- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 22, 2004

This column has challenged the Bush administration to think the unthinkable. Here is another unthinkable to ponder. A perfect storm could be brewing in the greater Middle East. The Bush administration’s intent of promoting a democratic revolution throughout the region could create precisely the opposite effect — an unintended destructive spiral of chaos and violence.

The fact is that, despite White House spin, Iraq is a mess. The improvements in schools and hospitals and many other achievementswithstanding, the occupationhas managedto alienate the majority of Iraqis. The fact is that Iran is threatening, for whatever reasons, to turn its peacetime nuclear program into a military one. The fact is that Saudi Arabia may be on the brink of a real insurgency. The fact is that insurgents in Pakistan have grown more aggressive in targeting President Pervez Musharraf and his leadership for death.

The administration maintains an optimistic view of the incursion into Iraq and where that country is headed. The administration promises that Iraq will become a stable democracy under the rule of law and that it will persevere in that endeavor no matter how long it takes. The White House also admits that the road ahead is difficult. But it refuses to show any sign that it is willing to listen to opposing judgments.

On June 30, sovereignty and political control will shift to the new Iraqi government. Then, if reality matches the rhetoric, the new U.S. embassy under Ambassador John Negroponte and Secretary of State Colin Powell will be a “kinder, gentler” version of the soon-to-be defunct Coalition Provisional Authority, and the United States, along with the United Nations and other official missions in Baghdad, will simply go through diplomatic channels to register “suggestions” to the government. Hence, it is the Iraqis who will look after their own well-being.

The hope is that more real power in the hands of Iraqis is the necessary medicine to save the patient. But if the elements of a perfect storm are present, even a more stable Iraq may not be sufficient to ensure a more stable region and a safer community of nations.

History raises many cautions. In 1979, an obscure, elderly, exiled Iranian prelate living in Paris managed to engineer the overthrow of the shah of Iran. The U.S. government tried to prevent that. It failed. The Ayatollah Khomeini seized power. That regime has been in charge since.

Saudi Arabia is not Iran, but it is particularly vexing. The beheading of a Lockheed Martin employee was a threat to all foreign nationals on whose competence and presence Saudi oil production and other infrastructure depend. The insurgents have learned that disruption is the aim of terror. By threatening foreign workers, the idea is to force them to flee. The impact will be to shut down or disrupt Saudi oil production with obvious and profound complications for the petroleum-dependent international economies. Whether the present government has arrested, killed or deported sufficient insurgent leaders to halt this disruption and to prevent even the prospect of a coup is unknowable. The hope is that they have. But they may not have.

And that still leaves what happensinIraq,Pakistan, Afghanistan and, of course, the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict as very wild cards.

So what should the two presidential candidates, the Congress and the U.S. public do about this gathering storm? President Bush has said he will “stay the course” and asks the electorate to trust his leadership. Sen. John Kerry has said he will be a better leader and will rely more on an international coalition to win the day. The fact is that neither of them has a real plan for dealing with Iraq or for mitigating the other ingredients that could create a perfect storm. And Congress had been absent without leave, showing little oversight and interest in pursuing rigorous investigations into the whys and wherefores that justified the war.

The September 11 commission, although focused on the attack, has made good inroads identifying some of the horrifying shortfalls and crucial corrective actions that must be taken if the nation is to be safer. Sadly, the commission’s findings risk being distorted by partisan debate. And one thing is clear: No action will occur until after the presidential election.

The possibility is that a perfect storm may be building in the Persian Gulf. No one is suggesting that the United States will send U.S. forces to Saudi Arabia to capture or secure the oil fields in the event of a coup or mutiny. But unless we think about these unthinkables, they could happen and they could irrevocably damage our security along with the global economy far more seriously than anyone now guesses. Shame on us if our failure to take harder looks at the world continues.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide