Saturday, March 25, 2006

Is Madeleine all that bright?

Disclaimer: I don’t like Albright. Never have. Nothing personal, but for the past three years I’ve felt that she has disingenuously characterized and wrongly criticized Bush’s foreign policy while loyally defending Clinton’s mistakes and inaction. Her recent opinion piece is an example of the former.

The “good vs. evil” equation was never presented as a strategy, as Albright believes. It’s an assessment. So from the very headline of her article, there is a basic question of comprehension on her part. What can you make of a person that doesn’t understand the difference between “strategy” and “assessment?” If you realize something is an assessment, why criticize it as a strategy?

Since Albright rejects “good vs. evil” as a strategy, we’ll assume she would also reject it as an assessment. Why? Because it’s oversimplified, of course! That’s the vein in which she rejects everything from the administration. In her Clintonian noodle, she thinks it fine to spout off about “good vs. evil” as empty rhetoric, but try to use it to form policy and she’s against it. Yet, if you can’t distill broad realities into simplified workable terms, then you can forget about solving any problems, which brings me to my second point. Having experience on the inside, you’d think Albright would recognize the squirrelly nature of alliances. But not so:

“For years, the president has acted as if Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein's followers and Iran's mullahs were parts of the same problem.”

She goes on to relate how each of these entities have fought or disagreed with each other in the past. True. But is she arguing that alliances between these groups are impossible or even unlikely? If so, she’s disregarding some of the clearest lessons of history. As an example, I would cite about every country that had an alliance or an agreement with the Soviet Union in the 20th century: the U.S., China, Nazi Germany, you name it. Each had fundamental disagreements and issues of distrust with the Soviets, not to mention blood feuds. Yet, that didn’t stop anyone from making deals with the Red menace. Alliances are not formed as a reflection of past differences, but rather of current and future aims. I hope Albright knew as much when she was in the State Department. To believe that Saddam would never have an agreement with Iran or al Qaeda or vice versa displays the worst and most dangerous sort of naivete that could exist – and it’s a pity that such a belief enjoys any credence at all in our national discourse.

If Mrs. Albright could shuck away the erroneous notion that Bush is a simpleton who only sees things in black and white, she might realize that al Qaeda, Baathists, and the mullahs are, indeed, parts of the same problem, albeit a broad and big problem.

Albright rejects the term “axis of evil”. No doubt, she believes it, too, is oversimplified and false. But claiming that N. Korea, Iraq and Iran formed an axis of evil is not the same as saying that the three countries have uniform national interests. To take it as such is to commit the crime of oversimplification. However, there is a difference between her simplification and Bush’s simplification: Bush’s simplification provides a framework with which to define and address the problem. It has constructive uses. Albright’s simplification serves no constructive purpose. In fact, it eliminates any possibility of constructing a workable framework because it rejects the very notion of simplification.

In addition, the idea that the axis of evil is a Bush “invention” rather than an already existing reality that Bush merely identified with a name is preposterous. It makes me wonder what the world would have been like after an additional four years of Secretary Albright. I shudder.

“When the U.S. invaded Iraq, Bush may have thought he was striking a blow for good over evil, but the forces unleashed were considerably more complex.”

A blow for good over evil can’t be complex? Ridiculous. By her reasoning, we are in a far worse condition to respond to Iran. Has she looked at a map? Three years ago, we were in a weaker stance. Now look: we have a stretched our military, true, but they are already deployed to the region and surrounding Iran. Our military had three extremely valuable years of experience in fighting – four when you include Afghanistan. They’ve learned from mistakes and honed their skills. If those things are lost on Albright, they aren’t lost on the mullahs.

Ironically, the sub heading on her article claims that Bush doesn’t see that power politics is key. The power politics she’s referring to is with the Shia. She seems oblivious to U.S. political power in the region and what it has already achieved. Bush is mindful of the Shia – he’s working with them and not “playing solitaire” as Albright claims. One of the most frustrating things about the left’s view of what’s going on in Iraq is that they don’t believe we have a political strategy. Why is it frustrating? Because it’s the most visible and tangeable aspect of victory in Iraq. To listen to Albright or Kerry or Reid, you’d think that Bush had nothing to do with the Iraqi interim government or the constitution or the permanent government. And if they do give him the nod on those things, you can bet it’s to accuse him of fostering an Iranian style theocracy in Iraq. Maddening.

Albright says that we helped elect Iranian allies to power in Iraq. So what? Were the Iraqi Shia friends with Iran because the mullahs were so likeable? Or was it because Hussein left them little choice? The argument that the Iraqi Shia will do the Iranian bidding is not likely. Again, I would refer to the squirrelly nature of alliances. Iraqis will have relations with Iran, and that’s a good thing. But politically, the Iraqi Shia have displayed wisdom in governing thus far. Along with the Kurds, they’ve shown much patience with the Sunnis. The stronger and more stable Iraq gets, the less advantage will there be for the mullahs to enjoy. Iranian influence on Iraq is mainly in the form of IEDs and foreign fighters. That’s short term stuff. When Iraq is on its feet and the currents of influence turn the other way, it will be long term stuff, like freedom, liberty and prosperity – words that make the left cringe. Iraq and Iran are going in two different directions. Albright should recognize that.

Her three suggestions:

"The first is to understand that although we all want to "end tyranny in this world," that is a fantasy unless we begin to solve hard problems. Iraq is increasingly a gang war that can be solved in one of two ways: by one side imposing its will or by all the legitimate players having a piece of the power."

Either way, we win. Still, she’s a little late on this advice. As mentioned earlier, Bush has already laid a foundation in which the Iraqis have formed a coalition government. He set the board, and now it is Iraqis who are hashing it out and forming the stable government. It’s a perfect example of how Bush knows when to intervene and when to sit back and let folks work out their own solutions. That Albright even makes this suggestion is an example of how Democrats refuse to acknowledge any progress or success by our President.

"Second, the Bush administration should disavow any plan for regime change in Iran — not because the regime should not be changed but because U.S. endorsement of that goal only makes it less likely."

Come now, Albright, any plan? Bush is damned if he has a plan and damned if he doesn’t. There’s a small element of truth in her line of thinking, but I’m not convinced that Albright appreciates it. Sometimes it does pay to not step forward with an agenda – yet, the best way to undermine and demoralize the pro-democracy elements in Iran is to disavow any plan for regime change.

"Third, the administration must stop playing solitaire while Middle East and Persian Gulf leaders play poker."

Toss this rhetoric in with the “go it alone” junk pile. The reality is that the U.S. has been working with all the countries in the region. We’re playing hard and making demands, but that’s just power politics, something Albright thinks we shouldn’t play, though, according to her, that’s what it’s all about.

Let me end by refering to Iraq and 9/11 in the same sentence. It’s clear that Albright still prefers the artificial stability of the 90’s, but that world is long gone, and good riddance. The U.S. invaded Iraq because the status quo was unacceptable and we simply did not have enough World Trade centers to destroy to keep the Middle East satisfied.

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