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Sunday
Mar252007

Foreign policy: Distinguishing dedication from commitment

I recently spent some time with an old friend who commands a big chunk of America's overseas military. This natural-born leader explains the difference between dedication and commitment as follows: the chicken is dedicated to your breakfast, but the pig is committed.

Think about the wide chasm, and you'll come to the same conclusion I have about where our nation's foreign policy has gone so incredibly wrong under President George W. Bush. We've committed ourselves to specific outcomes where we should remain dedicated to broader goals.

America should be dedicated to the goal of encouraging democracy around the world but committed to forcing its appearance nowhere. It was perfectly fine to topple the right dictator (Saddam Hussein) under the right circumstances (indicted by the U.N. Security Council more than a dozen times) but wrong to commit to Iraq's rapid transition to democracy (an unrealistic goal).

Our invasion of Iraq was an amazing success (fewer than 150 combat casualties across several weeks of combat), but our attempts to steer the resulting postwar situation toward a stable outcome have yielded a stunning disaster, so much so that Iraq has lapsed back into warfare across multiple dimensions (e.g., terrorism, insurgency, sectarian strife). The more we remain committed to Iraq's premature democracy, the longer this struggle remains - quite mistakenly in our minds - America's to prolong or end.

But Iraq's multiple conflicts are not ours to win or lose. We've run into levels of commitment on the other side (e.g., Kurds, Shiia, Sunnis, jihadists, criminals) that we're unwilling to match. We conflate the American public's dedication with the Bush administration's commitments - two very different things.

The way out seems clear enough: settle for what we can get now and remain dedicated to improving the situation over time.

What can we get?

First, we've launched a successful Kurdish nation, into which our remaining combat troops should largely retreat, in addition to being removed to sea. Second, we're stuck with a Sunni-Shiite civil war that either burns itself out because Iraq's neighbors commit themselves to squelching it or extends itself ad infinitum because Riyadh and Tehran are both committed to ruling the Gulf now that America is clearly over-extended and far too isolated.

The Bush administration's unwavering commitments elsewhere in the region complicate our seemingly intractable position in Iraq.

Bush and Cheney remain unblinking in their commitment to Israel but only marginally dedicated to a peaceful solution between Israel and Palestine. The world may end up recognizing Palestine's recently forged unity government, but Israel won't and therefore neither will America. As such, this conflict, like the war in Iraq, gets passed on to the next administration.

The Bush administration's commitment to Israel naturally translates into further commitment: stopping Tehran's reach for the bomb. America may be dedicated to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, but we're committed to stopping only certain states from obtaining them.

Israel, the world's most powerful undeclared nuclear state, possesses roughly 200 warheads, in addition to a conventional military significantly superior to Iran's. Thanks to our enduring commitment, Israel could easily wipe Iran off the map - today. And yet there is serious talk throughout Washington about our inevitable war with Iran.

Ask yourself, whose interests are advanced by such commitment? American? Israeli? Saudi?

Remember this: When we go to war, our home front is dedicated, but our troops are committed.

America, we are told by this administration, is committed to stopping terrorism around the world. Thus, as Sunni-Shiite violence explodes in Iraq, our government takes the necessary step of arresting Iranian operatives caught funneling support to Shiite belligerents because, inevitably, some of that support will end up killing American troops.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, which has threatened all-out support for Iraqi Sunnis if the American-backed central government doesn't rein in Shiite fighters, quietly honors its commitments to its co-religionists. Such support will also - quite inevitably - end up killing American troops.

Expect any Saudi operatives to be arrested anytime soon?

Let's be clear: This administration - like so many before it - is dedicated to stopping international terrorism but is fully committed to the House of Saud.

I'm a grand strategist who's worked with the U.S. military his entire career, and here is what I've learned: Stay dedicated to your friends but remain committed to your core principles.

Oh, and trust both your allies and your enemies to be exactly who they are.

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