Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Positional Authority

There is a lot of confusion about the Middle East, especially about what comes next. John Kerry lost the election, in some part because he was not able to express a cogent plan for addressing the U.S. Foreign Policy for the region. Predictable bickering by the Left and the anti-U.S. factions has made discussion on the attendant points difficult as well, and there lies an unfortunate lapse in a unique opportunity to demonstrate a way to sort out most of the more serious problems in the region. To some degree, the Middle East campaign is a mirror of the President; clear on a gut level and moving in the right direction, but difficult to express in dialogue. Also, those who recognize President Bush's intentions, are in many cases desperate to stop him at all costs, because W's vision threatens the status quo of more than a century.

In previous articles on this region, I have commented on the history of Colonialism by Europe in the Middle East. All of Islam was at some time under the control and dominion of a European nation, to a degree to make claims of U.S. imperialism laughable by comparison. During the War from 1914-1918 in Europe, the Arab world saw an opportunity to shake off its masters, but made the mistake of trusting the British and French and Germans, which resulted in another generation under other European masters. After World War 2, new states came into being, but none (except Israel) were Democratic in nature, most accepting Kings, Sultans, or outright Dictators in control of their land and people. Most Americans are unaware that Arab nations had their governments imposed on them during the 20th Century, and this led directly to the rise of OPEC and Islamic fundamentalism (which had risen a number of times before in futile attempts to throw off secular government in favor of Theocracy), most commonly expressed in Wahabiism. Also, the Arabs followed the poor choice of trusting the Nazis during World War 2, by trusting the Soviets during the Cold War. Not all, of course, and the United States bears some responsibility for poor conduct by American oil companies, who often acted in their own capacity, making agreements with Arab nations for their own advantage.

This brings us, more or less, to 1979. I admit the quick review of Arab history to this point is overly simplistic, but I take the risk here of assuming my readers are familiar with at least the basics of Islam, Sharia, the Crusades, the Ottoman Empire, the 20th Century European wars, and the rise of Petroleum exports in Economic and Geopolitical terms. For now, I want to touch briefly on recent history, which in the region is contained in the Iranian Revolution, the Iraq-Iran war, the rise of State-sponsored Terrorism and Islamic Fanaticism, the Gulf War, the crisis of Israel, and the Palestinian question. In the most essential terms, those elements showed early support for the Islamic State, the willingness of Arab nations to use and support unconventional means in hopes of chasing out both the Soviets and the Americans, the peculiar identities of the Jews and the Americans in the region's history and destiny, and the need to come to grips with everyone's needs.

When George W. Bush came to power, I do not believe that he fully understood the nature of Islamic Terrorism, of the potential for Arab Democracy, or of the opportunities he had, mixed with the dangers he faced. I think those developed with time, however. We all have lived through the history of the last decade, so there is no particular point in reciting events, except to note the unusual composition of forecs, as much political and diplomatic as military and economic. The removal of the Taliban from Afghanistan was an absolute requirement, one the President was not hesitant to pursue. He saw from that position, however, the chance to make Afghanistan something it had never been before, and this led to the elections that the Old Media has so studiously ignored for the past few months, in part because they do not believe what has happened, and in part because the Old Media is not able to understand the significance of what has changed.

From the victory in Afghanistan, Bush saw the opportunity and need to address the threat represented by Saddam, and again he was not slow to take the opportunity. This is not to say that Bush was aggressive, so much as he was determined not to let Saddam slide back into his old habits. Hussein's defiance, however predictable, was also his undoing, as the old tyrant was unable to recognize the commitment President Bush had accepted.

After the fall of the Baathists in Iraq, many thought that Bush had over-stepped. certainly we heard that claim a lot from his rivals, and from certain Arabs. Note, however, that the Arabs making those claims, when they weren't Baathists and Dictators themselves, were Kings and unelected Potentates. What they feared was not so much George W. Bush, or an Iraq without Saddam, but exactly what happened in late January: free elections.

Now look at the region. Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to commitments to stop the violence against Israel. Students in Iran are demanding reform from the Mullahs. In his State of the Union Address, President Bush specifically called on Saudi Arabia to become more democratic, and warned Syria that the United States would be watching them with well-armed observers. Some have taken these events to mean that the United States is planning another invasion soon. Possibly, but I doubt it. Many tyrants are of the ilk of Moammar Qaddafi, who agreed to relinquish his own WMD in 2003, because he saw what could happen to his country, and he wanted none of it. It won't be immediate, but it will be a true factor in future Arab events, to accept twin Democracies in the Middle East which are not Jewish.

There is a limit to what the United States can accomplish, yes. But in the right position, the United States can do more than has ever happened before in history. And George W. Bush has given the United States that positional authority.

Power only goes so far, but in some situations it goes a lot further than usual. This is true of every kind of power, and certainly in matters of knowledge and cooperation. That is, a demonstration of power can prevent the need to fight everybody, and that's the case here. Comparing conditions in 2000 and now, there have not only been incredible changes in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in Libya, Egypt, Pakistan, and from recent events, possibly Iran and Syria. Certainly, it's refreshing to hear Arab governments which indignantly demanded the US accede to their conditions in 2000, now insist their confidence that they are ready to work with the Bush Administration. And if we pay attention to that change, the United States can build on that change to lead the entire region into the opportunity that the Bush Doctrine has made possible.

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