Waiting for AB (After Bush)
President Bush is hardly unique in having his detractors. But their ferocity and lung power has been impressive at a time when the whole world is watching--and waiting.
Everyone knows Bush is not popular. And anyone who knows anything about the way Presidential elections work in the US knows that Bush could not possibly be re-elected even if he were popular; the Constitution does not allow it, post-FDR. That's a given.
But it's also common knowledge that it's not just the man himself, but many of Bush's foreign policies that appear to have lost the support of the majority of the American people--for example, most Americans now think the Iraq endeavor wasn't the right thing to do.
Americans are seen as losing heart for what is perceived to be Bush's war and Bush's foreign agenda. Some of what's driving the opposition is honest dissent, some of it is politics as usual, some of it is intense personal hatred for Bush himself, some of it originates in leftist and/or pacifist beliefs that any war America launches against a third world country is by definition evil and must be opposed, and some of it is--well, you get the idea.
There used to be a tradition in this country that in wartime an administration should not be criticized too heavily; or, at least, should be given the benefit of the doubt. For better or for worse, that tradition died during Vietnam. Sometimes I think it has been replaced by its opposite: it's in wartime that an opponent must be criticized most vigorously.
Whether this is because a significant segment of Americans today sees the US as invincible, and that criticism therefore cannot really threaten it; or whether it's because so many see America as always being in the wrong; or whether it's because nowadays war itself is so often seen as almost automatically wrong--or some combination of the above--well, let's just say the phenomenon exists, and it represents a sea-change.
But the repercussions could be immense, and might amount to a self-fulfilling prophecy because there is a certain perception abroad in the world that goes like this: just wait. Wait till After Bush. If you can just wait it out till he's become a lame duck, and then until his term expires, you'll be home free.
My best guess is that the "insurgents" think it, the Iranians think it, Russia thinks it and China thinks it and the North Koreans think it. If we were perceived as weak prior to 9-11, now we are perceived as weakened and worn out. And that perception can only give the enemy strength.
On April 16 in the Telegraph, in an article entitled "The Frightening Truth About Why Iran Wants a Bomb," Amir Taheri (the former editor of Iran's largest daily newspaper, who now lives in Europe) was quite explicit about his take on Iran's plans, AB:
Ahmadinejad boasts that the [legendary Twelfth] Imam gave him the presidency for a single task: provoking a "clash of civilisations" in which the Muslim world, led by Iran, takes on the "infidel" West, led by the United States, and defeats it in a slow but prolonged contest that, in military jargon, sounds like a low intensity, asymmetrical war...
According to [Ahmadinejad's] analysis, spelled out in commentaries by Ahmadinejad's strategic guru, Hassan Abassi, known as the "Dr Kissinger of Islam", President George W Bush is an aberration, an exception to a rule under which all American presidents since Truman, when faced with serious setbacks abroad, have "run away". Iran's current strategy, therefore, is to wait Bush out. And that, by "divine coincidence", corresponds to the time Iran needs to develop its nuclear arsenal, thus matching the only advantage that the infidel enjoys...
The Iranian plan is simple: playing the diplomatic game for another two years until Bush becomes a "lame-duck", unable to take military action against the mullahs, while continuing to develop nuclear weapons.
Thus do not be surprised if, by the end of the 12 days still left of the United Nations' Security Council "deadline", Ahmadinejad announces a "temporary suspension" of uranium enrichment as a "confidence building measure". Also, don't be surprised if some time in June he agrees to ask the Majlis (the Islamic parliament) to consider signing the additional protocols of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Such manoeuvres would allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director, Muhammad El-Baradei, and Britain's Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to congratulate Iran for its "positive gestures" and denounce talk of sanctions, let alone military action. The confidence building measures would never amount to anything, but their announcement would be enough to prevent the G8 summit, hosted by Russia in July, from moving against Iran.
While waiting Bush out, the Islamic Republic is intent on doing all it can to consolidate its gains in the region. Regime changes in Kabul and Baghdad have altered the status quo in the Middle East. While Bush is determined to create a Middle East that is democratic and pro-Western, Ahmadinejad is equally determined that the region should remain Islamic but pro-Iranian. Iran is now the strongest presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, after the US. It has turned Syria and Lebanon into its outer defences, which means that, for the first time since the 7th century, Iran is militarily present on the coast of the Mediterranean. In a massive political jamboree in Teheran last week, Ahmadinejad also assumed control of the "Jerusalem Cause", which includes annihilating Israel "in one storm", while launching a take-over bid for the cash-starved Hamas government in the West Bank and Gaza.
Ahmadinejad has also reactivated Iran's network of Shia organisations in Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Yemen, while resuming contact with Sunni fundamentalist groups in Turkey, Egypt, Algeria and Morocco. From childhood, Shia boys are told to cultivate two qualities. The first is entezar, the capacity patiently to wait for the Imam to return. The second is taajil, the actions needed to hasten the return. For the Imam's return will coincide with an apocalyptic battle between the forces of evil and righteousness, with evil ultimately routed. If the infidel loses its nuclear advantage, it could be worn down in a long, low-intensity war at the end of which surrender to Islam would appear the least bad of options. And that could be a signal for the Imam to reappear.
Perhaps you think this nightmare vision of Taheri's is fearmongering twaddle. Perhaps that's the most reassuring thing to think. Perhaps you're even right; who knows?
But to me, what Taheri writes seems extremely consistent with what Ahmadinejad has been saying and doing, and it makes more sense to me than other theories I've read. I tend to take at face value the words of a world leader who appears to be genuinely filled with equal parts grandiosity and hatred, who seems to believe that he is part of a pre-ordained holy war to eliminate the Great and Little Satans, and who has announced his intention to go nuclear (ah right, yes, for peaceful purposes--which not even the Europeans believe at this point).
Therefore I tend to believe that Ahmadinejad means exactly what he says when he makes statements such as the following:
[Ahmadinejad] called Israel a "permanent threat" to the Middle East that will "soon" be liberated....
"Like it or not, the Zionist regime is heading toward annihilation," Ahmadinejad said at the opening of a conference in support of the Palestinians. "The Zionist regime is a rotten, dried tree that will be eliminated by one storm."
The land of Palestine, he said, referring to the British mandated territory that includes all of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, "will be freed soon."
He did not say how this would be achieved, but insisted to the audience of at least 900 people: "Believe that Palestine will be freed soon."
It will be interesting to see whether Taheri's predictions come true, whether Iran will give the appearance of cooperation--and, if so, whether Europe and the UN will swallow the bait. And then it will be interesting to see what happens, AB (don't we live in "interesting" times?)
Opponents of Bush face a conundrum. Clearly, no one should support a President or a policy blindly, just for the sake of showing unity. But those whose vision only goes so far as to see themselves playing on the small stage of American politics, where actions have no serious consequences and it's all a game of "gotcha," need to stop and think what the stakes actually are.
I'm certainly not asking that everyone support Bush and his policies. But I am asking that opponents act in such a way as to not deliver the message that all the enemy has to do is wait Bush out. So far, the opposition has failed to communicate the sort of resolve that would say loud and clear to Iran, for example, that the fight will go on even after President Bush becomes ex-President Bush.
And that lack of communication of the requisite resolve, I'm afraid, is a dangerous message to give. I sincerely hope it's not a fatal one.