Saturday, September 23, 2006


Well, it's been quite a busy week and today is no different. We're hosting some friends for dinner tonight (I'm cooking Japanese food) and I have to pick up Diana at the airport this afternoon. This will be our first occassion to entertain my friends, who include 3 Americans, 1 Bosnian, 1 Colombian, 2 Brazilians, and the Egyptian Ambassador. It's an international affair. (And yeah, it's pretty cool to think that on the Kevin Bacon "7 degrees of seperation" scale - I'm 1 step removed from both the President of Egypt and the Pope.)

Anyway, I wanted to comment on some absolutely shocking developments of the past week. As most of you probably know, there were two important stories involving Pakistan this week. First, CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked the President that, if he knew Bin Ladin's location in Pakistan, would he go after him with the US military, even though Pakistan has specifically forbidden the US from such and action and it would represent a grave violation of Pakistan's sovreignty. Bush, always the cowboy, didn't hesitate with a, "yeah, we'd go get 'em if we knew he was there."

The other piece of news, equally shocking, is the report that the US threatened to "bomb Pakistan back into the stone age" if they didn't climb on board with the US led effort to fight the Taliban and terrorism. While the Bush admin is currently throwing the alleged threat maker, Richard Armitage, under the bus, there seems little doubt in the accuracy of this report. Not only did the President of Pakistan confirm it, if the shoe fits...

These stories are shocking, although not really surprising. To think that the US would brazenly threaten a sovreign ally with utter devestation if they didn't climb on board with our foreign policy mission is a shockingly poor attempt at diplomacy. That's the kind of talk normally reserved for brash buffoonery in a smoky bar, not the halls of government.

Of course, this government always brandishes a sledgehammer when a screwdriver would do the trick, so, like I said, it's no real surprise.

Anyway, what's my point? I suppose it's this. There has been an implicit assumption in a lot of corners in America that Republicans were better at foreign policy than Democrats. This idea seemed to invade both sides of the aisle and without a doubt clearly influenced the outcome of the last presidential election.

Suddenly, this idea seems to be DOA. President Bush has led the US on the worst foreign misadventure in US history (probably), shredded any hint of a good reputation in global affairs, and bludgeoned our allies into joining our reckless and poorly planned strategy to confront the "great challenge of our time."

If there is one thing that is starkly apparent, it is that this administration has, without a doubt, been the most politically motivated and oriented administration since the Nixon years. Say what you like about Reagan and Bush 1, but at least they had some arguments loosely connected to fact to justify their foriegn policy decisions.

For example, Bush 1 successfully led a diplomatic effort through the UN to evict Saddam Hussein from Kuwait. He had qualified people at his side (James Baker) at his side, he listened to their advice, and pursued a responsible strategy in response to an international crisis. While I certainly don't agree with all of their decisions, I can certainly respect their decision making processes and the fact that their actions were not soley motivated by politics.

Clinton too fell into this category. I mean, the dude passed NAFTA, for F's sake! A Democrat! He wasn't overly political in the decision making process. In the case of NAFTA, he made a decision based on what he thought was best for the US and then fought his own party to ensure that it got passed. Yeah, he was pretty late in responding to the genocide in Bosnia, but hey, at least he acted. The world's legacy in responding to genocide is pretty much 1-20, with Bosnia being the tardy 1.

At any rate, the point isn't whether those foreign policy decisions were "successes" or not. The point is that they were at least based on a rational, realistic, and honest evaluation of all the available evidence. Highly qualified and intelligent people were on board, consulted, and valued. Decisions weren't based on what was best for the President's latest popularity rating. They were more often based on what the deciders thought was best for the country.

But Bush II? He has often said that he is making a "principled decision" and that his actions are based on the "best evidence available." But those were obvious lies or distortions. Instead of acting on good reason (say, ahem, maybe taking a look at North Korea's nuclear program), he's acted in a way that ensured his own political survival. He's the "post 9/11 President" or a "war-time President" and he has cultivated that image every step of the way - to the detriment of the lives of US soldiers, smart policy, and his own legacy.

Not sending enough troops into Iraq, disbanding the Iraqi army, not having sufficient body armor for our troops, lying to the world about WMD, ignoring the entire Palestinian problem (largely the root cause of all the US's problems in the Middle East), completely ignoring North Korea and, until late, mostly ignoring Iran - all of these things were motivated by short term political goals. Korea, Palestine, strategy - none of those things served the President. The American people doesn't know much about those things, and by all evidence, doesn't care. The Rove people know that, so does the President.

So, ultimately, it's no surprise that the war in Iraq has failed so catastrophically. The finer points of policy are largely irrelevant when decisions are based on politics. And it's no surprise that the Bush cronies aren't exactly the most qualified bunch (Rummy wanted to expand US action in Vietnam, not pull out!) since the contents of their resume's really wasn't important to the big man in charge - just their ability to bend knee and kiss ass.

In the end, Presidents usually like to try to build a legacy in their 2nd term. Clinton tried harder than any President since Carter to get a Middle East peace deal. It didn't happen, but he gave it his all. I don't know what Reagan tried to do (let's face it, he didn't either), but Bush II seems to have a complete inability to see past the first move. In chess, we call people like that "fresh meat".

I don't know what's in store for the US or the President. But I do think that Americans, as a people, need to be more careful with our choices. Bush II has completely eviscerated the notion that Republican President's are "good at foreign policy," so let's leave that nonsense behind forever. In fact, whenever someone makes that claim, we should collectively respond, "yeah, just look how great Prez Bush was internationally." His Presidency should become the collective joke that it deserves to be, if for no other reason, simply to continually remind the American people that party affiliation has little, if anything, to do with ability to act responsibly abroad.

There are two years left in his Presidency. I'm not a good prognosticator (come on, I always think the Redskins have a chance to win the Super Bowl, yet they never do), but I am very concerned with what is going to happen over the next two years. Let's face it, by late January 2009, any mess he creates won't be his responsibility. It will be the responsibility of the next President and the American people will ultimately pay the price (financially or in body bags).

In the end, there's nothing more frightening than a Cowboy Presidency with nothing to lose, forging ahead internationally, essentially going "all in" on yet another misadventure. Will it be Iran? North Korea? Or will he opt for a softer approach, AIDs in Africa, maybe?

Whatever happens, I expect things to get worse before they get better.


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