Monday, April 16, 2007

Jimmy Carter's Bad Year

You'd think that given the state of Iraq and the trajectory of that fight over the last three years, folks like me who were strong supporters of the rationale and the plan from the get-go might have an overwhelming sense of contrition in discussions about the war. And you'd be right.

It's difficult at this point to offer much in defense of the way the war has been fought since the insurgency began in earnest and most especially after the dismal year of 2006. Generally speaking, I've been much more low-key in my expectations and my arguments in favor of continuing the fight (at least to my mind) are tempered with the understanding of all the previous misunderstanding and misreadings of whats gone on before.

On the other side you will occasionally find critics who can't contain their glee at events having proved their arguments correct about how we've screwed the pooch in Iraq. Mostly however, you need to look for it and you'll find the most offensive offerings in very little-well known outposts scattered across the Ethernet.

Occasionally though it seems we find those in the ranks of the professional nay-sayers who seem a bit too eager to pat their own backs. That was my sense of this from professional critic and former National Security Adviser to the 20th Century's worst President, Jimmy Carter...the one and only Zbigniew Brzezinski.

In a piece dated just Friday at the Christian Science Monitor, Brzezinski offers a "plan" for getting out and a critique of the last 20 years worth of Presidential administrations:

Brzezinski lays out a two-point plan for the US: First, he says, go to the Iraqi leaders and say: Let's sit down and discuss a jointly defined date for departure.

"And when I say Iraqi leaders, I don't mean just the guys in the Green Zone. I mean a lot of the guys outside of the Green Zone," the guys with militias, Brzezinski says. "A lot of the guys in the Green Zone – not all, but a lot of them – will pack their bags and leave when we leave."

Next, he says, he would suggest a US departure in about a year, and see which Iraqi leaders are prepared to go along with that. "My guess is it will be the guys who are not in the Green Zone, but who have the militias," he says.

Brzezinski would, at the same time "and more overtly," set in motion a process of "really consulting" all of Iraq's neighbors, plus possibly Pakistan, Algeria, Morocco, and Egypt, about arrangements for security in Iraq after the US leaves.

"All of these countries have a stake in Iraq not blowing up," he says. "And the fact of the matter is, if you go around Iraq and look at each country systematically, whether it's Iran or Turkey or Syria or Jordan or Saudi Arabia, each one is seriously threatened if Iraq blows up."

Some of that is already being done by those countries on their own in an effort to promote regional stability, he notes. But he sees a US-led effort to engage these countries in a collective effort as helping a great deal to absorb the "shock effects" of a US departure.

There is truth to the statements about a shared-interest in seeing Iraq stabilize. My problem here is the same problem I had with the Iraq Study Group's near-naive notion that the major players in the region will work to predominantly US interests in stabilizing Iraq rather than their own. Brzezinski's generalizations do little to assuage that nagging at the back of my mind that such an approach will only lead to something we don't want and don't need---Iranian hegemony in the ME.

In a moment of John Kerry-ish naivete, Mr. Brzezinski then writes-off the potential for even greater bloodshed than what the country currently endures: "My final point is, yes, there will be some escalation in the violence when we leave," he says. But "I don't subscribe to the view that it's automatically doomed to become an explosion."

I too easily hear echoes of John Kerry's declaration to Congress that it would be but a few thousand dead in Vietnam after a US withdrawal. John Burns, long-time NY Times foreign correspondent is one of many who disagree strongly. He makes an eloquent case as to why here; you can make up your own mind about it's correctness.

Brzezinski's assumptions for me represent the worst of the realist's approach. As long as it isn't Americans being blown up, not to worry.

As is usually the case in such pieces though, the best comes last. In discussing Mr. Brzezinski's newly published "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower," author Linda Feldmann notes that the former Carter Administration official issues grades for the three post-Cold-War Presidents:

He gives the first President Bush a "B," President Clinton a "C," and the current President Bush an "F."

And how about the president he served from 1977 to 1981? In the foreign-policy arena, Brzezinski said, Mr. Carter had three good years and one bad one, marked by the Iran hostage crisis. But he did not assign a letter grade.

At which point I can no longer show contrition to one of many who were in fact correct on Iraq. The self-congratulatory pats on the back for being right give way to utter absurdity and I can't and won't look past it.

Jimmy Carter and his administration were abject foreign policy failures. Perhaps Mr. Brzezinski has forgotten over time how his boss' position vis-a-vis Iran in the late 70's helped create the very state that now presents the greatest danger to the ME and to American interests--perhaps not just in the region but at-large as well.

I can let slide the snide sub-texts of self-congratulatory discussions of Iraq. But never should any let slide something so blatantly ridiculous as Jimmy Carter's Bad Year.

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