Speaking to a British audience last week about the war on terror, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, "I know we've made tactical errors, thousands of them I'm sure. But when you look back in history, what will be judged will be, did you make the right strategic decisions."
I can't help but wonder if Ms. Rice's British audience, a foreign policy think tank known as Chatham House, didn't have the same reaction to her remarks as did former head of U.S. Central Command Anthony Zinni.
On Sunday's Meet the Press, Zinni said there has been "…a series of disastrous mistakes. We just heard the secretary of state say these were tactical mistakes. These were not tactical mistakes. These were strategic mistakes, mistakes of policy made back here."
I don't always agree with Zinni, but on this issue he's spot on target. The disaster the Bush administration has created in the Gulf Region isn't the result of tactical errors. It's the result of the fundamentally flawed neoconservative vision of a democratic Middle East remade in America's image at the point of a gun.
The loose political/military planning and action hierarchy of vision to policy to strategy to operations to tactics has been adopted for use for just about every other human endeavor from international business to personal growth. It's often difficult to draw a distinct line between, say, a "vision" and a "policy," and different schools of thought define these things differently. But generally speaking, a "vision statement" addresses the question "what are our long term goals?" and tactics are tasks performed on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis that support the higher order objectives of strategy, policy, and vision.
When tactics are executed successfully--as they by and large have been in Iraq and elsewhere--but do not effect the political aims, it's usually because the political aims are unachievable by the tactical means chosen to support them.
Thus it is with the foreign policy path we have followed for the past five years. In the late nineties, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, John Bolton and other key members of the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century convinced themselves that the U.S. could create a stable Middle East through preemptive and aggressive use of armed force. Look what resulted.
The situation in Iraq continues to unravel. It has descended through insurgency to civil war, and now is on the verge of being immersed in an all out Hobbesian war, a war in which every man is armed and dozens if not hundreds of factions contend to achieve goals not readily identified or achievable.
Afghanistan, the "crown jewel" in our war on terror, has become the world's leading narco-state and is once again a safe haven for the Taliban.
Thanks to America's promotion of the democratic process in the Gulf Region, terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah have gained legitimate political power in Palestine and Lebanon. In Egypt on Saturday, three months after parliamentary elections were held, a gunfight broke out in the headquarters of that country's oldest opposition political party. A local journalist said, "The incident is proof that none of the secular opposition parties are capable of resolving their rapidly growing internal differences." Saudi Arabia held its first municipal elections in February of 2005. Women were excluded from voting, and half the seats were appointed by the central government which maintains veto power over the elected officials. Over in Pakistan, our buddy General Pervez Musharraf has had to cut deals with hard line Islamic parties and rewrite the Pakistani constitution to maintain his hold on power.
As to Iran, our single greatest "challenge" in the region: while we were distracted by our fascination over whether the Iranians seek to develop nuclear weapons, we didn’t notice they were developing a long range, high speed torpedo that will present a profound potential threat to U.S. warships not only in the Arabian Gulf, but over a significant portion of the northern Indian Ocean.
Looking Back from the Future
If the Gulf region is stable twenty years from now, it won't be because of the Bush administration strategies. It will because someone was miraculously able to come along and clean up the mess the neoconservatives created. And no matter how the Middle East looks in the year 2026, there will be no reason to believe it looks any better than it would have if we had simply kept the toothless Saddam Hussein contained and waited for him to die of old age.