North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and those pesky congressional scandals have finally caught up with George W. Bush
Lesser mortals are captive to the world, but supermen make their own reality. That, a year or two ago, was the boast of White House über thug Karl Rove. Now, it seems, an oops — or two, or three, or four — is in order. North Korea has an atomic bomb. Iran is on its way to building one. More US soldiers were wounded in Iraq past month (776) than at any time in the last two years. And the combined congressional sex and influence-for-sale scandals threaten — thank heaven — to throw the Republicans out of power in the House and possibly the Senate. Makes one wonder why the mainstream press thought the Bushies were so invincible for so long. Bush bashers’ glee in the face of this turn of events is tempered, of course, by the sobering fact that these developments — with the exception of the domestic scandals in Congress — are bad news for the world, which is more treacherous and unstable today than it was before 9/11.
Terrorist maestro Osama bin Laden, still inconveniently at large, performed a satanic service by awakening the international community to the true scope of the Islamist threat when his minions attacked Washington and New York. But, in the wake of those murderous outrages, it was the serial miscalculations, missteps, and lies of George W. Bush that have delivered us to the brink of crisis in three discrete theaters of confrontation.
North Korea. It is not unreasonable to assume that President Bush provoked tyrant Kim Jong Il into reactivating his nation’s nuclear-weapons program, which — due to the limited but nevertheless successful diplomatic efforts of President Clinton — had been slowed or put on a back burner. When Bush attacked mistaken nuclear renegade Saddam Hussein, he took his eye off Kim, a certifiable menace. Kim calculated — correctly it seems — that he could defy North Korea’s lone international ally, China, and simultaneously thumb his nose at Bush. The punishing international sanctions that have been readied for Pyongyang were not enough to deter Kim, who has already demonstrated that he is willing to starve millions of his subjects to preserve his room for international maneuver. Make no mistake: Kim is the villain, but Bush is his enabler, his provocateur, his unwitting inspiration. By diplomatically isolating the United States from working and effective relationships with other nations as a result of his foolish Iraq war, Bush has emboldened Kim. It was a gross miscalculation, born of the arrogant belief that America alone can police the world.
Iran. The situation here is even more muddled than it is in North Korea. The Iranians secretly and systematically violated their promises not to build nuclear weapons. The radical-Islamist Iranians continue to insist, in the face of international disbelief, that they seek nuclear capacity only for the peaceful purpose of economic development. But so grave are concerns about Iran’s true motives that even France and Germany are willing to take a hard line against it. The problem is that China and Russia, indispensable nations in this case, are not. A nuclear Iran, while not welcome, does not pose the same threats to the Chinese and the Russians as it does to Americans and their European allies.
A quantifiable factor in the position Russia and China take regarding this issue is that both nations make a lot of money trading with Iran. Those vital economic ties give them confidence that they have leverage with Iran that the US does not enjoy. Inexplicable as it may seem to us in America, the Russians and Chinese don’t think and act precisely as we do in matters of nuclear proliferation unless the threat to them is black and white. Even North Korea appears in shades of gray, at least for now, to the Chinese, which shares a border with Kim. America’s problem is that while we want to constrain nuclear development, our greater interest lies more in maintaining our pre-eminent position than in fostering nonproliferation. We’ll adopt a more flexible position only if we perceive compromise to be in our interest. Witness the hard line the US has taken with Pakistan’s nuclear program, but the softer approach we’ve taken with India. No one doubts that the Pakistani program poses a threat to world peace, especially when the strong influence of that nation’s radical-Muslim faction and its ties to terrorists are taken into account. But few warm to the prospect of a fully nuclear India. And in the face of a Europe that is more hostile to the US than usual because of Bush’s Iraq adventure, which angers the millions of Muslims who now live within European borders, China and Russia correctly calculate that despite its military might America is at a diplomatic disadvantage. These are harsh realities. But they are the fruits of Bush. Tough talk and cowboy conduct have their price.
Iraq. The root of international instability grows worse with every tick of the clock. The number of insurgent attacks against US forces has doubled over the past year from 400 to 800 each week. Even the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, now admits that local violence is more threatening to Iraq than insurgency, with more than 6000 Iraqis dead in the past two months. That’s more than the number who died during the war’s first year. Against this grim backdrop the US is making plans to keep 140,000 troops in Iraq for four more years.
The bipartisan study group co-chaired by former Republican secretary of state James Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton appears to be working toward a series of recommendations that may result in a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq before 2010. But the big question is whether the pull of that reality will be strong enough to disengage Bush. Even if it is, the new nuclear reality that Bush has helped to foster will still be with the world.