Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Jeb Bush's Plan for the Middle East

Jeb Bush gave a big speech yesterday in which he laid out a very ambitious agenda for defeating all of our enemies in the Middle East and filling the region with successful moderate governments. It's breathtaking, in a way -- no recognition whatsoever of limits on American power to do great things. Consider this agenda for Syria:
Our ultimate goal in Syria is to defeat ISIS and to achieve long-term political stability in that country. Defeating ISIS requires defeating Assad, but we have to make sure that his regime is not replaced by something as bad or worse. The last thing we need in Syria is a repeat of Libya, with its plan-less aftermath, where the end of a dictatorship was only the beginning of more terrorist violence, including the death of four Americans in Benghazi. Syria will need a stable government, and a transition free of more sectarian blood-letting will depend on the credible moderate forces we help unite and build up today.
If you ask me, moderates are about as prominent and successful in Syria as they are in the Republican primary, but Bush plans somehow to summon into being an army of phantom moderates big enough to defeat both the Assad government and ISIS -- and al Qaeda, too, I presume. Bush notes that the current American effort to recruit these moderate soldiers has spent millions but produced a force of only 54. Rather than taking the hint, Bush insists that this is Obama's fault:
The reality is, our recruitment efforts have been failing in Syria because we are not respected anymore as a reliable actor in the region. And we have to change that impression with the kind of clear, consistent, and credible action that every nation should expect from the United States of America.
I would never claim that Obama has had any sort of brilliant Middle East policy. The unfolding chaos speaks for itself. But to claim as Bush does that just by being tough and reliable we can achieve great things is, I think, utter nonsense.

Obama believes, I think, that actually shaping events in Iraq and Syria would cost too much money and too many lives and might not work anyway, so he has resigned himself to watching events unfold and trying to nudge them a little. If the Iraqi government is willing to fight the Islamic State, Obama will give them air support. Same thing for the Kurds. But if there is no credible force to take the field, he will walk away. Since the Syrian moderates remain a pathetic sideshow to a war that is mainly between an evil government and fanatical rebels, he stays on the sidelines.

Maybe Bush is right, and with a major effort in Syria we could reshape the country. But where is the money going to come from? Bush's plan for cutting taxes is only slightly less frightening than those of Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, and surely installation of a new government in Syria would cost hundreds of billions of dollars. How can that possibly be made to add up? You all know my basic test for seriousness in a foreign war: if you won't raise taxes to pay for your war, you don't really understand what a momentous and terrible thing war is, and nobody should listen to you. Bush fails the test, just like his brother. He wants to remake the world, but pretends that all we require is steadfast purpose. Of the actual expenditures of blood and treasure he says nothing.

Bush closes with this:
We can protect our people, put adversaries back in retreat, get things moving our way again, and win back the momentum for freedom’s cause. In all of this, let us never forget that in fighting evil, we are doing good, in stopping the merciless, we are delivering justice, and in destroying the violent, we are defending the innocent.
In short, we are back to the Bush-Cheney years, blasting and shooting our way toward democratic nirvana. If you liked the first invasion of Iraq and the five years of misery that followed, you'll love Jeb's foreign policy.

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