Iraq is not about fighting terrorism

by Paolo von Schirach

August 2, 2007

WASHINGTON – Not knowing exactly what kind of problem one is dealing with does not help in devising the best way to resolve it. The worst aspect of the present American predicament characterized by the interminable bleeding in Iraq and the ongoing fight against terrorist groups inspired by Islamic radicalism is in the inability or unwillingness on the part of the administration to correctly and properly describe to America and to the world that we are involved in two qualitatively different fights. Iraq and the fight against terror are separate problems that require different methods and different solutions. They are not one and the same thing, as it has been claimed all along.

However late it may be, America should come to terms with reality and say that the mess in Iraq, strong al Qaeda’s presence there notwithstanding, is not the main theater in the conflict against Islamic fundamentalism. Frankly it never was. By the same token, even assuming complete pacification in Iraq, including the destruction of al Qaeda in Iraq, we shall still have to deal with all the other Islamic terrorists spread around the world. So, the White House should stop saying that Iraq is the main theater in the war against Islamic fundamentalism. The imported radicals, the real instigators of al Qaeda in Iraq, constitute a major added complication in this conflict.

However, they are not the main drivers of what has emerged as a sectarian conflict. Granted, al Qaeda thrives in this conflict. It has done its best to deepen it. But, looking at Iraq in context, we see what has always been an artificial state now torn by powerful centrifugal forces. These forces have been unleashed by the trauma and ensuing chaos brought about by a poorly planned US invasion.

The idea of a strong connection between Saddam and terrorism, (documented by some instances of support for terrorists groups by the dictatorship), was trumpeted before the invasion as a handy (in the jumpy post 9/11 psychological climate) justification to get rid of Saddam Hussein. But now that we know that none of this was true, we should stop misrepresenting the attempt to pacify Iraq as part as a crucial chapter in the “war on terror”.

We know what was said (and maybe believed) at the time. The invasion of Iraq of 2003 was aimed at preventing, (so it was said at the time), the potential collusion between a dictator who supposedly had (we thought then) weapons of mass destruction, WMDs, and terrorists who might have used those weapons against us. A potential, although sketchy, doomsday scenario from possibility graduated to a certainty. It was labelled an imminent danger that required immediate, drastic action via “regime change.”

The affirmation that Saddam, the friend of the terrorists, had to be removed to prevent WMDs from falling into the wrong hands might have been tenable at the very beginning, when there was almost unanimous certainty that the fall of the regime would have yielded stockpiles of WMDs and plenty of documentary evidence of strong ties between Saddam and terrorist groups. But when, very early in the game, when it became obvious to all that this was not the case, it was incumbent on the administration to quickly admit its mistake. It should have changed focus and tone and proclaim to the world that –even without the Saddam-terrorists connection– the liberation of Iraq from its dictator was still a worthwhile endeavor and that the international community could take a large role in aiding the Iraqis to find a better, hopefully more just, future.

But this did not happen. Instead, the arrival of al Qaeda in Iraq, along with assorted foreign fighters, made possible by the post invasion chaos, gave the administration the wonderful opportunity to square the circle. The White House could say that the strong presence of al Qaeda in Iraq, along with documents showing the strategic relevance of the fight in Iraq in al Qaeda’s new masterplan, proved conclusively what had been said all along by the administration: “The invasion of Iraq was absolutely necessary in the ongoing fight against terrorism”. This is either cinically disingenous manipulation, or the result of being blindsided by one’s own rigid preconceptions.

By insisting that Iraq is mostly about the al Qaeda brand of terrorism, (terrorist methods are used also in the ongoing brutal sectarian violence), the administration has created its own reality that is not supported by the facts. This inability or unwillingness to admit error has created deep divisions at home and abroad. The consequences of the confusion created by the mislabeling of the conflict in Iraq are visible in the acrimonious debates began by those who would like us to leave, precisely because they see the conflict as primarily internal sectarian strife, not truly tied to the larger issue of our global fight against fundamentalism.

It is a serious matter when policy positions result from totally different definitions of the facts on the ground. It would appear that proponents and opponents of withdrawal are looking at different countries. The confused political debate in Washington is in large part the outcome of confused analysis. And the administration, being in charge of all policies, should have the primary responsibility to provide an accurate assessment of the dynamics on the ground.

Indeed, while al Qaeda is indeed there and needs to be dealt with, the primary mission in Iraq is to pacify a country torn by sectarian violence. Even assuming total victory against al Qaeda in Iraq, Iraq’s problems would not be settled. Whereas, in the administration’s rhetoric, there are constant pronouncements about Iraq as the key theater in the “war on terror” (i.e. the ongoing struggle to degrade transnational cells of radical ideologues who claim to follow a strict interpretation of Islam).

This clearly misrepresents the broader scenario of a diffuse threat coming from a transnational movement of violent radicals residing in various countries, willing and maybe capable to plot more attack against the US. Whatever happens in Iraq, this threat will continue and we shall have to deal with it.

Whereas, in trying to shore up support for the continuing commitment in Iraq, the administration repeats ad nauseam that “we fight them there so that we do not have to fight them here”. Now, in light of the above, this idea is highly questionable, if not entirely silly. This notion implies that all or most our terrorist enemies are currently in Iraq. Thus, as long as they are engaged in combat against our troops, they cannot mount a threat against the US mainland. But, although it is true that since 9/11 we have not been attcaked, it cannot be proven that this is because we are fighting the terrorists in Iraq.

Indeed, the fact that we have not suffered another attack since 9/11 in no way demonstrates that the Iraq engagement has prevented anything new to happen. Unfortunately, we do know that it takes only a handful of determined individuals willing to engage in suicide missions to bring about a great deal of damage in the US mainland. This is after all what we learnt from 9/11 and similar plots and attacks in other countries. So, the notion that, “as long as we keep them all pinned down in Iraq, we are safe here at home”, is preposterous. No doubt, we are engaging some dangerous radicals in Iraq; but there are plenty more around the world, as many attacks against targets in Europe and elsewhere have proven.

This notion of “bringing the fight to them so that they do not bring it to us” would be dubious even in the case that the fight in Iraq were indeed all about al Qaeda and affiliates. But it is even more implausible, as this is not the case. As we know, official rhetoric notwithstanding, US forces in Iraq have multiple missions. The key one right now, (whatever the chances of eventual success), is about reducing sectarian violence. This is what they are trying to accomplish. Iraq is now mostly a civil war, with al Qaeda –granted– playing a significant, disruptive role. But this conflict is by no means primarily about al Qaeda. As this is obvious to almost everybody, it would do the country and the world a lot of good for the administration to stop affirming what is patently wrong. 

Thus, it would help both national and international public opinion to state clearly that at this time we are dealing with two separate problems in the global arena: a) how to create a modicum of self-sustaining security in Iraq; b) how to prevent (through good intelligence, secret services and special forces) more terror attacks around the world, while defusing the appeal of Islamic radicalism that seems to be the incubator of almost all terrorist groups. Of course, in Iraq, there is some degree of overlap, at least in some areas. But, again, let us rememeber that we did not go into Iraq to fight al Qaeda. al Qaeda could get established in Iraq mostly thanks to the total collapse of order. It is not the expression of a strong, deeply rooted indigenous political culture grounded on Islamic fundamentalism.

(This does not mean, as most opponents of the invasion claim, that the war in Iraq is a really a horribly expensive distraction that has prevented us from focusing on the main threat. For this reason we should excuse ourselves and leave as soon as possible. Unfortunately, whatever the errors that have led us into Iraq, now that we have turned it upside down, before leaving we have to be very clear as to what is that we want to leave behind. Mistake or no mistake, until domestic Iraqi forces can reliably ensure a modicum of security and some kind of institutional viability, “we own” Iraq and we have a crucial responsibility for not making a bad situation worse both internally and externally).

So, let us establish some distinctions between the broad strategic issue of Islamic fanaticism and how to recreate security in Iraq after the mess we created by removing a dictator who, whatever his horrible methods, certainly had found a way to enforce a brutal order.

This may not help much in the short term; but no doubt a correct definition of the problem we are facing is a precondition for the elaboration of relevant solutions. So, however late it may be, let’s at least establish correctly what we are dealing with and have a debate based on facts rather than slogans.




America Addicted to Oil?

by Paolo von Schirach

June 7, 2007

WASHINGTON – President George Bush admonished America to shake its “addiction to oil”. Still, judging by the remedies that he proposes, it would appear that this amounts to a rather minor issue, something like being addicted to chocolate. “You know, too many calories, cut down a little”. Judging by what George Bush proposes, this is an issue, something to worry a bit about; but hardly a matter that requires drastic changes now –and certainly not an emergency.

In truth, we do not have an oil emergency, in the strict sense of the word. For the time being, we have high prices, largely due to increased global demand. However, in some measure, current high prices are also the result of decreased output not due to oil depletion but to political problems, that is non economic reasons. Economic sanctions against Iran and consequent under-investments in the oil sector and the continuing mess in Iraq are examples of how political turmoil causes cuts in production, thus contributing to higher prices.

And here we begin to see the nature of our problem. What are we going to do in case supply is not just diminished because of political turmoil here and there (this is our current predicament); but drastically cut due to a major crisis? Nobody really knows. Our addiction is serious. We produce only 30 to 35 per cent of the oil we consume. We have created a situation in which uncontrollable contingencies (political events or natural disasters) can instantly transform our dependence/addiction to oil into a real emergency.

(I am purposely sidestepping here any discussion about global warming concerns that should drive us to dramatically lower our carbon consumption, because of the dire environmental consequences of greenhouse gases. Global warming is a valid concern; but it is a much more complex issue, requiring multiple interventions and concerted international action at many levels over a number of years in order to produce results in terms reduced emissions. The focus here is exclusively on coming to recognize that our strategic vulnerability requires drastic measures to cut consumption now).

Even the superficially informed know that we import a lot of oil from unstable regions of the world. Yet, if anybody is seriously worried about this dependence, current gasoline consumption patterns do not show it. If the American public somehow believes that, in case of a serious emergency causing supply disruption, we should not be too concerned because the government has a plan for such contingencies, well, then they should be told the truth. We do not have a remedy. True, we have a strategic petroleum reserve and more crude oil is being added to it. But it is limited. In case of a major, prolonged disruption, we would be in serious trouble, as nothing at present and for quite some time can replace oil and oil products, gasoline first and foremost. But nobody seriously discusses the consequences of possible disruptions.

Widespread complacency may be due to the fact that, while people see that gasoline has gotten to be very expensive, it is not scarce. There is no rationing; while many may hope that, in a while, prices will go back to “normal”. Given these misperceptions, until there will be real disincentives regarding the use of gasoline, (the major component of our “oil problem”), people will treat our acknowledged “addiction” to oil just as we treat our food overindulgence. We cannot really price food out of the market in order to make millions of overweight Americans get serious about diet and food over consumption. But for our oil addiction, as painful and unpleasant as it may be, significantly higher price is the only way to both cut consumption and speed up the process leading us to new types of fuel. A substantial, revenue neutral, gasoline tax should be the main driver of any serious energy policy.

President Bush, pursuing his soft approach to get us out of this predicament, counts primarily on technology to do the trick and move us away from an oil based economy. But the incentive to invest massive resources to develop new technologies is in attractive returns. If current high prices are sustained, (60 to 65 dollars per barrel, gasoline above 3 dollars a gallon), then the alternative energy proposition becomes more appealing, as many of the alternatives currently being worked on become economically viable around these prices. The fact is that new ventures in this risky field need the reassurance that there will be large markets many years down the road. High fuel prices guaranteed by a gasoline tax would constitute such an incentive. At the same time, consistently higher prices will at least begin to curb the growth of domestic demand which translates in larger imports and increased strategic vulnerability in case of supply disruptions.

Whereas the administration, after having warned against the danger of our addiction to oil, is pursuing what turns out to be a very soft campaign to diminish it, through woefully insufficient policy measures. Increased fuel efficiencies for automobiles may yield some gasoline savings in a few years, if we are lucky. This is tinkering, just as subsidizing this or that renewable fuel is tinkering. Corn derived ethanol, very questionable in terms of cost effectiveness, is good business for many as it makes farmers and refiners rich; but it cannot radically transform the automotive fuel equation. Federal investments in new forms of energy, though real, are modest. They indicate that energy is an important issue; but not a national priority.

The one measure with a real chance to get America focused on devoting substantial resources to quickly finding  economically viable alternatives to oil is a real (a dollar, as a minimum, phased in progressively) additional tax on oil products, first and foremost gasoline. Of course, gasoline is already taxed at many levels in the United States. But, for the time being at least, existing taxes and historically very high prices have yet to force all players to seriously engage in finding a commercially viable alternative based on renewable sources (or on new ways to extract fuel from old, domestically abundant, sources like coal, assuming a successful solution to the additional emission problems). 

Many have already put forward this idea of a substantial gasoline tax. Such a tax would be revenue neutral, via tax relief in other areas. People would have the same overall tax burden. But very high prices at the pump would send a clear message: “Dependence on foreign imports of oil creates an intolerable degree of vulnerability for the US economy and for our national security. The Government wants to engage the whole country in devising and adopting alternatives as soon as possible. In the meantime, we have to cut back on consumption, hence imports”.

The public will be unhappy. Higher prices will cause unpleasant disruptions at multiple levels. But the gain down the road, once meaningful alternatives will have been adopted, will be in regaining greater control over our destiny, an immensely desirable goal.

But no political leader, from either party, dares to articulate this message. The assumption is that it would be politically suicidal to provoke the anger of the public by hitting Americans in the use of the automobile. Indeed, if the White House engages in half measures, in the early stages of this already vivacious presidential campaign there is no serious talk about a real gasoline tax increase; or, for that matter, about any other really drastic approach to oil dependence coming from anybody, regardless of party. This can be for two possible reasons: either political leaders believe that our dependence on imports does not really amount to a serious strategic vulnerability; or they maintain that the public, if told about the seriousness of our predicament, would just not believe it and would react angrily by shooting the messenger that would propose to mess with the sacrosanct right to gas guzzlers.

A gasoline tax would achieve two objectives: cut consumption by forcing consumers to save and provide a powerful incentive to develop commercially viable new fuels and/or propulsion systems. At the very least, higher gas prices will force people to buy cars that consume less and hopefully find a way to drive less.

In an op-ed piece written last year, Paolo Scaroni, the CEO of ENI, The Italian energy conglomerate, (“To Extend the Age of Oil, We Must Save Fuel Now”, The Financial Times, October 16, 2006) noted that, should Americans drive the same average size cars as the Europeans, (more compact vehicles, far fewer SUVs and light trucks in the mix) this alone would cut US oil demand by four million barrels a day, equivalent to the entire oil production of Iran, the world’s third largest oil exporter.

And this would be only a start. Europe’s fleet of cars is more fuel efficient relative to the US (13 km per litre in Europe, 7 km per litre in the US). But today there are vehicles that achieve an average of 20 km per litre. A hefty gasoline tax, by forcing consumers to shift to low consumption models, could drastically reduce consumption and thus dependence. Such cars are available; but the demand for low mileage models is still too high; largely because the gasoline price, as high as it is today, clearly is not high enough to cause a real shift to more fuel efficient vehicles. The public is obviously not sufficiently focused on the addiction and its ramifications. 

Because of a gasoline tax, the push to develop other fuels and/or propulsion systems hopefully will produce results more quickly. As new technologies will take over, the demand and thus the dependence on oil will lessen and eventually disappear. Meanwhile, as we discourage the excessive use of the private automobile, alternative transportation options, such as mass transit, should be adopted. There are proven, reliable and affordable alternative ways to get around and do what we need to do with reasonable ease, speed and comfort, other than via the individually operated vehicle. In urban environments, fewer private cars on the road and a seamless network of dedicated bus lanes could provide the same advantages of underground mass transit systems at a fraction of the cost. (Broader adoption of these alternatives will also help diminish air pollution, not to mention wasteful congestion that has reached apocalyptic levels in most large metropolitan areas).

Whereas, so far, we see only timid policies focusing on subsidies. A raft of subsidies to the low hanging fruit options, such as corn derived ethanol, may be popular with certain constituencies, but they do not constitute a robust policy aimed at introducing as quickly as we can affordable and environmentally sound alternatives to oil. Subsidies are bad energy policy.

While it is true that our hope to get out of the oil dependence rests on devising new technologies, we should not support anything in particular, simply because we have absolutely no idea which technologies may prove to be truly viable in the long run. The purpose of a gasoline tax is to create a floor that tells markets at what cost an alternative source becomes viable, i.e. profitable. This is what new enterprises need to elaborate their strategies and get to work, hoping to make money with the alternatives that they are working on. We just do not know which solution or combination of solutions will make most sense. Picking winners now through subsidies or other targeted incentives may lead us to back the wrong technologies. This is wasteful and patently unfair. It rewards political skills more than ability. Clever lobbying on the part of those who get the subsidies does not necessarily translate in good energy policies.  

On this, let us consider a little history about the notion of picking winners. In the 1990s, in a different context that involved a fresh look at macroeconomic policy approaches, America looked at and discussed “industrial policy” models, whereby elites made of government, enterprises, interest groups and labor unions would come together and decide where it would be smart to allocate scarce capital; so that we would eliminate wasteful investments and maximize returns for all: corporations, workers and society in general. We looked at this model of “national economic strategies” supposedly practiced by the (then) best world performers  –Japan and Germany. But nothing was done to transform policies in order to adopt their model. 

True, in 1992, then presidential candidate Bill Clinton openly flirted with this notion. In a campaign taking place in the midst of a modest downturn the need for a “national economic strategy” became a key policy component in Clinton’s speeches. (Remember the “It’s the economy, stupid” refrain?) However, in practice, as president, Clinton did little to implement industrial policies. By default at least, as a nation we concluded that top down decision about economic choices would lead to the squandering of resources. What applied then and applies today to economic policies in general, applies to finding alternatives to our energy sources.

Clearly there is a formal contradiction in being against subsidies but for dramatically higher taxes in order to discourage the use of a product. It is easy to object that, if it is appropriate to do away with market distorting subsidies, then we should not engage in other types of market manipulation through heavy taxation. 

In principle this is a valid objection. If market economics work, higher prices due to scarcity eventually should lead to new solutions priced by the market. However, the problem for the US, at the same time the largest consumer and importer, (but for other consumers as well), is that, along the way towards a market solution, energy flows may be drastically reduced for reasons that have nothing to do with the dynamics of demand and supply.

The scenario, (outlined a million times, but curiously not acted upon) is that major political events or natural catastrophes can suddenly and drastically reduce the availability of oil. Not enough oil (whatever the price) to keep the world economies going is a terrifying, rather extreme, yet quite possible scenario. As we Americans are by far the largest consumers in absolute as well as per capita terms, serious disruptions are likely to have devastating consequences internally, while restricting our ability to conduct an active foreign policy. Which is to say that oil is different from T-shirts or auto parts. 

Let us restate what we all know but seem not to take into account when we talk about our oil imports. All the major energy crises that we have experienced were not caused by market forces; rather by political and (very recently, with Katrina and Rita in 2005) natural events. The 1973 oil embargo was a political decision. The 1979 Iran Revolution caused a disruption in oil production and thus oil flows. More recently, hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico region caused significant (albeit only temporary, in this case) disruption in the ability to receive, transport and refine oil, oil products and natural gas. These disruptions had nothing to do with market forces. (Of course there are similarities with other non economic phenomena that have an impact on markets. A freeze in Florida that destroys oranges will cause the price of orange juice to go up. But in the case of oil there is clearly a lot more at stake than some financial losses and inconvenience for the consumers. Orange juice is optional; until we find something else, oil is vital).  

Of course, we know that after the oil shocks, oil consumption was reduced due to new efficiencies created by the deployment of new technologies and prices shifted lower again. Likewise, in the aftermath of devastating hurricanes the infrastructure was eventually repaired. Yes, of course. We did all this.

But, please, note: reasonable success in dealing with the effects of past disruptions is no indication of the ability to get out of the next one. We have no guarantee that future shocks will be of a manageable size, something that would still allow us the opportunity to retrench and reorganize, as we have done in the past, albeit at a high cost.

Relatively speaking, our predicament is worse today. Due to the rapid depletion of domestic oil resources, our dependence has grown significantly during the past twenty years. What if the next oil shock is of a magnitude that we cannot cope with, so that our economy would be not just badly hurt but choked and devastated? Again, let us not forget that all we have is the strategic petroleum reserve and agreements about crisis management with other consumer countries. This is fine for a short crisis lasting no more than 120 days. For a long one we have nothing.

There is a long list of oil producing regions affected by political turmoil. The Middle East (where most of the known reserves are located) is of course the text book case, because of the bad mix of endemic conflicts and the appeal of radical politics. (Clearly, if all the Middle Eastern oil reserves would have ended up in peaceful Canada, the vulnerability issue would be a lot less pressing). Within the region, insurrectionists and terrorists of all stripes in Iraq have targeted oil facilities, terminals and pipelines since the very beginning of the occupation, thus limiting oil production. There have been terrorist (so far failed) attacks against Saudi oil facilities. Elsewhere around the world, we have the inextricable mess in the Niger Delta that has already caused a significant production cut in Nigeria. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela is an unpredictable populist determined to use oil for his political ends.

Existing political troubles (that is not due to market forces) have already caused significant production cuts. So far, these troubles are limited in scope. They have caused tighter supply and thus higher prices. Still, oil is flowing. However, bigger upheavals could make oil, irrespective of price, simply unavailable in the amounts necessary to run the economy.

In this context of tight supply, finding and bringing more oil to market as soon as possible is important, in as much as it recreates a minimum of slack in a very tight environment. But welcome as they are, new finds will buy us some time, nothing more. Unless we can envisage fantastically large new discoveries in peaceful parts of the world –something that would radically transform the oil supply geopolitical picture– marginal addition to supply is not a long term solution for the world in general and certainly not for the highly dependent US.

On a different level, it is important to observe that oblivion about the impact of oil dependence includes little discussion about the economic impact of the cost of all these imports. Perhaps it is easier to avoid dealing with vulnerability and the implications of major oil supply disruptions. After all this is a terrifying prospect, not a present crisis. But the issue of the colossal and growing cost of our national oil bill -and this is part of our day to day reality–  for mysterious reasons gets very little mention.

While Washington policy makers and commentators tell us daily that our trade deficit is the result of China’s wicked policies, we forget that the price of our imports of unchanged quantity of oil has quadrupled since 2002. Because of the price explosion of the last few years, in 2005 the cost of oil was almost as high as the trade deficit with China (175, and 200 billion respectively), while the price keeps going up, thus contributing more and more to a deteriorating trade imbalance. This is US money going abroad to pay for our gasoline bill. This is money that cannot be used for capital investments at home. (A gasoline tax would keep the oil bill high; but the proceeds would stay at home.)

Much has been said about the sustainability of a large and increasing trade deficit. But we hear almost nothing about the monetary cost of our “oil addiction”. Sure enough, our merchandise trade deficit is easily politicized, because of its more direct correlation to domestic job losses. Oil imports, whatever the price, do not displace US workers. But this does not mean that they have no economic impact. 

As abstract as the issue may appear, it is not impossible to explain to the general public that, by using scarce capital to pay for oil imports, this money is no longer available for productive investments, while the oil is burnt and we have to keep buying more from abroad just to keep things going. This forces us to give up other expenditures and investments.

So, there we have it: “addiction to oil” means a strategic vulnerability with potentially devastating effects which comes at a very high and increasing economic price. This should call for drastic action, starting with a substantial tax on gasoline. Whereas, for the time being, the few measures taken, such as subsidies for corn derived ethanol have amounted to an increase in the price of corn with ripple effects on a series of products and ultimately higher food stuff prices for the consumers, with negligible effects on our addiction to oil. This is the result of a largely ineffective band aid approach motivated by the fear of upsetting a nation unaware of the full implications of our addiction.  

Our oil dependence is a serious matter. Time has come to stop tinkering and half measures and get serious about it.




Leaving Iraq?

by Paolo von Schirach

February 1, 2007

WASHINGTON – The hubristic hype that characterized the first 3 years of occupation following the invasion of March 2003 — years in which the Bush administration stubbornly pursued far too many misguided policies, even when it was apparent that they were not leading to success–  has given way to the equally unchecked defeatist hype of those who were always against the war and of the many more who became disillusioned because the promised results (“Mission Accomplished”, “Mopping Up”, “A Few Die Hard Baathists”) were not reached and, many years later, are certainly not forthcoming.

As the atmosphere changed, it is now totally acceptable to describe Iraq, not only as a civil war or quagmire (which it is, at least in Baghdad, the physical and symbolic center of the country); but as a total, unmitigated disaster, now more frequently called a ‘debacle’. Now, this characterization is extreme and clearly incorrect; at least for the moment. 

Related to military affairs, the term “debacle” means the end, final defeat. Waterloo was the final debacle of the Napoleonic dream. The signing of the unconditional surrender in 1945 represented the debacle of Nazi Germany. Dien Bien Phu was the debacle of the French colonial era in Indochina in 1954.

Manifestly, in Iraq, we are not there. We did not surrender. We have yet to run, after being routed , (think of the British leaving Dunkirque), leaving the territory to the enemies. The democratic government supported by the coalition, whatever its many weaknesses, is still there, with no viable alternative produced by the insurrectionists in sight. Nor can we say that Iraq, daily carnage notwithstanding, is in total chaos, Somalia style, or Congo circa 1998.

So, let us establish that there has been no “debacle”. Yet, the casual way in which critics use terms that imply final defeat, not as a possibility, but as an obvious fact that needs no supporting evidence, is worrisome in as much it shows that in this matter we have the triumph of emotions and not of reason. An apocalyptic diagnosis is just as wrong as the unfounded sunny optimism (“We are winning”) displayed until not too long ago by the administration. In a climate pervaded by emotions it will be very difficult to conduct an otherwise legitimate debate as to what should be the way forward in Iraq.

The critics seem to subscribe to at least two separate but concurrent views.

The first one indicates that the real priority at thi stage of the conflict is to save American lives. This is really “cut and run”; but in the name of the higher moral value of saving American lives from a doomed situation in a conflict that should have never been started and by definition cannot be won.

The second view is more complex. But it can be summarized as follows: “We Americans have to convey to the Iraqi authorities how disappointed we are realizing that they cannot do a better job. As they do not improve their performance, then, with regret, we Americans will have to acknowledge that the Iraqis are not really serious about their security and their future. As the Iraqis are not really doing their share and since we should not do more than what is fair, then this is a lost cause and we should leave them to their own devices”. The parting shot will be: “Hey, we invested heavily. We tried our best, but you cannot keep on helping people who do not want to help themselves?”

It is easy to criticize the first view. From this standpoint, the primary objective of military operations is not to defeat an enemy so that we can accomplish a political goal; but to minimize our human losses. If casualties mount and there is no immediate victory, then we should withdraw, because no protracted conflict is worth the mounting loss of American lives. According to these military theoreticians, in a war, either we can achieve immediately our goals or forget about the whole thing. Apparently no strategic goal is significant enough to justify the sacrifice of American lives. 

The second school of thought, more complex and more nuanced, is however equally flawed. The objective here is in fixing the blame, not fixing the problem.

It is about scolding and punishing the Iraqis for their failures (and there are many). But this view leaves out of the equation the fundamental question as to how the US national interest is best served, regardless of what the Iraqi do or do not do efficiently. We could very well send “messages” to the Iraqis and then feel good about the fact that, before leaving, at least we tried. “We really hoped that they would shape up, but, alas, they did not. So, in good conscience, we did what we had to do and left. So there”.

This approach, of course, assumes that it is entirely reasonable to expect that the first democratic coalition government ever to be elected in the whole history of the region, ipso facto will have acquired the maturity, the sophistication, the capacity and the expertise to behave according to the standards of modern day liberal democracies. As they are clearly falling short, after a couple of “tough love” attempts that did not work, then we should accept the evidence of their terminal failure to deliver. As time and again they have proven to be unable to shape up, we have to leave. Indeed. So, we flunked the bad student. This will teach him a lesson. Right? Unfortunately, here we are not in school. There may not be other opportunities for the unfocused Iraqis to concentrate and take the test again. Has anybody considered that the Iraqis are not shaping up because, given the infancy of their political institutions and the government they formed, they are not yet capable? 

It is a very easy job for the critics to point out all the failures of the Maliki Government. But, after we have fixed the blame and thus can feel good about our choices based on undeniably reasonable standards, (if applied to ordinary circumstances), can we say that we have fixed the problem? Besides “teaching a lesson” to the immature Iraqis, (fixing the blame) have we served our long term national interest? 

Well, it depends on how the national interest is defined. If the national interest is identified in stopping, or at least drastically curtailing, as soon as possible the hemorrhaging of US blood and treasure, (just like in the first view), then, yes. But there is a question that all the reasonable critics who say, essentially, that “enough is enough” do not wish to confront. Namely: “Are there any serious strategic consequences, not for Iraq, but  for the United States of America in abandoning the Iraqis to their own destiny?”

If we leave and Iraq collapses, can there be adverse short term or long consequences that will be so dire for us that, by comparison, supporting now, at a high price, the wobbling Maliki Government, hoping that improvements on the ground will gradually come about, would appear quite appealing?

The Bush administration has been vocal in pointing out the possible (certain for them) implications of a US withdrawal. These include: collapse of any residual law and order; full scale civil war; probable foreign intervention, (Iran to help the Shia, Arab countries to support the Sunnis, Turkey to thwart any attempt to create a Kurdistan that may claim territories under its sovereignty); the establishment of al Quaida sanctuaries and training camps, and ensuing chaos in a volatile region of continuing strategic significance for the US and the whole world in light of its oil production and reserves.

The problem is that by now the Bush administration has lost all credibility. Few listen to them. President Bush has one of the lowest favorable ratings in history, largely because of Iraq. We know why. Too many misrepresentations, too much braggadocio, too much hubris, far too many mistakes. And then the really belated removal of the most egregiously incompetent leaders; conceding, but only grudgingly and obviously under the duress imposed by political defeat, that huge mistakes have been made.

To all this, one has to add the ongoing dogged persistence in confusing effects for causes on the issue of  the active threat represented by  Islamic terrorists in Iraq, before as opposed to after the invasion.

Of course, Al Quaida and affiliates, after the US invasion, seized the opportunity and made messy Iraq an important, if not key, battlefield in which to continue their jihad against the West. Whereas, as al Quaida appeared on the scene, almost at the beginning of the troubles, the Bush administration declared that, since we are fighting al Quaida (among others) in Iraq, it is a plain fact that the Iraq campaign was and is an integral, in fact indispensable, component of the larger war on terror. (Prior to this, we were told that Iraq was part of the war on terror because of the likely connections between Saddam with WMD and Islamic terrorists).

But we know that this is incorrect. We know that Saddam, whatever evil plans he had concocted, and whatever support and sanctuary he gave to some terrorists, was a secular despot, interested in increasing his own secular power. He cannot be portrayed as a religious fanatic aimed at the reestablishment of some theocracy or mythical Caliphate, with sharia law and all that. He was a dangerous enemy; but he was not another bin Laden, nor was he bin Laden’s logical ally. 

Having discounted all these arbitrary connections that insist on making Iraq and the war on terror one and the same thing, it would still be wise to examine the Iraq warnings coming from the White House, before dismissing them as more propaganda or, worse, ridiculing them as the incoherent ramblings of mono-maniacal individuals. (Indeed, as we know, many commentators and opposition politicians routinely use the adjective “delusional” to describe the state of mind of the president and the vice president regarding Iraq).

But this is not happening. The consensus is that the administration should follow majority opinion which clearly states that most Americans disapprove of the conduct of the war. Using tortuous logic, many commentators point out that even respected conservatives way back had warned against conducting long military operations without the support of public opinion. This is true. This is a democracy and public opinion is important. But this does not make public opinion right, however strong their beliefs can be. Public opinion is largely shaped by opinion leaders. So it can change; just as it changed from support to condemnation of the war, because most commentators had concluded, long ago, that the war was  lost.  

The truth of the matter is that the political leaders who favor withdrawal should also be willing to engage in a serious (as opposed to emotional) debate about the possible consequences of a failure of the American effort. So far, many have embraced withdrawal because politically this appears to be the best solution to placate a public tired of a costly stalemate. But if the public, after reviewing the possible ramifications of defeat, would be convinced instead that ending this hemorrhage of American blood through withdrawal would make things worse down the line, would they still favor withdrawal?

This is a pitfall that so far has been avoided in this debate. A weakened White House has not been able to force its opponents to take a clear position that would include taking responsibility for any adverse consequences that might emanate by following their simple solution. Nonetheless, instead of just expressing skepticism about the latest presidential plan for a surge, the opponents have an obligation to spell out their plan and their evaluation of its possible consequences and ramifications. To bring up the Vietnam analogy, stating that, just as the “the dominos” did not fall in South East Asia, there will be no special repercussions after we leave Iraq, is at the very least simplistic. Different time, different place, different players, and no oil.

To those who wish to leave: elaborate a real plan, other than just a withdrawal timetable, and engage in a serious debate about its possible consequences. To say that Bush is no longer credible and thus we should not support anything he proposes and do instead the opposite, without further analysis of the consequences of a new course of action, is short sighted demagoguery. Certainly in line with the current mood of the nation– but demagoguery nonetheless.




Recommending More Training for the Iraqis

by Paolo von Schirach

January 8, 2007

WASHINGTON – The choice of General David Petraeus as the new head of US forces in Iraq comes probably as some kind of response to the Baker Hamilton Report recommendation to vastly increase the number of US trainers in Iraq and to make this redoubled training effort one of the main pillars of the whole operation. After all Petraeus during a previous assignmene had been in charge of a key component of this effort. But why is it that training, always described by the administration as the precondition for self-sufficient Iraqi was downgraded in terms of strategic relevance to the extent that at the end of 2006 a bipartisan group of well meaning people indicates that this should become one of the pillars of the whole strategy? We were always told that it was and is a pillar.

The logic of Baker Hamilton recommendation is flawless; the choice of Petreaus inspired. But why only now?

The US objective, since the beginning in 2003, has been to create a situation whereby the new Iraqis Government, in the fastest reasonable time, will be able to provide for the country’s security, ensuring a modicum of stability (if not total peace); so that the coalition forces will be able to withdraw without leaving a void and consequent havoc. Therefore, in order to achieve this objective, we need to increase the scope of the training effort for the Iraqi forces, so that they will be capable of doing the job on their own. So says the Iraq Study Group; and it is hard to disagree. But why has this not been done all along, when everybody said that it was essential to do it? 

 Indeed, the utterly perplexing fact is that the critical role of the training effort has been underscored by the Bush administration since the beginning of the occupation in 2003. Regarding Iraq, few subjects have been analyzed and debated in Washington more than the state of readiness (actual, projected, and hoped for) of the Iraqi military and police, as a result of the coalition training efforts. This was and is the core enabling element of any exit strategy. As president Bush said many times: “As they stand up, we stand down”. This has been the mantra endlessly repeated by the administration.

 So, it was and is clear to all those even marginally interested in the Iraqi issue that for us to stand down, that is to devolve security responsibility and eventually leave, we need to concentrate on making sure that they (the Iraqi) can indeed stand up. And this has been consistently asserted and reasserted. The Pentagon and the White House have repeatedly stated that, regardless of tactical necessities, the long term US strategy was to train Iraqis, so that they would become self-sufficient in the shortest period of time and so that direct security responsibility could be handed over to them as soon as they are ready to shoulder it, regardless of the state of the insurrection or civil war or however we want to define the violence in Iraq.

 Clearly the US maximum objective should be the quick defeat of all violent groups in the country. The ensuing peace and security would then create the necessary environment to allow for reconstruction, development and at the same time the strengthening of the fledgling democratic institutions.

But since we all know that this will take a long time, an acceptable intermediate goal would be creating an effective and reliable Iraqi security apparatus capable of containing the insurrection and hopefully to defeat it sooner rather than later. But devolution in a messy, unstable environment entails reliably trained Iraqis. Given the relevance of this issue, it is utterly surprising that so few resources have been devoted to it.  

In June 2004, the same General David Petraeus, just nominated commander in Iraq, was entrusted with the training effort as head of the Multinational Security Transition Command. In recognition of the key strategic relevance of this mission, Petraeus made the cover of Newsweek as America’s point man in Iraq. Later on, in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post, (September 26, 2004) General Petraeus wrote, among other things, that ?training [of Iraqi forces] is on track and increasing in capacity?.  This was more than two years ago. Apparently things did not go according to plan. (Meantime, Petraeus was reassigned).

So, what happened to training? Hard to say exactly. Michael Vickers, formerly Army Special Forces and CIA operations, now with the Center for Strategy and Budgetary Assessment, who briefed president Bush on the subject of training, in the course of a TV interview, (Newshour with Jim Lehrer on October 27, 2006), indicated that the whole training operation was woefully understaffed and thus not really effective. His explanation? It would appear, among other things, that being a trainer is not a glamorous assignment leading to career advancements in the US military. For this reason, we do not get many people who want to go, and those who do are not necessarily the best qualified people.

If this is even partially true, then we have to conclude that the sluggish progress in creating an Iraqi military force capable of defending the country and thus of providing a viable exit strategy for the US and other Coalition forces is due to the fact that being a trainer is not an interesting career path within the US military.  

We should really hope that this is not true. Still, if this is not the true reason, or if it is not the main reason, it is still utterly unbelievable that, several years into this crucial training effort, we have so few US trainers in Iraq; (between 3,000 and 4,000 in 2006). And thus it seems that we needed the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group, a group of well meaning people (with only a couple of military experts in their mix), to come up with the obvious recommendation to dramatically increase the number of trainers in order to make the Iraqis self-sufficient sooner rather than later.

As Mr. Vickers noted in the interview referred to above, in Vietnam, at the end of the US effort, there were 16,000 US advisers. In Iraq only about 3,200. So, it appears that the best that we have been able to do is to deploy 3,200 men, apparently not the best and not adequately supported, to carry out training –a core element of the only strategy that could allow a credible disengagement some time in the future.

Why the US, with the largest military force in the world, has been unable to do better than this, three years after the fall of Baghdad, is something that the administration needs to understand and correct. Sending General Petraeus back to Iraq with the new rank of top military commander may indicate that training, neglected for all this time, is back on the front burner. We can only hope that this true, as this may be the last chance to establish  a real foundation for victory and for the eventual exit of US forces.




Can the US promote democracy in the Middle East?

 

WASHINGTON – American military commanders in Iraq have been saying for some time that the insurgency cannot be won by military means alone. The U.S. military knows that there are limits to its capacity to counter, let alone destroy, the asymmetrical capabilities of the insurgents there. The alarming increase in the level of violence over the past month confirms their assessment.

Victory in Iraq will be achieved only when we will have created conditions whereby the incentives to recruit, be recruited and act in the insurgency will disappear. Victory will take place only when the insurgents see that their cause is either hopeless or totally wrong.

This would entail an ideological shift, a true conversion on the part of a critical mass of insurgents to the principles of secular democracy, tolerance and respect for individual liberties. Without such conversion, the ideological incentive to carry on the attacks will continue to brew and there will be no victory, as the United States and its allies clearly lack the means to identify and destroy all the insurgents and their rather large recruiting systems. Victory should be defined as the prevailing of the ideas underlying U.S. efforts and the end of violence.

This should not be confused with the possible successful disengagement of the U.S. military from Iraq, predicated on the build-up of capable Iraqi forces that can somehow fill the void left by departing American troops. Leaving the Iraqi military in charge of an ongoing, potentially endless, fight may be politically beneficial in the U.S. domestic context replete with demands to bring the troops home. But this would not be victory. Instead of becoming a keystone of a new stable Middle East, Iraq would then be a another factor of regional instability, a magnet for radicals. This would be worse than under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The United States and its allies won the Cold War because America’s ability to resist Soviet military encroachments and propaganda lasted long enough to expose to a sufficient number of people living under Soviet rule the fissures, evil and rot of the system. The United States was also lucky in having at an appropriate time an unaware ally in last Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. By trying to improve a police state, he exposed its weaknesses and hastened its demise. In that contest, the West, because of its intellectual and material superiority, prevailed. But the critical factor that condemned those regimes was the open exposure of the disastrous failures of communism to the people living under it. In the end, the inability of the communist leaderships to mount a fight to defend their regimes deprived them of any residual legitimacy.

In the case of Islamic fundamentalism, we do not have on our side the record of half a century of failures of regimes; that is  egregious examples that can give ammunition to moderate Muslims to speak against the ideological insanity of such social and political models. An insanity based on a demonized view of politics that is predicated — among other things — on the destruction of the alleged enemies of the true faith: the Untied States, its allies and its agents, such as Israel.

Since the 1980s, a theocracy has been ruling Iran. But it is a theocracy that can lubricate its otherwise inefficient mechanisms with a massive oil rent, something that shields it from the full political consequences that bad models usually provoke. The Taliban in Afghanistan provided a chilling example of what damage institutionalized fanaticism can bring about. But it was an isolated regime in an impoverished country that did not last long enough to be used as a paradigm of what will go wrong, once radical Islamist factions have a chance to govern.

The U.S. political leadership wants to end the conflict with radical Islam through political means, by pushing forward the democratization agenda, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in the whole Middle East. The underlying rationale for these policies is that extreme ideologies proliferate and find adepts because those societies never had a “normal” political process based on the peaceful, open debate of ideas. Repression, authoritarianism and brutality breed factions and fanatical political movements that contemplate only violence as a means to end existing injustice.

Open up the systems, proclaims the Bush administration, create the infrastructure for viable democracies and, over time, you will create a legitimate, disciplined forum for policy debates. In time, this process should yield the emergence and consolidation of peaceful societies.

Open up the systems, proclaims the Bush administration, create the infrastructure for viable democracies and, over time, you will create a legitimate, disciplined forum for policy debates. In time, this process should yield the emergence and consolidation of peaceful societies. However, there are two major flaws in this reasoning that need to be addressed for this approach to have a fighting chance of ultimate success.

First, there is an inherent danger in trying to force feed this principle to people who may not be ready for it. To justify the global promotion of democracy as a “mission” somehow entrusted to America by the Almighty authorizes any paranoid reaction against this concept on the part of those who want their institutions to be based on their own religiously inspired principles.

To the extent that America, in the words of the president, claims some kind of transcendental justification for its policies, this will run counter to the goal of promoting secular democracies based on tolerance and respect for all beliefs.

Therefore this notion of ‘a mission’ creates an inevitable collision with those who already portray the United States in ideologically distorted form. “Who are these Americans who go around preaching and telling others what they should do”? It is this strong veneer of righteousness at the core of U.S. policies that is the primary cause of such vocal opposition to them on the part of the European allies and world opinion.

Second, we have to understand and deal with the complexities that this process entails. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice correctly affirms that, even if the outcome of recent elections in the Middle East is disappointing, this should not undermine the validity of the assumption underlying the promotion of democracy.

It may be right to embrace democracy building as the ultimate means to undermine the legitimacy of political violence as the answer to the problems of Islamic societies in transition. However, this also means that the United States for an indefinite period of time will require both the means and the will to deal with the consequences of instability in the countries where we are promoting change; including radical movements elected to power with the blessing of the voters.

Does America have the stomach and the willingness to commit resources to deal effectively with Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a Shiite majority government in a violence-torn Iraq and who knows what else? Will the American people have the staying power to help turn radical, non democratic, movements into responsible political forces? This administration has only two-and-a-half years left.

This enormously ambitious and complex policy has value only if the American people as a whole fully understand it and if they are unequivocally committed to it and embrace it for the long term. Thus, no matter who wins the mid-term elections in November and whoever is elected president in 2008 will have to show the world that they really believe in this policy and that they will stay the course.

Otherwise “democracy promotion” will have amounted to an unsustainable, if visionary, grand strategy, discarded by President Bush`s successors because it is too costly and too complicated. The threat of terrorism will continue to be with us, as its root causes will not have been dealt with. At the same time, America’s perceived righteousness will have alienated its prestige and ability to lead. That would be a disappointing prospect to contemplate.

Originally published as an Outside View by UPI on March 29, 2006

American military commanders in Iraq have been saying for some time that the insurgency cannot be won by military means alone. The U.S. military knows that there are limits to its capacity to counter, let alone destroy, the asymmetrical capabilities of the insurgents there. The alarming increase in the level of violence over the past month confirms their assessment.

Victory in Iraq will be achieved only when we will have created conditions whereby the incentives to recruit, be recruited and act in the insurgency will disappear. Victory will take place only when the insurgents see that their cause is either hopeless or totally wrong.

This would entail an ideological shift, a true conversion on the part of a critical mass of insurgents to the principles of secular democracy, tolerance and respect for individual liberties. Without such conversion, the ideological incentive to carry on the attacks will continue to brew and there will be no victory, as the United States and its allies clearly lack the means to identify and destroy all the insurgents and their rather large recruiting systems. Victory should be defined as the prevailing of the ideas underlying U.S. efforts and the end of violence.

This should not be confused with the possible successful disengagement of the U.S. military from Iraq, predicated on the build-up of capable Iraqi forces that can somehow fill the void left by departing American troops. Leaving the Iraqi military in charge of an ongoing, potentially endless, fight may be politically beneficial in the U.S. domestic context replete with demands to bring the troops home. But this would not be victory. Instead of becoming a keystone of a new stable Middle East, Iraq would then be a another factor of regional instability, a magnet for radicals. This would be worse than under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

The United States and its allies won the Cold War because America’s ability to resist Soviet military encroachments and propaganda lasted long enough to expose to a sufficient number of people living under Soviet rule the fissures, evil and rot of the system. The United States was also lucky in having at an appropriate time an unaware ally in last Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. By trying to improve a police state, he exposed its weaknesses and hastened its demise. In that contest, the West, because of its intellectual and material superiority, prevailed. But the critical factor that condemned those regimes was the open exposure of the disastrous failures of communism to the people living under it. In the end, the inability of the communist leaderships to mount a fight to defend their regimes deprived them of any residual legitimacy.

In the case of Islamic fundamentalism, we do not have on our side the record of half a century of failures of regimes; that is  egregious examples that can give ammunition to moderate Muslims to speak against the ideological insanity of such social and political models. An insanity based on a demonized view of politics that is predicated — among other things — on the destruction of the alleged enemies of the true faith: the Untied States, its allies and its agents, such as Israel.

Since the 1980s, a theocracy has been ruling Iran. But it is a theocracy that can lubricate its otherwise inefficient mechanisms with a massive oil rent, something that shields it from the full political consequences that bad models usually provoke. The Taliban in Afghanistan provided a chilling example of what damage institutionalized fanaticism can bring about. But it was an isolated regime in an impoverished country that did not last long enough to be used as a paradigm of what will go wrong, once radical Islamist factions have a chance to govern.

The U.S. political leadership wants to end the conflict with radical Islam through political means, by pushing forward the democratization agenda, not just in Iraq and Afghanistan, but in the whole Middle East. The underlying rationale for these policies is that extreme ideologies proliferate and find adepts because those societies never had a “normal” political process based on the peaceful, open debate of ideas. Repression, authoritarianism and brutality breed factions and fanatical political movements that contemplate only violence as a means to end existing injustice.

Open up the systems, proclaims the Bush administration, create the infrastructure for viable democracies and, over time, you will create a legitimate, disciplined forum for policy debates. In time, this process should yield the emergence and consolidation of peaceful societies.

Open up the systems, proclaims the Bush administration, create the infrastructure for viable democracies and, over time, you will create a legitimate, disciplined forum for policy debates. In time, this process should yield the emergence and consolidation of peaceful societies. However, there are two major flaws in this reasoning that need to be addressed for this approach to have a fighting chance of ultimate success.

First, there is an inherent danger in trying to force feed this principle to people who may not be ready for it. To justify the global promotion of democracy as a “mission” somehow entrusted to America by the Almighty authorizes any paranoid reaction against this concept on the part of those who want their institutions to be based on their own religiously inspired principles.

To the extent that America, in the words of the president, claims some kind of transcendental justification for its policies, this will run counter to the goal of promoting secular democracies based on tolerance and respect for all beliefs.

Therefore this notion of ‘a mission’ creates an inevitable collision with those who already portray the United States in ideologically distorted form. “Who are these Americans who go around preaching and telling others what they should do”? It is this strong veneer of righteousness at the core of U.S. policies that is the primary cause of such vocal opposition to them on the part of the European allies and world opinion.

Second, we have to understand and deal with the complexities that this process entails. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice correctly affirms that, even if the outcome of recent elections in the Middle East is disappointing, this should not undermine the validity of the assumption underlying the promotion of democracy.

It may be right to embrace democracy building as the ultimate means to undermine the legitimacy of political violence as the answer to the problems of Islamic societies in transition. However, this also means that the United States for an indefinite period of time will require both the means and the will to deal with the consequences of instability in the countries where we are promoting change; including radical movements elected to power with the blessing of the voters.

Does America have the stomach and the willingness to commit resources to deal effectively with Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, a Shiite majority government in a violence-torn Iraq and who knows what else? Will the American people have the staying power to help turn radical, non democratic, movements into responsible political forces? This administration has only two-and-a-half years left.

This enormously ambitious and complex policy has value only if the American people as a whole fully understand it and if they are unequivocally committed to it and embrace it for the long term. Thus, no matter who wins the mid-term elections in November and whoever is elected president in 2008 will have to show the world that they really believe in this policy and that they will stay the course.

Otherwise “democracy promotion” will have amounted to an unsustainable, if visionary, grand strategy, discarded by President Bush`s successors because it is too costly and too complicated. The threat of terrorism will continue to be with us, as its root causes will not have been dealt with. At the same time, America’s perceived righteousness will have alienated its prestige and ability to lead. That would be a disappointing prospect to contemplate.

Originally published as an Outside View by UPI on March 29, 2006