Whoever wins the presidency in two weeks will have to put his own stamp on the United States’ foreign and security policies. Though constrained by an economy that can no longer afford guns and butter, the U.S. president can pretty much call the shots on foreign policy, subject only to limited congressional oversight and the occasional bleating of a generally complaisant media.
If the next president is John McCain, one might well expect a continuation of the Bush Doctrine, with its disregard of world opinion and its emphasis on preemption and the use of the military to solve complex international problems. If it is Barack Obama, he will hopefully have a predilection to negotiate before bombing and a greater willingness to listen to the views of America’s foreign allies. But on key issues such as the Middle East, where Obama is advised by neocon-lite Dennis Ross and other Clinton administration holdovers like Madeleine Albright and Richard Holbrooke, one can expect little change. There might even be a regrettable tendency to demonstrate an Obama administration’s seriousness by picking a “small crappy little country and throwing it against the wall” just to make a point, something that leading neocon Michael Ledeen has recommended.
Sarah Palin has said that America is “the greatest force for good in the world.” That may play well in Kansas, but the rest of the world doesn’t exactly see it that way, quite the reverse. The next president will be well advised to consider seriously what has been going on for the past seven years, if only to avoid the mistakes that have reduced the United States’ favorable rating to single digits and produced two wars in Asia that are dragging down the economy and might well be unwinnable. Nothing succeeds like success, and the next president should seriously consider just what successes or failures there have been in the foreign policy area.
First and foremost must be Iraq. In 2001 Iraq was ruled by an unpleasant dictator presiding over a collapsed economy, with a military that was broken and unable to threaten any of its neighbors. There were neither terrorists in Iraq nor weapons of mass destruction, and the country posed no danger to the United States. Iraq, for all its weakness, was the Arab frontline state restraining the hegemonic ambitions of Iran. By the end of 2008, the U.S. intervention will have cost more than 4,200 American lives plus the lives of as many as a million Iraqis. The cost of the occupation is currently $12 billion per month, and the total price tag for the war, even if it were to end soon, might well exceed $3 trillion, much of it borrowed from China and Japan. The instability in Iraq has displaced 2 million Iraqis internally and 2 million more to neighboring countries. Inside Iraq, unrelenting ethnic cleansing has divided Sunni from Shi’ite. The Iraqi Christian community, among the oldest in the world, has been targeted by militants and is disappearing. The average Iraqi has less potable water and less electricity than he had under Saddam Hussein, and the Iraqi public health and education systems have largely collapsed. Unemployment is impossible to gauge accurately, but it is estimated to be in the 60-70 percent range. The only revenue for the Iraqi government comes from oil exports, while much of the actual oil production is stolen or corruptly diverted. The Iraqi government itself is sectarian and corrupt, with Kurdistan constituting a virtual state within a state and the Sunni areas hopelessly disaffected. Terrorists now roam Iraq, with al-Qaeda in the Sunni areas and the Marxist PKK in Kurdistan. Car bombings and suicide attacks are a daily occurrence, and the United Nations rates Iraq the most dangerous country in the world. Most Iraqis would like to see the United States leave. Iraq’s closest friend is Iran.
So what did the United States gain by invading Iraq? Absolutely nothing. Zero.
And then there are Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2001 Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban, a group of intolerant Muslim fundamentalists who provided a refuge for Osama bin Laden, though they reportedly were willing to surrender him to the United States after 9/11, an offer that Washington rejected. There was no drug production in Afghanistan and no internal terrorism problem. The Taliban were mainly a problem for the Afghan people. Nor were there any terrorists in neighboring Pakistan, which was relatively quiet under the rule of President Pervez Musharraf, a former general who had seized power. Today, one third of Afghanistan is too dangerous to enter without a heavily armed escort, and in another third the security situation is bad and deteriorating. Both the British and French have recently gone on record as saying that the war against a resurgent Taliban is unwinnable. Reconstruction efforts have largely failed because of the bad security, and many Afghans now support the return of the Taliban to restore order. More than 600 Americans and more than 10,000 Afghans have died in the fighting, and hundreds of thousands more live in refugee camps in Pakistan. The war is costing the U.S. taxpayer $3 billion a month to wage. The regime of President Hamid Karzai is completely corrupt and only remains in power thanks to U.S. military support. Narcotics production is the only viable source of income for many Afghans, and the country now produces most of the world’s heroin.
In neighboring Pakistan a new government is weak and unstable. The tribal areas are largely in revolt, and there is now a Pakistani Taliban operating alongside the Afghan version. Osama bin Laden, whose death or capture was the objective of the invasion of Afghanistan in the first place, is still around, and attempts to assassinate him using drones have mostly killed civilians, leading most Pakistanis to regard the United States as public enemy number one. Al-Qaeda operates both in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are reports that the Pakistanis have dispersed their nuclear weapons to keep the United States from trying to neutralize them in a crisis, meaning that the nukes might well be up for grabs if the country implodes.
Another zero, for both Pakistan and Afghanistan. The United States has gained absolutely nothing, and both countries are much more unstable and dangerous than they were in 2001.
As for the so-called Global War on Terrorism, the only terrorist groups that have an international reach are the so-called Salafists, including al-Qaeda. In 2001, al-Qaeda was in Afghanistan with numerous supporters in other countries, mostly in the Middle East. Today, al-Qaeda’s core group is in both Pakistan and Afghanistan, it continues to have supporters worldwide, and it has expanded into Iraq, North Africa, Bosnia, Kosovo, the Palestinian territories, and Lebanon. It has been involved in major terrorist attacks in Madrid and London. U.S. military and intelligence chiefs describe it as a major threat and have recently indicated that it has not sustained serious damage over the past few years in spite of losses sustained because it has successfully replaced its leaders and has adjusted tactically to deal with new threats. Though often described as having a “medieval” mindset, it has employed technology better than the Bush administration and has been successfully propagandizing and communicating on the Internet. Other groups that the U.S. defines as terrorists are also doing well. Hezbollah won a war against Israel and is now part of the Lebanese government. Hamas won an election in Palestine and is now in charge of Gaza.
One might also add that the piecemeal destruction of the U.S. Constitution through PATRIOT Acts I & II and the Military Commissions Act has been another massive failure. Not one actual terrorist who was in place and capable of carrying out a terrorist act has been detained as a result of the liberties granted to law enforcement to violate the privacy and rights of U.S. citizens. Unlike the outrageous foreign policy blunders of the past seven years, which are largely attributable to the Bush administration, the rape of the Constitution has been bipartisan, with Democrats and Republicans alike uniting to make the U.S. a safer place by dismantling the Bill of Rights. That should rate another zero.