NEW YORK-Liberals have their faults, but no one can accuse them of being pigheaded. Two years after left-of-Bush Americans marched against the invasion of Iraq and a year after the Administration admitted it had lied about Saddam's non-existent weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda, the sprouting of a few protodemocratic weeds in the microscopically cracked cement of Arab dictatorship has prompted them to wonder whether the neoconservatives maybe did the right thing after all by going into Iraq.
"[Bush] may have had it right," NPR's Daniel Schorr writes in the Christian Science Monitor. Even Harry Reid, the Democrats' fiery-as-these-things-go leader in the Senate, is swooning over the image of flag-waving Lebanese demanding a Syrian withdrawal: "Any breakthrough we get there, whether it is in Lebanon or Egypt, is a step in the right direction and I support the president in that regard."
As far as I'm concerned, Bush deserves to be impeached for lying to his employers-us-about Iraq's WMDs. He should face prosecution at a war crimes tribunal for the murder of the 100,000-plus Iraqis he ordered killed by U.S. troops. He deserves life in prison for ordering the torture, and allowing the murder under torture, of countless innocent Afghans and Iraqis. Nothing, not even if the Iraq war sparked the transformation of the entire Muslim world into peaceful and prosperous Athenian-style democracies, could retroactively justify such murderous perfidy. I'm not convinced a Riyadh spring is about to bloom. It will take a lot more than male-only Saudi municipal elections held in half the country, in which six of the seven winners were illegally promoted by the kingdom's extremist Wahabbi religious establishment.
Take courage, wobbly self-doubters! Even taking recent events into account, your "no blood for oil" signs will come in handy during the America-hating years ahead.
Never mind the dead, the lies or the cash, say the connies. As Britain's John Maples, originally a Bush supporter of the Iraq war, wrote: "The real reason for the war, at least in the U.S., was to create a reasonably democratic, free market Iraq to act as both a beacon and a rebuke to other countries in the region." The Project for a New American Century, the neocon think tank that started Cheney, Rumsfeld & Co. along the charred road to American Empire, stated in 1997 that U.S foreign policy leaders should strive "to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests [around the world]." Iraq was the first big test of their approach.
It may be premature to judge Bush's frat pack by their own standards, but it's also fair. They've already declared victory. Ross Terrill, whose editor at The Weekly Standard signed the 1997 PNAC statement of purpose, writes: "Success in Iraq, Bush's victory on November 2, Arafat's demise, and the ongoing appeal of economic and political freedom to ordinary folk, all triggered political changes across the globe that lessen the need for massive U.S. military intervention again soon."
Bush's current foreign policy report card is a mixed bag: a B in Phys Ed and a string of Ds and Fs in more important, heavily weighted subjects.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has eased somewhat, largely thanks to an event that had nothing to do with Bush: Arafat's death and replacement with Mahmoud Abbas. But even the Palestinian Authority's own polls show that fewer than half of Palestinians accept recent elections as legitimate, while 84 percent of the population say they live without safety or security in their daily lives. Basic issues, such as Israeli colonies on Arab land, remain unresolved. Peace with Israel? Not in the near future.
Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarek, 76, has finally agreed to allow candidates to run against him for the presidency, but his most formidable challenger, Ayman Nour, was rotting in prison until January. He's now under virtual house arrest, which makes campaigning a tad inconvenient. Even the deployment of government goons against pro-Nour demonstrators hasn't reduced the flow of U.S. foreign aid (Egypt comes in second after Israel) or Egyptian anti-Americanism. "[Egyptian-American] relations are going through a seriously bad patch," a diplomat tells the UK Telegraph.
Libya has agreed to suspend its nuclear program and Syria is being pressured to pull its troops out of Lebanon, but neither move-both in strategic backwaters-significantly affects the economic or security prospects of American interests.
On to the big subjects:
Iran has long sought improved relations with the U.S. It is a rare opportunity to form a friendship with an oil-rich, politically influential regional player. North Korea, on the other hand, poses our biggest challenge: a nuclear capable state, led by a paranoid and isolated autocrat who has threatened to incinerate the West Coast. Bush's charm offensive has been so badly botched that he has been reduced to promising that he has no immediate plans to invade Iran. "I hear all these rumors about military attacks, and it's just not the truth," he says. But the U.S. is better poised to invade Iran than North Korea (and oil adds to the motivation). Bush has also failed to reassure North Korea. "We have taken a serious measure by increasing nuclear arms in preparation for any invasions by enemies," the North Korean regime said March 22. So long, Seattle.
Even the stirrings of electioneering in Iraq and Afghanistan have left the Muslim world cold. Both contests, held amid pervasive fraud, violence and corruption in active war zones where millions are too afraid to venture outdoors, are interpreted as ersatz democracy imposed upon puppet regimes created by a hostile occupation force. And the stooges are disorganized. Iraq's fractious parties haven't been able to form a government; Afghanistan's elections have been delayed until the fall owing to the continuing war with the Taliban. A BBC poll taken in Turkey, a staunch American ally and the model secular state in the Islamic world, finds that 82 percent of Turks consider the United States under George W. Bush to be the greatest threat to world peace.
Is this a world "favorable to American principles and interests?" Clapping your hands is fun, but it doesn't change jack.