Thursday, February 24, 2011

Middle East Revolutions and the Bush Doctrine

The count on middle east Revolutions stands at 2.9 by my count. Tunisia. Egypt. Libya set to topple in days, if not hours. And in addition to the despots already given the hook, it looks like there's bullpen action in a few other spots already.

So obviously revolution and reform in the Middle East is a huge and growing story right now. It occurs to me that few if any folks seem eager to talk about this in the context of the Bush doctrine. You know, where we'd set up a starter democracy or two, hold some open houses, see if anyone else wanted to buy in. Marketing via twitter, facebook, skype, and so on.

From the beginning, I viewed the Bush Doctrine first and foremost as extremely risky. Too risky for my tastes, in fact. Bush decided to gamble big and roll the dice. And at this point in time, I would say that the dice are still a-tumblin'.

Maybe that's why neither liberals nor conservatives seem eager to discuss the connection. Generally, partisans prefer to know the outcome first, and then opine comfortably in sanctimonious hindsight. That's precisely why NOW is such a great time to talk about whether there's a real substantive connection, and what its extent is. C'mon, say whether you think it makes sense to connect things before you know whether you're handing out credit or assigning blame. Now THAT would be revolutionary.


  1. If you believe that the Bush Doctrine (particularly its application to Iraq) is at all responsible for the popular uprisings in North Africa and elsewhere, you should probably extract yourself from further blog commentary on foreign policy and go back to decrying New York City mosques.

  2. I'm asking you. If you believe it's utterly unrelated, then make a cogent argument supported by facts.

    And then, if popular uprisings across the middle east turn out well, you can then argue credibly that Bush deserves no credit. Just as, if they turn out poorly, you can admit he deserves no blame.

  3. Cranky Critter --

    The onus is on you to prove that there's some connection, beyond your half-assed post hoc ergo propter hoc musings.

    Also, the Bush doctrine never applied to foreign allies such as Egypt, whether they were ruled by dictators or not.

    The Tunisan, Egyptian and Libyan protesters aren't recently back from liberty vacations in Baghdad. They're young, numerous, poor, and deprived of freedoms and opportunity. But thanks to the internet, thy are now more able to organize, share information, and subversively undermine the autocrats who oppress them.

    But I enjoyed your fleeting hope that the Iraq War was anything but wasteful disaster for the United States and Iraq.

  4. The onus is never on me at my blog to any extent greater than I take it upon myself. That's the main feature of having my own blog.

    I've asked a simple question. You're not interested in crafting a cogent answer based on a broad facts. All you have to offer is a pithy drive-by, which is a waste of everyone's time.

    But at least you have gone on record as saying you feel that Bush doctrine deserves neither credit nor blame for whatever the outcome eventually is in these states. And that's a good thing. If they go awry in ugly ways, you'll have to attribute blame elsewhere. You won't be able to retroactively blame the Bush doctrine should any of these states fall into longer-term civil chaos,

    Personally, I think most folks should be happy to agree that the revolters themselves have been the primary initiators. I wish them well, and I hope for the best. I suspect that in retrospect they will see that finally overthrowing their tyrant was an easy task in comparison to establishing a new civil structure that fits their needs and demands. In other words, while it was easy to agree that they were against their tyrant, it will be much harder to define the places where folk agree about what they are for. Those areas of agreement will not be nearly as clear as the agreement of being against their tyrant.

    And I expect that the results will turn out mixed. Nations with strong and viable existing institutions, some experience with modern civil governance, and a decent economic structure which includes goods and services that are in global demand have a reason for hope.

    Others have a lot more work to do. Unfortunately, protesting to demand jobs doesn't create those jobs. Freedom creates opportunity, but taking advantage of opportunity requires resources. The people can't feed their families or pay their rent with soaring ideals.

  5. Dream: Seriously, can you read?

    He was merely pointing out that all this stuff is happening within a decade of the Bush doctrine and asking people to discuss their thoughts.

    Not only aren't you writing anything of substance that contributes to the dialogue, you're attacking him for a whole bunch of shit (can we curse here KK?) that he didn't even write.

    I was just thinking about this, KK. I don't have much to offer by way of opinion yet, and I'm loathe to give Bush credit for anything, but I'm smart enough to at least research the Bush doctrine a little bit better and make my own decisions before firing off an incoherent, anti-Bush tirade. Apparently, though, I'm fine with Anti-Dream tirades.

    It's hard to see how our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq could lead to the events in Egypt and everywhere else. I'd be interested to hear an argument for the idea.

    I don't think you'll hear much from the conservatives though. The tea party bunch have no interest in subject and the establishment Republicans are too worried about Sharia rule to take credit for it if it happens.


  6. Thanks for stopping by, Jacob. You wanna curse here, that's Ok with me. I'm of the school where one tries to avoid gratuitous cursing, but sometimes the curse set is the only set that includes le mot juste.

    Like you, I'm mulling it over. Mostly in anticipation of it becoming a widespread pissy flame war sooner or later. Where we re-fight the debates of 2001.

    So far, here's the thing for me. From the beginning, I viewed the Bush doctrine (which I'll use as referring to all post 9/11 Bush admin foreign policy actions related to the middle east etc) first and foremost as a gambit. A great big risk. In the context of a risk, we're talking about probability.

    So, if someone bets the house on 17 red and wins, does that "vindicate" their choice to undertake the gamble? In my mind, not really. Depends on the stakes and the probability. Gambling wise, I would say that gambles which are roughly 50-50ish are defensible. Gambles which are less likely to turn out well are only defensible in the context of another factor, like say, desperation. So, if you're disabled and on a low fixed income like say SS disability, then spending 10 bucks a week on lottery tickets is probably defensible. Spending a higher amount which lead to predictable losses that substantially harm your lifestyle and finances are probably not defensible.

    My sense is that Bush made a very big stakes bet given my estimate of the probability of success. In fact, my interpretation of the Bush doctrine is that the low probability of success in Afghanistan contributed to the decision to invade Iraq, a nation much better poised to become some sort of modern quasi-democracy.

    The risk of the Bush doctrine was that directly stirring the pot in Afghanistan and Iraq (and to some extent in Pakistan) could lead to other political changes in the region that we could not control, whether we liked the direction of those changes or not.

    In my mind it's quite possible that the Bush doctrine contributed in some way (probably pretty small) to the regional zeitgiest where folks wanted more liberty and opportunity, but were afraid to try. IMO it's likely that folks across the mid-east watched what happened in Iraq and were BOTH horrified by the violence and loss of life, _and_ concurrently jealous that Iraq's tyrant had been deposed while theirs endured.

    America should avoid patting itself on the back for several important reasons. One, we absolutely didn't invade either Afghanistan or Iraq for benevolent reasons. We did so out of narrow self-interest. Of course, we made a great show o0fpossible beneficial side effects, but they absolutely were NOT the reasons why we acted.

    Two, it's revolters on the ground who are literally putting everything they have on the line for the sake of stripping off the yoke of tyranny. These actions so far outweigh any conceivable role America played that we appear petty if we claim that we deserve some sort of thanks. And again, we didn't act out of benevolence in the first place.

    Third, I am of a mind that by far the most important
    "external" factor contributing to middle eastern revolts is social networking in its various forms. Revolution requires timely stealthy organization. This largely involved proximity in the past. Social networking allowed unrest to collect, organize, and scale in way that was impossible less than a generation ago. In fact. The Social Network II: Egyptmight be a 2013 oscar nominee.

  7. Not much I would argue with there.

    Direct effects of a policy bundle that hasn't been operative for over two years on ME events now are roughly nil. Especially after two years of the Obama admin's own "smart diplomacy," which seems to consist of [1] alienate allies, [2] apologize to everyone else, and [3] vote "present" when a crisis presents itself.

    IOW, while the neoconnish reasoning behind the BD's fourth prong of democratic regime change might be valid, that doesn't hook in the BD as a major causative agent of today's revolts. And whether or not the reasoning is correct, the revolts are their own beasts, not ours, and how we are perceived by the resulting successor governments will depend one hell of a lot more on what the current admin says and does than on anything else. Which is scary enough.

  8. Well, regardless of how different you or I think today's foreign policy is from GWB's, I think we can both agree that the US is largely stuck with a big dose of "you can't push on a string."

    The revolts are, as you say, their own beasts. Of course, it is important to worry about how we are perceived by successor governments. And we'd like to be "directorial" in ways that are beneficial to our interests. But given that the revolts are primarily about self-determination, we want to avoid appearing directorial. So we have to make responses that feel like we're just trying to help, but which encourage certain flows that we want to see.

    For that reason, I'm not very troubled by what you describe as "voting present during a crisis." To me, much of that feels like avoiding interceding in a way that helps bolster a despot's ability to muster support to him via anti-americanism. In other words, we want to make it hard for folks like Qaddafi to credibly play the great satan card.

    You know they are going to try to play the great satan card. But if we've avoided becoming prominently and publicly involved, then here's what happens right after the dictator plays the great satan card: the people trump it with the "you've been a fucking asshole for several decades" card instead of the "we must unite against the great satan" card.

    Of course, as I keep saying, as hard as overthrowing a despot seems, as soon as that's done, the much greater difficulty immediately presents: that of finding positive things for the people to agree on and move forward with. It's going to be our foreign policy during these stages that will assume far more importance than how our responses during the immediate crises were perceived.

  9. I think that what is happening now in the Middle East was clearly GWB's vision. The cause and effect part is not as clear to me. And whether there is going to be the type of relatively soft landing that we saw in Eastern Europe is also not clear to me.

  10. News flash: As the Iran uprisings showed, they will play the Great Satan card whether or not we do a damn thing. And in this age of global insta-media, the Great Satan only works with those who want to believe it anyway, regardless of the truth. As then, I'm not talking about pounding the pulpit and threatening fire and brimstone, but simply stating fairly quickly AND PUBLICLY that we categorically object to, say, slaughtering protesters. Instead of saying nothing for a week or more while it goes on. It's ot a good thing when NATO and even the UN show more backbone than POTUS.

    I have no objections to the admin walking softly and carrying a big stick. If only they would learn to walk, and could manage to remember where the hell they put that stick.

    Instead we're getting a re-run of Carterism, and that may be the optimistic view.

  11. Todd, I disagree. It's far too soon to know whether the uprisings will result in democratization, or whether resulting democracies (if any) will be less antagonistically inclined towards the US.

    Tunisia and Egypt are currently being ruled by juntas that promise new elections. Whether or not they can or will deliver remains to be seen.

  12. I agree that it's a given that various despots will play the great satan card. That's why I didn't say anything about tailoring our actions to prevent that. The operative word in my initial statement was credibly.

    We've made it somewhat harder for this card to be played credibly and thus effectively. If it's your best remaining card, you play it anyway. But now it's getting played onto a game board where America is not at the time directly involved with troops, weapons, advisors, a long list of demands. and so on. Add in the social networking and frequent communication, and the GSC play is less credible than ever.

    Because it becomes quite clear to revolters that their despot is desperately trying to make it about the United States instead of about him. But revolters know that it's about their leader and his long record of failure in the eyes of the people.

    Now we're in a position where revolters may be looking for our help. Thus our involvement, if it comes, is in a very different context. Instead of being in the context of meddlers dictating outcomes, we're invited helpers: white knights.

    I think I see Todd's point. In his view, what is happening now absolutely is part of the vision GWB hoped would unfold. (and as Todd said, even though it's part of what he envisioned, he's doubtful as to whether he caused it, per se) I don't think he's saying that current events represent any completion of that vision. In other words, I think he's just saying that GWB envisioned our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan leading to dissatisfaction with tyranny nearby, and governmental reform.

    The completion of the GWB vision is that the reform leads to stable modern democracies. We all know that hasn't happened yet, and that its more plausible in some spots than others.

  13. It's easy to see all changes as leading towards one's "vision," but it's often just a form of tunnel vision. We have not been "white knights" in any of the three revolts so far -- nor has the admin been of any help to anyone yet. Inaction and silence is not assistance.

    There is no reason for the revolutionaries to be grateful to us, and no particularly sound reason at this point to believe that any resulting new government will be more sympathetic to us than the one it's replacing -- or particularly democratic by our standards.

    As a tool, the Great Satan card is sure to look just as attractive to them as it did to their predecessors. The only things we could do to make it less attractive as a tool would be to cut loose the Little Satan, or actually become White Knights.

    The central concept of democratic regime change in the BD depends on the prime assumption that antipathy towards the US is largely dependent on social disarray and a lack of freedom. Even if those assumptions (and the resulting conclusions) are correct, the necessary prerequisites for the BD to work are the establishment of stable societies and the advance of liberty as we understand it in those societies. Your alternate "white knight" concept (which is not unsound) is dependent on us actually being "white knights."

    That requires action on the admin's part, not inaction. At this point, our best bet for moving towards those goals is to back the new governments when they get solid enough to not topple on the continung turmoil.

    IMHO our best way to start making some brownie points right now would be massive humanitarian relief at the Egyptian and Tunisian borders, where tens of thousands fleeing the violence in Libya are creating a major disaster in terms of suffering. And I don't mean by pledging a few million for supplies and leaving the efforst to the UN.

  14. Sounds on target to me. I'm not advocating that we continue to stay uninvolved. Instead, I was saying that the way we'd handled things so far had seemed pretty sound,

    I agree with you know that we need to evolve our policy as things develop. I also agree that stepping forward forcefully with large doses humanitarian aid on the borders of the Libyan conflic tis a good first step.

    I saw Gates on CNN tonight. I thought it was great that he said that there had been, frankly, a lot of loose talk about a no-fly zone, and that we all ought to be clear that the first step in doing that would involve immediate air strikes within Libya to cripple their air defenses. That's a very relevant point. Some folks seem to think we can establish a no-fly zone by mere force or personality.

    I really want us to step up in useful and productive ways. But especially given our ongoing commitments elsewhere, I want us to step up as part of a line of many nations stepping up together. I want us to be one of many voices calling for Quaddafi's resignation (or ouster by other means).

    So far, he seems without external support, and his internal viability is iffy. He may be far too mad to go without a bloody battle that he imagines to be glorious. Maybe we'll luck out and someone near him will suddenly decide to put him down. Are the guns of his female body guards actually loaded?

  15. Here, Krauthammer is more optimistic than I am ... though he's pointedly critical of the admin's "smart diplomacy" as well.

  16. I'm not commenting on how I think this is all going to turn out. Iran tossed out an autocrat 30 years ago and it didn't turn out too well for us. I am under no illusion that the immediate future in the Middle East is necearrily going to be better than the past. I'm just saying that GWB was willing to make that bet; history will sort out whether it was a good bet, but the invasion of Iraq undoubtedly changed the course of events in the region.