Hogan's Alley

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Islamist Leaders Waiting Bush Out, Expect Better Deal Under Next President

According to Amir Taheri in today's Wall Street Journal, all across the Middle East they have been paying attention to the constant drum beat of anti-Bush rhetoric in America. They now believe that Bush is an aberration and that their old view of the unwillingness of Americans to stick it out anywhere in the world. Today's release of a foreign policy "strategy" will no doubt provide them further comfort.

As I read Taheri's report I suddenly felt, "My God, he's right."

Here are some key views held in the region:

To hear Mr. Abbasi tell it the entire recent history of the U.S. could be narrated with the help of the image of "the last helicopter." It was that image in Saigon that concluded the Vietnam War under Gerald Ford. Jimmy Carter had five helicopters fleeing from the Iranian desert, leaving behind the charred corpses of eight American soldiers. Under Ronald Reagan the helicopters carried the corpses of 241 Marines murdered in their sleep in a Hezbollah suicide attack. Under the first President Bush, the helicopter flew from Safwan, in southern Iraq, with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf aboard, leaving behind Saddam Hussein's generals, who could not believe why they had been allowed live to fight their domestic foes, and America, another day. Bill Clinton's helicopter was a Black Hawk, downed in Mogadishu and delivering 16 American soldiers into the hands of a murderous crowd.

According to this theory, President George W. Bush is an "aberration," a leader out of sync with his nation's character and no more than a brief nightmare for those who oppose the creation of an "American Middle East." Messrs. Abbasi and Ahmadinejad have concluded that there will be no helicopter as long as George W. Bush is in the White House. But they believe that whoever succeeds him, Democrat or Republican, will revive the helicopter image to extricate the U.S. from a complex situation that few Americans appear to understand.

Taheri reports on states throughout the region from Iran to Morocco where moves toward increased democracy, made under pressure of the current U.S. administration, are being put on hold or reversed. Here is the depressing bottom line:

But how valid is the assumption that Mr. Bush is an aberration and that his successor will "run away"? It was to find answers that this writer spent several days in the U.S., especially Washington and New York, meeting ordinary Americans and senior leaders, including potential presidential candidates from both parties. While Mr. Bush's approval ratings, now in free fall, and the increasingly bitter American debate on Iraq may lend some credence to the "helicopter" theory, I found no evidence that anyone in the American leadership elite supported a cut-and-run strategy.

The reason was that almost all realized that the 9/11 attacks have changed the way most Americans see the world and their own place in it. Running away from Saigon, the Iranian desert, Beirut, Safwan and Mogadishu was not hard to sell to the average American, because he was sure that the story would end there; the enemies left behind would not pursue their campaign within the U.S. itself. The enemies that America is now facing in the jihadist archipelago, however, are dedicated to the destruction of the U.S. as the world knows it today. (Emphasis added.)

I hope he's right, but I'm not sure that this perception is capable of overcoming Americans' deep seated desire for comfort and dislike of international stress. Much preferred is our traditional clinging to the hopes of isolationism, which we have only been shaken from when great leaders occupied the White House. Bush is surely not the great persuader. Whoever follows him will have had to pass through the swamp that is modern American politics, which will practically assure that they will be far better at pleasing as many people as possible than at inspiring us to take the hard road that the times require.