Long are the shadows of past American retreats. In those shadows abide the hopes of our enemies, as they play a waiting game until the Americans once again climb aboard “The Last Helicopter.”
Hassan Abbasi has a dream–a helicopter doing an arabesque in cloudy skies to avoid being shot at from the ground. On board are the last of the “fleeing Americans,” forced out of the Dar al-Islam (The Abode of Islam) by “the Army of Muhammad.” Presented by his friends as “The Dr. Kissinger of Islam,” Mr. Abbasi is “professor of strategy” at the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard Corps University and, according to Tehran sources, the principal foreign policy voice in President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s new radical administration.
For the past several weeks Mr. Abbasi has been addressing crowds of Guard and Baseej Mustadafin (Mobilization of the Dispossessed) officers in Tehran with a simple theme: The U.S. does not have the stomach for a long conflict and will soon revert to its traditional policy of “running away,” leaving Afghanistan and Iraq, indeed the whole of the Middle East, to be reshaped by Iran and its regional allies.
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.
Perhaps President Bush is an aberration, a modern American politician willing to actually engage our enemies, be it on the battlefields of Afghanistan and the Middle East or the diplomatic battlefields of the United Nations. This is a president baptized by jet-fuel fire; that will likely not be the case for his successor. Yes, it is imperative that 2009 sees the inauguration of another U.S. president with nerve, spine and brass balls, at least figuratively speaking.
Mr. Ahmadinejad’s defiant rhetoric is based on a strategy known in Middle Eastern capitals as “waiting Bush out.” “We are sure the U.S. will return to saner policies,” says Manuchehr Motakki, Iran’s new Foreign Minister.
Mr. Ahmadinejad believes that the world is heading for a clash of civilizations with the Middle East as the main battlefield. In that clash Iran will lead the Muslim world against the “Crusader-Zionist camp” led by America. Mr. Bush might have led the U.S. into “a brief moment of triumph.” But the U.S. is a “sunset” (ofuli) power while Iran is a sunrise (tolu’ee) one and, once Mr. Bush is gone, a future president would admit defeat and order a retreat as all of Mr. Bush’s predecessors have done since Jimmy Carter.
Mr. Ahmadinejad also notes that Iran has just “reached the Mediterranean” thanks to its strong presence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. He used that message to convince Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to adopt a defiant position vis-Ã -vis the U.N. investigation of the murder of Rafiq Hariri, a former prime minister of Lebanon. His argument was that once Mr. Bush is gone, the U.N., too, will revert to its traditional lethargy. “They can pass resolutions until they are blue in the face,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told a gathering of Hezbollah, Hamas and other radical Arab leaders in Tehran last month.
Please, please note that the Iranian rulers’ concept of “saner” American policies post-Bush means a return to acceptance of unnecessary retreat when bloodied and willingness to happily suffer an emasculated United Nations. These are the sane policies that will enable our enemies to continue unchecked their plans to develop a world where eventually they will be strong enough for a showdown of civilizations.
Folks, while sadly not unprecedented, those are most assuredly not sane policies for the world we shape for our future generations.
It is not only in Tehran and Damascus that the game of “waiting Bush out” is played with determination. In recent visits to several regional capitals, this writer was struck by the popularity of this new game from Islamabad to Rabat. The general assumption is that Mr. Bush’s plan to help democratize the heartland of Islam is fading under an avalanche of partisan attacks inside the U.S. The effect of this assumption can be witnessed everywhere. [Emphasis added]
The weakness in the Bush doctrine is clear in the eyes of our enemies: it will fail not because it could never succeed in Arab culture, nor because we lacked the abilities and resources to achieve the goal of a democratic and self-determining shining city on a hill in the Islamic world, but rather because of bitter and partisan internal politics and infighting. Anti-war and anti-Bush elements may argue that they can support the troops while actively opposing the mission, but the truth of the matter is they are not only undermining our soldiers but are also endangering future generations.
And they have been quite successful in hindering our efforts and rolling back large chunks of progress we had made.
In Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf has shelved his plan, forged under pressure from Washington, to foster a popular front to fight terrorism by lifting restrictions against the country’s major political parties and allowing their exiled leaders to return. There is every indication that next year’s elections will be choreographed to prevent the emergence of an effective opposition. In Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, arguably the most pro-American leader in the region, is cautiously shaping his post-Bush strategy by courting Tehran and playing the Pushtun ethnic card against his rivals.
In Turkey, the “moderate” Islamist government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan is slowly but surely putting the democratization process into reverse gear. With the post-Bush era in mind, Mr. Erdogan has started a purge of the judiciary and a transfer of religious endowments to sections of the private sector controlled by his party’s supporters. There are fears that next year’s general election would not take place on a level playing field.
Even in Iraq the sentiment that the U.S. will not remain as committed as it has been under Mr. Bush is producing strange results. While Shiite politicians are rushing to Tehran to seek a reinsurance policy, some Sunni leaders are having second thoughts about their decision to join the democratization process. “What happens after Bush?” demands Salih al-Mutlak, a rising star of Iraqi Sunni leaders. The Iraqi Kurds have clearly decided to slow down all measures that would bind them closer to the Iraqi state. Again, they claim that they have to “take precautions in case the Americans run away.”
There are more signs that the initial excitement created by Mr. Bush’s democratization project may be on the wane. Saudi Arabia has put its national dialogue program on hold and has decided to focus on economic rather than political reform. In Bahrain, too, the political reform machine has been put into rear-gear, while in Qatar all talk of a new democratic constitution to set up a constitutional monarchy has subsided. In Jordan the security services are making a spectacular comeback, putting an end to a brief moment of hopes for reform. As for Egypt, Hosni Mubarak has decided to indefinitely postpone local elections, a clear sign that the Bush-inspired scenario is in trouble. Tunisia and Morocco, too, have joined the game by stopping much-advertised reform projects while Islamist radicals are regrouping and testing the waters at all levels.
Why should any of these governments suffer real reform or provide substantial assistance, when we have shown weakness in success and rewarded a true ally in the region with an embarrassing reactionary snubbing?
The editorial’s author, Amir Taheri, wraps up with far more optimism than I truly feel.
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.
Those who have based their strategy on waiting Mr. Bush out may find to their cost that they have, once again, misread not only American politics but the realities of a world far more complex than it was even a decade ago. Mr. Bush may be a uniquely decisive, some might say reckless, leader. But a visitor to the U.S. soon finds out that he represents the American mood much more than the polls suggest. [Again, emphasis added]
Yes, such realities face the American public, a public that generally and historically is made up of far sterner stuff than our recent series of ignominious withdrawals would indicate. However, while I wish that the hopeful outlook of Mr. Taheri proves true, I cannot embrace it yet as probable. This is not because I do not believe that the U.S. is able succeed in Iraq and able to continue to confront our enemies before their danger is imminent; instead, it is because I question whether we will have the national will. The editorial argues that political bickering from defeatist and partisans have doomed our efforts to democratize Iraq in the eyes of our enemy. I’ll go that one further, arguing once again that our effort has been undermined by our so-called friends in the media. I maintain the belief that only fair reporting of Iraq would have sustained public support — there was no need even for the rah-rah stuff, though that possibly shouldn’t have been too much to occasionally ask for in a time of war with so much, a possible pending clash of civilizations, hanging over the horizon.
In the Bullpen‘s Chad Evans looks at the same editorial and throws in his thoughts. Here’s a tidbit:
Thus we are left with the debate between â€œDemocracy doesnâ€™t workâ€ and â€œDemocracy may work.â€ Democracy may not work too, but five years is hardly long enough to ascertain whether President Bushâ€™s Democracy policy has done anything. Even in the case of Palestine, it is now up to Hamas to carry the ball as high as they set it during these past elections. It might prove insurmountable thus lessoning support for Hamas and their tactics. Again though, it might not. It is this guessing game that makes everyone uncomfortable.
Will the election of 2008 truly be between a continuance of a Democracy policy or more of an isolationist movement with the Democratic Party chairing in isolationism? Political parties can and have switched policies for centuries.
Protein Wisdom‘s Jeff Goldstein ties the piece to today’s announcement of a Democrat security platform, as follows:
[The article] notes the â€œKissinger of Iranâ€ predicting the US wonâ€™t have the stomach to finish the job in Iraq and Afghanistan, essentially leaving the entire middle east to be reshaped by Iran and itâ€™s regional allies.â€
Which, while this is not something the Democrats want to hear about their â€œsmart, strong, toughâ€ new plan, is precisely what our enemies are waiting and hoping forâ€”and in fact has been a strategical aim of al Qaedas from day one. The strong horse and the weak horse.
Forget that the Iraqis overwhelmingly see the country moving in the right direction (84% of Shias, 76% of Kurds in a January poll); the real problem is here at home, where we have inversely concludedâ€”thanks to 3 years of unrelentingly negative reporting, and the repetition of rhetorical hyperbole, lies, and half-truths by cynical partisan opponents of the Presidentâ€”that the war is a disaster, things are moving in the wrong direction, and the â€œproperâ€ thing to do now, according to Democrats, is â€œresponsibly redeployâ€ [read: pull troops out of Iraq] and go on a manhunt for a single Arab who may or may not be dead.
Go read them both — they’re both on my blogroll for a reason.