To be scorned and shunned
Michael Totten trembles as the New York Times threatens to unload its ultimate weapon. Trembles in laughter, most probably. The NYT warned Syria that it would pay a price for its aggression. And what a price.
Damascus must also be told that it will pay a high price — in scorn, isolation and sanctions — if it is found to have ordered Mr. Gemayel’s death, or the deaths or maiming of a half-dozen other anti-Syrian politicians and journalists. Hezbollah must be told that it will be shunned if it tries to grab power through further violence or intimidation.
But it is Russell Berman who points out that 'scorn' and 'shunning' are all that are left now now that we have foresworn the old policy of confronting tyrants in favor of the new one of "engaging" them. The mid-term elections of November now turns out to have been a referendum between the GWB's policy -- poorly articulated though it might have been -- and a policy which kept itself in the shadows, hat pulled over its face, but is now striding into center stage to claim the prize.
The policy vision of a democratized Middle East is now relegated to the dustbin of history, dismissed as a Wilsonian illusion strangely in the hands of a Republican president, now to be replaced by the older and wiser formula of a system of stable states, secure in their sovereignty and therefore committed to preserving order. It won't be democratic but at least (so they promise) it will be quiet. After the revolution: Metternich (which is why we suddenly have to listen to Kissinger again). More specifically—so the plan may go—if the US begins to "talk" with Iran and Syria, the axis-of-evil member and its mini-me might stop making trouble and become engaged in the establishment of order in Iraq.
Berman argues, along with the Belmont Club, that the new policy of "realism" must substantively exclude the Iraqi government. In that post I argued:
Again we hear that it is not in any of the neighboring country's interests to destabilize Iraq. And on this premise we base the hopes of the conference. But that is not enough. It is almost as important to declare the process of "staying the course" dead. And here perhaps is the reason why the Iraqi government is given such short shrift. It is entirely the product of "staying the course", the end result of countinsurgence, elections, constitutional ratifications and parliamentary governance of the last three years. To include the Iraqi government in a conference would be to legitimize it, and by extension the Bush policy of the last 3 years. And that must on no account be done.
In particular it would be awkward if talks with Iran and Syria were constrained by the provisions of the Iraqi constitution. What would be the point of convening an international meeting to decide the affairs of a nominally sovereign government unless it were possible to decide it? Berman puts a similar thought very eloquently.
The regional version of realism which places the emphasis on an arrangement with neighboring states tends to minimize the significance of domestic Iraqi concerns: which is exactly why it involves dismissing "democracy." Instead of pursuing the establishment of domestic Iraqi institutions, this strategy implies ceding influence to Tehran and Damascus, in order to "solve" Baghdad. (As if the Yugoslav wars could have been solved by "talking" in Budapest and Athens.)
Berman notes that the policy of "engagement" with Syria and Iran implicitly identifies the fundamental drivers of violence in Iraq as emanating from those two countries. Were this not the case, the "realists" would be twiddling the wrong knob. But he wonders whether involving Syria and Iran will actually bring peace to Iraq. He notes that many of Iraq's problems arise from its own historical composition -- ironically the result of an earlier "international" conference and whose boundaries were defined by Sykes and Picot. Why will encouraging more foreign intervention -- and from Syria and Iran at that -- be a formula for peace in the region. Where has it been a formula for peace in the region?
But Berman reserves his loudest guffaws for the New York Times editorial -- the editorial that Michael Toten laughingly cited threatening the fires of scorn upon Syria -- not simply because of its fatuousness, but because the NYT actually believes the process of "engagement" can be extended to pacify the whole region, ensuring all the while of course that Damascus does not escape the authority of the United Nations.
The United Nations took an important step this week, approving the creation of a tribunal to prosecute the killers of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister. The only question there is which top Syrian official gave the order. This page believes that the United States needs to begin a dialogue with Syria, about Iraq and regional peace. But President Bashar al-Assad needs to understand that neither the tribunal nor Lebanon’s independence will ever be on the bargaining table. Europe, Russia and all of Syria’s neighbors need to join Washington in delivering that message.
In this editorial excerpt New York Times rises to its full height clothed in the panopoly of Moral Authority. Except that by some Wardrobe Malfunction it has donned the garb of both Judas and Pontius Pilate. Berman comments on the bankruptcy of the whole NYT position:
In other words: talk with Syria while denying its key policy objectives. Hardly realistic. The NYT advocates selling out democracy (in Iraq and elsewhere), while trying to keep its hands clean, presumably hoping to be able to leave the dirty dealing to the State Department. (The suggestion that the Europeans might carry this message is almost as hilarious as the suggestion that Putin will talk tough to Assad. What is that editorial board smoking?) ...
This critique of realism is directed at two distinct addresses, an unholy alliance of anti-democrats. First, there is the foreign policy establishment, looking for a Metternichian resolution of the region. In this arena, democracy is no particular desideratum: it's all about stability. Fair enough, one might comment: there is no interest in democracy, and no democracy will be encouraged. At least there's no hypocrisy. The problem is that a stable outcome is even more unlikely. ... The critique of realism is also directed to the left. If one reads the midterm election as a repudiation of Bush foreign policy that is leading to this new realism, then one can only conclude that the electoral victory of the left in the US means counterrevolution in the Middle East: ending democracy in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.
Berman reminds us what intellectual company the NYT is keeping, and I thought I was cruel to mention Judas.
From London, where George Galloway "celebrated" Nasrallah during the summer, to Berkeley, where Judith Butler anointed Hezbollah as part of the international left, the anti-imperialist camp has made its allegiance quite clear: siding with Hezbollah and the forces of dictatorship against any westernizing or liberal democracy movement. Perversely the left's attack on "unilateralism" and the realist's suspicion of democratic idealism have converged—but only rightly so, since the left has its own anti-democratic legacy, while for realists, the name of the game is negotiation in which "unilateralism" is out of place. Butler and Galloway in bed with Baker and Kissinger—not a pretty picture.
"Not a pretty picture" is one way of putting it. But that's an aesthetic condemnation. An operational judgment might be closer to the way I characterized what was unfolding on the day Rumsfeld was unceremoniously dumped. It is a rout. To think otherwise is to accept the illusion that accommodation with Syria and Lebanon will gain any respite other than the time it takes to digest the sold-out Middle Eastern democracy movements. And in any case there's always the existence of Israel to keep the pot bubbling. Syria has already asked for the Golan in exchange for "helping" in Iraq. The hard-nosed objection to "realism" is that it is not; that is unlikely to deliver the stability it seeks. On the contrary, the new policy may spread unrest by empowering the very centers of subversion in the region. And lastly, in case anybody still cares, it will destroy any belief in the advantages of trusting America, which unlike the UN must come begging for legitimacy. This classic NYT editorial ends:
We would urge Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to go immediately to Beirut, except we’re not sure she would be welcome after President Bush’s failure last summer to restrain Israel’s disastrous air war. Ms. Rice might still do some good if she brought with her a large group of European and moderate Arab foreign ministers. That is a sad admission about the limits of American influence. But Mr. Siniora needs all the help he can get.
The New York Times thinks that Syrian aggression will be punished by it being scorned and shunned by the "international community". They have it entirely wrong. That is a fate reserved for America the loser. That's "realism".