Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Axis of Mediaeval

How much more crow is George W Bush supposed to eat?

In 2003 the administration set out an agenda postulating that there were a series of "bad guys"- Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Libya and Cuba- that the global community would have to isolate and overthrow, the so-called "axis of evil".

In 2006, after the catastrophic failure to cope with the consequences of overthrowing Saddam Hussein, the Administration is now proposing to put the fate of Iraq, and by remove, US foreign policy into the hands of the Iranian and Syrian regimes.

Syria is led by the hereditary dictator for life, Bashar al-Assad. Baby Assad is an interesting personality- a trained doctor with a specialism in ophthalmology, he studied at the University of London, where he met his wife, Asma, who was born and brought up in the UK. He never expected to inherit power from his wily father Hafez, but the death of his elder brother, Basil, put him in harms way. Initially Bashar was thought of as a liberal, but the "Damascus spring" has ground to a halt. Meanwhile the setback to Syrian control over Lebanon following the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri also created new pressures upon the Assad regime, rooted as it is upon the minority Alawite group- despite the fact that the Presidents wife is a Sunni Moslem. Despite the sinister and corrupt leaders of the Ba'ath Party grouped around Al-Assad, the secular regime in Damascus is rational, albeit that it harbours some of the most dangerous extremists in the various conflicts across the Arab world.

Iran, by contrast, is an altogether more dangerous foe. The President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, represents a very radical faction inside the country- he is believed to have been one of the students that took hostage the Americans for 444 days at the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Whether this is true or not, it certainly is true that Ahmadinejad is a holocaust denier who leads a government determined to acquire nuclear weapons.

These dangerous and unsavoury regimes are now being courted by Britain and America in order to provide cover for the withdrawal of coalition troops.

It is the final ignominy.

It reveals completely the catastrophe of Western humiliation in the Middle East. Blair will doubtless cling to office until Spring of 2007, while Bush will be in office until January 2009.

Their epitaph will be failure. Bush will be remembered as the worst President since the death of Warren G. Harding, whose own verdict on himself was: "I am not fit for this office and never should have been here". As for Blair, his legacy will be more complicated- but no less a failure for what might have been.

4 comments:

rk said...

I’m a bit surprised that a Lib Dem should take such a position on engagement with Iran and Syria. After there was a little news story not so long ago about your glorious leader deciding to award an honorary degree to a recent ex-president of that country., an ex president who would have overseen the support for Hezbollah and their nascent nuclear programme. http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,1936743,00.html
More seriously though your party always advocates engagement. In his conference speech Campbell said “We must seek to re-engage the Iranians; to dissuade them, through incentives and security guarantees, from pursuing uranium enrichment-related activities.”

In Iraq Syria and Iran are a malignant influence and any peace must be reached with their acquiescence. We can guess that they might accept or we can take the radical position of talking to them. Iran also has a part to play in Afghanistan and against Al Qaida. (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/07/07/world/main561909.shtml - the Iranian claims have, to some extent, been validated)

Part of the mess we are in now concerning the middle East and south Asia is precisely because we didn’t engage with these countries when the wind was in our favour. Incidentally the kind of engagement advocated by Campbell (speak to them but military action is completely off the table) is impotent and useless. Carrots will get you so far but you also need to use the stick. I’m advocating engagement but robust engagement.

So as a representative of an “internationalist” party that generally supports engagement I’m surprised you would see this policy as a “final ignominy” that “reveals completely the catastrophe of Western humiliation” in the Middle East. I’m sorry but this is nonsense. If anything this represents the (long overdue) maturing of American policy from unilateral (we’ll only speak to countries that agree with us) to multilateral (and this means more than just France, Russia and China). The realisation that in diplomacy and international relations you must speak with and compromise with people you oppose. The west has not been humiliated. Yes we have failed so far to turn Iraq into a functioning democracy or stop nihilist groups murdering civilians in sectarian violence but it’s not exactly Vietnam. It is a tragedy but it is not a military humiliation. So far over the entire Iraq war around 3000 allied soldiers have died, one twentieth of the US dead in Vietnam. The only people talking about Iraq in these terms are the insurgents and some elements of the western media.

I suggest that your low opinion of Bush and Blair has coloured your judgement a little on this one.

Cicero said...

There is merit in what you say, the igmominy is of course upon the US/UK governments who rejected the idea in the first place. I wanted to make the point that the "axis" governments are not fluffy democrats and the price they will now extract will be high (and they will probabaly welch on the deal).

Supping with the devil requires a long spoon, and perhaps Lib Dems have not acknowledged the costs.

Yes you are right- I have a very low opinion of President Bush- an appalling leader.

rk said...

I think the price we will end up paying will be a nuclear armed Iran. I think this will happen regardless of whether or not we engage with them now. The military threat Iran felt was greatest immediately after the fall of Iraq. Since then the resilience of the insurgency and war in Lebanon has reduced this military threat to the point where Iran has little to fear. I'm sure the mid-term election results will be further interpreted by Tehran as a weakening of that threat.

With minimal prospect of military action and a UN divided over serious sanctions there is nothing stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. More EU lead talks will produce nothing at all but empty promises and missed deadlines.

A realpolitik position may be accept this as inevitable and to offer the Iranians a deal. We'll let you get your nukes with only symbolic punishment if you play nice in Iraq and Lebanon and help us on Al Qaida. After all look at the current treatment being offered by the US to another nuclear rogue, India.

The sad thing is with better leadership in Washington we could have had a much better deal in 2003/4. With nukes swapped for security guarantees and ‘understanding’ for their separatist problems in Baluchistan and North West Iran.

Cicero said...

Yes- I sadly have to concur about Iran. What we might do about North Korea ought to be different and much more firm.