Saturday, May 06, 2006

Victor Hanson Asks if the U.S. is Better Off in the Middle East Five Years After 9/11

Here's a link to Victor Hanson's syndicated article on U.S. progress in the Middle East five years after the 2001 terror attacks. The U.S. has faced seven key threats in the region over this period. Here's how we've fared:

The Taliban is gone. In its place is the unthinkable — a parliamentary democracy that welcomes an open economy and foreign investment. Afghanistan is plagued still by drug-lords and resurgent terrorists, but after a successful war that removed the Taliban, the country hardly resembles the nightmare that existed before September 11. Iran is closer to the bomb than ever, but there is at least worldwide scrutiny of its machinations, in a manner lacking in the past. Tehran is in a death struggle with the new Iraqi government, trying to undermine the democracy by transplanting its radical Shiite ganglia before a constitutional, diverse Iraqi culture energizes its own restive population that supposedly tires of the theocracy. The thousands who died yearly under Saddam’s killing apparatus in Iraq have been followed by thousands killed in sectarian strife. Yet Saddam and his Baathist nightmare are gone from Iraq, offering hope where there was none. After three elections, a democratic government has emerged. Despite a terrible cost in American lives and wealth, so far elections have not been derailed, open civil war has not followed from the daily terror, and Americans are looking to reduce, not enlarge, their presence. Libya is perhaps the strangest development of all. The United States is slowly exploring reestablishing diplomatic relations. Moammar Khadafy is giving up his WMD arsenal. And the country is suddenly open to cell phones, the Internet, satellite television, and is no longer a global financial conduit for international terrorism. Pakistan is still run by a military dictator. But as a result of American bullying and financial enticement, it is slowly weeding out al Qaeda sympathizers from its government, which on rare occasions attacks terrorists residing in its borderlands. Indeed, al Qaeda seems to hate the present Pakistani government as much as it does the United States. Saudi Arabia has gained enormous leverage as oil skyrocketed from $30 to over $70 a barrel. Yet under American pressure it has cracked down on al Qaeda terrorists and has cleaned up (somewhat) its overseas financial offices — perhaps evidenced by a wave of reactive terrorist attacks against the Riyadh government. American efforts to urge liberalization have met a tepid response — given Saudi reliance on the oil card, and its sophistic argument that for the present an autocratic monarchy is the only alternative to a terrorist-supporting theocracy. Syria is out of Lebanon by popular pressure. It still supports terrorists against Israel — and now Iraq too — but judging from its rhetoric it must be feeling squeezed by a democratic Turkey, Iraq, and Israel on its borders, and a new tough stance from the United States. So where does all this leave us? In every case, I think, far messier — but far better — than before September 11. Few argue that Afghanistan or Iraq is worse off than when under the Taliban or Saddam. Nor is Syria in a stronger position. Despite their respective nuclear and petroleum deterrence, both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are ever more sensitive to the dangers of Islamic radicalism. Libya no longer poses the threat of using WMD against its neighbors and is less likely to fund international terror. Iran is the wild card — closer to success in obtaining the bomb, but closer as well to becoming isolated by international pressure and the events that it cannot quite control across the border in Iraq.
Hanson indicates that these are very positive, though costly developments, and that the ability for the U.S. to continue on its steady track of reform in the region depends on developments at home. One intriguing point he makes is that leaders in the U.S. have not mounted a spirited defense of our efforts in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. We need a much more vigorous effort at going public with positive indicators of our progress in Iraq and elsewhere, and as well with stronger arguments on the merits and worth of our forward policy of democratic realism. Melvin Laird made a strong argument to this effect in the November/December 2005 issue of Foreign Affairs.

1 comment:

Steve Landis said...

Sad that since this post Afghanistan cities have fallen to the Taliban, which we failed to truly eliminate before dashing off to another conflict. Iraq is of course either on the cusp or well over the line into a civil war created - in part - by our destablizing lack of control and the increase in sectarian violence, some of it fueled by Iran.

I have now noticed that comments are not posted to your blog, as if your communication is intended to be one-way and not invite meaningful dialogue. If this is the case, it certainly does not support my thought that it is possible you represent a balanced, right-hand view...