October 12, 2008

In his new and intensely interesting and provocative book, Churchill Hitler, and the Unnecessary War, Patrick J. Buchanan quotes British statesman Lord Salisbury thusly: “€œ[T]he commonest error in politics … [is] sticking to the carcass of dead policies.”€ We in America are now living the piping days of a presidential campaign in which all candidates pledge to deliver “€œpolicy change”€ in everything from energy policy to health care to financial reform and re-regulation.  Above all, the candidates promise “€œchange”€ in foreign policy.”€ As president, Barack Obama “€œwould reject the Bush Doctrine of preemption and regime change and replace it with a doctrine of prevention and cooperation and, ladies and gentlemen, this is the biggest ticket item that we have in this election,”€ said Senator Biden on 2 October 2008. Well, as a professor of mine advised: “€œIf you have to tell a lie, speak quickly. It sounds good and folks will focus on the next words before the lie registers.”€ 

While it is harsh to say Senator Biden lied, neither he nor the three other candidates will do anything new in the foreign-policy arena”€”they will defend the Cold War’s carcasses to the last dollar, soldier, and Marine.  All four are outspoken devotees of the grand strategy used in the Cold War, and, given our present foreign-policy train wreck, it ought to spur dread that Senator Biden and Governor Palin say they concur with advice from the last five U.S. secretaries of state. The foreign policy the four advocates is unrelenting U.S. interventionism, a Cold War-recipe that helped to destroy the USSR, but now is inapplicable and detrimental to U.S. interests.  While both parties”€™ have since 1991 called for “€œout-of-the-box thinking”€ and a “€œnew foreign-policy paradigm,”€ they have acted”€”witness Iraq, Bosnia, Somalia, and Pakistan”€”in the tradition they know: intervene in other people’s affairs and wars at all times and in all places.

Cold War foreign-policy thinking has several important characteristics, but three suffice to assess how much change “€“ if any “€“ can be expected from the quartet on the hustings.  During the Cold War it was accepted that:

(1)  In war, time is on America’s side, and our foe has no say in its result

(2)  Proxies can be hired to fight our battles

(3)  Spreading democracy means more peace

Are these pieces of common wisdom still valid?  The answer is definite no, and here is why.

Time is not on America’s side and our foe has a vote

When the Cold War ended it was clear that time had been on America’s side.  After the doctrine of deterrence through Mutually Assured Destruction was in place “€“ and all but ruled out a U.S.-USSR war “€“ the WMD known as Soviet economic policy and Ronald Reagan’s efforts destroyed the workers”€™ paradise.  With Soviets gone, however, the world became a more dangerous place for America, one where threats to U.S. national security cannot be easily understood, much less reliably deterred.  And yet under Mssrs. Clinton and Bush, Washington continued to behave as if it had all the time in the world to find an exactly right policy before moving to defend America.

In Iraq, for example, four years past before Washington could launch a coherent policy”€”the “€œsurge“€”€”and, even then, the policy is not aimed at winning, but on reducing violence to limit the media’s focus on Iraq during the current campaign; allow the Republicans to side-line this hot issue; and permit Senator McCain to benefit from removing 8,000 troops and make superficially plausible his claim that U.S. “€œstrategy has succeeded.  And we are winning in Iraq.  And we will come home with victory and with honor.”€ And Senators Obama and Biden?  Well, they condemn the decision to invade Iraq”€”kind of a no-brainer”€”and call for full withdrawal in the next sixteen months by turning the war over to Baghdad and making a “€œshift in responsibility to Iraq … it’s time for them to spend their own money and have the 400 thousand troops we trained for them begin to take their own responsibility.”€ Again, both positions sound plausible if said fast.

Question:  What is common to the candidates”€™ positions? 
Answer: A clear ignorance of the Islamist threat and the fact that time does not favor the
United States.

From the first, the invasion of Iraq gave America a world-class enemy”€”Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda, as well as the Islamist movement they symbolize and inspire. The U.S. invasion afforded a perfect Koranic predicate for a defensive jihad: an infidel power, invading a Muslim state without provocation, and creating a regime run man-made and not divine law. This act transformed bin Laden and al-Qaeda from a man and a group to a philosophy and a movement.  And has that been movement been sitting and waiting to be destroyed while Washington picks a policy from among “€œshock and awe”€; “€œthere are a few dead-enders, but no insurgents”€; “€œbring it on”€; and the now the sainted “€œsurging”€?  No, the Islamists have been simultaneously licking wounds inflicted by Iraqi Sunnis”€”not U.S. forces”€”and quietly solidifying the Iraq bases from which they are infiltrating influence, fighters, and violence into Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel.

When the Iraq insurgency’s lull ends”€”and lulls in insurgencies always end”€”Americans will see a still-strong Sunni insurgency ready to fight both the less-numerous, so less-capable U.S. forces and the bloodthirsty Shiite ascendancy we have built. We also will see two other groups fighting beside the Sunni mujahedin: (a) the men of the Sunni Awakening Councils, whom we have abandoned with their families to the tender mercies of Shias bent on payback for Saddam’s regime; and (b) al-Qaeda fighters welcomed back to fight in the communal war.  Withal, the four candidates are confident that more time “€“ be it McCain’s open-ended period or Obama’s 16 months”€”will ensure U.S. victory, and that the Islamists have not exploited years we have been/will be in Iraq”€”which, one must recall, is contiguous to Turkey, the Levant, and Saudi Arabia”€”to pose a dire threat to U.S. regional interests and allies.  They are whistling past the graveyard.     

And there is a final point suggesting the debate over leaving Iraq is an academic exercise that will not lead beyond the current status quo.  First, consider these words:

McCain:  “€œI am expressing my appreciation for their [evangelical Christians] support of the State of Israel, for the absolute criticality of its survival.  …  Look, I just have to tell you that we should be so grateful for the support of the evangelical movement for the State of Israel given the influence they have, beneficial influence they have over millions of Americans.

Obama:  “€œI will also carry with me [as president] an unshakeable commitment to the security of Israel and the friendship between the United States and Israel.  … The defense cooperation between the United States and Israel has been a model of success and I believe it can be deepened and strengthened.”€

Biden:  “€œGwen [Ifill, debate moderator], no one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden.  I would have never, ever joined this ticket were I not absolutely sure that Barack Obama shares my passion.”€

Palin:  “€œIsrael is our strongest and best ally in the Middle East.  …  But I”€™m so encouraged to know that we both love Israel, and I think it is a good thing to get to agree on Senator Biden.  … We shouldn”€™t second guess Israel’s security efforts…. They are our closest ally in the Middle East.  We need them.  They need us.”€  

These words mean most U.S. troops will be in Iraq for the foreseeable future.  Clearly, the Cold War hallucination that U.S. and Israeli national-security interests are identical is gospel for the four candidates and our political elite as a whole.  What they do not see, however, is that their well-rewarded-by-AIPAC allegiance to Israel is now costing the lives of America’s soldier-children, not just its taxes. The hard reality is that Israel’s security was irreparably compromised by the invasion of Iraq; put simply, the Israel-first Neoconservatives mortally wounded the state they love best.  By destroying our vital anti-jihad ally”€”Saddam Hussein”€”the U.S. invasion helped the jihad move 2,500 kilometers west to Iraq, where mujahedin bleed-through to the Levant already is evident.  If U.S. forces leave Iraq, they would leave an anti-Israeli regime in Baghdad, none other can survive; a Sunni-Shia war that trains a new generation of anti-Israel fighters from both sects; and, as noted, al-Qaeda and its allies operating toward Israel from Iraqi bases.  Our political elite’s adolescent, Cold-War romance with Israel is evolving into a grisly, blood-letting nightmare for American parents. 

It will only get worse.
No rentable proxies to fight our battles

The most bald-faced fallacy of the 2008 campaign season is Senator Biden’s contention that an Obama administration would not pursue a policy of regime change.  The senator from Delaware must think voters are forgetful, as it is irrefutable that he is one of our political elite’s most rabid advocates of continuing Cold War interventionism:  He was first in line to send U.S. troops to the Balkans; to bomb Milosevic’s Serbian regime to hell; to light the fuse of the next Balkans war by supporting Kosovo’s independence, and”€”in a debate where he damned regime change”€”to send U.S. forces to intervene in Sudan’s civil war. As important, Obama, McCain, and Palin also are implacable champions of regime change”€”if it is toward secular democracy and leaves Mubarak and the Saudi dictator alone”€”even if it hurts U.S. interests and the local populations they imagine yearn to be free. They four recently have proved this in Pakistan.

When former-President Musharraf pledged to help Washington’s terror war, he took Pakistan down a path inimical to its national interests, and led it “€“ with the able aid of democracy-mongers like Obama, McCain, Biden, and Palin “€“ to the edge of civil war.  We forget that Pakistan had no pre-9/11 trouble with bin Laden, al-Qaeda, or the Taleban; indeed, the Taleban was the best ally Islamabad could expect to have in Afghanistan.  Still, Musharraf delivered: He helped destroy the Taleban regime; his security services arrested senior al-Qaeda leaders; he allowed an expanding U.S. presence in the country and saw Karachi become a de facto U.S. naval base; and he sent”€”for the first time in Pakistan’s history “€“ the army into the tribal regions, where it was defeated, lost about 1,500 soldiers, and inaugurated the instability now rife in the country. In return, Islamabad got: (a) ten or more billion dollars, which it wisely spent on military projects to defend Pakistan against its mortal, nuclear-armed Indian enemy, and (b) the U.S. political elite’s demand that the thieving, now-dead Mrs. Bhutto be brought into the country to contest an election which ultimately led to Musharraf’s resignation; the election of Bhutto’s husband Asif Zadari, an even bigger thief then his wife; and a civilian government less capable and willing than Musharraf’s to assist the U.S. forces.

Leaving aside for now the self-defeating nature of democracy-spreading, the fundamental problem for the U.S.-Pakistan relationship is Washington’s endless search for proxies to do its dirty work.  The equation appears to be that because proxies worked against the USSR in the Cold War, they will work now.  Well, they will not.  In the Cold War, U.S. proxies fought Soviet proxies in places like Nicaragua, Angola, and Afghanistan.  In such venues, U.S.-backed fighters were going to wage wars against Soviet-backed regimes with or without U.S. support.  Afghans, Angolans, and Nicaraguans were not fighting and dying for America, but for their own causes/countries.  The most Washington did was pin U.S. tails to insurgents”€™ kites by arming them to more efficiently kill their foes.

The Cold War recipe for proxies did not transfer to the post-1991 world; Pakistan’s current position proves the point. Neither Musharraf, nor Zadari, nor whoever follows is going to destroy Pakistan as a sovereign, independent political unit by doing America’s dirty work to eliminate al-Qaeda and the Taleban.  Mullah Omar gave up his country for Osama, no Pakistani leader will.  The result?  The Afghan war will be won or lost by the United States; victory comes by a massive troop escalation”€”the two brigades urged by McCain and Obama are hardly a start”€”and more violence, while defeat will be delivered by an ongoing quest for a proxy. And what do the candidates say on this point?

McCain:   “€œAnd we”€™re going to have to help the Pakistanis go into these [tribal] areas and obtain the allegiance of the people.  And it’s going to be tough.  They”€™ve intermarried with al-Qaeda and the Taleban.  …  And it’s going to be tough.  But we have to get the cooperation of those people.  … We must strengthen local tribes in the border areas who are willing to fight the foreign terrorists there “€“ the strategy used successfully in Anbar and elsewhere in Iraq.  We must convince Pakistanis that this is their war as much as ours.”€

Obama: “€œNo. 3, we”€™ve got to deal with Pakistan, because al-Qaeda and the Taleban have safe havens in Pakistan across the border [from Afghanistan] in the northwest regions, and although, you know, under George Bush, with the support of Senator McCain, we have been giving them $10 billion over the last seven years, they have not done what needs to be done to get rid of those safe havens.  …  [W]e coddled Musharraf, we alienated the Pakistani population, because we were anti-democratic.  … I would condition some military assistance to Pakistan on their action in the FATA [the tribal region].”€

Biden:  “€œPakistani cooperation in the fight against terrorism is critical to our success in Afghanistan.  But that cooperation has been sporadic at best.  …  At the same time, we have to recognize that even as Pakistan develops the will [to fight al-Qaeda and the Taleban], it still lacks the capacity.  It lacks the way.  One of the most overrated things that I believe that I have been dissuaded of over the last three years is about the capacity “€“ the capacity of the Pakistani military.  It’s a military designed to fight a conventional war with India, not to conduct counterinsurgency operations in the tribal area. So we should make it a priority to help Pakistan train and reorganize its military.”€

Palin:  “€œI don”€™t believe that new [Pakistani] President Zadari has that mission [protecting al-Qaeda] at all.  But, no, the Pakistani people, also, they want freedom.  They want democratic values to be allowed in their country, also.  They understand the dangers of terrorists having a stronghold in regions of their country, also.  And I believe that they, too, want to rid not only their country but the world of violent Islamic terrorists.”€
Bottom line for the four:  Pakistan is America’s proxy force for destroying al-Qaeda and the Taleban and all we have to do is: (a) convince Pakistanis our war is their’s; (b) freeze child-Pakistan’s allowance until it does as told; (c) reorganize Pakistan’s military so it cannot defend the country against a billion, nuclear-armed Hindus; or (d) unleash the pent up white-hot ardor of ordinary Pakistanis to destroy Islamist terrorism worldwide. 

That this is a naïve, even sophomoric position for any potential senior U.S. leader should be obvious, but for our political elite it is common wisdom.  The four candidates intend to continue the Cold War strategy of using proxies, which will result in the ultimate demise of Pakistan and leave us a far bigger al-Qaeda-Taleban-Islamist problem than the limited one we faced on 12 September 2001. Perhaps the four could be reminded by their now de rigueur religious advisers that the Bible advises “€œGod helps those who help themselves,”€ not “€œGod helps those who first con Pakistanis into doing their dirty work.”€    

Spreading democracy and secularism means more war

The main thesis that permits the time-is-on-our-side, hire-proxies, and other Cold War tenets to still dominate our political elite’s foreign-policy thinking is the that claims the spreading of secular democracy will make a peaceful and secure world for the United States.  While the Democrats decry President Bush’s “€œFreedom Agenda,”€ the four candidates and their parties champion the same agenda; they are collectively Wilsonian imperialists bent on imposing their beliefs “€“ many of which are not shared by the voters who elect them “€“ on foreigners of different religions, races, and economic situations.

McCain:  “€œWhat I have proposed for a long time, and I have had conversations with foreign leaders about forming a league of democracies….   We cannot build an enduring peace based upon freedom by ourselves, and we do not want to.  We have to strengthen our global alliances as the core of a new global compact “€“ a League of Democracies “€“that can harness the vast influence of the more than one hundred democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests.”€

Obama:  “€œWe benefit from the expansion of democracy.  …  I will significantly increase funding for the National Endowment for Democracy and other non-governmental organizations to support civic activists in repressive societies.  And I will start a rapid response fund for young democracies and post-conflict societies that will provide foreign aid, debt relief, technical assistance and investment packages that show the people of newly hopeful countries that democracy and peace delivery, and the United States stands by them.  … [In Pakistan,] I will increase assistance for secular education and for the development of the border region so that we meet the extremists”€™ program of hate with a program of hope.  Our goal in Pakistan must not just be an ally “€“ it must be a democratic ally, because that will be a better ally in the fight against terrorism and that will represent a better future for the Pakistani people.”€

Biden:  “€œFourth, and finally, we must advance freedom and progress by developing democratic institutions in the Middle East and beyond.  …  We must put much more emphasis on building the institutions of democracy: political parties, an independent media and judicial system, effective government, non-government institutions, and labor unions.  We must help bolster failing states “€“ which can be havens for terror “€“ by building schools and training teachers, opening closed economies, empowering women, relieving more debt, and redirecting the focus of international institutions. … We”€™ll match military force to project our values to the world.

Palin:  “€œI see the United States as being a force for good in the world….  Specifically, we [a McCain administration] will make every effort possible to help spread democracy for those who desire freedom, independence, tolerance, [and] respect for equality.  That “€“ that is the whole goal here in fighting terrorism, also.  It’s not just to keep the people safe, but to be able to usher in democratic values and ideals around the world.”€     

These words prove, beyond reasonable doubt, that our political elite has learned nothing from the Iraq and Afghan disasters, and that they do not see that the recipients of our coercion-laden good intentions”€”at least in the Islamic world”€”welcome material aid but want no part of what Senator McCain calls an effort to “€œadvance our values”€ in their countries. The secular, semi-pagan values the four candidates will export are seen by most Muslims as threats to faith, family, tribal traditions, and social customs that must be resisted, by force if necessary.  In short, installing values our elites want for the Muslim world can only be done at the points of bayonets wielded by U.S. soldiers and Marines.

Senators McCain, Obama, Biden, Governor Palin, and their senior colleagues are all Cold-War leftovers”€”secular imperialists, really”€”chaffing to involve America in wars where no U.S. interests are at stake and those started by their own democracy-crusading.  The difference between parties is just nuance: Republicans prefer to provide a strong, close-up whiff of gunpowder before coercively imposing their values on foreigners, while Democrats prefer raining anonymous death from 20,000 feet on foreigners, who “€“ if they live “€“ will have new values drilled into them.  All are imperialism’s paladins and, like Rudyard Kipling and Woodrow Wilson, they are: aching to dictate their kind of freedom to various little brown brothers; willing to kill those who obstruct efforts to make the world made safe for the brand of democracy they peddle; and eager to use an M-16 or two-ton bomb if it takes that to teach their undemocratic, Muslim brothers to elect good men.

Because the Cold War worldview dominates the four candidates”€™ minds, there is little doubt that America’s soldier-children will be dying in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other venues on Inauguration Day, 2013.  Perhaps one consolation for Americans lies in seeing how fortunate the United States is that, when young and weak, Europe’s anti-republican monarchies did not possess the combination of military might and secular imperialists—like McCain, Obama, Biden and Palin”€“that would have enabled an invasion of America and the installation of political institutions, educational curricula, legal systems, social mores, and religious beliefs alien to North America. They also can ponder how fortunate today’s America would be if its leaders were not imbued with an anachronistic but still potent and war-causing Cold War worldview.     

A twenty-plus-year CIA veteran, Scheuer headed the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit, managed its covert-action operations, and authored its rendition program. He is the author of several books, including Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror and, most recently, Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq.


Sign Up to Receive Our Latest Updates!