Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Perhaps it's too late for Bush to become a non-cowboy

Time magazine's cover story The end of cowboy diplomacy has been mentioned, talked about, recycled, etc. in the print and broadcast media in recent days. You can guess what the article says even without reading it... Here are the last paragrphs.
But in the span of four years, the administration has been forced to rethink the doctrine by which it hoped to remake the world. Bush's response to the North Korean missile test was revealing: Under the old Bush Doctrine, defiance by a dictator like Kim Jong Il would have merited threats of punitive U.S. action. Instead, the administration has mainly been talking up multilateralism and downplaying Pyongyang's provocation.

The Bush Doctrine foundered in the principal place the U.S. tried to apply it. Though no one in the White House openly questions Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq, some aides now acknowledge that it has come at a steep cost in military resources, public support and credibility abroad.

The administration is paying the bill every day as it tries to cope with other crises. Pursuing the forward-leaning foreign policy envisioned in the Bush Doctrine is nearly impossible at a time when the U.S. is trying to figure out how to extricate itself from Iraq.

Taking note and taking advantage
Around the world, both the U.S.'s friends and its adversaries are taking note -- and in many cases, taking advantage -- of the strains on the superpower. The past three years have seen a steady erosion in Washington's ability to bend the world to its will.

The strategic makeover is most evident in the ascendance of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has tried to repair the administration's relations with allies and has persuaded Bush to join multilateral negotiations aimed at defusing the standoffs with North Korea and Iran.

By training and temperament, Rice is a foreign-policy realist, less inclined to the moralizing approach of the neoconservatives who dominated Bush's cabinet in the first term. Her push for pragmatism has rubbed off on hawks like Vice President Dick Cheney, the primary intellectual force behind Bush's post-9/11 policies.

"There's a move, even by Cheney, toward the Kissingerian approach of focusing entirely on vital interests," says a presidential adviser. "It's a more focused foreign policy that is driven by realism and less by ideology."

To much of the world, that's a relief.
You get the dialectics here: First, there was The Thesis: Traditional U.S. Foreign Policy since 1945: Mix of internationalism and realism..
Then came The Anti-Thesis: The post-911 Bush Doctrine: A mix of unilateralism and messianism.
Now comes The Synthesis: The Condi Doctrine.

Well, it all sounds very neat and makes for a great spin. But it seems to me that if we are using this cowboy metaphor it's important to remember that in the classic narrative of the Western the Cowboy either wins over the Bad Guys or he loses. I don't recall a Western in which the cowboy rides into town, kills a few guys in the Saloon, gets into fights with many others, and then when things don't work as he expected them to, well, he then pleads with everyone that, hey, we all need to get along and stuff (diplomacy). It's too late for that. He pissed off too many people, and now that they smell his weakness, they'll certainly go after him. The point is as I suggsted in an earlier commentary, Bush has already unleashed certain forces, especially in the Middle East, which he cannot control anymore
Putting all of these historic developments into context, one can conclude that the post-9/11 U.S. policies were nothing short of a revolutionary attempt to weaken the very fragile foundations of the political status quo in the Middle East – without coming up with a viable and sustainable strategy aimed at replacing them in a way that would help protect long-term American and Western interests: the U.S. destroyed Iraq's military power, the only counterbalance to that of Iran, without making an effort to co-opt Iran into the system.

It got rid of an Arab-Sunni dictator who had kept the lid on the ethnic and religious powder keg of Iraq and helped create the conditions for a bloody civil war there without deploying the necessary military troops to deal with such an outcome.

In the process, the U.S. strengthened the power of the Shi'ites in the Middle East who threaten the Arab-Sunni regimes there, and empowered Kurdish nationalism, which has alarmed Turkey and Iran.

At the same time, U.S. policies that helped radicalize the Palestinians also enabled the election of the Palestinian offshoot of the radical Muslim Brotherhood, ensuring that the Palestinian-Israeli peace process would not be revived any time soon and providing a sense of political momentum to Muslim Brotherhood groups in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East.

Add to all of that the growing anti-Western emotions among Muslims worldwide, as demonstrated in the recent "cartoons war," Iran's drive to achieve nuclear military capability, and the continuing domestic challenges faced by the pro-American regimes in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan, and it becomes quite obvious that no one can now press the rewind button and restore the status quo ante.

If anything, the powerful forces that have been unleashed by the U.S. cannot be stopped and could intertwine with other global developments, including Sino-American competition over energy and rising economic nationalism in the West.

Not unlike the aftermath of WWI, which brought about the collapse of great empires, including that of the Ottomans in the Middle East, the dramatic changes we are witnessing now will probably help produce much instability in the coming years.

Indeed, as I pointed out in A Perfect Geopolitical Storm Taking Shape the ingredients of Iraq, Iran, Israel-Palestine and the Moslem-Western tensions are producing the vicious circle into which we are being drawn now. George W. fantasized that he was playing Gary Cooper in High Noon.
Now we are all stuck because of him in a non-funny version of Blazing Saddles.

Interesting historical analogies: Eshkol/1967 and Olmert/2006

Aluf Benn had a very interesting piece, In Eshkol's Shoes in Haaretz over the weekend. Eshkol was the Prime Minister that led Israel during the 1967/Six-Day-War. A new book on the war, written by a well-regarded Israeli military historian and former government official (and based on newly published documents) portrays Eshkol as a weak political figure with no military background who was pressed by an activist IDF to attack Egypt. Benn seems to be concerned that PM Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, who like Eshkol were not part of the military/security establishment are being pressured by the Israeli military to act tough in Gaza. Benn also raises some interesting parallels between the U.S. role then (LBJ stuck in Vietnam gives Israel a "yellow light" to attack Egypt) and now (GWB stuck in Iraq (and North Korea, and Iran, and... gives Israel a "yellow light" to attack Gaza?) Worth reading. It's pasted here:
Here is a piece of advice for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: Take a few hours off over the weekend, before the game determining who comes in third in the World Cup, and read Ami Gluska's book, "Eshkol, ten pkuda!" (literally, "Eshkol, give an order"; the book is due to be published this month as "The Israeli Military and the Origins of the 1967 War: Government, Armed Forces and Defense Policy 1963-1967," by Routledge).

The book describes the background to the Six-Day War and there is no better account of the deterioration and weakness of the leadership that led Israel into a war it did not want. Then as now, a "civilian" leadership contended with an activist army, which amassed forces and sought to exploit the opportunity to deliver a crushing blow to the Egyptian troops that were concentrated in Sinai.

The prime minister, Levi Eshkol, tried to prevent the confrontation and to attract international support, but failed to stop the escalation. Every new provocation by then Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser further undermined Eshkol's ability to hold his own against the army. The end of the story, as everyone knows, is that Eshkol lost the defense portfolio to Moshe Dayan and Israel went to war, savaged Egypt, Jordan and Syria, and seized the "territories" from them. Since then the debate over whether this was good or bad for the Jews has not stopped.

This week Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz found themselves in Eshkol's shoes. Like him, they are trying to stop an escalation that no one wants - a large-scale military operation in the style of Operation Defensive Shield in the West Bank in 2002, which will bring the Israel Defense Forces back into the heart of Gaza's towns and the refugee camps, in order to deliver a death blow to the military wing of Hamas and to undermine the movement's civilian government. All those in the know say the two men oppose an operation of this kind, which will also entail an extensive call-up of reserve units. But the events are pointing in the opposite direction.

Olmert has one important advantage over Eshkol: He does not face a united front put up by the defense establishment. He is exploiting for his benefit the rivalry between the head of the Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, and the chief of staff, Dan Halutz. The two had a falling out during the disengagement operation last year. The background was the army's insistence on giving the Shin Bet a marginal role in the operation. Attempts at mediation and compromise failed and Ariel Sharon, prime minister at the time, did not make enough of an effort to douse the flames before they erupted into a personal clash, which has since expanded to encompass also a quarrel between Diskin and the director of Military Intelligence, Major General Amos Yadlin.

These disputes are allowing Olmert to pursue a divide-and-rule policy between the senior figures in the defense establishment. In the security cabinet meeting on Wednesday it was plain, and not for the first time, that he is leaning on Diskin, who proposed moving at a slower pace than that recommended by the chief of staff. The defense minister is also "listening very attentively" to the opinions and recommendations of the Shin Bet chief.

The prime minister this week made two important decisions. The first was to remain steadfast in his opposition to conducting negotiations with the kidnappers of Corporal Gilad Shalit and to freeing prisoners in return for his release. On Monday Olmert rejected the kidnappers' ultimatum. He was right in his assessment that they would "blink first" and not damage the bargaining chip they hold. The Palestinian response was to fire a Qassam rocket into Ashkelon on Tuesday, 13 hours after the ultimatum expired. Benjamin Netanyahu's warning of years ago against "Katyushas falling on Ashkelon" was abruptly realized.

The rocket, which landed in a schoolyard, led the political echelon to drop its inhibitions, which the previous week prompted it to veto an IDF initiative for a ground operation in the northern part of the Gaza Strip. Shortly after the Ashkelon incident, Olmert delivered a militant speech against Hamas at the Independence Day party thrown by the United States ambassador, Richard Jones, in which he threatened "unparalleled and far-reaching consequences."

Frontline tour

The following day the prime minister and defense minister authorized the entry of extensive ground forces into the northern sector, the site of three Israeli settlements - Elei Sinai, Nisanit and Dugit - until the pullout last summer. Preventing the launching of Qassam rockets has become the major thrust of Operation Summer Rains, with the return of Corporal Shalit relegated to second place. The Qassams have dislodged the soldier.

The management of the campaign in the south this week dominated the prime minister's agenda. The "business as usual" pose disappeared. The convergence plan in the West Bank, about which Olmert spoke ardently just last week, was also no longer men tioned in his speeches. Olmert is holding the button that controls the height of the flames and slowly turning it rightward. The result is gradual escalation, which depends on the initiative of the Palestinian side. Military history - in Vietnam, for example - shows that this kind of "trickling" of military might ensures the control of the political echelon, but not a victory on the field of battle.

People who attended meetings and consultations with the prime minister this week lauded his behavior: "He is cool-headed, knows what he is up against, expresses himself well and is not afraid of anyone." Cool-headedness and self-control are important, but are not the goal. The end result is what counts, and from that point of view there is nothing to boast about where Operation Summer Rains is concerned, because it has not yet accomplished anything. It has not brought Shalit home and it has not stopped the Qassams.

On Tuesday morning, between the expiration of the kidnappers' ultimatum and the landing of the Qassam rocket in Ashkelon, the prime minister made his first visit to the front. In honor of the event he wore a light-blue shirt with an open collar, leaving his jacket and tie in the car. The first rule of image advisors is always that leaders must never be photographed with soldiers wearing a suit and tie. George Bush follows this rule in Iraq, and Israeli leaders since David Ben-Gurion have always followed it. During the next event, not long afterward, Olmert was back in his familiar garb: dark brown suit, white shirt, orange tie.

The prime minister's tour of the frontline began in Sderot, which he had avoided since the elections. He explained that a well-publicized visit to the Qassam-battered town would encourage the Palestinians to welcome him with a volley of rockets, and so he snuck in secretly.

The mayor, Eli Moyal, and the heads of the local regional councils thought they had been invited to meet with the director general of the Prime Minister's Office, but that was just a cover story. Olmert and Peretz were waiting for them in the town's community center, next to the swimming pool. Moyal, Olmert's outspoken rival, greeted him with sycophantic remarks about his concern for employment in Sderot when Olmert was minister of industry and trade and minister of finance. And then came the sting, when Moyal asked: Would you have shown such concern for Sderot even without the kidnapping of the soldier? The defense minister, who lives close to the Sderot community center, replied that the operation had been planned in advance.

Olmert took a moralizing stance: In Jerusalem there was a time when we had two suicide bombings a week, he reminded Moyal, and the role of elected officials is to spread calm, not to speak in the name of the irate public. Moyal has come down hard on Olmert in the past few weeks, attacking him on every radio talk show for not visiting Sderot. Olmert's aides noted ahead of the visit that Moyal would continue to jab at the prime minister even after he came to Sderot - and they were right, of course. The headlines that emerged from Sderot mocked Olmert's diversionary ruse.

Test of leadership

From Sderot Olmert proceeded to the headquarters of the Gaza Division, where a test of leadership awaited him. He sat at the head of a long U-shaped table and listened to presentations about the operational activity. In front of him was a laptop, so he could better grasp the material. At the end of the meeting he was asked to explain to the commanders why he was not issuing the order for them to charge the enemy. Olmert replied with the well-known comment, made by Moshe Dayan in the Sinai War of 1956, when Dayan was chief of staff: "I would rather restrain galloping horses than whip lazy mules." I have exceptional praise for the activity you have done, Olmert said - keep initiating and we will decide.

Members of Olmert's retinue noted the different approaches among the officers. The brigade commanders sounded hungry for action, as did the chief of staff. The GOC Southern Command, Yoav Galant, seemed to be in the middle, with a more balanced approach. Maybe that is because of the many years he spent as Sharon's military secretary, which exposed him directly to the considerations of the political echelon vis-a-vis the confrontation with the Palestinians.

The prime minister and the defense minister this week presented a uniform stance. This is not a passionate summer fling, but a convergence of interests. They have no desire for a deterioration that will bring the right-wing parties into a "national emergency government against terrorism" and bury the realignment plan for good.

The consideration that is guiding Olmert in his management of the war, as he explained to the security cabinet, is to preserve international legitimization for Israel's moves. And to do that, it is important to avoid, as far as possible, killing Palestinian civilians who are not engaged in terrorism and to take the humanitarian side into consideration. His position has solid backing in the security cabinet, which is displaying a "civil" approach. The activist extreme is occupied by Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, who is urging "a total cessation of the firing of Qassams." The members of the security cabinet discerned the differences of approach between Dichter and Yuval Diskin, his former deputy and now his successor as Shin Bet chief.

In the meantime, Israel is enjoying freedom of maneuver. The Palestinian Qassams are of far less interest to the international community than the missiles launched his week by North Korea. The urgent United Nations reports about a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip are not getting headlines. The U.S. position, as it is understood in Jerusalem, shows an interesting distinction: The administration wants Israel to avoid harming the population in Gaza, so as not to arouse European and Arab criticism, but will be happy with an Israeli blow that will topple Hamas. Hamas' victory in the Palestinian Authority elections wrecked Bush's doctrine of Arab democracy and was taken as a personal affront to the president.

Operation Summer Rains is creating an opportunity to eliminate that problem; just as in 1967, the final decision to go to war was made in the wake of an American message. The head of the Mossad espionage agency at the time, Meir Amit, made a last-minute visit to Washington and reported on his return to Jerusalem, that "the Americans would welcome an operation, if we succeeded in smashing Nasser." His report removed Levi Eshkol's final hesitation.