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Sunday
Aug272006

Needed for Long War: strategic imagination

The Big Bang was President Bush's strategy of shaking things up for the better in the Middle East, using Saddam Hussein's takedown as trigger. At first it worked like a charm, as promising changes ensued in Libya, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere.

Now all those tenuous advances appear overwhelmed by recent events.

If the Big Bang ultimately fails, much of the blame will lie with the Bush administration and its unwillingness to change its tactics once it got the ball rolling. In short, this crowd knows when to say no but not when to say yes.

When it came to triggering this Big Bang, President Bush summarily rejected all the reservations voiced by experts and our allies, all of whom feared that the tumult unleashed would be uncontrollable and bloody. I agreed with Bush's decision then - and still do now - because I think it's better to speed the killing that's inevitable in this Long War against religious-inspired extremism than to sit back and pretend we can contain it.

Why?

Globalization's rapid spread is driving this Long War, not the United States. Wipe Israel off the map, strip away oil, forget about al-Qaida, and this one essential truth still remains: The Middle East is woefully unprepared for globalization - politically, economically and socially. There is simply no way this integration process is going to be peaceful.

But there's also no way globalization's advance can be stopped, despite Osama bin Laden's fantastic dream of a permanent civilizational apartheid between Islam and the world.

Both al-Qaida and the West's anti-globalism fanatics are operating under the pathetic delusion that this era's globalization is merely an elitist ideology to be defeated instead of a profound, individual-driven ambition that's been unleashed upon the world by the collapse of socialism in the East.

Three billion new capitalists joined the global economy in the last generation, and guess what? They want it all, and they want it now.

And, yeah, that means the Middle East is joining the world, whether it likes it or not.

But here's where our strategic imagination needed to kick in big time on the Big Bang strategy - and therein lay the fatal weakness of the Bush administration.

You take down Saddam, and what comes next? Iran becomes the biggest Islamic military power in the region.

That means you better find a way to accommodate Tehran's newfound confidence - and its nukes.

You topple a secular dictator in a majority Shiite country, and what comes next? Shiite nationalism is unleashed around the Gulf, where Shiia make up half the population.

This, in turn, puts Iran in the driver's seat as the region's biggest Shiite power, able to wield proxy war at the drop of a hat, as recently demonstrated in Lebanon with Shiite protege Hezbollah.

You dismember Iraq's Baathist regime and what comes next? That artificial state, dreamed up by the colonial Brits decades ago, effectively separates into its constitute parts.

That means you need Saudi Arabia's help on the Sunnis, Turkey's acquiescence on the Kurds, and - yet again - Iran's help with the majority Shiia.

Sense a pattern here?

But with Iran, the Bush administration chooses to say no when it eventually will be forced to say yes.

In World War II, the U.S. held its nose and allied itself with the distasteful dictatorship known as the Soviet Union.

FDR embraced Uncle Joe because he had bigger fish to fry at the time - Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan. Stalin said yes because America's enemies had overrun his eastern and western borders.

Yes, in the end Stalin made out like a bandit, capturing half of Europe and developing his own nuclear weapons in the meantime, but come up with a better scenario if you can.

What's so sad about the Bush administration's decision to rerun the whole weapons-of-mass-destruction drama on Iran is that Tehran has played us like a fool to date in this Long War: we remove its next-door enemies - Taliban, Saddam - expanding Iran's ideological leadership to include half the region's restive populations, meanwhile providing the mullahs opportunity - thanks to our current tie-down in Iraq - to reach for the bomb.

In short, Iran gets all the benefits of being our wartime ally without any sacrifice. To me, that's freeloading of the worst sort - self-inflicted.

We either get smarter or this Long War gets longer.

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