The Self Made Pundit
Friday, November 07, 2003
BUSH’S WISHFUL THINKING DEBATES CLARK’S STRATEGIC VISION: We may have had a preview of the 2004 presidential candidates’ debate on foreign policy yesterday with President Bush’s and retired General Wesley Clark’s dueling speeches on the Middle East and Iraq.
The two speeches showed each candidate at his best. Bush, the master of wishful thinking, expressed noble intentions of desiring the spread of democracy, albeit without offering a plan likely to achieve such goals. Clark, a military strategist, offered a plan for success in Iraq that would advance the goals Bush claims to have.
As today’s Washington Post reports, Bush posed a vision of democratic change in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East without actually offering any clue how it is to be achieved:
In a speech that redefined the U.S. agenda in the Middle East, President Bush waxed eloquent yesterday about his dream of democracy coexisting with Islam and transforming an important geostrategic region that has defiantly held out against the global tide of political change.
But Bush failed to acknowledge the tough realities that are likely to limit significant political progress in the near future: the United States' all-consuming commitment to fighting a global war on terrorism and confronting Islamic militancy. Washington still relies heavily on alliances with autocratic governments to achieve these top priorities.
In a broad assessment of the region, the president inflated the progress toward democracy made by allies such as Saudi Arabia that are harshly criticized for their abuses in the annual U.S. human rights report, while he criticized countries such as Iran that have made some inroads but do not have good relations with Washington.
“His portrayal of what's going on in Arab countries is totally unrealistic,” said Marina Ottaway, co-director of the Democracy and Rule of Law Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The reality that he is overlooking is that in all these countries that are supposedly making progress, hostility to the United States is at an all-time high,” she said. “So the idea that these are countries where progress on democracy is going to make them better allies is certainly not supported by what is going on.”
Bush’s call for democratic change in the Middle East wishes for the right things. Unfortunately, wishing doesn’t make it so. Bush now dreams of democratic change in the Middle East just as he and the naive neoconservative dreamers who captured his fancy imagined that an American invasion of Iraq would be greeted by flower-tossing Iraqi Jeffersons and Madisons who would usher in a democratic society practically overnight. Without a strategic vision of how to realize the goal of democratization, however, that aspiration is likely to remain a dream.
In contrast to Bush’s wishful thinking about democracy spreading through the Middle East, Clark offered a detailed plan of how to achieve success in pacifying Iraq. As today’s New York Times reports:
Gen. Wesley K. Clark said Thursday that military operations in Iraq should be turned over to a North Atlantic Treaty Organization force under United States command and that he would replace the civilian administration there with an international effort not under American leadership.
General Clark, who is retired from the Army and who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, made the proposals to build international involvement and stabilize Iraq in an address here at South Carolina State University.
It was the fourth in a series of speeches laying out his platform for the presidency, based on what he calls a "new American patriotism." He also said he would conduct a conference with leaders from Europe, Japan, the Arab world and other countries to enlist their support for a more international approach to Iraq.
As part of that effort, General Clark said, he would recall the former Iraqi army and ask the cooperating nations to commit 50,000 troops to help the Iraqis in policing, police training, oversight and border control.
The creation of a new "reconstruction and democracy council" in Baghdad would be modeled, he said, on the international coalition that oversaw security and military operations in the Balkans in the 1990's.
Seeking to repair ties with European allies that he said have been damaged by the Bush administration, General Clark said he would propose “a new Atlantic Charter to reinvigorate our security partnership with Europe.”
He said such an organization would supplement NATO rather than replace it and would “define the threats we face in common, create the basis for concerted action from our allies to meet them, and offer the promise to act together as a first choice, not a last.”
General Clark also said that the makeup of American military forces in Iraq should be overhauled, with more special forces and light units and fewer conventional infantry units, which require significant amounts of lightly armed logistical support units that also make tempting targets for attacks.
The military forces in Iraq also need more specialists in language and intelligence, he said. He proposed asking international inspectors to take over the search for unconventional weapons, which would free American linguists and intelligence specialists to work on efforts “to find the people who are killing our soldiers.”
To help to close Iraq's borders to infiltration by terrorists, General Clark said, “We should engage with the Syrians, the Iranians and the Saudis, and we need carrots as well as sticks.”
“Unfortunately, this administration has made the region wary of working with us,” he said. “I'll make sure as president that we don't ever get into a mess like this again.”
Unlike Bush’s approach, Clark’s levelheaded plan for Iraq does not rely on hope, it offers hope. Clark’s experience in leading NATO forces to victory in Kosovo informs his judgment that the best way to serve America’s interests is to build truly international coalitions to support our goals.
Bush has foolishly alienated much of the world, leaving America to bear a far greater share of the burden in Iraq than would have been necessary under a more cooperative approach. Bush lacks the strategic vision to realize that when America acts with the support of NATO or the UN, it can be far stronger than when it acts alone. Clark has that strategic vision.
“Hope is not a plan,” is a favorite saying of military strategists. With his penchant for treating his hopes as plans, Bush has shown he is no strategist. With his articulation of a plan to achieve success in Iraq, Clark has shown that he is no Bush.
Although Clark still has to overcome a few minor obstacles (such as winning the Democratic nomination) before facing Bush, he won his first debate against Bush hands down. While Bush offered only a vision of wishful thinking that relied on hope, Clark offered a strategic vision that actually offered hope of success in Iraq.
Thursday’s debate between Bush and Clark indicates that if Clark does win the Democratic nomination for president, America will have a clear-cut choice between two different styles of governing – Bush’s wishful thinking versus Clark’s strategic vision.