Richard Perle has a terrific op-ed in the Washington Post today, "Why did Bush Blink on Iran?",
essentially stating that Condi Rice, rather than cleaning up the State Dept. bureaucracy, has become one of them, and thereby diverting the President from what needs to be done on Iran onto a path of extended and interminable negotiation with a malefide opponent. It does seem that Bush has become excessively passive on both Iran and on North Korea. The question must be asked, has Iraq so weakened the administration that is unable to cope with the rest of the "axis of evil"?
One of the key unstated arguments for the Iraq war was geography: having an American forward force on the borders of Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia (and out of Saudi Arabia proper) would be a valuable reminder to rogue regimes of the dangers of provoking America as well as a rapid deployment platform for a day of reckoning with those governments. But our enemies seem to have employed jujitsu, turning our dagger into an albatross. Or have they? The answer turns on whether we use our forces in Iraq as a weak pawn, as we have to date, or as a springboard and forward strategy. War and chess both rely on leveraging advances into gains as opposed to incremental moves followed by holding actions. Rumsfeld once understood this with his lightning strike across the Iraqi desert. But as the elder Bush said, "It is not clear what we would do once we entered Baghdad." That lack of foresight has been the cloud hanging over our nation's intervention in Iraq. Rather than using our forces in Iraq to pressure Iran and Syria, we have allowed them to hold us hostage in Iraq. That is the true quagmire. It is all the more tragic as there are real options against Iran as interim measures prior to either a peaceful resolution or military conflict - Bret Stephens laid these out last month:
* An open letter to Ayatollah Khameini
* Retooling Radio Farda along the old model of Radio Free Europe
* Freeze Iranian financial assets around the globe
* Support the labor and student movements in Iran as we did with Solidarity in Poland
* Lock out gasoline imports to Iran, which has a very poor refining capacity, and imports 40% of its gasoline.
And now comes North Korea brandishing a new ICBM. It is interesting how Iran and North Korea employ a tag team strategy of arrogating the world's attention. One wonders if they aspire to be the 21st century version of Germany and Japan, using not territorial conquest but shadow wars and serious threats, while the great power(s) are repeatedly caught flatfooted. But we are flatfooted only if we choose to be.
The curse of the 2nd term - without an election to concentrate the mind of the leadership, distractions and dithering take over. Bush once struck me as immune to inertia. Yet he seems intent on proving me wrong. I hope not, for all of our sakes.