Thursday, March 31, 2005

Martin Peretz on the Mideast

The New Republic editor-in-chief Martin Peretz has an important essay on President Bush and the Middle East. The following are what I found to be noteworthy excerpts:

"No, the president has not discovered a cure for cancer. But there is a pathology, a historical pathology, that he has attacked with unprecedented vigor and with unprecedented success. I refer, of course, to the political culture of the Middle East, which the president may actually have changed. And he has accomplished this genuinely momentous transformation in ways that virtually the entire foreign affairs clerisy--the cold-blooded Brent Scowcroft realist Republicans and almost all the Democrats--never thought possible. Or, perhaps, in ways some of them thought positively undesirable. Bush, it now seems safe to say, is one of the great surprises in modern U.S. history."

On the revolution in Republican foreign policy:

The achievements of Bush's foreign policy abroad represent a revolution in the foreign policy culture at home. The traditional Republican mentality that was so perfectly and meanly represented by Bush père and Baker precluded the United States from pressing the Arabs about reform--about anything--for decades....This was the state of U.S.-Arab relations in 2001: The United States was actually more frightened of the Arabs than they were of us. The extraordinary report of the 9/11 Commission about the delinquent reactions to the decade-long lead-up to the catastrophe of September 11 only confirms this impression of official U.S. pusillanimity."

On the Clintonian approach to terror:

The Clinton administration seized on every possible excuse--from the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, right through the atrocities in Kenya and Tanzania, to the attack on the USS Cole--not to respond meaningfully to Osama bin Laden....Clinton, it is true, resolved to eliminate bin Laden, but soon he eliminated his desire to eliminate him. The Clinton administration's true desire was to arrest bin Laden, to indict him, and to put him on trial--to "bring him to justice," as these men and women pompously exhorted each other."

How 9/11 helped crystallize what would become the Bush Doctrine (which equated state-sponsers of terrorists to actual terrorists):

What the Bush administration gradually came to realize was that fighting the Muslim terrorist international could not be done in a vacuum. If the Islamic and Arab orbits were to continue to revolve around sanguinary tyrannies, there would be no popular basis in civil society to rob the cult of suicidal murder of its prestige. So, rather than being a distraction from the struggle against the armed rage suffusing these at once taut and eruptive polities, confronting their governments was actually intrinsic to that struggle. The Bush administration recognized that removing the effect means removing the cause."

On "the acceleration of history" over the past two years in the Middle East:

There certainly was a basis in reality for skepticism about the Arabs' hospitability to the opening of their societies. Whatever the proper historical and cultural analysis of the past, however, the fact is that democracy did not begin even to breathe until the small coalition of Western nations led by the United States destroyed the most ruthless dictatorship in the area."

On the emerging democratic polity in Iraq:

The U.S. liberation-occupation has now tried to cobble together these diverging Iraqis into the beginnings of a democratic regime. Wonder of wonders, these estranged cousins have shown some talent in the art of compromise; and trying to make this polity work is hardly an effort undertaken without courage."

On the emerging democratic movements in the Greater Middle East:

The fine fruits of the Bush administration's indifference to international opinion may be seen now in Lebanon, too. What is happening there is the most concrete intra-Arab consequence of the Iraq war....Suddenly, the elections in Iraq, Bush's main achievement there, exhilarating and inspiring, sprung loose the psychological impediments that shackled the Lebanese to Syria.

But the mission is nonetheless real, and far along, and it is showing thrilling accomplishments. It is simply stupid, empirically and philosophically, to deny that all or any of this would have happened without the deeply unpopular but historically grand initiative of Bush."

On Bush's hugely consequential - and always overlooked - decision back in 2002 to make Yasser Arafat an irrelevant element of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process:

Had Bush made even a single accommodation to Arafat, Arafat's way in the world would have been enshrined in Palestinian lore for yet another generation as the only way."

Finally, Peretz, being the good liberal he is, has some advice for his fellow left-leaning bretheren:

One does not have to admire a lot about George W. Bush to admire what he has so far wrought. One need only be a thoughtful American with an interest in proliferating liberalism around the world. And, if liberals are unwilling to proliferate liberalism, then conservatives will. Rarely has there been a sweeter irony."


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