World War Policy

The Iraq War turned four this week.  In a few more weeks, it will have lasted longer than the Civil War, moving it into third place in the “longevity of American wars” category, behind only the Revolution and Vietnam.  When the war started, the Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “The war might last six days, six weeks or six months, but I don’t think it will go that long.”  At the beginning of May 2003, George W. Bush thought the mission was accomplished and has a little dress-up party to celebrate.

A few years into the war Mr. Bush predicted that the withdrawal of troops from Iraq would be a decision left to his successor and this week, on the war’s anniversary, he boasted that American forces were on their way to stabilizing Baghdad.  At this rate, by the time he leaves office, he’ll be celebrating the successful vacuuming of Air Force One.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Pakistani General-President Pervez Musharraf, one of Mr. Bush’s allies in his GWOT (Global War on Terror) is facing spreading unrest after only eight years of dictatorial rule.  Mr. Musharraf ousted his country’s chief justice a week or so ago for opposing Mr. Musharraf’s plan to seek another five years of power.

Things are not good in Pakistan.  The general-president looked the other way while his atomic bomb department sold nukes to some of the globe’s most irresponsible nations and issued his Dr. Strangelove – A.Q. Khan – a slap on the wrist when his crimes could no longer be ignored.

A substantial number of Pakistani citizens are fundamental Muslims, who support Afghanistan’s Taliban and don’t like Mr. Musharraf’s ties to the U.S. (and occasionally try to kill him).  Other knots of citizens are democracy activists who don’t like dictators and are leading the charge to prevent him from running for another term in office.  They’re demonstrating in the streets and Mr. Musharraf is getting all Robert Mugabe on the protesters with the clubs and tear gas.

With one foot on the boat and the other on the pier, Mr. Musharraf has said his government will help fight Al Quaeda in Afghanistan, but not the Taliban.  That earned him a visit from the snapping and snarling Dick Cheney a few weeks ago and threatens the $300 million in annual military aid the U.S. pumps into Pakistan.

Much of this is George Bush’s fault.  How long did he think he could prop up a shaky strongman like Musharraf while simultaneously low-balling the needs of U.S. troops in Iraq and botching the North Korean nuclear negotiations and ignoring the unholy mess in Israel-Palestine-Lebanon and threaten Iran in his spare time?  If you’re going to fight a GWOT or bring about a New World order, you have to do it quick.  If you scrimp on things like electricity and sewage for the poor folks they tend to resent you, but as folks on the gulf coast can tell you, poor folks aren’t on the Bush radar screen.

It’s no longer a question of when Mr. Bush’s successor will pull the troops out of Iraq, it’s a question of bad things will get before we get this bungler out of office.  It’s a question of how crazy things will get if/when militant Islamists take over Pakistan with its huge stockpiles of conventional weapons and sizable supply of nukes.  We know who lost Afghanistan and Iraq, the next question is: what happens when the new rulers in Islamabad decide to heat up the 60-year-old cold war with India and Osama bin Laden opens an office in downtown Peshawar?

The Democrats who now run Congress are coming under fire for not yanking harder on Mr. Bush’s leash over the war issue, but A) it’s harder to govern than it is to campaign and B) things have changed – for the worse – since November.  Like Pakistan, the U.S. is in the middle of a minefield, with hazards in every direction.  And there’s no map for getting out.

© Mark Floegel, 2007

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