You know there’s trouble ahead when Iraq, in its present state, is the good news story for Bush Administration policy. While various civilian and military officials from the President on down have been talking up “success” in Iraq and beating the rhetorical war drums vis-a-vis Iran, much of the remainder of foreign policy in what the neocons used to call “the arc of instability” began to thoroughly unravel.
In the Horn of Africa, US-backed Ethiopian troops are bogged down in a disastrous occupation of the Somali capital, harried by a growing Islamist insurgency. Despite endless shuttle diplomacy by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the administration’s Middle East peace conference, to be held at Annapolis, is already being dismissed as a failure before the first official invitations are issued. Meanwhile, the Turks are driving the administration to distraction by threatening to invade and destabilize the only moderately successful part of the new Iraq, its Kurdish region (while the Iraqi government in Baghdad calls on Iran for help in the crisis).
Russian President Vladimir Putin recently landed in Tehran and brazenly indicated that any US attack on Iran would be considered an attack on Russia. He then convened a local “mini-summit” and formed a regional Caspian Sea-based alliance with Iran and three energy-rich former SSRs of the departed Soviet Union implicitly directed against the United States and its local allies. On the day Secretary of State Rice announced new, tough sanctions against the Iranians, Putin commented pointedly: “Why worsen the situation by threatening sanctions and bring it to a dead end? It’s not the best way to resolve the situation by running around like a madman with a razor blade in his hand.”
Meanwhile, one country to the east, the resurgent Taliban has, against all predictions, just captured a third district in Western Afghanistan near the Iranian border–and, as the most recent devastating suicide bomb indicates, attacks are spreading north. And then, of course, there’s the President’s greatest ally in the Muslim world, Pakistan’s ruler Pervez Musharraf.
Remember Bush’s nightmare scenario, the one that guaranteed a surefire “preventive” attack from his administration: an autocratic and oppressive ruler with weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear ones, presiding over a country that functionally offers a safe haven for terrorists? Well, that’s now Pakistan, whose security forces are busily jailing hundreds of lawyers, while the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and extremist Islamists, well armed and backed by their own radio stations broadcasting calls for jihad, are moving out of safe havens in the tribal areas along the Afghan border and into Pakistan proper to fight. And there’s essentially nothing the administration can do, except mouth platitudes and look the other way. As Paul Woodward of the War in Context website has pointed out: When it comes to nuclear Iran and nuclear Pakistan, we have been living in “a Through-the-Looking-Glass world where nuclear weapons that do exist are less dangerous than those that can be imagined.” Now, not much imagination is needed at all.
Strangely, from Ethiopia to Pakistan, despite all the signs, all the predictions, the Bush Administration, as far as we can tell, expected none of the above. How often can it be caught off guard by the consequences of its own decisions and actions? Eternally, it seems. The possible collapse of the President’s foreign policy across the entire arc of instability was first written about by the always prescient Juan Cole at Salon.com. He commented that, “like a drunken millionaire gambling away a fortune at a Las Vegas casino, the Bush administration squandered all the assets it began with by invading Iraq and unleashing chaos in the Gulf.” And he ventured a prediction: “The thunder of the bomb [that blew up as former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto returned home] in Karachi and the Turkish shells in Iraqi Kurdistan may well be the sound of Bush losing his ‘war on terror.'” Over at TPM Cafe, Todd Gitlin was the first to offer a wry, if grim, suggestion, as he considered Bush’s “failure to crush the Taliban & Co.” from Tora Bora 2001 on. “Talk about dominos,” he wrote. “How about this for a Democratic slogan: Who Lost Pakistan?”
With the price of crude oil threatening to hit $100 a barrel and prices at the pump surging over $3 a gallon domestically–while, on the nightly news, experts mutter about oil at $150 a barrel and gas at $4 a gallon by next summer–a meltdown might be in the works. Invaded and occupied Iraq, like some festering sore, remains at the heart of this spreading disaster, the end of which is nowhere in sight. The US military, the sole instrument with which Bush’s top officials and his neocon followers imagined they could launch their “expeditionary” sorties around the globe, as if they were so many nineteenth-century British imperialists, has proved incapable of responding to such an essentially political situation. The President might as well be using a hammer to ward off gnats. No wonder, as retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel and historian of early twentieth century Germany William Astore made clear recently, the military and right-wing politicians are already preparing their own exit strategies in the form of stab-in-the-back explanations of what happened that will shift all responsibility from them to the American people. As he puts it: “Is it possible that our own version of this [myth], associated with Vietnam, enabled an even greater disaster in Iraq? And, if so, what could the next version of the stab-in-the-back bring in its wake? Only time will tell. But consider yourself warned. If we lose Iraq, you’re to blame.”