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FANTASIES OF THE 'REALISTS'
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
December 26, 2005

December 26, 2005 -- IF the polls are any indica tion, President Bush's re cent rhetorical offensive managed to stem the tide of opposition against his Iraq policy. But the debate on the future course of U.S. foreign policy is likely to intensify until November's midterm elections.

This debate is focused on a few key questions: Is the Bush Doctrine dead? Has the United States, chastised in Afghanistan and Iraq, decided to move beyond "neoconservatism"? If so, what new doctrine should guide U.S. foreign policy?

Such questions are all the rage in foreign-policy circles, especially in the scores of think tanks that provide a veritable industry of intellectual speculation — often racing to meet the dictates of public opinion, which is presumed to be turning against the Bush project.

Yet much of this debate revolves around two assumptions rarely tested against reality: first, that America has failed in Afghanistan and Iraq; second, that America can change foreign policy as we lesser mortals change our shirts.

Both assumptions are false.

To show that America has failed in Afghanistan and Iraq, one needs a yardstick against which success or failure is measured: In what way has the United States failed in those two countries?

America intervened in both Afghanistan and Iraq with the aim of changing the regimes in Kabul and Baghdad, a goal it achieved with remarkable speed.

The machinery of terror and war built and maintained by the Taliban and the Ba'ath has been shattered. And whatever happens in Afghanistan and Iraq, one thing is certain: Mullah Muhammad Omar and Saddam Hussein won't return to power.

In both nations, the remnants of the terrorist regimes, now joined by their ideological kindred from elsewhere, still wage a vicious war, mostly against civilians. But neither country is a safe haven for terrorists plotting attacks against other nations, including the United States.

Critics might say that the aim of the intervention was to transform Afghanistan and Iraq into modern democracies. True — yet any judgment on the success of such projects must take into account the element of time. No, Afghanistan and Iraq are not Swiss-like democracies at this precise moment in time. Both may suffer years, if not decades, of violence and terror.

The real question is whether Afghanistan and Iraq would have had any chance of even a democratic dream under Mullah Omar and Saddam.

If the sole yardstick for determining a nation's success or failure were to be its ability to contain and then eliminate terrorism, many nations other than Afghanistan and Iraq would also have to be listed as failures.

Telling the future should be left to soothsayers, but one thing is certain: The region's democratic forces now have their first opportunity in generations to make a real impact. Their last chance to set the agenda was early last century, when constitutional movements triumphed in Iran and the Ottoman Empire.

Today, these democratic forces may fail because of their mistakes, or be defeated by Islamist and secular despotic opponents. But they also have a chance to win. And that — as seen from the United States, which should be supportive of democratic forces everywhere — is certainly a success.

On to the second assumption — that America can change its foreign policy at will and instantly.

There are those who preach a return to the bankrupt hodgepodge that Henry Kissinger sold to the Americans under the label of realpolitik for almost a decade. But would Osama bin Laden or Abu-Mussab al-Zarqawi agree to play the role of Brezhnev in a new version of détente? Would the remnants of the Taliban, al Qaeda and the Ba'ath learn the Treaty of Westphalia by heart and play their roles in a new balance of power scripted by good old Henry?

In a recent long article, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, attempts to offer a new "doctrine," implicitly to replace the Bush Doctrine. But all that Haass ends up with is an admission that the United States won't be safe as long as there are despotic regimes likely to breed and then sustain terrorism.

Also looking for a new "doctrine" is Francis Fukuyama. Fukuyama first won fame by announcing the end of history and thus the superfluity of any foreign-policy doctrine. More than a decade later, he offers a new book — "America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy" — in which he returns deep into the history of the last century to find an alternative to the Bush Doctrine. He labels this "Wilsonian realism" — after President Woodrow Wilson, who first brought hopes of democracy to the Middle East in the aftermath of World War I.

Now, even in periods of isolationism, U.S. foreign policy has always had a certain Wilsonian accent — in the sense that American policymakers were aware that democracies were unlikely to provoke wars and that any threat to the United States came from despotic regimes.

Why does Fukuyama need the adjective "realistic" to make his Wilsonianism credible? Because Wilson made a lot of promises on which he failed to deliver. His idealism appealed to oppressed people everywhere — but his failure to back it with action brought death and desolation on a vast scale to numerous nations across the globe.

The only realistic version of Wilsonianism is the Bush Doctrine — which, put starkly, is prepared to back words with deeds in the context of enlightened self-interest. The spread of democracy is good for American safety and security, not to mention trade and economic interests. And it is also good for nations that wish to enter the mainstream of global life.

By both choice and necessity, the United States during the Cold War on occasion acted against character by supporting despots. But the context then was a global power struggle against the Soviet bloc; that justification is no more. Bush seems to have understood this. And that, whether Kissinger, Haass and Fukuyama like it or not, is the most realistic matrix for American foreign policy in the 21st century.

Iranian author Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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