Can George Bush turn the tide in Iraq or will he and America’s power to shape events in the Middle East be washed away by it? He’s being swamped with advice, almost all of it as useful as a broken screwdriver. Because the advice he’s getting is focused on Iraq and Iraq alone, it’s almost entirely wrong. Whatever the president decides for Iraq, it has to work in the context of the Middle East and the rest of the world. Defining that context publicly, as a predicate to whatever announcement he’ll make next month, would be the best way for the president to regain leverage with which to move the Middle East and the rest of the world. Two speeches, not one.
Former Rep. Lee Hamilton — first co-chair of the 9-11 commission and then co-chair of the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group — said that the road to peace in Iraq begins and ends in Iraq and goes nowhere else. Hamilton’s delusion is that the “road to peace” is a traffic circle around the Baghdad Green Zone. As laughable as Hamilton’s take may be, his thinking is at least useful. Think of the world’s regions as concentric circles, with Baghdad as ground zero.
The next year for the Middle East will likely be one of upheaval, not peace. There is adrift in Saudi Arabia a change in power. The sudden resignation of Turki al-Faisal, ambassador to the U.S. and previously the head of Saudi intelligence, is explainable only in terms of instability in the royal family. Which we should prepare to use to our advantage. In Iraq there will be no peace because the Iraqis won’t be capable of defending, sustaining, or governing themselves (the president’s formulation for victory) by 2008 or any other year in the foreseeable future.
As the writ of the Baghdad government shrinks, the border wars that have gone on for years will be fought more openly. Turkey is apparently planning a military incursion into Kurdish Iraq because the terrorist-revolutionary PKK is mounting attacks against Turkish assets in northeastern Turkey (which is itself Kurdish). Turkey has been holding back for years, relying on President Bush’s promise to prevent Iraq from splitting up and Kurdistan becoming independent. Turkey has also been constrained by its earnest pursuit of EU membership, which the EUnuchs have managed to torpedo again and again, pushing Turkey into Islamic radicalism. That will accelerate if we oppose any Turkish incursion into northern Iraq. The president could accomplish a diplomatic twofer — reassuring the Turks and pressuring the Iraqis — by openly saying that Turkey has a right to defend itself against the PKK, even by military action in northeastern Iraq. Turkey can be an enormous force for stability in the Middle East, if we help push it in the right direction. A free trade agreement with Turkey — a counterpoint to the EUnuchs’ default — would help enormously.
Syria and Iran remain primary obstacles to democracy in Iraq. So does Saudi Arabia, whose royal family and other rich folk are contributing large sums of money to Iraqi insurgents and other terrorists throughout the region. The president can make his January policy shift more credible by speaking plainly and openly now about these nations’ interference in Iraq and sponsorship of terrorism elsewhere. While he is at it, he can talk about Israel.
The Israelis will almost certainly be attacked by Hizballah operating from Lebanon before 2007 is over, resulting in a much larger war spilling over into Syria and other Arab states. Ahmadinejad’s exercise in Holocaust denial is part of Iran’s plan to exercise hegemony over the Middle East by the time George Bush retires to private life. The president needs to stop talking about Palestinian rights (and tell his Secretary of State to do the same) while Iran is on the rise. He can do more good by calling for a regional treaty — signed by Israel and the Arab states — under which the Arabs agree that Israel has a right to exist on the territory on which the UN established it. He should say that until they are willing to sign such a treaty, the issue of a Palestinian state is off the table.
If we draw our circles outward from the Middle East, the next ring encompasses Europe, Russia and parts of Africa. In Europe, Britain is about to undergo a change in administration that will remove any support for Iraq and strong efforts anywhere else in the Middle East. Britain is defunding its military to a degree that should shock its citizens and allies. The Brits are spending their defense money like the French, producing flash and dash (two new aircraft carriers) while strangling their other forces. Having first cut the size of their forces (eliminating several army regiments, including the famous Black Watch), they’ve just cut another one billion pounds, resulting in an end to parachute training for the Parachute Regiment, which is a feeder force for their special operations forces. This comes within a week of their caving in to Saudi threats to cancel a multi-billion pound contract to buy Brit fighters, deciding to stop a criminal investigation into bribery in the Saudi deal. The president should not criticize the Brit decisions directly, but the context of Britain’s withdrawal from responsibility — characteristic of European disarmament — cannot be ignored.
Nor can the fact that Putin’s Russia is working hard to re-assert hegemony over former Soviet satellites. The president can no longer pretend this isn’t happening. A speech — perhaps given in Europe, speaking plainly about the threats that face it — won’t change the EUnuchs’ course. But it might help awaken public opinion, even in a region in which the president is more unpopular than Ahmadinejad. Africa — particularly the Darfur genocide — is something the EUnuchs should take more responsibility for. China is now the protector of the Sudanese genocidal regime. Mr. Bush should pressure Europe and China to stop the killing there.
The next circle includes America, South America, China and Japan. Fidel Castro will probably not live out the year, but Hugo Chavez will. The president should, when he talks about the Middle East, include the malign alliances between Chavez and Iran, between China and Chavez. When Fidel finally goes, there will be a huge outcry for Cuban freedom which is likely to be heard more here than in Havana. Speaking up now for Cuban freedom will re-energize Cubans in a way that will pressure Chavez to keep his hands — and his troops — out of Havana. If the president alluded to the Monroe Doctrine, his statement would shake the confidence of China and Iran, both of which have designs in our hemisphere. The rise of China, and its dedication to supremacy in cyberwarfare, we ignore at our peril.
The president has only a brief time left in which he can accomplish anything and put us on the right path through 2008. Making one speech now to set the context and making another in January — perhaps making it the central theme in his State of the Union address — to announce the changes for Iraq are the way to regain the leverage he has lost. George Bush’s won’t get as many last chances as Saddam did. If we don’t get this right — right now — Saddam may even get one more.
TAS contributing editor Jed Babbin is the author of Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe Are Worse Than You Think (Regnery, 2004) and, with Edward Timperlake, Showdown: Why China Wants War With the United States (Regnery, 2006).