DONALD RUMSFELD & THE REALISTS:
Consistency Is Irrelevant to Progressives
By Dr. Michael Rubin
Iran and Iraq would fight for five more years, leaving hundreds of thousands dead on the battlefield. Then, two years after a ceasefire ended the war, Saddam invaded Kuwait. In subsequent years, he would subsidize waves of Palestinian suicide bombers, effectively ending the Oslo peace process. Saddam's career is a model of realist blowback.
On September 23, 2002, as Saddam defied international inspectors and U.N. sanctions crumbled under the greed of Paris, Moscow and Iraq's neighbors, Newsweek published a cover story, "How we Helped Create Saddam," a story that once again thrust the forgotten handshake into public consciousness. Across both the U.S.A. and Britain, the story provoked press outrage. NPR conducted interviews outlining how the Reagan administration allowed Saddam to acquire dual-use equipment. Mr. Rumsfeld "helped Iraq get chemical weapons," headlined London's Daily Mail. British columnist, Robert Fisk, concluded that the handshake was evidence of Mr. Rumsfeld's disdain for human rights, and Amy and David Goodman of "Democracy Now!" condemned Mr. Rumsfeld for enabling Saddam's "lethal shopping spree." While 20 years too late, Progressives decried the cold, realist calculations that sent people across the third world to their graves in the cause of U.S. national interest.
What a difference a war makes. Today, Progressives and Liberals celebrate not only Mr. Rumsfeld's departure, but the resurrection of realists like James Baker and Secretary of Defense-nominee Robert Gates. Mr. Gates was the CIA's Deputy Director for Intelligence at the time of Mr. Rumsfeld's infamous handshake, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence when Saddam gassed the Kurds, and Deputy National Security Advisor when Saddam crushed the Shiite uprising. Mr. Baker was as central. He was White House Chief of Staff when President Reagan dispatched Mr. Rumsfeld to Baghdad, and, as Secretary of State, Baker ensured Saddam's grip on power after Iraqis heeded President George H.W. Bush's February 15, 1991, call for "the Iraqi people [to] take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein the dictator to step aside." In the months that followed, Saddam massacred tens of thousands of civilians.
While Mr. Rumsfeld worked to right past wrongs, Messrs. Gates and Baker winked at the Iraqi dictator's continuing grip on power. For Progressives, this is irrelevant. Today, Progressivism places personal vendetta above principle. Mr. Rumsfeld is bad, Mr. Baker is good, and consistency is irrelevant.
Progressive inconsistency will only increase with the unveiling of the Baker-Hamilton Commission recommendations calling for reconciliation with both Syria and Iran. In effect, Mr. Baker's proposals are to have the White House replicate the Rumsfeld-Saddam handshake with both Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The parallels are striking. First, just as Saddam denied Kuwait's right to exist, Mr. Assad refuses to recognize Lebanese independence (Damascus has no embassy in Beirut) and Mr. Ahmadinejad calls for Israel's eradication. Washington realpolitik enabled Saddam to act out his fantasies; evidence suggests both Mr. Assad and Mr. Ahmadinejad aspire to do likewise.
Second, just as the Reagan-era Rumsfeld turned a blind eye toward Iraqi chemical weapons, so too does Mr. Baker now counsel ignoring their embrace by the Syrian and Iranian leadership. Tehran used chemical munitions in its war against Iraq, and senior Iranian officials have also threatened first-strike use of nuclear weapons. Syria is just as dangerous: On April 20, 2004, Jordanian security intercepted Syrian-based terrorists planning to target Amman with 20 tons of chemical weapons. Mr. Assad has yet to explain the incident.
And, third, there is the issue of detente enabling armament. Following his rapprochement with Washington, Saddam transformed investment into replenishment. The cost of ejecting Iraqi forces from Kuwait was far greater than any benefit borne of engagement.
Trade with Tehran has likewise backfired. Between 2000 and 2005, European Union trade with Iran almost tripled. During this same period, Iranian authorities used their hard currency windfall not to invest in schools and hospitals, but rather in uranium processing plants and anti-aircraft batteries. Mohammad Khatami, Mr. Ahmadinejad's predecessor and a man often labeled reformist by U.S. and European realists, showed the Islamic Republic's priorities when he spent two-thirds of his oil-boom windfall on the military. Said Mr. Khatami on April 18, 2002:
Subsequent discovery of Iran's covert nuclear facilities later that year clarified his boast.
Like the Iranian regime, the Assad regime in Syria has shown its willingness to spend its discretionary income on a wide range of weaponry and terror groups.
Realism promotes shortterm gain, often at the expense of longterm security. With hindsight, it is clear that Mr. Rumsfeld's handshake with Saddam backfired. While it may have constrained Iran in the shortterm, its blowback in terms of blood and treasure has been immense.
Why, then, do so many Progressives celebrate the return of realism? The reasons are multifold. First, having allowed personal animosities to dominate their ideology, they embrace change, regardless of how it impacts stated principles. Hatred of Mr. Rumsfeld became a principle in itself. Likewise, the same Progressives who disparage John Bolton seldom explain why they feel forcing the United Nations to account for its inefficiencies or stick to its founding principles is bad. They complain not of Bolton's performance, but rather of his pedigree.
Second is a tendency to conflate analysis with advocacy. Progressives find themselves in a situation where they embrace realism but deny reality. An October 13 Chronicle of Higher Education article regarding a Columbia University professor's attacks on Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, highlighted the issue: "The conundrum, say these [Middle East studies] scholars, is how to voice opposition to the actions of the Islamic Republic without being co-opted by those who seek external regime change in Iran through a military attack." By embracing a canard, intellectuals convinced themselves of the nobility of ignoring evidence. Thus, Western feminists march alongside Islamists who seek their subjection, while Progressive labor activists join with Republican realists to ignore Tehran's attacks on bus drivers seeking an independent union, even as a Gdansk-type movement offers the best hope for peaceful change in Iran.
Both realism and Progressivism have become misnomers. "Realists" deny reality, embracing and acting in accord with an ideology that is completely out touch with reality, an ideological perception of a world of diplomacy where talk is productive and governments are sincere. While the Islamist terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, showed the consequences of chardonnay diplomacy, deal-cutting with dictators and a band-aid approach to national security, realists continue to discount the importance of adversaries' ideologies and the need for longterm strategies. And, by embracing such "realism," Progressives have sacrificed core values of the ideology of Liberalism -- such core Liberal values as democracy, government by law with the consent of the governed, protection from arbitrary political authority, human equality, equal rights under the law, womens' rights, labor unionism, secularism, religious freedom, and separation of government and religion. Both realists and Progressive Liberal internationalists may celebrate Mr. Rumsfeld's departure and the Baker-Hamilton Commission recommendations, but, at some point, it is fair to ask what are the lessons of history and what is the cost of abandoning principle.
The Middle East & the Problem of Iraq
Page Two Page One
The Problem of Rogue States:
Iraq as a Case History
National Strategy for Victory in Iraq
Middle East -- Arabs, Arab States,
& Their Middle Eastern Neighbors
The Middle East & the Problem of Syria
The Middle East & the Problem of Iran
Islamism & Jihadism -- The Threat of Radical Islam
Page Three Page Two Page One
International Politics & World Disorder:
War & Peace in the Real World
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Islamist Terrorist Attacks on the U.S.A.
Osama bin Laden & the Islamist Declaration of War
Against the U.S.A. & Western Civilization
Islamist International Terrorism &
U.S. Intelligence Agencies
Counterterrorism & U.S. National Security
U.S. National Security Strategy
Dr. Michael Rubin, a Ph.D. in History (Yale University) and a specialist in Middle Eastern politics, Islamic culture and Islamist ideology, is Editor of the Middle East Quarterly and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Dr Rubin is author of Into the Shadows: Radical Vigilantes in Khatami's Iran (Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001) and is co-author, with Dr. Patrick Clawson, of Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). Dr. Rubin served as political advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad (2003-2004); staff advisor on Iran and Iraq in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (2002-2004); visiting lecturer in the Departments of History and International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (2001-2002); visiting lecturer at the Universities of Sulaymani, Salahuddin, and Duhok in Iraqi Kurdistan (2000-2001); Soref Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (1999-2000); and visiting lecturer in the Department of History at Yale University (1999-2000). He has been a fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, the Leonard Davis Institute at Hebrew University, and the Carnegie Council on Ethics and International Affairs.
The foregoing article by Dr. Rubin was originally published in the Wall Street Journal, November 13, 2006, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum.
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