Monday, March 20, 2006
Post-Iraq American Foreign Policy
The Bush administration has embarked on yet another public relations campaign to bolster public support for its Iraq policy. This is not surprising in light of a recent Washington Post poll which shows that two-thirds of Americans believe that the administration has no coherent strategy for successfully ending its presence in Iraq. Administration officials continue to present their Iraq policy in sober, optimistic terms. They dismiss the widely-held view that Iraq is in the midst of a low-grade civil war. Vice-President Dick Cheney said yesterday of insurgents in Iraq, "What we've seen is a serious effort by them to foment civil war, but I don't think they've been successful." The inaccuracy of this position is obvious to all but the most partisan of Bush supporters. However, it is difficult to see how the administration could present things otherwise. After all, public opinion ratings rarely surge after admissions of incompetence. Also, the President’s place in history will depend largely upon the fate of American involvement there. Yet vital questions arise in the wake of this continued, almost surreal insistence that things are much better than they seem. For, though the Bushies are stubborn in their refusal to face (or at least publicly acknowledge) the fact that Iraq will likely go down as a substantial foreign policy blunder, eventually the Republican Party will distance itself from this policy. In fact, with mid-term elections approaching in the autumn, many Congressional Republicans have begun to do just this. It is still unclear, however, what direction Republican foreign policy goals will take. Has neo-conservatism, the intellectual wellspring of the American invasion, been permanently discredited? Will American voters draw back from the Jacksonian, assertive nationalism that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld espouse? One recent opinion poll indicates that Americans are more inclined to a less active foreign policy at any time since the end of the Vietnam War. Is this a temporary trend or something more permanent? What will come of Democratic foreign policy? By adopting Wilsonian language (after the fact) of spreading freedom to justify the invasion of Iraq, the President has stolen a traditional foreign policy theme from his Democratic counterparts. They have yet to articulate a coherent, post-September 11 foreign policy. Finally, what direction will America’s Middle East policy take? Oil, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Iran, to name just a few issues, will ensure that the Middle East remains a central concern for American policy makers. Failure to ensure a stable Iraq will have important repercussions for all of these issues. Yet no one has begun to even speculate as to what American foreign policy will take if Iraq does, in fact, descend into full-scale civil war. It is far too soon to offer answers to these questions, and Iraq may, against the odds, emerge as a stable state. However, this looks unlikely, and America needs to begin to plan for a substantially destabilized Middle East. The sooner that the Democratic and Republican Parties comprehend this the sooner they can begin to plan for what will likely be America’s next great foreign policy challenge.