THREE QUESTIONS FOR THE CANDIDATES
FIRST, A REFLECTION OR TWO
On Monday September 11, 2006, I reflected having been in Manhattan with my wife on September 11, 2001, temporarily lodged in a tiny office-apartment at 27th and Madison, following one of those over-the-top long Island weddings. We were to return to SFO from JFK on United flight 93 a couple of days later.
That day and the following several days in New York were life changing on many levels. If you’ve poked around the “Policy Think Site”, you will have encountered the threads and traces of the 911 Event as it has powerfully influenced my thinking. I was drawn to recall, most vividly, the humanization effect in New York, the efflorescence of flags and candles, the raw openness of everyone you met on the street. Manhattan’s hip, hard edge had been burned away and we were privileged to see the wonderful, tough, compassionate and passionate people living inside the veneer. Union Square became the epicenter of recovery and reconnection. I recalled being in People’s Park in Berkeley, just a short walk from my old law school. Our flag so dishonored and reviled in that earlier time in Berkeley, had become a revered symbol of recovery in Union Square; it was a deeply ecumenical symbol of hope and a better way of life on these mid-September days.
Today, I regret that my party (yes, I’m still one of those rare “Truman democrats”) seems to have completely forgotten 9-11, and its essential lessons.
Of course, Senator Joe Lieberman didn’t forget.
As he wrote in the WASHINGTON POST on Thursday, April 26, 2007, “Last week a series of coordinated suicide bombings killed more than 170 people. The victims were not soldiers or government officials but civilians — innocent men, women and children indiscriminately murdered on their way home from work and school. If such an atrocity had been perpetrated in the United States, Europe or Israel, our response would surely have been anger at the fanatics responsible and resolve not to surrender to their barbarism. Unfortunately, because this slaughter took place in Baghdad, the carnage was seized upon as the latest talking point by advocates of withdrawal here in Washington. Rather than condemning the attacks and the terrorists who committed them, critics trumpeted them as proof that Gen. David Petraeus’s security strategy has failed and that the war is ‘lost.’’
And he went on to write that “Indeed, to the extent that last week’s bloodshed clarified anything, it is that the battle of Baghdad is increasingly a battle against al-Qaeda. Whether we like it or not, al-Qaeda views the Iraqi capital as a central front of its war against us. Al-Qaeda’s strategy for victory in Iraq is clear. It is trying to kill as many innocent people as possible in the hope of reigniting Shiite sectarian violence and terrorizing the Sunnis into submission. In other words, just as Petraeus and his troops are working to empower and unite Iraqi moderates by establishing basic security, al-Qaeda is trying to divide and conquer with spectacular acts of butchery. That is why the suggestion that we can fight al-Qaeda but stay out of Iraq’s “civil war” is specious, since the very crux of al-Qaeda’s strategy in Iraq has been to try to provoke civil war.”
Here’s what I think today:
We are witnessing in the Middle East a real time experiment of sorts. [I say “of sorts” because the situation was not intended as an experiment.]
Unfolding before our discerning eyes, are side by side examples: a supervised proto-democracy (Iraq) and an unsupervised proto-democracy (Palestine).
In each situation, nascent democratic forces cling precariously to the possibility of self governance. In both cases, the nascent democratic forces are under attack by anti-democratic, pro-Islamist elements that are committed to strangle any liberal Western-style democratic “startup” in the cradle.
The supervised proto-democracy in Iraq is functioning at the core centers of governance and effectively controls most of the provinces in the territory. Decisions by democratically selected officials are made every week determining the allocation of resources and — with difficulty to be sure — about stetting out the future allocation of power relationships, the balance between federalism and central control.
The unsupervised democracy (Palestine) is paralyzed between competing factions, neither or which are capable of governing, agreeing on the control of security forces or even on the proper relationship to its immediate neighbor, Israel.
The supervised democracy of Iraq has the undisputed sovereign power to expel its supervisors, principally the US. But wisely, its current leaders, at least for now, would like us to stay.
Of course there are two sharp contrasts:
(1) Scale: Iraq is 25 million people over a very large area (169 thousand square miles – about twice Idaho’s area) while Palestine is 3.4 million people in a smaller area, 10 thousand square miles;
(2) Natural resources: Iraq produces about 2.5 million barrels of oil per day (now above the pre-invasion number) and has proven reserves of 115 billion barrels, second in the world after Saudi Arabia (with the prospect of 330 billion) while Palestine (like Israel) is without major natural resources.
Iraq is such a ferocious battleground precisely because the Bush strategic objective was sound. While the execution of W’s “strategery” was under-resourced, poorly marketed and ineptly carried out, especially in the critical first 14 months following Saddam’s removal, it was profoundly threatening to the nascent jihad against the West. It was and is a lunge at the very jugular vein of the Islamist challenge to the West. The possibility of a nearby rising democracy friendly to the US continues to buy us time with Iran. We are in fact using the time to employ a mix of “soft power” (consisting of overt and covert economic sanctions, diplomacy – essentially a cover for the former) and the prospect of hard power (everyone knows that if we decide we can do without Iranian Oil, we can simply reduce that country’s military and clerical elite to homeless refugees in a sea of radioactive ashes).
We are setting the stage for regime change in Iran. This is a race against time, during which the Iranian nuclear bomb program will proceed apace. We really don’t want to invade Iran directly because the nationalist backlash might scuttle any chance of a quasi-secular rebellion prevailing against the hard line mullahs, but we really can’t wait until the existing regime mates a Hiroshima sized weapon with a mid range missile.
Someone should be asking the democratic candidates three questions:
(1) Would the US be better off if Iraq slips into the Palestinian model of ungoverned development?
(2) Why wouldn’t our “redeployment” even to some base arrangement close by lead to just that outcome?
(3) What should be the US response to Iran if/when “soft power” fails to dissuade the regime from acquiring a deliverable A-bomb?
I think I know the answer that Giuliani, McCain or Romney would give. I fear I know the answer from Clinton, Obama or Edwards.
Be alert. Stay tuned….