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A History Channel television marathon last week profiled US presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush. Each brief profile began with bullet point summaries of each president’s unique attributes and demeanor. The profiles ended with over-arching themes of each administration. Lincoln’s theme and celebrated his ability to rise to successive challenges presented by slavery and the civil war. Theodore Roosevelt’s was that of an enigma. Teddy was the big game hunter who became the father of the ecology movement and national parks system. Herbert Hoover’s spectrum ranged from his early, but unsung, triumphs feeding Europe before and during WWI, and success as Commerce Secretary. Overshadowing all was his fall as the scapegoat for the Great Depression.
George W. Bush’s profile was entirely unflattering. The forty-third president was the only be judged intellectually incurious but strong-willed, and highly religious in his bullet points. The History Channel profile reasonably left open the defining themes of president George W. Bush, since his term is not over. Here is a prediction; the Bush theme will be that of a President who was constantly surprised by entirely predictable challenges, most of his own making.
Bush will be remembered as the president who was hand-delivered presidential briefs warning of impending attack by al Qaeda, but who chose not to act until it was too late. He is the president of the administration that was unwilling to budget reinforcement of levies against the destructive power of entirely predictable hurricanes, a mistake that contributed to the destruction of much of New Orleans. Bush is the presiden that declared the end of the Iraq war when it was in its initial stage. Bush is the president surprised and undermined by the criminal prosecution of corrupt operatives of the political machine and spoils system that brought him into power.
Bush’s biggest surprise yet may be just around the corner. Like the other “challenges” it will largely be a disaster of his own making: both highly predictable, but nevertheless devastating. Bush’s fatally flawed Middle East policies may drive either Russia or China to base nuclear missiles in Iran. China might do it, in order to maintain needed access to natural gas and petroleum reserves. China could also benefit from offering a “strategic nuclear umbrella” in the region as a checkmate to the US’s forward Pacific naval deployment and maneuvers, endless administration rhetoric about Taiwan, and pressure for not doing enough to reign in North Korea. Chinese missiles in Iran would be a not-too-subtle rebuke to the US, simultaneously reaffirming sovereignty and the legitimacy of Chinese national interests without creating a direct threat to the US homeland.
Russia, for its part, might wish to create a “nuclear stockade” around territory it does not wish to see turned into another Iraq or radioactive slag heap. By basing short and intermediate range nuclear missiles in Iran, Russia could send the unmistakable message that it is unwilling to see yet another seething mass of violence and destruction created in its back yard by the US. It would create a standoff with Israel’s nuclear missiles, many of which are believed to target Russian cities. Russia’s key interests in deployment are the continued long term access to the Iranian market for engineering services and large scale projects as well as the protection of military exports. A Russian “sphere of influence” in a willing Iran would counter and balance the expected permanent US military presence in Iraq.
Russian or Chinese missiles in Iran would create a global standoff over Iran’s nuclear program. It might even end Iran’s uranium enrichment by eliminating the need to develop its own nuclear weapons. Such a move would also undercut the Bush Administration’s stated designs for a “New World Order” of its own making. A post Cold War realignment in the form of a Sino or Russian-Iranian military alliance would be a regrettable, but realistic great power response to the failed regional policies of neoconservative ideologues. It would be the final failure of the aggressive, but naïve, policies of an administration that has been constantly surprised by its own shadow.
Grant F. Smith is director of research at the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep) in Washington, DC. He is the author of the new book, “Deadly Dogma: How Neoconservatives Broke the Law to Deceive America“.