The Olympic spectacle dictates a sports metaphor. In 2002, high level neocons dominated much of Bush’s National Security Council and Defense and State Departments, challenging US enemies across the world in a slugfest, which they did. Now, years later, the tally is clear. The fiendish foes have won the Gold. The neocons– those who remain in government and have not resigned, been canned or gone to jail – have proven themselves big time losers.
Unlike the athletes, the neocons, unfortunately, represented the US public, the real losers. The neocon strategy, the use of –or threat of– military power to create a US dominated world order, has left its legacy: wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and a stumbling, debt ridden US economy. They have left the country weaker and more pessimistic.
Vice President Dick Cheney relied on Scooter “The Felon” Libby and Douglas Feith. Whispering into Bush’s ear, Defense intellectuals Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle charted a disastrous course. Supposedly steeped in history, they apparently did not understand that all power – even that of the USA– has limits.
Reversing Theodore Roosevelt’s dictum, they have screamed loudly and carried a twig. They roared threats at “Axis of Evil” members North Korea and Iran. In June 2007, US officials engaged in direct talks with North Korea regarding its nuclear weapons, as the Koreans had demanded in the first place. In July 2008, Under Secretary of State William Burns met with Iranian negotiator Said Jalili and EU envoys in Geneva to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. Once again, Bush felt forced to abandon the neocon stand of “no negotiating with evil.” The Iranians seated at the table smirked at the US officials.
In 2002, the neocons, intent on invading Iraq no matter what, pressured Saddam Hussein to readmit UN weapons inspectors to verify the presence or lack of WMD. They apparently convinced Bush and the US media that facts did not matter. So, Bush spent five years with WMD egg on his face – which he joked about at national press dinners — while neocon reporter Judith Miller left the New York Times and will skulk forever in journalistic purgatory.
The much fabled surge has or hasn’t worked. Think of the promise after five and a half years! The neocons assured US troops to expect greetings with flowers. Instead, they still get shot and bombed. Over 2.4 million refugees have fled mostly to neighboring Syria and Jordan, with another 2.7 internally displaced. Gen. Petraeus told Congress that war had to stop between ethnic groups. It has not stopped. Kurds and Arabs continue fighting in the north, around Kirkuk, and Turkey makes regular incursions into Iraqi territory to fight Kurdish rebels. It is also unlikely that the Iraqi Parliament will get its act together in time to stage regional elections, which they swore they would hold this year.
The bright eyed neocons also promised a “new” and “democratic” Middle East, with Iraq as step one. But the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime has not ushered in democracy and human rights to Iraq—or inspired a democracy “domino effect” throughout the region. Before the invasion, Wolfowitz had asserted that Iraq as the “first Arab democracy” would “cast a very large shadow, starting with Syria and Iran, across the whole Arab world.” (BBC News, April 10, 2003)
Instead, in the wake of a broken Iraq, the Bush administration’s “democratizing” mission for this turbulent area of non-democracies has morphed into a combination of hand-wringing, begging and cajoling U.S.-allied states in the region. Rather than increasing political participation, the non democratic state rulers, like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, have cracked down on democratic opposition. Because Bush did not keep his promises or carry out his threats, Washington has lost friends and influence and gained hostility. The downhill slide has not ended.
The Israelis, heartened by the exuberance shown by Bush for their own aggressive impulses, played their neocon role in July 2006 when they attacked Lebanon in response to a Hezbollah incursion. The IDF and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert still lick their wounds from their defeat in that war. Indeed, they inadvertently helped enhance the popularity of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah throughout the Arab region. According to the 2008 Arab Public Opinion Poll, conducted in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and the UAE, Nasrallah, followed by Syria’s Bashar al-Asad and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, topped the list of popular leaders. The same survey found that 83% of Arabs hold an “unfavorable view” of the US. (Shibley Telhami )
Another serious neocon fiasco occurred in Israel. Instead of achieving a settlement with a weak PLO leadership that would not insist that Israel revert to its 1967 borders as dictated by the UN, the neocon attempts to destroy Hamas contributed to its electoral victory in Gaza in January 2006. The US choice to represent all Palestinians is a widely rejected Abbas government that cannot mobilize support for any initiative. In addition, the Israelis followed neocon chutzpah and kept expanding settlements on Palestinian land, a serious obstacle to any peace agreement:
The US military has shown it has power — to kill lots of people in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this fact of possessing unparalleled air, sea and ground power has not brought victory in either place – just as it didn’t in Vietnam and Korea. By making war its substitute for diplomacy, Washington abrogated its diplomatic role in the region. Instead, less than prestigious regimes have taken the initiative that logically belonged to the great power to help negotiate settlements with Iran and Syria, in Lebanon with Hezbollah and in Palestine with Hamas,
The 18 month political crisis in Lebanon, pitting the Western-backed government against the Hezbollah-led opposition, ebded last April thanks to the Doha Agreement. Qatar—alongside the Arab League and Syria—and not the US, helped broker a diplomatic solution leading to the formation of a national unity government. Under the agreement the opposition maintains its veto power over cabinet decisions—fulfilling a key demand from Hezbollah. This embarassed Bush (thanks to his neocon strategy), who sought to undermine Hezbollah’s power.
In June, Egypt mediated a truce between Israel and Hamas, in which Israel agreed to allow a limited flow of goods to and from Gaza, in exchange for Hamas halting rocket attacks against Israeli targets. The truce is fragile, but significantly Israel recognized the failure of the Bush administration and neocon approach to isolate Hamas. As Menachem Klein, a former nongovernmental Israeli negotiator, stated, “Israel is acknowledging, in effect, that its blockade has not worked and Hamas is here to stay.” (Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2008)
The Israelis also ignored Washington’s admonition about responding to Syrian peace feelers. So, Israel turned to Turkey, leading to the beginning of indirect talks between Syria and Israel. Even with many neocons gone from the upper echelons, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice could still not define a controlling US space in the volatile region. The members of this power-minded clique did their damage.
Even in its own “backyard,” Washington has lost power and prestige. The US government pays hundreds of millions of dollars to Colombia each year – using the never ending “war on drugs” as a pretext – to insure Bogota’s minimal obeisance.
Alan Garcia in Peru would like to kiss US butt; however, anti-US sentiment prevents him from fully bending over. In the rest of the lower continent, Fidel Castro’s disciples run Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. In early August, President Evo Morales won an important referendum against US-backed elitists who wanted to divide – and then conquer — Bolivia. More than 62 percent of voters in this Andean nation ratified the mandate of Morales and his vice president, Alvaro Garcia.
Castro’s political cousins head governments in Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Even Honduras and Guatemala have moved away from US control in Central America. Only El Salvador – polls show it will change in the next year’s election – remains obedient.
Using force and threat proved unsuccessful in the extreme. Bush’s policies have made the world more dangerous. As grisly photos of the Russian-Georgian conflict put new blemishes on TV screens, a neocon who advised the Georgian government on its disastrous course emerges as John McCain’s senior foreign policy adviser. Randy Scheunemann, paid by Georgia for four years to lobby – until March 2008–had helped design the Iraq war strategy when he directed the Project for a New American Century. He also assured them of US support against Russia. Like the other neocons, he assumed the façade of toughness. When Russian planes and tanks hit, Bush sent humanitarian aid to Tbilisi and made more empty threats to Moscow.
Given Scheunemann’s – and fellow neocons – proven record of bungling, a McCain victory presages a continuation of the course that has led the country downhill. Imagine President McCain surrounded by neocons! Wouldn’t it behoove the Obama campaign to publicly draw some obvious lessons?
Saul Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow, author of A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD (A/K-Counterpunch) and producer of many films. See http://roundworldproductions.com/Site/Films_by_Saul_Landau_on_DVD.html
Farrah Hassen is the Carol Jean and Edward F. Newman Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.