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Sunday, April 27, 2003

'NEOCONS' DEFINING AGENDA

Bush faces long-term burden of triumph


NEW DELHI -- Aggression pays, and naked aggression pays handsomely. That may sound like the moral of America's occupation of Iraq after a faster-than-anticipated military triumph that threatens to herald a more muscular U.S. foreign policy. That moral may be reinforced by the way the Bush administration has sought to rapidly turn Iraq into a profit hub for U.S. construction, energy and other firms.

As Washington wallows in the victory, the longer-term costs of the triumph are not on the minds of the neoconservatives who shaped the White House strategy against Iraq and whose influence in policy is such now that President George W. Bush speaks their language. This triumph in an asymmetrical fight against a nation with no air power and no defenses against constant bombardment from above could end up proving very costly to the United States.

For one, the military triumph remains incomplete, with many top Iraqi political and military leader still at large. Few can miss the parallel with Afghanistan, where the war still rages more than 16 months after the Taliban leaders disappeared without a trace. The fact that southernmost Iraqi towns held out in the first 10 days of the war while Baghdad and other cities fell without a fight suggests that the Americans may have reached a deal with Iraqi military commanders after their initial setbacks. The Taliban regime, for example, was toppled by the CIA's cash, which bought over key Afghan warlords.

For another, the attainment of a political victory by creating a restructured, democratic, stable Iraq as a model in the Arab world is likely to prove far more complex and difficult than the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime. That goal may turn out to be as elusive as the mission to establish a central authority in Kabul whose writ runs across Afghanistan, or even the basics of a functioning government.

Whatever happens in Iraq, America now faces much broader challenges. How does it salvage its international image? How does it make American values respectable again in the world? In the name of national security, the Bush administration has made Americans more insecure at home and abroad. And for short-term gain, it has risked long-term U.S. interests.

The vindication of the U.S. neoconservative agenda on Iraq may outwardly sound like good news in the global war on terror. After all, in the neoconservative vision, Iraq is just the first war against militant Islam. In reality, though, by targeting Iraq and now Syria -- the most secular Muslim states in the world -- the shortsighted neoconservatives, or "neocons," are promoting Israeli interests and aiding militant Islam.

The neocons are defining the U.S. security agenda with a distinct Israeli slant. For example, on their Web site ( www.neoconservatism.com), where the neocons gleefully run a headline, "Bush Administration Adopts Neoconservative Foreign Policy," they also have posted a letter by some of them to Bush that states: "Israel's fight against terrorism is our fight. Israel's victory is an important part of our victory. For reasons both moral and strategic, we need to stand with Israel in its fight against terrorism."

In views expressed through the Project for the New American Century, the American Enterprise Institute, the journals Weekly Standard and First Things, and their Web sites, the neocons have vented their messianic ambition to remake the Middle East and then the rest of the world. The growing rift in the Republican Party between the brassy neocons and the increasingly restive conservative realists manifests itself through this headline in the latest issue of the conservative-realist mouthpiece, National Review: "You can't spell 'messianic' without mess."

For the neocons, 9/11 came as a blessing in disguise to gain ascendancy in policymaking in Washington. In the aftermath of 9/11, the neocon agenda has become the official policy of the White House, reflected in Bush's national security strategy report released nine days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Neocons advocated -- and Bush accepted -- an expansion of U.S. military bases across Eastern Europe, the Horn of Africa, the Middle East as well as Southwest, Central and South Asia. Using the war on terror as justification, Washington exerted pressure on several states in these regions to permit U.S. forces to set up bases for the long haul. These bases have established the largest-ever U.S. military presence overseas since World War II.

For neocons, immediate priorities after Iraq are Syria and Iran, countries of pressing concern to Israel. Building a strategic partnership with India, reinvigorating ties with Japan or countervailing China's growing shadow over Asia appears too distant for those fixated largely on the Middle East.

The fact is that the Christian rightwing, bolstering the neocon agenda on Biblical lands, is significantly influencing policy in Washington. The Christian right and Jewish Republicans (who dominate the neocon school) have become partners in shaping foreign policy. Bush's own Christian fundamentalist beliefs have been alluded to in Bob Woodward's new book, "Bush at War," which describes how the president's relationship with Vladimir Putin bloomed the moment the Russian leader told Bush he had been given a cross by his mother. Bush instantly said to Putin: "That speaks volumes to me, Mr. President. May I call you Vladimir?"

The Bush administration is likely to spend the remainder of its term in office pushing its myopic Middle Eastern agenda and battling the consequences of it. Bush and the neocon activists around him will discover to their chagrin that in an era of globalization, there is little tolerance for imperialism molded on conquest. Their agenda of providing aggressive U.S. leadership and ensuring unfettered power is likely to only spur proliferation and an open challenge to American supremacy.

If there is one lesson other nations can draw from the recent events, it is the importance of a strongly independent foreign and defense policy.

Brahma Chellaney is a professor of strategic studies at the privately funded Center for Policy Research in New Delhi.


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