Tuesday, January 08, 2008

"The blame of those ye better, the hate of those ye guard"

Fouad Ajami looks at how George Bush may be remembered when all the political hoopla has died down.

It was fated, or "written," as the Arabs would say, that George W. Bush, reared in Midland, Texas, so far away from the complications of the foreign world, would be the leader to take America so deep into Arab and Islamic affairs.

This is not a victory lap that President Bush is embarking upon this week, a journey set to take him to Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian territories, the Saudi Kingdom, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Mr. Bush by now knows the heartbreak and guile of that region. After seven years and two big wars in that "Greater Middle East," after a campaign against the terror and the malignancies of the Arab world, there will be no American swagger or stridency.

But Mr. Bush is traveling into the landscape and setting of his own legacy. He is arguably the most consequential leader in the long history of America's encounter with those lands.



Ajami makes several basic arguments. The first is that Bush rightly rejected the proposition that Palestine was the center of the Middle Eastern universe and restored matters to the rightful proportion. "The promise of Palestinian statehood still stood, but the force, and the ambition, of Mr. Bush's project in Iraq, and the concern over Iran's bid for power, had shifted the balance of things in the Arab world toward the Persian Gulf, and away from the Palestinians. The Palestinians had been reduced to their proper scale in the Arab constellation. It was then, and when the American position in Iraq had been repaired, that Mr. Bush picked up the question of Palestine again, perhaps as a courtesy to his secretary of state."

The second is that Bush "held the line" at a moment when a huge Islamic madness threatened to overwhelm the region.

Suffice it for them that George W. Bush was at the helm of the dominant imperial power when the world of Islam and of the Arabs was in the wind, played upon by ruinous temptations, and when the regimes in the saddle were ducking for cover, and the broad middle classes in the Arab world were in the grip of historical denial of what their radical children had wrought. His was the gift of moral and political clarity.

In America and elsewhere, those given reprieve by that clarity, and single-mindedness, have been taking this protection while complaining all the same of his zeal and solitude. In his stoic acceptance of the burdens after 9/11, we were offered a reminder of how nations shelter behind leaders willing to take on great challenges.

But Ajami acknowledges that the cost has been great and that the piper now wants to be paid. The challenges that will be posed over the next few years is how far America is willing to keep back the demons roiling the world in places where the local elites are glad of their temporary salvation but are unwilling to face their own problems. America may have held the line against the madness of "Palestine" and the manias of Islam. But what of the Arabians themselves?

In the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf, a new oil windfall has rewritten the terms of engagement between Pax Americana and the ruling regimes. It is a supreme, and cruel, irony that Mr. Bush travels into countries now awash with money: From 9/11 onwards, America has come to assume the burden of a great military struggle -- and the financial costs of it all -- while the oil lands were to experience a staggering transfusion of wealth.

Saudi Arabia has taken in nearly $900 billion in oil revenues the last six years; the sparsely populated emirate of Abu Dhabi is said to dispose of a sovereign wealth fund approximating a trillion dollars. The oil states have drawn down the public debt that had been a matter of no small consequence to the disaffection of their populations. There had been a time, in the lean 1990s, when debt had reached 120% of Saudi GDP; today it is 5%. There is swagger in that desert world, a sly sense of deliverance from the furies.

Given the enthusiasm to build up in Afghanistan and resolve the problems in Islamabad and Waziristan, maybe the next President will be remembered as the savior of South Asia; as the man (or woman) who kept Pakistan from being consumed by the fires seething beneath its floorboards. That might be the bitter, ironic and yet inescapable task of the hegemon. Rudy Giuliani mooted the possibility of creating a 'League of Democracies' to perform a role which the UN never did. Maybe that will come not a moment too soon.

17 Comments:

Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Rumsfeld's victory: a retrospective look at our de facto flytrap strategy in Iraq

1/08/2008 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger newscaper said...

I have hope that history in 10, 20, 50 years will be kind to Pres. Bush.

But then the true shameful story of how the Democrats lost/betrayed South Vietnam, so relevant today, has effectively been buried by the MSM and universities.

Sigh.

1/08/2008 01:46:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

A Purple Heart in war of ideas?

Bush the Great Strategerist or Bush the Tool?

Both?

Neither?

1/08/2008 01:50:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

Whether history will be kind to Bush depends heavily on the ideology of the historians. Giving him credit for good things may be inconvenient. Magnifying his failures and minimizing his achievements will be the course followed by most.

1/08/2008 01:58:00 PM  
Blogger LarryD said...

Whether history will be kind to Bush depends heavily on the ideology of the historians.

Well, over time even the liberal historians have had to acknowledge Eisenhower and Reagan's accomplishments.

1/08/2008 02:25:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

“Suffice it for them that George W. Bush was at the helm of the dominant imperial power…”

Note that given 9/11/01 the U.S. response need not have been what it turned out to be. An expanded version of “Operation Desert Fox” of the 90’s would have been more likely based on past events, far cheaper in terms of money, American lives and political capitol, and would have raised scarcely a peep from anyone. Bombing the crap out of Iraq and Afghanistan over a period of many months and ensuring the complete and total decapitation of the leadership there would have made things much, much worse for those countries’ people and deferred the eventual reckoning to a point comfortably in the future. And even at that point, well after 2008, the President of that time could have tossed the whole thing in the U.N.’s lap and shook his head theatrically as they made the usual mess of things.

Unlike Kennedy, Pres Bush did not “do things because they are hard and not because they are easy” but did the hard things because they were necessary – and, in the end, compassionate. We should not be surprised that those who display no hint of strategic vision or any real compassion are unable to grasp the concepts.

1/08/2008 03:12:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

IMHO GWB by failing to mobilize support at home or even spell out a strategy has guaranteed a disaster of epic proportions.

What the heck is the Bush Doctrine? Can anyone say at this point?

Someone needed to be made an example of after 9/11 -- simply bombing sand dunes and lobbing a few missiles would not cut it. Afghanistan by geography was a place America could not win and at most create a Special Forces Hunting Lodge as Michael Yon has said.

Enter Saddam's provocations which had to be responded to or America would be weak.

But what next? America is spent politically over a very modest effort, historically, and has a small military getting smaller. Ralph Peters judges the events in the Gulf a victory for PC and weakness and Iran, and a defeat for the US.

Iran is surging into power, and will displace or attempt to displace the US in the Gulf. With violence as it's means. Meanwhile Gulf Arabs make deals with Iran.

The danger is Iran using our weakness and miscalculating forcing war, and regional war widening to all-out global war. Pakistan is likely to errupt into AQ control if Iran attacks us.

1/08/2008 03:23:00 PM  
Blogger Towering Barbarian said...

"Truth is the Daughter of Time". 50 and 100 years hence President Bush will be seen as the giant he is and his detractors will be seen as the Gully Dwarves and mental midgets that they were for none can escape the Judgement of Clio. ^_^

As far as failing to mobilize support at home, how? The Presidency may be a bully pulpit but not when custardheads and dhimmis are the ones who control the microphones. In the absence of either an objective or friendly Press Kaa's advice to Mowgli of "Feed them Silence." while relying on the Net to allow the Truth to rise to the surface was inded the best course to do.

1/08/2008 05:10:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Grynch said...

Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~wldciv/world_civ_reader/world_civ_reader_2/kipling.html

1/08/2008 05:26:00 PM  
Blogger Wretchard said...

That poem, which I quote in the title, was ironically written by Kipling in connection with America's intervention in the least strategically useful of places, the Philippines. The gateway to the China Market never became that. But the intervention changed the Philippines forever. Now about 10% of the entire Filipino population lives in America. That fact alone has redefined the fabric of that society, with what consequences only time can tell.

1/08/2008 05:31:00 PM  
Blogger whiskey_199 said...

Towering -- what is the nature of the threat before us?

PC and multiculti nonsense that Bush believes in prevented GWB from stating clearly what the nature of the threat was. And how and in what fashion the US would respond to that threat strategically.

Networks are obliged to cover Presidential speeches. Particularly prime-time addresses to the nation on a matter of national crisis. After 9/11 the President did not define the threat nor articulate a broad strategy to fight the threat.

Worse, he was lazy and did not work to create a bipartisan coalition to fight the threat, and jettison PC and Multiculturalism. Instead we were advised to go out shopping.

Because Bush was too lazy and awkward to engage the Press and Public in defense of his policies.

I still don't know what Bush believes is his overall strategy to stop Jihad. I understand his tactics, particularly with respect to Iran (and agree a withdrawal would be disaster). But I don't see anything like the Reagan Doctrine (fight Communism where ever it could be fought to roll it back).

1/08/2008 06:32:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1/08/2008 08:39:00 PM  
Blogger Cannoneer No. 4 said...

whiskey, would you hate Bush less if he had sent you an engraved invitation to join the Coast Guard Auxiliary or the Civil Air Patrol or your State Defense Force? Did he deny you the opportunity to be a self-mobilized Strategic Citizen?

I think he does buy into a lot of PC and multi-culti crap. He's a politician. Most Americans buy into it. Conservatives are minorities almost everywhere. That's the reality he has been forced to work under.

There was nobody on the other side to be bi-partisan with. That side of the aisle is essentially a Fifth Column.

The strategy he wants to admit to is at http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2006/09/20060905.html

The real strategy can't be explained to you in great detail without giving away the plan, but it involves flypaper and Muslim proxies.

1/08/2008 11:15:00 PM  
Blogger always right said...

In my mind, his legacy will be evaluated in mixed sense. A great and far-reaching president abroad (I am a “foolish” optimist), and a complete failure at home.

He has presided over a GOP controlled congress and WH, domestically nothing gets solved (for some urgent issues) and he expanded the coming socialist european-type government (I also have no doubt we are heading that way). Granted, he may have spent less attention on domestic issues, but that does not explain the steel tariff, prescription drug benefit, no child left behind, McCain-Feingold, etc.

Whisky_199
Would he “ape” for what he’s not? Meaning more flowery (I feel your pain) or fireside speeches, more press conferences (so that helen thomas, gregory something from NBC, etc can “OUTSHINE” or “OUTSMART”?), would that have energized the nation? NO! Would the networks and pundits selectively show only the words he “mangled” or the few sentences depicting GWB as the great dictator/buffoon over and over again?

The point is not how many times he gave the similar kind of speeches. The same speech he gave to explain why pre-2003 Iraq situation could not be maintained as status quo had been in debate ever since. People only hear what they want to hear, for example, the lib side insisted he linked Iraq directly to 9/11.

The man is humble, and simple (not in the simpleton sense), and steadfast. Which is what I like in my leader.

1/09/2008 08:37:00 AM  
Blogger Arb said...

Wretchard - "Rudy Giuliani mooted the possibility of creating a 'League of Democracies' to perform a role which the UN never did."

Was it not Mr. McCain who mooted that idea?

1/09/2008 09:29:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

I won't pretend to know how history will eventually treat the presidency of GWB...I'm notoriously bad at that sort of thing. I will, however, go out on a limb and say that history will probably not give much thought to what the alternative might have been like.

Imagine if the towers came down and shocked, grief-stricken America looked to Al Gore for guidance and to take action for us. The same one who helped make the decisions to virtually ignore the many terror attacks against our interestes in the 90s.

Imagine if anti-war Kerry had come to power just as the Iraq insurgency started to heat up. The same one who threw his medals over the wall in front of the cameras, met with the Viet Cong (as I understand it) during hostilities and who had built his very political career on his intense hatred of war and suspicion of the government he would lead.

We have a troubled Middle East and broader Muslim world to deal with at the moment...outside of that, the world seems to go on as it ever has. I submit to you that if either of those other clowns had prevailed, we could well be in the middle of total world war right now.

One other thing: I think Bush would have done himself a favor in the eyes of the electorate AND future historians if he had discovered his veto pen much sooner and used it much more often, even and perhaps especially against his own party.

1/09/2008 09:58:00 AM  
Blogger jdimarco said...

For newscaper & Cannoneer No.4: "History is written by the victors." - Winston Churchill.

If GWB stays the course with the surge (and doesn't draw down too quickly) and signs a lasting "US presence" treaty with the Iraqi's, then we will gradually do with Iraq what we did with Japan, Germany, South Korea, etc. and history will be a kind judge indeed. If we lose the hard-won gains of the last 3 years OR if GWB's successor loses for him, he will be blamed for having the hubris to try.

Also, I think whiskey's being a bit hysterical about "surging Iranian power". Don't worry so much, whiskey, it's not nearly as bad as you think. A bunch of speedboats is hardly the power to close the Straits of Hormuz (I like to think of Iranian ships as "future coral reefs" if the shooting starts) and all the hot air aside, they have yet to conduct a successful nuclear weapon test (I don't think the NorKs have either). If given the choice of betting on the long term position of the US or Iran, where do you put your chips? Attitudes can change on a dime; resolve is a single headline away; national power (fleets, planes, armies, nukes) take longer to build. Ya gotta have'em to use 'em. We 've got'em. We know how to use 'em.

As I've said here before, I'll take the US and the points. Every. Time.

1/09/2008 11:26:00 AM  

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