Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Bush's second term: Making elephants fly

FromThe Statesman BY ND BATRA

Although the ghost of weapons of mass destruction has been finally laid to rest with the release of the latest official report, George Bush has shown no regret for invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein. In spite of the fact that now a majority of Americans believe the Iraqi invasion was a mistake, Bush continues to believe regime change was the right thing to do to prevent Iraq from becoming a sanctuary for terrorists.

Of course, foreign policy cannot be run on public opinion polls, which heave up and down so often that it would be politically crazy to be solely guided by them. National leaders at times take measures that are unpopular but necessary according to their perception of the problem the country faces and their political vision. What hurts their cause, however, is the language in which they frame their thoughts and deeds.

That the result of the Iraqi invasion turned out to be much different, much bloodier than expected, has not lessened the Bush administration’s newly framed resolve to bring about changes in West Asia through democratic processes. As secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld – the man who coined terms like “Old Europe” and “New Europe” and widened the Atlantic Ocean with his tongue wagging – said recently: “Just having elections in Iraq is an enormous success and a victory. Following the elections in Afghanistan and the one held recently in the Palestinian Authority, the Iraqi vote will mark still another success for democracy and a defeat for pro-dictatorship and extremist elements in the region.”

This epitomises the new policy, which has moved beyond fighting terrorism to include what Bush has been calling as exporting and spreading freedom abroad. Bush now admits that his ill-famed utterances like “Bring ‘em on,” challenging insurgents to attack US forces in Iraq was a mistake, though he still does not realise how much damage the expression “Axis of Evil” has done to US diplomacy. Evil is of course everywhere and the world has become a dangerous place. No nation is safe from evildoers, jihadis and non-jihadis, but by characterising that evil is limited to a small axis of three countries, Bush absolved others by default.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, Yale historian John Lewis Gaddis says: “The terrorists of 11 September exposed vulnerabilities in the defences of all states,” which necessitated for Bush to preside over “the most sweeping redesign of US grand strategy since the presidency of Franklin D Roosevelt. The basis for Bush’s grand strategy, like Roosevelt’s, comes from the shock of surprise attack and will not change. None of FDR’s successors, Democrat or Republican, could escape the lesson he drew from the events of 7 December 1941 (Pearl Harbour): that distance alone no longer protected Americans from assaults at the hands of hostile states. Neither Bush nor his successors, whatever their party, can ignore what the events of 11 September 2001, made clear: the deterrence against states affords insufficient protection from attacks by gangs, which can now inflict the kind of damage only states fighting wars used to be able to achieve. In that sense, the course for Bush’s second term remains that of his first one: restoration of security in a suddenly more dangerous world.”

The USA was not the first country to bear the brunt of terrorists. India had long suffered terrorist attacks sponsored by its neighbour, which brought the two countries to the brink of war a few years ago. But by then, the USA had begun to look at the situation differently. Terrorism was a global phenomenon and had to be eliminated from all corners of the earth. The horrific events of 9/11 necessitated the establishment of US presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan to defeat the Taliban and fight Al-Qaida terrorists. But the US presence has had an unintended consequence in the region, in the sense that Pakistan felt persuaded to withdraw its support from terrorist groups operating from its territory against Kashmir. India and Pakistan have been opening up to each other at several levels and the cease-fire is holding up along the Line of Actual Control. The prospects of settlement of disputes including Kashmir and long-term peace are brighter today than ever before. Albeit indirectly, the Indian sub-continent has been the greatest beneficiary of Bush’s pre-emptive policies, regardless of their partial failures and successes in Afghanistan and Iraq.

To make elephants fly, the second term Bush administration needs a new diplomatic tongue (and good manners, especially), to reframe its policy of pre-emption in terms of international cooperation, to eliminate terrorism and to save the nation state system itself. Saudis and Pakistani military rulers know that breeding and financing terrorists can boomerang. The Bush administration should help EU, especially France and Germany, so that the Islamic terrorism growing in their bellies is purged. Prof Gaddis says: “The President and his advisors preferred flaunting US power to explaining its purpose…. It is a failure of both language and vision that the USA has yet to make its case for pre-emption” in terms of the self-interest and survival of each nation; and a collective security system, which could best be under US leadership. Well, at least for the present, until China rises and challenges the USA.

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