuit of nuclear technology beyond that of energy.

I've read various commentary breathlessly pointing to what I took to be contingency planning and exult that the Bush administration was in fact building the framework for an impending strike on Iran. Perhaps the most pervasive commentary came from Seymour Hersch's article in New Yorker's April edition of 2006 in which a well detailed conspiracy was laid out asserting that Iran, not Iraq, was in the cross hairs of the Bush administration all along.

I'd traditionally dismissed these reports as sensational and self serving, instead choosing to construct a more believable (from my perspective) ideology that both contingency and rhetoric were in fact subterfuge in an attempt to stave off an Israeli act against Iran. Simply, that the Bush administration was clever enough to realize that a strike on Iran would erase a very real base of pro-western/anti-Islamism dialog among a population in what is otherwise an Islamic theocracy. Never mind the geo-economic fallout of such a strike which I've hypothesized would entail not the suspected (and hardened) nuclear sites, rather the fragile petroleum infrastructure that financially buoys the state.

In this respect the Bush legacy hinges as much on Iran as it does Iraq. Very likely Iraq will settle down to some semblance on normalcy, be it at the hands of a Democratic President elect in 2008 or through the stubborn continuity of the present and/or future modified strategy. Very likely both history and popular memory will undergo a period of negativity regarding President Bush in the same fashion that President Nixon was vilified for decades. But then, given the current state of Chinese/US relations and the open market approach (likely a harbinger of an eventual free republic) that the Communist regime has tied it and it's nations future to Nixon maintains a more sympathetic and (in my mind) fair legacy.

Twenty or thirty years from now President Bush might well earn the reconsideration of historical legacy as his eight years are recognized for the positive fallout decades hence rather than that of the failures...

Unless President Bush crushes what is, in my opinion, the only hope of bringing Iran out of the Gap and into the Core by destroying both the Iranian regime and the pro-western populace through a rash act of military action. I'll tread thin ice here and make a bold prediction: The first US bomb that falls in Iran will end the divisiveness between the Islamists and the secularist youth and will instead serve to be a catalyst for Persian nationalism. As we American's witnessed on 9/11 and in the months that followed, nothing erases secular and political division and brings about a nationalistic survival mode more than that of a sudden strike from enemies afar. It's hard to believe that Iran will react in any different manner.

And so to strike or not to strike remains the hinge on which the Bush legacy swings. Whether the Bush administration's last major global initiative is to seal the deal for the next 100 years in the middle east by ostracizing the Persian moderacy and galvanizing both nationalism and nihilistic idealism or by "grabbing a clue" and taking the tack of outlasting and crushing the idiocy that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad entails through patience and diplomacy. Learn from history and not toss the next moderate politician aside as was the policy regarding Khatami.


Dan tdaxp said...

Why would Persian nationalism be a bad thing, especially at it would minimize the Shia emphasis of the Islamic Regime (with the implication that the Shia Arabs are co-nationalists, rather than foreigners who share a faith).

Adrian said...

re: a US attack on Iran, I did a military balance a few months ago for class, looking at the military balance between the US and Iran in the Persian Gulf. If you want I can send it to you. My conclusion:

There are two ways to evaluate where the competition between the United States and Iran is going – by looking at the military competition alone, and by looking at the overall security, viability and strength of each state. Militarily Iran's position will continue to strengthen, due to the United States slowly losing equipment and manpower due to its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Iran's exploitation of emerging opportunities in ballistic missile and cruise missile programs. The United States' lack of effective countermeasures increasingly nullify the power projection platforms of aircraft carriers and forward bases. Iran's final area of advantage is its influence in Iraqi domestic affairs.
In the overall balance, the United States' has the advantage due primarily to the weakness of the Iranian economy. Iran's one-dimensional economy remains extremely vulnerable to fluctuations in oil prices. A slowdown in the world economy, especially in either India or China, will cripple Iran's economy, forcing the government to divert resources away from its military competition with the United States. While its focus on asymmetric warfare to some degree means its military capability can withstand budget cuts, Iran's ballistic missile, cruise missile and nuclear programs require large amounts of resources for arms and technology purchases from Russia and other nations, as well as subsidies towards Iran's fledgling domestic defense industry. When demographics are taken into account, Iran is heading towards economic crisis, with a growing amount of young people, and with unemployment for young adults well above the national average.63 Nuclear weapons may be the only way in which Iran can maintain its status as the preeminent military power in the Gulf in the long term.

Jay@Soob said...


why do you presume that increased Persian nationalism in the event of a US strike would divide itself from the Shia theocracy? If my conjecture that an American strike would concentrate on Iran's oil infrastructure is correct then, as Adrian points out, a country with a 1 dimensional economy based almost solely on two resources then such a strike would devastate not just the offending regime but the country as whole.

Doesn't it stand to reason that we'd see unity under the existing regime or do you envision a unity under an existing secular movement?

To my knowledge there is no Ahmed Shah Massoud like figure in Iran nor is there an organized ethnic based quasi state like Iraq's Kurdish north.

Is a unified and jingoistic Iran who now hates the US better than an ideologically fractured Iran with a crumbling regime and a healthy chunk of the young populace hating said regime? I'm not being glib here, rather seek your reflections on the above questions.

Jay@Soob said...

please do send it to me. I like your analysis of the military balance between the two states. I'll save a more in depth reflection for after I've read the piece in it's entirety. I'll put down a follow up post about it.

Adrian said...

I sent it. Looking forward to comments.

Dan - the current conventional wisdom is that a strike that strengthens Persian nationalism would strengthen ties to the current regime rather than divide it from it. Also, I see Iran's relationship with Shia Arabs based more on Iranian national interest than on Shia co-religionist sentimentality.

Ymarsakar said...

Germany would still be a pacifist nation, it still is under Merkel, even should Iraq never have occured.

These "powerful NATO allies" simply do not exist except on paper. It is the very powerlessness amongst Europeans that promote anti-Americanism and the teenage vs parent rebellion syndrome.

If they were as powerful as you described, they would not only be able to carry their own weight, but they would also be able to stop obsessing over trying to control US policy. American news is very much in high demand for the German media. Power nations do not obsess over weaker powers unless they believe they have something to gain from such attention.

due to the United States slowly losing equipment and manpower due to its involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan

This demphasizes and essentially ignores the primary component that decides which army wins a battle, which is experience and amount of veterans.

Materials and expenses are primarily important on paper, which is why it is emphasized when deciding policy. It is far easier for DC old hands and policy makers to see expenses and material lists than seeing combat hardened and blooded soldiers. It used to be the Foreign Service had a better knowledge of the military tradecraft side of things, but ever since the world got quieter and safer during the Cold War (for diplomats at least), there has been a rift between the philosophy of State and the philosophy of War.

the current conventional wisdom is that a strike that strengthens Persian nationalism would strengthen ties to the current regime rather than divide it from it.

That's mostly due to the fact that any theoretical strike of such a nature would be too weak and inflict too little injury to prevent the seeking of revenge or retaliation.

It would only make sense to strike first if the power balance is shifting to the opponent in the future, but such things are too expensive to conduct with the necessary force and therefore that is not the recommended policy.

Ymarsakar said...

As we American's witnessed on 9/11 and in the months that followed, nothing erases secular and political division and brings about a nationalistic survival mode more than that of a sudden strike from enemies afar.

These things don't last, however. It is only a temporary setback, not the destruction which you have described it as.

While it is true any military strike should be planned with a ground component for raiding and psychological warfare purposes, even a single use of an airstrike would only unite common enemies together for so long.

Many of the methods the Soviets used to cleave the US from their natural allies, would be very useful in Iran, for example. Unfortunately, the United States was never required to actually beat the Soviets at their own game, unlike what occured with Germany and Japan. So the US never acquired Russia's supreme propaganda and psychological warfare apparatus. Instead, it went to the Soviet proxies, the Arabs.