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imperialism & war | legacies

George W Bush: Flight from Reality

The doctrine of answering every defeat in Iraq with a new offensive is a grave mistake, worse than in Vietnam.. The battle between the executive and the legislature has begun.
GEORGE W. BUSH: FLIGHT FROM REALITY

By Ibrahim Warde

[This article published in: Le Monde diplomatique, March 2007 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.taz.de/dx/2007/03/09.1/mondeText.artikel,a0056.idx,24. Ibrahim Warde is a professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts and author of "The Financial War on Terror," London 2006.]


In his January 10, 2007 address, US president George W. Bush announced more military pressure in Iraq through dispatching 21,500 additional soldiers. Days before, such short-term troop reinforcement was recommended in a study of the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) think tank. In December 2006 the Iraq Study Group appointed by Congress and led by James Baker and Lee Hamilton recommended a gradual troop withdrawal from Iraq. In the Congress, there was also resistance against the new forward strategy. Harry Reid, leader of the democratic majority in the Senate, declared in a CNN-video conference on February 18: the doctrine of answering every defeat in Iraq with a new offensive is a grave mistake - "worse than in Vietnam."

Several months ago it seemed the "realists" in US politics could regain the upper hand. The neoconservative bigwigs - from Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Faith and Lewis Libby to John Bolton - were silent when Iraq sank in civil war (1). Unilateral policy and militarism seemed to have no advocates any more (2).

After the election reversal of November 7, 2006, George W, Bush promised a "new approach" in the Iraq policy of the US and replaced Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld with Robert Gates, a confidant of his father in his term as president.

The final report of the Baker commission published in December recommended a "responsible transition" to Iraqi self-government so the withdrawal of US combat forces would be completed by the first quarter of 2008. The commission encouraged a "comprehensive new diplomatic offensive," concretely dialogues with Iraq's neighbors Syria and Iran to which the US was only ready for narrow themes on the pressure of the Iraqi government. Washington should also act "decisively for a comprehensive Arab- Israeli peace" according to the "Land for Peace" principle (3).

Bush declared publically, he found some points of the study very interesting but sought other opinions before he would make known his new strategy. In private conversations, he made a less courtly judgment. He described the report as "a flaming turd" (4).

To understand the decision of the government for a military escalation, the early political and religious influences on George W. Bush - or his oedipal phase must be analyzed. Several years ago, the president answered the question whether he asked his father for advice before he decided on war against Iraq: "No, I don't turn to my father to draw strength. In such moments, I appeal to the Almighty Father" (6).

As in every dynasty, the father-son relation in the house of Bush is not free or unencumbered. Carrying out a radical change of course in foreign policy was important to the heir to the throne. George Bush senior saw himself as a realist and pragmatist; he had little interest in "visions." In 1991, he won military laurels by expelling Iraqi troops from Kuwait. At that time his secretary of state James Baker succeeded in forging a coalition of 34 states (including several Arab countries) and gaining the formal mandate of the US Security Council for the action. He even asked the allies of the US to defray the war costs (7).

Unlike his father, George W. Bush had no foreign policy experience when he became president. He called Professor Condoleezza Rice to his team of advisors. She was a kind of private tutor to him (8). Other influences were crucial. In 1998, Bush, governor of Texas at that time, made his first foreign trip - to Israel. There he would receive his first lesson in military strategy. The Israeli foreign minister then, Ariel Sharon, made clear to him on a hilltop near Tel Aviv why "Peace through Strength" should be preferred to the principle "Land for Peace." The former ambassador Peter Gabriel reported that the president of the US in January 2003, three months before the attack on Iraq, had heard nothing about a hostile relation between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq (9).

THE DOMINO EFFECT THAT DIDN'T HAPPEN

Only nine months after taking office, Bush did not want to hear anything about his election campaign promise to lead a "moderate" foreign policy. On September 14, 2001, three days after 9/11, he announced his determination "to liberate the world from evil" at a church service in Washington's National Cathedral for the victims of the attacks. To many observers, he believed his way was destined from above. He understood his presidency as a work of divine Providence.

The introduction of religious, moral and metaphysical aspects opened up space for all possible argumentative combinations in the political debate. The US government withdrew from classical political realism and ultimately from the reality principle. One of his closest presidential advisors told journalist Ron Susskind: "New rules are now in effect in the world. We are an empire. In acting, we create our own reality" (10).

The attacks of September 11, 2001 served as evidence for the failure of earlier political approaches and for justification of a new unilateral policy of "prevention." The invasion in Iraq was regarded as necessary to bring about a fundamental reform of the Arab-Muslim world and redraw the map of the Middle East - according to the motto of the Orientalist Bernard Levins often repeated in Washington: "Arabs only understand the language of force" (11).

In the White House, many believed the Americans would be greeted as liberators; the land would change into a worldly liberal democracy and make peace with Israel - as a model for change in the Islamic world. In a kind of domino effect, a general "change in power" would occur in the whole region thanks to the election victories of moderate forces and the Middle East conflict would be finally settled.

The current military offensive in Baghdad is typical for the stubbornness of a president who answers the demand for a troop withdrawal with a troop reinforcement - against all resistance "even if only supported by First Lady Laura and my dog Barney" (12). Naturally Bush pretends to be conciliatory. He asks that the new strategy be "given a chance" and emphasizes the dispatching of more troops only intends to make Baghdad more secure and gain time for a process of national reconciliation. He fears nothing more than being politically marginalized. In the meantime, he has public opinion and parts of the military against him and a congress where democrats have a majority.

Since October 11, 2002, the president as commander-in-chief of the armed forces with the approval of congress could "take all necessary measures to defend national security against the permanent threat from Iraq." Many representatives feel uneasy in view of his far-reaching interpretation of this authorization that cannot be rescinded. They now warn of a new war against Iran.

The regime in Teheran is still described as the main enemy of the US in congress, the military leadership and the general public. The offensive in Iraq is also an ideal pretext for an intensified confrontation with Iran. Finally, Teheran on account of the delivery of weapons is made responsible for the deaths of US soldiers.

Thus the president could claim to the congress (and the whole world) he does not need any new authority for a war against Iran since only the right to self-defense was involved here. Only symbolic votes of mistrust without a great effect are left to congress in the case of such an escalation.

On February 16, 2007, the House of Representatives after a four-day debate, passed a resolution 246-162 declaring both support for the armed forces and a refusal of more troops for Iraq. 17 Republican representatives voted with the Democratic majority; only two democrats voted against. The next day, the bill to debate the troop reinforcement gained a majority in the Senate - 56 senators including 7 republicans voted for and 34 against. However this was 4 votes short of enforcing the resolution.

The battle between the executive and legislature has begun. In March, financing the new strategy will be argued when the military budget must be approved. The representatives will scrutinize this budget and could make new indebtedness dependent on whether combat-ready troops are made available.

For example, the demand was already raised that soldiers between two deployments must be stationed for a year at home. Thus congress with its hand on the money supply could inflict the gravest defeat of Bush's presidency. If the US troops withdraw from Iraq, the mission which he understands as his most important political achievement will prove to be a definitive failure. Only six months time remains for that, according to General Petraeus.

FOOTNOTES

(1) Die Neokonservativen haben nicht ihre Stellungen geräumt. Elliot Abrams, ein maßgeblicher Regierungsberater für den Nahen Osten, ist heute stellvertretender Nationaler Sicherheitsberater.
(2) Mike Allen und Romesh Ratnesar, "The End of Cowboy Diplomacy", Time, 10. Juli 2006.
(3) Siehe: www.usip.org/isg/iraq_study_group_re port/report/1206/index.html.
(4) Siehe Sidney Blumenthal, "Shuttle without diplomacy", Salon (www.salon.com), 11. Januar 2007.
(5) Ein psychoanalytisches Porträt des Präsidenten liefert Justin A. Frank, "Bush auf der Couch: Wie denkt und fühlt George W. Bush?", Gießen (Psychosozial-Verlag) 2004.
(6) Zitiert nach: Bob Woodward, "Der Angriff", München (DVA) 2004.
(7) James A. Baker und Thomas M. DeFrank, "The Politics of Diplomacy: Revolution, War and Peace, 1989-1992", New York (Putnam's Sons) 1995.
(8) James Mann, "Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet", New York (Penguin) 2004.
(9) Peter W. Galbraith, "The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End!", New York (Simon & Schuster) 2006, S. 83.
(10) Ron Suskind, "Without a Doubt", The New York Times Magazine, 17. Oktober 2004. Das Zitat stammt wahrscheinlich von Karl Rove.
(11) Bryan Burrough, Evgenia Peretz, David Rose und David Wise, "The Path to War", Vanity Fair, Mai 2004. Siehe auch: Alain Gresh, "Das Islam-Gen", Le Monde diplomatique in der Beilage der Schweizer Wochenzeitung, August 2005.
(12) Bob Woodward, "Die Macht der Verdrängung. George W. Bush, das Weiße Haus und der Irak", München (DVA) 2007.

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