Neocons: Alive and itching for war
By Ehsan M Ahrari
If you thought that the American neoconservatives (aka "chicken hawks") of the George W Bush administration - persons who brought us the Iraqi invasion based on a mission to destroy the imaginary arsenal of weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussain was hiding - you would be wrong. They are very much alive and are coming back through cyberspace and the airways trashing President Barack Obama's handling of Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. When they are reminded of the atrocious mess originally created in Afghanistan and Iraq by Bush and these very same neocons, they deny this linkage and then quickly proceed with their warmongering rhetoric.
The neocons' palpable penchant for war - as long as someone else's son or daughter is going to die in it - has rightly earned
them the pejorative depiction "chicken hawks." Their proclivities are very much alive; they are itching for another war.
In their thinking, the United States has had a profound record of creating a post-World War II global order in such a way that it also has benefitted from the economic interests and freedoms of the countries of East Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, while successfully containing the USSR. The American economy was robust enough to bankroll its ambitious global containment agenda, and its military was powerful enough to proffer security guarantees to its allies via NATO and other security arrangements in Asia.
Despite the global economic meltdown of 2008 and its deleterious impact on the economic capabilities of Washington to dominate the world by using its economic muscles, the neocons believe that such an assessment toward the future course of American foreign policy is nothing more than a manifestation of defeatist thinking. They continue to attach an inordinate significance to the fact that America remains peerless in the realm of military power; thus, no conflict is either too intricate or cumbersome to be resolved by the United States, if it becomes serious enough to do so.
Such a conclusion does not match the realities of America's handling of the Iraqi imbroglio between 2004 and 2007, where it was almost defeated by the uncoordinated attacks from a ragtag gathering of insurgents, Islamists, former Ba'athists, and simply pissed-off Iraqis. By the same token, the neocons are proven wrong when one considers the fact that as the Obama administration is getting ready to leave Afghanistan, the Taliban forces continue to pose as the greatest threat to the security of that country and for the very survival of its government.
The fact that the decision to invade Iraq was a colossal mistake made on the basis of a series of lies and exaggerations by top US officials, the cavalier lies emanated from the CIA that the conquest of Iraq would be a "slam dunk," the United States did not have many friends, even among its European allies, and the ouster of the United States from Iraq was anything but a "victory," still did not faze these neocons.
Eyes wide open
The American people sheepishly accepted the proposition - without making any courageous declarations about it - that their country's image as an "exceptional country" and a moralistic power had been tarnished forever. The loudmouth neocons entered private lives of luxury and wrote books about their contentious roles in humiliating their country, accepted lucrative jobs on the boards various banks or think tanks, and damaged their reputations. Since none of them suffered any personal loss or was sent to jail for advocating and supporting an illegal war that almost resulted in a humiliating defeat of the United States, they were only waiting for an appropriate moment to crawl out from their holes to discuss the present state of violence in Iraq or to reenter the government payroll in the next Republican government.
But why have these neocons surfaced now to criticize Obama's foreign policy in the Middle East - which has kept the United States out of the endless wars of the days of the Bush administration when the neocons' hubristic and swashbuckling thinking was the basis of Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?
Quite simply, it is the quintessential dog-eat-dog contest for winning high viewer ratings among the various media outlets - especially by a variety of Sunday "talk shows" - to create "news" from controversial statements of former officials that forced them to seek these neocons out for the purpose of criticizing President Obama's realistic assessment of not jumping into the Iraqi conflict "with eyes wide open," and, before that, his decision not to conduct military operations in Syria.
The neocons' charge is that Obama is about to "lose" Iraq. Well, Iraq was never America's to begin with. So, any argument along that line is an unadulterated manifestation of a Cold War-related conceited frame of mind which still dominates the frame of reference of almost all neoconservatives.
When they are reminded that the horrible mess that Afghanistan and Iraq have become today was created under their watch during the Bush administration, they dismissively change the subject by saying "there is no need to over-indulge in the past."
There is Dick Cheney, President George W Bush's former Vice President, who has been pontificating recently about the collapse of the so-called Obama doctrine and criticizing the President by quoting some unnamed allied official from West Asia (presumably Saudi Arabia or the UAE) who asked him during a visit to that region, "Can you please explain what your president is doing?" "Why is he walking away?" "Why is he so blithely sacrificing the hard fought gains you secured in Iraq?" "Why is he abandoning your friends?" "Why is he doing deals with your enemies?" Cheney falsely accuses Obama for "ushering America's adversaries into position of power in the Middle East. First it was the Russians in Syria. Now, in a move that defies credulity, he toys with the idea of ushering Iran into Iraq."
Paul Bremer, who served as George W Bush's "viceroy" in post-Saddam Iraq - and who is notorious for disbanding Saddam's army and disallowing employment for anyone who held membership in the Ba'ath Party during the reign of Saddam Hussein - expressed his ignorance in the Wall Street Journal by stating, "It is time for both American political parties to cease their ritualistic incantations of 'no boots on the ground,' which is not the same as 'no combat forces.'" Before one can even mildly consider Bremer's "words of wisdom," it is worth recalling that if the birth of Iraq's insurgency could be linked to any two actions, they would be the aforementioned ones most ignorantly implemented by Bremer himself in 2003.
Paul Wolfowitz, Bush's Deputy Secretary of Defense and the erstwhile architect of the Iraq war, is another neocon who decided to emerge from his cocoon at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington. His moment of shame was his 2003 congressional testimony in which he attempted to belittle General Eric Shinseki's professional assessment of the size of peacekeeping forces that were required to rebuild Iraq. Wolfowitz is also on the record for noting in 2003 that Iraqi civilians would welcome US troops, and stated that there was no history of ethnic strife in Iraq like there was in Kosovo or Bosnia. In a recent appearance on Meet the Press, he once again publicized his ignorance by observing that the current conflict in Iraq "is more than just an obscure Shia/Sunni conflict. This is al-Qaeda."
A brief mention should also be made of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, whose commitment to Bush's obsession to invade Iraq in 2003 was so profound that he was referred to as "Bush's poodle." Since stepping down from that job, Blair has been preoccupied with making money. He has been doing that by shamelessly taking up any project that would make him money, including advising dictators of West Asia and Kazakhstan. Blair is as determined to deny the enormous damage the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq did to that region as are his American neocon counterparts.
In a recent Financial Times opinion piece, Blair wrote:
I am not seeking to persuade people about the decision in 2003. I am trying to convince them that the fundamental challenge is not the product of that decision or indeed the decision in Syria. It is a challenge of immense complexity that has not originated in anything we have done since this challenge burst fully on to our consciousness after the attacks of September 11 2001.
Listening to the recent babbling of these American neocons, it becomes apparent that they neither have been able to absorb the overall meaning of the profound changes that the tsunami of social media has created - especially since the onslaught of the Arab Awakening - nor have they comprehended how those changes have restrained the US capabilities to influence or shape events in the Arab world. In a general sense, it is safe to say that those changes have placed the entire post-World War II status quo on short notice.
The monarchies of the Middle East are becoming increasingly nervous about ways to prolong their respective rules, but have no clue about how to achieve that ostensibly unattainable goal. The remaining autocrats of that region are quietly hoping that when the end of their regime comes, they do not meet the fate of Muammar Gaddafi.
Changing hierarchy of power
The international hierarchy of power has been undergoing the palpably steady process of transformation, since the global economic meltdown of 2008. The increasingly turbulent nature of world politics is such that no one power can influence world events the way the United States (with the cooperation of a number of "great powers") did after World War II. Since 2008, even the Group of 8 or the Group of 7 (now that Russia has been kicked out of the G-8 recently) lost much of the weightiness of its earlier years. Now, when the heads of the G-7 nations meet to debate the heady issue of our times, they barely make the front pages of newspapers in countries that are not part of that group.
Presently, the G-20 countries - a gathering of a number of rising nations of East Asia, South Asia, and Africa, along with members of the G-8 and the EU - are given considerable attention by the international community. Members of BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa - are also getting more attention from global opinion makers. To be sure, of all the countries of BRICS, the only real economic power is China, which appears to be a "peer competitor" of the United States.
The global economic institutions are still with us; however, there are growing demands for bringing about a palpable change in that order. According to one recent report by Al Jezeera America, "The BRICS nations - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - are reportedly close to finalizing their long-awaited development bank and currency reserve, each valued at $100 billion, in what has been billed as a historic challenge by the world's emerging economies to a global financial architecture that has been dominated by the US. and Western Europe since its post- World War II inception."
President Barack Obama seems to have recognized the true nature of these global changes and is suitably attempting to adjust America's foreign policy. In his speech at the US. Army's West Point Academy on May 28, 2014, he said:
Here's my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don't, no one else will. The military that you have joined is, and always will be, the backbone of that leadership. But US. military action cannot be the only - or even primary - component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail.
That is a realistic assessment of global realities confronting the United States today. However, that statement cannot (and should not) be even remotely interpreted as America's contemplation to retire from its global responsibilities. On the contrary, the Obama administration is busy creating thoughtful policy momentums in different regions of the world that are aimed at enforcing the primacy, if not the centrality, of the United States. For instance, the "Asia Pivot" strategy speaks volumes about the new way of coalescing to assert America's import in the Asia-Pacific, where the thundering rise of the PRC is sending shivers down the spines of its many neighbors.
Obama has correctly realized that the constantly escalating uncertainties of the Middle East and the rise of the Islamist groups have lessened America's erstwhile king-making power. Even previously minor allies of that region - Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf sheikhdoms - are adopting foreign policies of their own that are palpably divergent from that of the United States. However, the incessant process of fine-tuning America's foreign policy continues. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE are attempting to bring to power Islamist elements that are friendly to them. However, the United States' criteria for picking a partner to support is not Islamism but Islamic moderation, a very difficult concept to find in the rising tide of Islamist extremism, but is still there for the purpose of coalescing. This very reality makes it difficult to create specific policy responses and an even longer time to implement them.
But why do the neocons still appear to prefer military action in Iraq and Syria? The general hunger for creating controversy on the part of the American media provides those has-beens a platform for airing their vacuous views. All reasonable persons already know that the rhetoric to bomb Iraq or Syria or to send troops to Iraq has been militarily unworkable for a variety of reasons. In the case of the use of the US Air Force, the high potential for civilian casualties will do nothing to popularize the United States in Iraq.
The option of using the US Special Forces is similarly out of the question. Those types of operations, like the use of air force sorties, are useful only with the availability of a constant stream of good ground intelligence, which is pretty much an anathema in Iraq. By the same token, the insertion of military troops will be interpreted easily as just another phase of America's occupation of Iraq and any presence of American forces will serve as a feast for the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) to escalate the instances of its suicide attacks.
Even the notion of arming the anti-Assad elements in Syria is also enormously fluid and confusing for US officials. No one wants to recreate the situation of arming the Mujahideen as the US did in the 1980s. Today's Islamists - most of them anyway - are sworn enemies of the United States. Finding "moderate" Islamists remains highly problematic, because these various groups are constantly changing their allegiances. Another obdurate problem before Obama is that security in Syria and Iraq has been so intertwined.
The United States is faced with the difficult task of saving a highly unpopular government in Iraq. The disintegration of the military apparatus of that country, assiduously prepared by the American military during its occupation days, has systematically been victimized by the self-serving and intensely sectarian-based governing style of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It was that governing style that made it easy for the Sunni part of the Iraqi forces to join ISIS, thereby making their military drive toward Baghdad quite impressive. The pro-Saddam elements of the old Iraqi forces are also reported to have been part of the ISIS forces ever since the American troops left Iraq in 2009.
Even though Secretary of State John Kerry visited al-Maliki, that visit has left America's problem of dealing with him at least as complex as it was before that visit. Surprisingly, the United States is not snapping up the opportunity to let Iran deal with the security situation in Iraq and focus on working with Iran to find a substitute for al-Maliki - a candidate acceptable to both the Sunnis and the Kurds.
The neocons, despite the strident pitch of their criticism of President Obama's handling of Syria and Iraq, are in no position to influence US policies toward those countries. At best, they will remain a minor nuisance while the American media continues to provide them a podium. Perhaps the best statement about what kind of fate some of the most visible neocons of the Bush administration should meet was made on The Thom Hartmann Program when someone observed, "Dick Cheney should be rotting in the Hague in a prison cell not writing editorials for the Wall Street Journal."
Dr Ehsan Ahrari ([email protected]) is CEO of Strategic Paradigms, Defense and Foreign Affairs Consultancy.