Friday, July 21, 2006

A Crisis Of Confidence

As mentioned in an earlier post, Belgravia Dispatch has become convinced that just about every single Weatern leader, especially everyone in the Bush administration, is an incompetent buffoon. Tonight he approvingly cites a story from the Financial Times (subscription required) which reaches the same conclusion. He cites significantly more of the article, but here are some key grafs.
President Bush has thus declined to restrain Israel’s military operations in spite of the feeling among US allies that they are disproportionate and, in significant measure counterproductive. Bombing the Lebanese army and weakening the government of Fouad Siniora will not drive Hizbollah from southern Lebanon.

European diplomats aver that the ferocity of the Israeli response owes as much to the weakness of Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, as to the traditional use of massive force as a deterrent against future aggression. Israel, though, has persuaded Mr Bush that Hamas and Hizbollah should be seen through the prism of his own war on terrorism. The terrorists, in this flawed but, for Mr OImert, useful analysis, are all the same.

As a simple description of the many fires smouldering in the region, there is something to be said for Mr. Blair’s “arc of extremism”. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, Iran remains defiant about its nuclear ambitions, Iraq has fallen to sectarian civil war, Hizbollah threatens to destroy Lebanon’s fragile stability, Hamas is fighting Israel in Gaza.

Much more dubious is the attempt to draw through these conflicts a single thread of extremism. That is to ignore their complexities and the myriad grievances and rivalries. These set Sunni against Shia, Arab against Iranian as well as political Islam against the west. Al-Qaeda and Hizbollah are not allies. (emphasis is Greg's)

Greg is right that some corners of the blogosphere and commentariat see far simpler solutions than actually exist. Nevertheless, he all too often fails to recognize that these "solutions" might have a modicum of truth to them - that is, that they might be just part of a complicated plan needed for the region. While he supported the war in Iraq, he was never by any means a neocon. In recent months and years, however, his commentary has taken on a noticeably realist tone. Perhaps this is the inevitable reaction for someone who feels his support for the war was betrayed by the entire administration in the years since.

Nevertheless, his continued criticism of those who remain on the administration's side is beginning to resemble more and more my description of realist "policymaking": nothing. Like realists, and like the FT article, Greg goes to great pains to remind everyone of how complicated everything is, how anyone who has come up with a solution is a naive and dangerous ideologue, and how, if we just delay long enough with platitudes to how darn difficult everything is, how nuanced the situation is, how ancient the hatreds are, then perhaps we'll be able to wait out the whole thing. This was the Clinton (surprisingly realist-minded) approach to the Bosnia crisis in the early days of his first term. Robert Kaplan's book Balkan Ghosts was said to have been extremely influential in Clinton's decision-making calculus to simply not do anything. If you can't think of anything, or are too hesitant to take action, simply wait for one side to simply run out of people to kill, citing the "ancient hatreds" meme to justify your (lack of) response.

Simply going with what I read of the FT article, the author goes to great pains as well to show just how hard everything is. Once again the idea comes forward that Sunnis and Shi'ites simply don't work together, therefore adding to the number of players in the crisis, making it that much more difficult to work with. We are told that Hezbollah should not be part of our War on Terror, yet Hezbollah was responsible for the deaths of 19 American servicemen in 1996 in the Khobar Towers bombing. We are told al Qaeda and Hezbollah are not allies. While it is true the groups are run by very different people with very different goals, the idea that the Sunni-Shia divide (one that should be especially wide given that both parties are on the extreme ends of the divide) would prevent groups from working together not supported by the evidence. Just on this one example, on the claim that Hezbollah and al Qaeda would ever be able to see eye to eye, or that Hezbollah is not part of the War on Terror, the 9-11 Commission would suggest otherwise.
While it found no operational ties between al Qaeda and Iraq, the commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has concluded that Osama bin Laden's terrorist network had long-running contacts with Iraq's neighbor and historic foe, Iran.

[...] In relation to Iran, commission investigators said intelligence "showed far greater potential for collaboration between Hezbollah and al Qaeda than many had previously thought." Iran is a primary sponsor of Hezbollah, or Party of God, the Lebanon-based anti-Israel group that has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States.

The commission's Republican chairman, former New Jersey governor Thomas H. Kean, also said in a television appearance last week that "there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, with Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq."

But perhaps most startling was the commission's finding that bin Laden may have played a role in the Khobar attack. Although previous court filings and testimony indicated that al Qaeda and Iranian elements had contacts during the 1990s, U.S. authorities have not publicly linked bin Laden or his operatives to that strike, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen. A June 2001 indictment of 14 defendants in the case makes no mention of al Qaeda or bin Laden and lays the organizational blame for the attacks solely on Hezbollah and Iran.

The ability with which states and terrorist groups are able to overcome ideological divides to achieve common strategic goals is quite interesting.

Greg is right that there are too many people offering conveniently simple solutions to the crisis. Nevertheless, he (and those he has cited approvingly) have gone to great lengths to make the crisis appear to be exceedingly complicated. Perhaps this can be forgiven as a case of crisis of confidence among those (including myself) who were mistaken in their assumptions of how Iraq would pan out. Nevertheless, both reactions are also dangerous. The former because it could lead us to act upon the same mistaken assumptions on which we based our plans for how Iraq would turn out. The latter is equally dangerous, however, because it will prevent us from ever taking any action at all. The answer, I suspect, lies somewhere in between these two extremes.


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