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July 2006

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Between Iraq and a Hard Place

Difficult it is to find a silver lining to the storm clouds over the Middle East these days. Difficult, we submit, for anyone, whatever his or her political leanings or national affiliation. Perhaps there simply isn’t any lining with a hint of silver. In another construction, pessimism is on the rise.

The fierce clashes in that small corner of the world called Lebanon and Israel have taken the media spotlight these past weeks. No early end to the confrontation that would be satisfactory to both sides can readily be envisioned, much less implemented. No compromise of any sort, or even the near prospect of negotiations, is in sight. Open warfare sparked by Hezbollah and fanned into flames by Israel grows fiercer by the day.

Even with world attention fixed on that particular trouble spot, tensions and violence elsewhere in the region have by no means gone away. Iraq is still there and as problematic as ever. Sectarian violence, especially in Baghdad, approaches the level of civil war. Iran and Syria pose potential difficulties in the Middle East political equation. The former’s president, for example, does not inspire confidence as to his grasp of the world’s realities. Both nations are supplying Lebanon’s Hezbollah with munitions of war – as the United States is supplying Israel, not so incidentally.

The financial costs of Washington’s policies in Iraq alone have brought prognosticators to think in terms of that conflict and all that went with it eventually costing taxpayers as much as one trillion dollars. That is, a dollar sign with the numeral one, followed by twelve zeros!

And the possibilities for serious trouble continue to exist in other parts of the globe. North Korea is a prime example based on evidence as to weapons of mass destruction probably better than that leading to the current Iraq War. Pyongyang aims toward acquiring the weapon of all weapons to go with its rocket program. “Way off in Latin America, the leadership in Cuba, Venezuela, and (on a different level) Mexico pose problems. Two Peruvian guerrilla groups dating back decades still operate in the Andes. Further, much of Africa is in turmoil, facing crushing humanitarian problems, as well as political difficulties.

The list seems endless. Problems, problems.

A further complication – perhaps the obverse of the coin – is that the United States, the only superpower on the globe, finds itself hard up for friends, other than Tony Blair’s Britain, and even he has a shrinking political base. Serious difficulties abound, notably in the Middle East, but as noted not only there, and Washington gives off emanations of futility – of an inability to come effectively to grips with any of these pressing difficulties.

The nation responds accordingly. Among Americans, recent public opinion polls reflect increasing pessimism about the nation and its role on the world scene:

Only one in ten Americans believes the Iraq War has facilitated diplomacy in the Middle East;
less than thirty percent believes staying in Iraq will make the United States safer from terrorism; and
only thirty percent of those polled profess the belief that President Bush has the respect of foreign leaders.

As to Israel, after decades of generally strong American public support, recent polling data suggests that the public now finds itself virtually deadlocked on the question. Thirty-nine percent of Americans, the polls indicated, still back U. S. support for Israel, but forty percent do not.

It seems to this observer that three imperatives stand out in this murky policy jungle:

First, the nation’s involvement on the ground in Iraq must be brought to an end, an early end. Until that eventuates, the United States will be hamstrung, lacking the flexibility of response called for by the manifold challenges the nation faces around the globe. Given that the nation is hardly on a war footing and relies on a relatively small career military, U. S. power can be exerted for whatever purpose only in selected – highly selected – instances. End the Iraq venture; declare victory (in the suggested Vietnam sense of decades ago) and go home.

Second, rebuild or strengthen the Atlantic Alliance, plus the Middle Eastern and South Asian loci of power such as once held forth under the Baghdad Pact. At an absolute minimum, Washington should strive mightily to repair its fences with the original members of NATO. The pact served this nation well in the long struggle against the Soviet Union, and could again, given the will and hard work.

Third, this nation should repair and strengthen its relations with the rest of the world through revitalized interaction with the world community at the United Nations. It is in the interest of no one, neither the United States, the UN bureaucracy, nor the broad spread of the UN’s membership for Washington to isolate itself – or be isolated – from an active role in preserving world peace. Heaven forbid that we have a replay of the League of Nations tragedy!

(Note well that the second and third suggestion above cry out for a strengthened Foreign Service and Department of State in order to bring about the results desired.)

Cut and dried, the above? Unremarkable? Perhaps, but it begins with Iraq, that lingering and festering sore resting squarely on the corpus of U. S. foreign policy. Much could eventuate if the Iraq engagement could be brought to an end.

Editor Henry Mattox

Editor Henry Mattox

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