Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Our Messed-Up Foreign Policy

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Anthony Shadid on the stunning success of the Bush administration's foreign policy -- for Iran:

Kuwait rarely rebuffs its ally, the United States, partly out of gratitude for the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But in October it reneged on a pledge to send three military observers to an American-led naval exercise in the Gulf, according to U.S. officials and Kuwaiti analysts.

"We understood," a State Department official said. "The Kuwaitis were being careful not to antagonize the Iranians."

Four years after the United States invaded Iraq, in part to transform the Middle East, Iran is ascendant, many in the region view the Americans in retreat, and Arab countries, their own feelings of weakness accentuated, are awash in sharpening sectarian currents that many blame the United States for exacerbating.

Iran has deepened its relationship with Palestinian Islamic groups, assuming a financial role once filled by Gulf Arab states, in moves it sees as defensive and the United States views as aggressive. In Lebanon and Iraq, Iran is fighting proxy battles against the United States with funds, arms and ideology. And in the vacuum created by the U.S. overthrow of Iranian foes in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is exerting a power and prestige that recalls the heady days of the 1979 Islamic revolution, when Iranian clerics led the toppling of a U.S.-backed government.

"The United States is the first to be blamed for the rise of Iranian influence in the Middle East," said Khaled al-Dakhil, a Saudi writer and academic. "There is one thing important about the ascendance of Iran here. It does not reflect a real change in Iranian capabilities, economic or political. It's more a reflection of the failures on the part of the U.S. and its Arab allies in the region."

Added Eyal Zisser, head of the Middle Eastern and African Studies Department at Tel Aviv University in Israel: "After the whole investment in democracy in the region, the West is losing, and Iran is winning."

Tim F. comments:

The sad part is the utter non-inevitability of all of this. No reason in the world compelled us to invade Iraq. Even then the Iranians made unambiguous efforts to normalize relations with the U.S., apparently in perfectly good faith (1, 2, 3), which the U.S. adamantly rejected. Why negotiate away, the thinking seems to have gone, what we can take by force? Except as it turns out, we don’t have a force anymore and our regional credibility is shot.

Brilliant minds. When you add it all together Iranian agents would have a hard time crafting a more favorable series of policies on our part. Maybe the saddest of all is watching a president who oversaw the dumbest foreign policy since Syracuse try to recover his past glory with still more brinksmanship.

Brij Khindaria points out that the toxicity goes far beyond the Middle East [emphasis mine]:

American foreign policy under George Bush and Condoleezza Rice is turning into an incubator of civil conflicts while being absent in other spheres, where it could do some good.

The US is not a prime cause of internal conflicts but it is helping to turn the smoldering embers of old hatreds among local tribes and sects into blazing violence. Since World War II, US foreign policy was the world’s indispensable peacemaker. It helped to save more lives and aid more people than can be counted. It is now turning into a fuel of war, civil conflicts and displaced people.

At the same time, Washington is neglecting conflicts that cause extraordinary human suffering but need not continue because resolution is achievable. Some of those are in Africa.

Trust in the goodness of the American people is fast disappearing among non-Americans, who hold the people responsible for US foreign policy since America bills itself as a leader of democracy. Here are some examples:

Iraq is drowning in civil war because of US foreign and defense policy mistakes. Lebanon is sliding to internal conflict because of Washington’s rejection of Hizbullah, a major political force in that country. In Palestine, rival factions are openly shooting at each other at a scale never seen before partly because of Washington’s refusal to deal with Hamas, which overwhelmingly won the last democratic elections.

More dangerously, Washington is trying to turn Iran’s various ethnic groups against the dominant Persians, who comprise about 40% of the population. It is also trying to play progressives forces and young people against traditionalist mullahs and other conservatives. It is not considering sufficiently the regional effects of destabilizing Iran alongside problems in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Turkey and separatist Kurds. It is also not considering the weakness of the Central Asian countries near Iran, including Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. It is not considering the effects on the vast Muslim populations of nuclear-armed Pakistan and India.

In Afghanistan, US policy is preventing a weak government from widening its writ over the entire country through dialogue with groups that Washington does not like. Those include factions within the Taliban who would prefer peace but go along with Taliban radicals because there is no room for them in the peace that Washington seeks for Afghanistan.

In all these situations, US foreign policy is a force of destabilization because it does not allow governments, even those elected democratically, to engage constructively with all parts of the local political spectrum in resolving internal conflicts.

But in the Land of Make Believe inhabited by most right-wing bloggers, the source of all our woes in Iraq is Democrats who talk about cutting off funds for the war.

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