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Some leading neoconservative commentators, like Michael Ledeen in the National Review, speak openly of the need to cause “creative destruction” in the middle east by toppling the Syrian and Iranian regimes and risking the overthrow from within of key US allies like Saudi Arabia. But this ultra-radical approach is not the policy of the administration as it stands, which is much more confused and contradictory. The bankruptcy of US strategy extends far beyond the middle east. Partly because the Bush administration neglected Afghanistan in order to attack Iraq, the Taliban is growing in strength. Incredibly, Osama bin Laden and the other planners of 9/11 are still at large on the Afghan-Pakistan frontier, and killing or capturing them no longer seems even a second-order interest of the Bush administration. North Korea’s nuclear missile plans have been hindered only by their own technological backwardness, and not in the least by US pressure. The plan to bring Ukraine and other former Soviet countries into Nato has collapsed, while still leaving Moscow infuriated. And more than 2,500 US soldiers are dead in a war in Iraq, which was launched on false pretences and conducted with great incompetence. Among the US public, there is growing unease. But oddly for a mature democracy, there is no formal foreign policy opposition. Both Democrats and moderate Republicans oppose the most extreme plans of Dick Cheney and the neoconservatives, but on the great majority of issues—the environment being a partial exception—the Democratic establishment stands squarely behind the ofﬁcial line of the Bush administration. There are, it is true, two separate political oppositions to the present course of the Bush administration, but both oppose their party leaderships. The opposition among the Democrats consists of the old left liberals, descendants of those who opposed the Vietnam war. They are the forces that in August ousted the liberal hawk Joe Lieberman from his position as Democratic senator for Connecticut, forcing him to run as a pro-Bush independent. The opposition within the Republican party consists of the old-style moderate conservative realists, whose leading elder statesman is former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, and whose most promising younger ﬁgure is Sen12 PROSPECT September 2006
ator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska. The lack of real opposition from mainstream Democrats has been disguised by the noisy demands from within the party for early withdrawal from Iraq and the counterattacks on this line both from within the Republican party and from leading Democrats. This however is something of a mock battle. In the first place, the Democrats concerned have absolutely no idea of what strategy to follow in the middle east after a US withdrawal. Second, on this issue the Democrats will be pushing on an open door over the two years to the next presidential election. The consensus among political analysts is that the Bush administration will have withdrawn US troops well before November 2008, if not from Iraq altogether, then from the streets. As to the wider issues of US world
McCain and Clinton agreeing again
strategy, the almost identical approach of the two party establishments is easy to demonstrate. One only has to read the speeches and statements of the two ﬁgures who at present seem most likely to be the contenders for the presidency in November 2008, Senators John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Both Clinton and McCain advocate early Nato membership for Ukraine, and have expressed strong hostility to the Putin administration in Russia. On Iraq, they differ mostly over the degree to which they criticise Bush’s execution of policy. But both oppose early or unconditional withdrawal. On the latest middle east crisis their words might as well have been drafted by the same speechwriter. Clinton states: “I want us here in New York to imagine, if extremist terrorists were launching rocket attacks across the Mexican or Canadian border, would we stand by or would we defend America against these attacks from extremists?… [We will
support Israel’s] efforts to send a message to Hamas, Hizbullah, to the Syrians, to the Iranians… They do not believe in human rights, they do not believe in democracy. They are the new totalitarians of the 21st century.” In McCain’s words: “What would we do if somebody came across our borders and killed our soldiers and captured our soldiers? Do you think we would be exercising total restraint?… Israel has neighbours on its borders that are bent on its extinction.” Both Clinton and McCain call for negotiations with Iran, but only on condition of Iranian surrender to US wishes, and with the military option as a threat. On spreading democracy in the middle east, McCain says: “The promotion of democracy and freedom is… inseparable from the long-term security of the United States.” In Clinton’s words: “Human freedom and the quest for individuals to achieve their God-given potential must be at the heart of American approaches across the region.” The simplest and most commonly cited explanation for this Democratic behaviour is domestic electoral calculation, based on the following very curious statistics from a New York Times/CBS poll in July. According to this survey, 54 per cent of Americans disapprove of Bush’s handling of foreign policy, while only 35 per cent approve. Sixty-two per cent disapprove of how the administration is handling Iraq. Yet 51 per cent continue to approve of how the administration is conducting the war on terror in general, while only 42 per cent do not. And this reflects repeated polls showing that while disapproving of the actual Republican record over security, most respondents continue to have more faith in the Republicans when it comes to security. On the crisis in the middle east, while small majorities hold both Israel and Hizbullah responsible for the conflict and say that it would be better for the US not to take sides, 47 per cent approved and only 27 per cent disapproved of how George Bush was responding to the conﬂict. It would be understandable if the Democrats were reacting cautiously to such poll ﬁgures by talking tough on foreign policy while developing an alternative strategy. However, after almost seven years of interacting with intellectuals from the Democratic establishment (above all during my
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