The New York Times belatedly senses a mounting world crisis and wants America to act forcefully to deal with it, with or without Russia and China; with or without the UN. Yet it cannot bring itself to admit what part it has played in the problem. In an op-ed today it said:
Khartoum was obviously feeling cocky. But why shouldn’t it? The Security Council — or more to the point, the big powers that run the Security Council — made clear that it won’t send in troops to stop the genocide unless Sudan first agrees. Then there’s Iran, which is still defiantly enriching uranium. And the North Koreans, who blew off the rest of the world when they blew off what they said was a nuclear weapon this week. ...
There is plenty of blame to go around when it comes to empowering rogue states. The Chinese have been shielding Sudan and North Korea. The Russians have been shielding Iran. ... Closing our eyes for another two years isn’t an answer. Washington needs to assert its leadership, no matter how tattered, on all these fronts. We suspect that cargo inspections and a cutoff of military and luxury trade will not be enough to get North Korea to back down. But having started there, Mr. Bush now needs to tell China and Russia that all future relations will be judged on how they hold the North to account. ...
As for Darfur, Khartoum might feel less cocky if Mr. Bush announced that he was taking the lead on soliciting troops for a peacekeeping force while asking NATO to start drawing up plans for a possible forced entry should the United Nations fail to act.
Why, the Times asks, can't the Bush administration be as forceful as President Clinton? "When the Russians blocked U.N. action in Kosovo, President Clinton got NATO to stop the killing." In the NYT's view the America has been paralyzed because of Iraq and the political weakness of the Bush Administration.
President Bush has squandered so much of America’s moral authority — not to mention our military resources — that efforts to shame or bully the right behavior from adversaries (and allies) sound hollow. ... But the United States is so overstretched in Iraq that no one in this White House is even talking about sending NATO to stop ethnic cleansing that has already left more than 200,000 dead and displaced more than two million. ... We fear it will take a lot more than the trials of a few low-level prison guards to repair the damage, whether from Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, the secret prisons or the whole mismanaged Iraq war. There can be no impunity at home either.
Of course, what the editorial apprently means is that there can be no impunity for George Bush; for the Democrats impunity is awarded as a matter of principle. In fact, Oxblog examines the widely held liberal argument that since "the Democrats are the opposition, they have no obligation to propose an alternative policy for Iraq" -- and finds it unpersuasive. "The point being that it is absolutely impossible for anyone to do worse than Bush, so it is completely irrevelant whether Democrats have polished arguments and well-developed plans" is an intellectually bankrupt stance besides being the fundamental reason why the Republican Party has the monopoly on national security issues. You can't fight something with nothing. And that's in the end what the NYT editorial throws up in the face of the world crisis. Nothing.
Here's a related article in the Washington Post from Robert Burns, which notes that the US military is not all about Iraq. As has been pointed out on this site before, the last 8 years have seen major changes that have practically flown under the radar. The redeployment of US troops from the DMZ; the buildup at Guam; ballistic missile defense -- just to name a few -- are instances of the vast change in US posture since the end of the Cold War. Not every analyst things the changes are laudatory, but the Wapo story reminds us that American defense needs are "full spectrum". They need to take into account a vast spread of threats, ranging from nuclear war, to a conventional clash between armies to fighting terrorists in different parts of the world. Here's what Burns has to say:
Much of the United States' ground combat might is tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. is reducing its infantry forces in South Korea. But American air and sea power in east Asia, a key to almost any imaginable military conflict with North Korea, has grown in numbers and reach. ... Michael Green, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a private research group, said in an interview Tuesday that short of a total collapse of North Korea, the U.S. military has what it needs to handle the problem. "The South Korean ground forces are strong enough to handle and deter a North Korean attack on the ground," said Green, who was senior director for Asia on President Bush's National Security Council. "What they need is help with air forces and naval forces, and that is not what we're using in Iraq right now."
And here's the counterintuitive part, but one which is apparently in line with the current administration's strategy: shifting the burden onto US allies.
Next week Rumsfeld is scheduled to meet at the Pentagon with his South Korean counterpart to discuss progress in reducing U.S. forces in South Korea, consolidating the remaining troops on fewer bases farther from the North Korean border, and shifting more command authority to the South Korean government. The Pentagon wants to restore wartime control of South Korean forces to the Seoul government as early as 2009, but the South Koreans say they need more time, at least until 2012, to create a new command structure.
That's why the argument about the opposition not having any obligation to propose alternative defense policies is so nonsensical. It is a fundamental requirement for any serious political party to constantly refine its thinking about what it takes to keep the United States and the world safe. It can never be enough for any opposition party to say "it is absolutely impossible for anyone to do worse than Bush" and therefore you must vote for us, whatever we happen to think or whether we have bothered to think anything at all.