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Looking at Success in the Middle East and Worrying about US Isolationism

Writing for the National Review Online, Victor Davis Hanson discusses whether the seven states in the Greater Middle East have become more or less of a threat since 9/11. He concludes that the situation is messier, but better than before:
Few argue that Afghanistan or Iraq is worse off than when under the Taliban or Saddam. Nor is Syria in a stronger position. Despite their respective nuclear and petroleum deterrence, both Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are ever more sensitive to the dangers of Islamic radicalism. Libya no longer poses the threat of using WMD against its neighbors and is less likely to fund international terror. Iran is the wild card - closer to success in obtaining the bomb, but closer as well to becoming isolated by international pressure and the events that it cannot quite control across the border in Iraq.
Hanson worries about increasing isolationism due to the Bush administration's "unpopular work of trying to restore hope to the Middle East", while "the aloof Europeans pose as the moderate alternative":
A new strain of what we might call punitive isolationism is back ("more rubble, less trouble"), in which we should simply unleash bombers when evidence is produced of complicity in attacks against Americans, but under no circumstance put a single soldier on the ground to "help" such people who are "incapable" of liberal civilized society.
The hard Right is candid in its pessimistic dismissal of American idealism and worries that a new muscular Wilsonianism will lose the ascendant Republican majority and betray conservative values. The Left buys into the neo-isolationism since it means less of an "imperial" footprint abroad and more funds released for entitlements at home - as well as a way of tarring George Bush and regaining Congress.
A Pew and Council on Foreign Relations survey from November 2005 "finds a striking revival of isolationist sentiment among the general public":
Fully 42 percent of Americans say the United States should "mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own." That represents a sharp increase since 2002 (30 percent), and is on par with the percentage expressing that view during the mid-1970s, following the Vietnam War, and in the 1990s, after the Cold War ended.


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Dr. Dean on :

I would weight the Middle East factors not like Victor Davis Hanson. 1. Political and political-extremistic Islam in general since 9/11: problem, but not a real challenge now: big problem 2. Conflict between Gaza/Westbank-people and Israel since 9/11: big problem now: big problem 3. Iraq since 9/11: small problem now: big problem 4. Afghanistan since 9/11: big problem now: small problem 5. Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Syria since 9/11: no problem now: no problem (maybe interesting for some of you: some general observations [i]which are directly or loosely connected with US Middle East policies[i]) 6. US militarism since 9/11: big problem now: bigger problem (please consider the [url=]==> expenditures[/url]!!! 7. Transatlantic relations since 9/11: no problem now: small problem 8. US reputation in the world since 9/11: small problem now: problem 9. World militarism since 9/11: problem now: problem To add some meat to point 3): In my blog, [url=](==> 17. Feb 2006)[/url], i wrote (as a typical German left wing ordoliberal):[quote]Die realen Verhältnisse jedenfalls liefern ein verwirrendes Bild, und dazu gehört auch, dass das US-Militär im Irak keineswegs homogen auftritt. Man findet neben Erscheinungen üblen Versagens auch viele positive und erfolgreiche Bemühungen. Aber egal, welche Wertungen man vornehmen möchte, die ganze Veranstaltung namens Irakkrieg sieht z.Zt. recht übel aus.[/quote]Translation in a nutshell: [i]"The situation in Iraq is complicate today. The US army is sometimes successful and sometimes we find a classic case of failure. In general the iraq war situation is bad."[/i]

Joerg on :

Re 1: It was a big problem before, but not so much in our headlines. Re 3: So you think the huge number of civilian deaths in Iraq in the 90s was a "small problem"? What was the position of enlightened European liberals? (US Democrats like Sec of State Albright thought the death of half a million Iraqi kids a price worth paying) For example: [url][/url] What did the Europeans propose in the late 90s? This is not a rhetorical question. I just don't remember and I don't have the time for extensive googling. Did Europeans propose to lift the sanctions? Did they cam up with smart sanctions that could contain Saddam, but help the civilians. Or did the sanctions have nothing to do with the suffering of the civilains. What is the job of enlightened Europeans besides constantly telling the US what they do wrong? Do Europeans have a responsibility to propose alternative policies? I think we do. Re 4: Afghanistan is better now, but still a big problem. Drugs, warlords, democracy. Re 5: You must be kidding on Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. I gotta stop here

Dr. Dean on :

ad re5: I am not kidding. Where is the challenge for US and German citizens? ad re3: Spending more than 300 billions (!) of good Dollars just to get rid of a single person named Saddam...!? [I]You[/i] are kidding! There are about 20-40 "Saddams" global. Think of the war on drugs. Poverty and low level civil war in African countries. Think of Asia, e.g. starving farmers in India or hundrets of thousand dying brave workers because of pollution in China! Lukaschenko! Putin! Mafia! 50.000 deadly car accidents/year in Germany und America! In the last years of his dictatorship Saddam wasn't very dangerous. Maybe 1.000 or 2.000 dead Iraqis/year. This ist not worth 300 billions (!!) of good US Dollar, roundabout 35.000 killed civilians in Iraq and more than 1000 killed Americans. No. As a result of systematical think tank propaganda American and German citizens slightly overrated the Saddam-problem. Neverever Iraq was a severe [i]challenge[/i] for American and German citizens. ad re1: [b] It is possible to push nearly every theme into the headlines. [/b] Let us empower, finance and buy an army of experts! For example for the theme [i]"war on alcohol abuse"[/i]. Let them grow, build think tanks, penetrate every organ and aspect of our governments! Sadly, there is no antiacohol-industrial-complex. Note 2 myself: Its the economy, combined with fascinating pictures, stupid! Pictures can not be overrated. Take the famous cigar! Of Clinton. Usually i am not very interested in the sexual behaviour of US presidents ([i]any[/i] information about Bush?), but pictures: That is [i]very[/i] important for the political process. And economy, of course. Spending 450 Billions of US Dollars/year is a political factor. Think of a military expenditures cut of 350 billon dollar/year! What would this mean? 1. Less fascinating pictures 2. Tax cuts and welfare state action 3. A save and strong America (which is today: save and strong) 4. Slightly better reputation for America worldwide 5. Only 100 billions US Dollar/year for the brave US army, which would unambiguously mean, that [i]this[/i] army then is the strongest army in the world. Today US is a promilitaristic country. You are spending more than 4,5 percent of your GNP for "ethical" foreign policies... Usually its the economy!

Joerg on :

Re your question: Pakistan is an unstable country with nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia exports extremism. [url][/url] These are problems for the world. Now I would appreciate some answers to my questions.

Dr. Dean on :

You wrote: [i]"Pakistan is an unstable country with nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia exports extremism.[/i]" [b] Good arguments![/b] I used this arguments directly after 9/11 and compared them to Saddam Hussein. Americans like "joe" (oops! Isn't he a German?) told me, that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are our "allies" and that there is no problem. Nothing fundamental changes. Okay, its a part of the global extremistic-political-Islamism-Problem. In Germany (as you know) our government fights tough (via "Verfassungsschutz" etc.) against "islam centers" financed by Saudi Arabian money. Our executive count any form of wahabism as extremism. This is not a big problem! Maybe a small one. There is no need to spend hundreds of billions of Dollar to fight against them. As a result of the fight against wahabism our islamic population is less influenced by wahabism and mainly influenced by Turk islam. Nice and peaceful people. (joe would say that they every islamic population is dangerous and that "Eurabia" comes and that we should stay tuned and frighened and so on...) Pakistan? Even an islamistic Pakistan wouldn't nuke you or me. We should concntrate on human rights and help them not to turn to extremism. Not a really big problem, and especially not our or your problem i suppose. [b]Its not our job to control other countries.[/b] The "danger" is not that big as thousands of "think tanks" enthusiastically told us. But for your economic system 4,5 % expenditures for "ethical" foreign policies: This [u]is[/u] a danger for your individual welfare.

Joerg on :

"Even an islamistic Pakistan wouldn't nuke you or me." I am more concerned about anarchy in Pakistan than an Islamic government. "We should concntrate on human rights and help them not to turn to extremism." How? Again, I would appreciate an answer to my original question about Iraq and sanctions and what the best ethical, European, liberal policy concerning Iraq would have been. I am surprised that you don't think the suffering of Iraqi civilians in the 90s (due to UN sanctions and Saddam), was not a big problem for you. It is sooo easy to criticize the US. It would be great if "progressive", "liberal" and "leftist" minds like you would actually present an alternative. Please be a bit more specific than "we should concentrate on human rights."

joe on :

Well Victor David Hanson is just flat wrong with his statement “Few argue that Afghanistan or Iraq is worse off than when under the Taliban or Saddam” as it pertains to Iraq. A 2005 Pew poll of the German people reveals a clear majority thinks the world would be much safer if Saddam was still in power. It is therefore logical to conclude the Iraqis would also be safer and much better off if Saddam were in power.

Dr. Dean on :

You wrote:[quote]A 2005 Pew poll of the German people reveals a clear majority thinks the world would be much safer if Saddam was still in power.[/quote]Joe, i agree with you that Germans are sometimes ugly and stupid people. But there is absolutely no need your systematically misinterpretations of "polls" like this. I tell you something: 1. You are des-informing. 2. You are hate mongering. Question: What have "the" Germans done with you? The German Fräuleins usually are very nice to smart people. Let me teach you one important trick if you connect to a German Fräulein: Never talk about polls! Never try to misinterpret polls! Never use a lousy "poll" as a political weapon! Never (in one word: never) take "polls" like this as a good and helpful information. Sincerely yours [u]philosophical remarks[/u] The first time i read something from you or "Kathy" i was very surprised and astonished. Never in my live before i read opionions with that quantity of [b]pure hate[/b]. You are "antigerman". Okay, great deal, cheap price. Your discussion style tries to explain that "the" Americans are great (yes: they are) and that "the" Germans are bad (okay: i am bad - hehe). Talking with you about foreign policies is like talking between fans of the soccer club "St. Pauli" with fans of the soccer club "Bayern Munich". Same style! Main discussion pattern: 1. Your club is good. Everything is good. Together (with all of the fans of your club) you are a heroe. 2. The other club is bad. Everthing is bad. All of the fans of the other club are idiots. [b]For you there are only the possibilities "pro" or "anti".[/b] There is a german blog named "Lizas World" which combines this soccer style of fan culture with joe's political style (concentrating on foreign policies and very loyally pro-GOP). [b]Hey "joe", i am sure that you have much of fun![/b] Joe, do you eventually know Mister Ingo Way? You [i]can[/i] have a German friend! And after that we discuss the topic German Fräulein again, okay? Something should be done against your frustrations.

Chris on :

Hanson's arguments lack a great deal of substance. That sentence stating that Saddam and the Taliban have been held in check moves briskly over the very muddled situation in Iraq. Iran may not have a great deal of control over Iraq, but they have as much (if not more) control as the United States does. Saudi Arabia's security forces may be anti-Islamist, but the population remains radicalized. In fact, Iraq has further radicalized much of the Middle East. Dr. Dean raises good points. Frankly, I'm sick of reading the right-wingers spin this mess Bush has made. They've all gone insane and it troubles me to speak with them.

beth on :

'As a result of systematical think tank propaganda American and German citizens slightly overrated the Saddam-problem. Neverever Iraq was a severe challenge for American and German citizens.' There's a lot in this post and comments that I'd like to reply to. But I have to say that this is blatantly incorrect. It was not just the US and/or Germany that saw Saddam as a problem - you might recall that the ever-corrupt UN sanctioned Iraq numerous times. They just didn't or rather wouldn't put any bite into their bark. Then when we (the US) decided to do something about him, the UN went shaking and hiding and wringing their hands. Oh - and covering their tracks as best they could (mustn't forget that). ~~~~~~~~ And this: 'In fact, Iraq has further radicalized much of the Middle East.' Do you seriously think that the middle east wasn't radicalized prior to any action the US took in Iraq? We knew, at least some of us knew, that going there would draw the fundamentalist there to fight. Better there than here. I can click off one attack after the other PRIOR to 9/11 and PRIOR to the US military action in Iraq. They were radicalized, we just didn't pay attention to them before. I submit that we SHOULD have paid attention to the attacks (ie: the USS Cole, attacks on American Embassies, the attacks on American soldiers in Somalia that our President Clinton just let slide!!! - I'm STILL angry about that). If we had hit them back hard then we might not have to be doing what we are doing now. Avoiding conflict creates unavoidable conflict. Clinton was an expert at avoiding conflict - and now here we are with unavoidable conflict.

Fuchur on :

DrDean´s definition of "problem" is indeed quite peculiar. To him, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are "no problem" - so it´s not surprising that Saddam was only ever a teensie little baby problem to him. It´s also not surprising that in his world, "US militarism" is one of the really big problems... I´m not a big fan of the Iraq war myself, but it is absolutely clear that Iraq was a big threat. Everybody thought he had WMD. Everybody knew he was trying to get some. Somebody who thinks that Saddam with WMD is a problem on the scale of "air pollution in China" is simply delusional!

Dr. Dean on :

@Fuchur You wrote [quote]. It´s also not surprising that in his world, "US militarism" is one of the really big problems...[/quote]Hey, forget the stereotypes! Maybe US militarism reduces the reputation of the western world at all (that is: a small problem for Germans - as an American ally and as part of the western world - and actually a problem for Americans). In fact US militarism is [i]not[/i] a problem because of reducing world savety (nonsense!) or reducing German savety (nonsense!). My opinion is completely different: US militarism is very alive. It is a big (!) problem for: US citizens! It is a BIG countable problem because of its 4,5 percentual GNP share. My hypothesis is: One percent would work fine. If i economize e.g. the Syria-"problem" - i would count it for an economizid equivalent of maybe 50 mio Dollar/year, giving the Syria-"Problem" a look from the American side. Not more. An equivalent of 50 mio Dollar: That is something i wold call "no problem" - compared to other issues in the field of foreign policies. [b]Where is the real danger of the Syria-"problem" for US and German citizens?[/b] Syria don't plan a concrete war against us. If we like we can make good business with them. Maybe we have political differences with them, but i wouln't count that for an equivalent of more than 50 mio Dollar. Please don't forget that they are a bit pissed off, too - because of our agressive war mongering "let freedom prevail"-ideology. They have angst. Mundane angst. Usually arab people became frightened with our very special versions of pre-emptive freedom. Even Iraq people are not convinced. Actually the people of Iraq just want us to get out of their country.

Brigitte on :

You don't understand international politics and you don't care about real threats and poverty, and oppression. You are obsessed with America. It is easy to sit in your armchair and criticize and pretend the world is safe and Iraq was just fine before the war and no threat and Saddam was a a nice old man caring deeply about his people.

Fuchur on :

Is there some divine law that says "Thou shalt not spend more than 1% of your GDP on your military"? ;-) I don´t think that military spending is such a big problem. At least, I can´t make out a correlation between military spending and economic growth, wealth, etc.: The US does very well compared to countries like Japan or Germany, that spend a lot less on their military. GB spends a lot more than Germany, and still does better than Germany. Syria sponsors terrorism. That´s a big problem in my book. Why is Syria a minor problem to you, but the Israeli-Palestinean conflict is such a big one? Palestineans also aren´t planning a war against the US or Europe.

Anonymous on :

More success: Newsweek International Editions - "Imagine if a few months after September 11 someone had said to you, "Five years from now, in the space of a single week, Osama bin Laden will issue a new call for worldwide jihad, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq will threaten a brutal, endless war, and there will be two terror attacks in Egypt." Chances are you would have been quite unnerved. Yet the most striking aspect of last week's news was the reaction to it—very little."

joe on :

Well you should not have been if you knew anything at all about the nature of the threat. In truth, one should have expected much worse than has actually happened to this point.

alec on :

Egypt and Saudia Arabia being 'sensitive' to Islamic extremism is not a good thing. This has led to the following: a) a top level acquiesence on many issues (take the Saudi King's decree for newspapers/media to stop printing pictures of women this week) b) Islamic extremism has grown in these countries c) being 'sensitive' is not the idea that Islamic fanaticism has decreased in these countries, but these countries are threatened by an Iran style Islamic revolution. The idea of US isolationism has always been strong. I really don't get why this is news. The American public may elect its leaders, but its leaders make its own decisions, especially on foreign relations. How many average Americans know the intricacies of Somalia, Kosovo, Haiti, Panama, etc? The answer is very few, and these are policy makers/deciders, NOT the public opinion polls.

Joerg on :

I agree with you on Saudi Arabia. This country is a problem: [url][/url] Re Isolationism: The news is that islationist sentiment is increasing. Politicians are sensitive to polls because they want to get reelected.

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