Thursday, April 13, 2006

Tehran Calls Bush's Bluff

Writing in the Atlantic Monthly on the conundrum facing Washington over Tehran’s now completely explicit plans to acquire nuclear weapons, James Fallows points out what should be perfectly obvious to everyone outside the Bush White House and its hosanna chorus: Bush’s messianic, Wilsonian-idealist foreign policy has put the US in an impossible situation relative to thwarting Iranian nuclear ambitions and severely weakened America’s hand in the Middle East.

The inconvenient truth of American foreign policy is that the last five years have left us with a series of choices—and all of them are bad. The United States can’t keep troops in Iraq indefinitely, for obvious reasons. It can’t withdraw them, because of the chaos that would ensue. The United States can’t keep prisoners at Guantánamo Bay (and other overseas facilities) indefinitely, because of international and domestic challenges. But it can’t hastily release them, since many were and more have become terrorists. And it can’t even bring them to trial, because of procedural abuses that have already occurred. Similarly, the United States can’t accept Iran’s emergence as a nuclear power, but it cannot prevent this through military means—unless it is willing to commit itself to all-out war. The central flaw of American foreign policy these last few years has been the triumph of hope, wishful thinking, and self-delusion over realism and practicality. Realism about Iran starts with throwing out any plans to bomb.

The ludicrous quest to create – ex Nihilo – a democratic state in a culture that has never produced or sustained a democracy has proven a dismal, bloody failure. It has drained the US treasury, squandered the lives of US soldiers, badly over-stretched the US military and made the US forces vulnerable to attack, thus constraining US options. Worse, it has all but handed Tehran the means to create a loyal Shiite vassal state in Iraq. The dreadful extent of the administration’s foreign policy debacle is immediately obvious to America’s enemies, and is beginning to dawn on America’s political class – even those still vaguely smitten with Bush’s fake brand of conservatism. Meanwhile, Russia, China and Islamists everywhere continue to advance their agendas through ruthless realpolitik, perfectly willing to use America’s new insistence on democracy to their advantage wherever possible.


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