(Image found via Brilliant Corners. This just cries out for a caption contest, doesn't it?)
Former National Security Advisor and long-time international relations theorist Zbigniew Brzezinski has a new book — Second Chance — which examines America's foreign policy leadership in the post-Cold War era. He was interviewed yesterday on NPR, and it is well worth a listen — and FWIW, he's graded the current President with an "F." As in big, fat failure.
The anchor tied around W's ankles? Iraq.
As James Fearon says in this month's Foreign Affairs:
In fact, there is a civil war in progress in Iraq, one comparable in important respects to other civil wars that have occurred in postcolonial states with weak political institutions. Those cases suggest that the Bush administration's political objective in Iraq — creating a stable, peaceful, somewhat democratic regime that can survive the departure of U.S. troops — is unrealistic. Given this unrealistic political objective, military strategy of any sort is doomed to fail almost regardless of whether the administration goes with the "surge" option, as President George W. Bush has proposed, or shifts toward a pure training mission, as advised by the Iraq Study Group.
Even if an increase in the number of U.S. combat troops reduces violence in Baghdad and so buys time for negotiations on power sharing in the current Iraqi government, there is no good reason to expect that subsequent reductions would not revive the violent power struggle. Civil wars are rarely ended by stable power-sharing agreements. When they are, it typically takes combatants who are not highly factionalized and years of fighting to clarify the balance of power. Neither condition is satisfied by Iraq at present. Factionalism among the Sunnis and the Shiites approaches levels seen in Somalia, and multiple armed groups on both sides appear to believe that they could wrest control of the government if U.S. forces left. Such beliefs will not change quickly while large numbers of U.S. troops remain.
As the ethnic cleansing of Baghdad proceeds, the weak Shiite-dominated government is inevitably becoming an open partisan in a nasty civil war between Sunni and Shiite Arabs. As a result, President Bush's commitment to making a "success" of the current government will increasingly amount to siding with the Shiites, a position that is morally dubious and probably not in the interest of either the United States or long-term regional peace and stability. A decisive military victory by a Shiite-dominated government is not possible anytime soon given the favorable conditions for insurgency fought from the Sunni-dominated provinces. Furthermore, this course encourages Sunni nationalists to turn to al Qaeda in Iraq for support against Shiite militias and the Iraqi army. It also essentially aligns Washington with Tehran against the Sunni-dominated states to the west.
As long as the Bush administration remains absolutely committed to propping up the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or a similarly configured successor, the U.S. government will have limited leverage with almost all of the relevant parties. By contrast, moving away from absolute commitment — for example, by beginning to shift U.S. combat troops out of the central theaters — would increase U.S. diplomatic and military leverage on almost all fronts. Doing so would not allow the current or the next U.S. administration to bring a quick end to the civil war, which most likely will last for some time. But it would allow the United States to play a balancing role between the combatants that would be more conducive to reaching, in the long run, a stable resolution in which Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish interests are well represented in a decent Iraqi government. If the Iraqis ever manage to settle on the power-sharing agreement that is the objective of current U.S. policy, it will come only after bitter fighting in the civil war that is already under way.
Read the entire Fearon article, and then ponder for a moment the craptastic mess in which the Bush Administration has mired us all. Fearon testified before the House Committee On Government Reform back in September of 2006 (PDF), and his testimony then is as interesting in the context of his even more dire outook today, as it is standing on its own in terms of his knowledge of the dynamics of civil wars.
When you read the Fearon article, the magnitude of the piss poor planning from the Bush Administration, their fundamental lack of understanding of anything other than their "yeehaw!" foreign policy, their failure to admit any mistakes so that they could move forward on better footing — it all hits home. And they are not nearly done yet. As Digby said:
As Bush and Cheney get more and more unpopular, their legacy becomes more and more predicated on the fact that they did the unpopular thing for the greater good. The more unpopular they get the more they have to prove.
Digby was discussing the Bush Administration in the context of this James Fallows article and a prior article from Sy Hersh, and the rising rhetoric against Iran, but I think the example applies across the board — in both the foreign policy and domestic arenas — as failure after failure piles up in one craptastic mess.
Some days, I just despair that things will ever get better, that any oversight will ever yield any change or accountability. And then I read something like this:
…A car bomb detonated last week on Mutanabi Street, leaving a scene that has grown familiar in Baghdad, a collage of chaotic images, disturbing in their brutality, grotesque in their repetition. At least 26 people were killed. Hayawi the bookseller was one of them.
Unlike the U.S. soldiers who die in this conflict, the names of most Iraqi victims will never be published, consigned to the anonymity that death in the Iraqi capital brings these days. Hayawi was neither a politician nor a warlord. Few beyond Mutanabi Street even knew his name. Yet his quiet life deserves more than a footnote, if for no other reason than to remember a man who embraced what Baghdad was and tried to make sense of a country that doesn't make sense anymore. Gone with him are small moments of life, gentle simply by virtue of being ordinary, now lost in the rubble strewn along a street that will never be the same….
And I realize that, whatever the outcome, I have to continue to try. For my child, for all the generations to come. We must do better — and we must learn from the current, self-inflicted failures so that these mistakes are not repeated in the future. Ever.