The Presidency of Cool Envoys in Hot Spots
By Con George-Kotzabasis
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana
“Within reality there is a senseless craving for unreality.” Robert Musil
In the dangerous times Western civilization and its people face by the present and looming attacks of the irreconcilable implacable holy warriors of Islam, President Obama true to his campaign promise is, at least initially, replacing the hard power of the previous administration that kept the terrorists at bay from attacking America again with the soft power of diplomacy. The president has decided in his wisdom to sheathe the sword of former President Bush, which he considers to be a blunt instrument of foreign policy, and unsheathe the paper knife of diplomacy to deal with the prolonged Israeli Palestinian conflict and the new drawn-out conflict of the U.S. and its allies with the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan which is spilling over the borders of Pakistan. His appointment of two high-powered envoys—and more to come in other regions of raging or impending conflict—for the Middle East and Pakistan-Afghanistan, former senator George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke respectively, puts flesh on this ‘skeleton’ of diplomacy which the new president hopes will resolve these up till now intractable issues in the above regions. And simultaneously restore the love and respect of the world for the United States that were lost during the Bush administration with its horrendous, immoral, and unilateral undiplomatic actions in its foreign policy, embodied in the illegal and foolish war in Iraq, that tarnished the reputation of the U.S. so badly as a prudent temperate peace loving nation.
President Obama strongly believes, as he made it clear during his campaign, that America by living on its principles and values and exemplifying these in its actions is the way to mollify a recalcitrant world that believes wrongly that the U.S. is a brutal power, as an outcome of the lawless and immoral misdeeds of the Bush administration. Hence Obama in his cum-sacerdotal role by cleansing America’s Soul from the wicked ‘footprints’ that the heavy boots and missteps of the Texan left in so many parts of the world will be reviving the moral and material strength of America at which the rest of the world will gape with awe at this miraculous transformation, with the corollary, that the latter once again will graciously accept American leadership. All of them, needless to say, laudable aims in the moral sphere of politics but the question remains to what extent, if any, these aims will impact and affect the sphere of realpolitik.
This expansion of diplomacy and its more direct engagement in the hot spots of the world by the new administration is widely acclaimed by the liberal ‘smart set’ in the U.S. and their no less smart cousins in Europe. To them Obama’s initiative brings the “right balance between diplomacy and war” and wisely distances himself from the brazen and grossly stupid policies of the Bush-Cheney administration. In their spiritual euphoria however they miss the cognitive fact that an abstraction such as “the right balance between diplomacy and war,” cannot impact upon the concreteness of a particular situation and on the kind of enemies one is dealing with. One cannot weigh geopolitical issues on a grocer’s scale by putting in one side of the scale diplomacy and in the other war. On such issues the scale is never at a balance and is ever in a state of continuous disequilibrium. It depends on the political principles the military strength and the character of one’s enemy whether one might use more effectively either diplomacy or war or a combination of both to achieve peace with one’s foe. Therefore the liberal nostrum of the “right balance…” is an abstract entity with no effectiveness in the realm of geopolitics.
Furthermore, it’s prerequisite in all conflict situations, especially prolonged ones, for a commander-in-chief to know thy enemy if one would have a chance to defeat him, as the famous Chinese military strategist Sun Zi stated. The deep knowing of one’s enemy is a ‘unilateral’ knowledge that regrettably does not spread in too many heads of States. Only on those leaders and their close advisors who are aware of the kind of enemy they are confronting falls the absolute responsibility and burden to deal expeditiously and decisively with such an enemy. This is why diplomacy in so many cases in the past has failed to pull together a set of allies to confront a common enemy. As most of these purported allies lack the insight to see the future dangers that will be surrounding their nations from this common irreconcilable foe.
Responsibilities Arise from Orbiting Close to the Centre of Geopolitics
Hence, predictably, the responsibility of taking military action, when all diplomatic overtures have failed, against a dangerous opponent falls on the shoulders of those leaders who are endowed with political and strategic insight, and ironically these leaders with the knack of statesmanship in their swift decisions and unilateral and preemptive actions, who are the real defenders of their nations, are slanderously condemned as warmongers as a result of the lack of strategic depth of other leaders and the deeper lack of knowledge and understanding of the masses of the responsibilities of statecraft.
The principle of the force of knowledge and its irreplaceable value in politics can be illustrated by Newton’s law of gravity: The force of gravity is proportional to the mass of a planet and inversely proportional to the square of the distance from its centre, which is the Sun. Likewise, the force of knowledge is proportional to the mass of the intelligence of a political leadership and inversely proportional to the square of the distance from its centre, which is geopolitics. Therefore the closer a leadership is orbiting around the ‘Sun’ of geopolitics the greater its knowledge to identify correctly a menacing enemy and the kind of enemy one is fighting. And let us not be misunderstood! We are not talking about infallible absolute knowledge which is not within the grasp of human beings, but relative knowledge, which is applicable to a particular political and strategic situation, not however with absolute certainty.
A concrete demonstration of the above argument was the situation with Iraq prior, during, and after the war. The Bush administration used and exhausted all avenues of diplomacy in the UN with its European allies Russia and China to take hard effective diplomatic action against Saddam Hussein, since all of their intelligence services unshakably believed that the latter was in possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and had the scientific infrastructure in place to develop nuclear ones, yet it was unable to persuade them in taking this action forcing thus the U.S. and its willing allies the UK, Australia, and some smaller European nations in invading Iraq. And one must not be maliciously forgetful that when Bush started the war he had the support of more than 80 per cent of Americans behind him as he was able to persuade them in the aftermath of 9/11 that the invasion was interrelated to the war against global terror and the latter could not be defeated without either the diplomatic or military defeat of its state sponsors. As we well know this support was dissipated as a result of not finding WMD which the liberal media ignominiously presented that the war was a product of lies when it well knew that the misinformation on the weapons issued from faulty intelligence. And it would not be long before these ‘lies’ were connected to the hated Watergate lies of Nixon and soon embedded into the contemporaneous American psyche as Iraqgate. Moreover the grave error of the Bush administration of ‘shifting’ the ground of the war from its original position of being part and parcel of the war against global terror onto the ‘idealistic’ ground of bringing and building democracy in Iraq further eroded public support for the war. It was obvious that Americans were not prepared to support a war whose aims had changed from the security of their homeland from future deadly terrorist attacks to the idealistic goal of building democracy in Iraq, especially when the war took a bad turn with heavy American casualties with no victory sign at the end of the road—although this was to change with the new strategy of the Surge and its savvy implementation by General Petraeus—and a most expensive war to boot.
Saddam of course was not connected to the attack of 9/11. But he had a strategic interest, seeing the rise of al-Qaeda, to win over its adherents and use them as proxies, as Iran presently does with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine, for his political ambitions and in his irreversible confrontation with the United States. That is why his intelligence agents from early on during the domicile of al-Qaeda in Sudan had contact with its higher echelons and provided training to some of its foot-soldiers in Iraq itself. Al Zarqawi himself, the future leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, in the aftermath of the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan was domiciled in Iraq before the ousting of Saddam and was hospitalized and treated for his injuries sustained in Afghanistan. On the issue of the WMD Saddam might have had them destroyed but it would be foolish to believe that he had not in place the scientific apparatus and the scientists to develop them rapidly once the sanctions of the UN were lifted. Saddam was too focused in his ambition to be the leader of the Arab world to have given up the acquisition of WMD and indeed nuclear ones that were a prerequisite to consummate his ambition. Moreover, knowing that his arch enemy and competitor in the region Shiite Iran was in the process of developing nuclear weapons, he himself would have given them up. To have believed in the latter would have been to believe that the brutal dictator by a miraculous saintly intervention was transformed into a disciple of the Dalai Lama.
For all the above reasons the ousting of Saddam was fully justified despite all the mistakes of the Bush administration in the prosecution of the war during the insurgency which once they were promptly corrected by the new strategy of the Surge they reversed a coming defeat of the Americans into a surprising impending victory. A victory that the liberal smart set still blindly denies. But more importantly, the defeat of al Qaeda and its sundry jihadists in Iraq could be the pronunciamento of the forthcoming defeat of global terror, providing the present administration of Obama does not step-down from the strong resolve and determination of the previous administration to prosecute the war against this deadly irreconcilable enemy until total victory.
Will Obama Deflate America’s Pragmatic Victory in Iraq by inflating The Moral Standing of his Administration?
After this rather long but necessary digression we must return back to President Obama, as his policies in the realm of foreign affairs will be critical and decisive in strengthening or weakening the United States as the sole superpower and its ability in dealing both with its deadly enemies and its full of reservations and often recalcitrant allies for the reasons we mentioned above. His first actions however of closing Guantanamo Bay and the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq in sixteen months are the first blurred signs that his presidency will be enfeebling America’s power in handling the great and inexorable dangers rising from the irreconcilable apocalyptic forces of Islam. The Commander-in-Chief who met his CENTCOM commander on the ground General David Petraeus supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates at an Oval Office meeting on January 21 was not persuaded by the argument of Petraeus and Gates, to the chagrin of the latter, that Obama would have to back down from his campaign pledge to pull out all combat troops from Iraq within 18 months or risk “an eventual collapse in Iraq” with his withdrawal policy. Thus President Obama on the dogmatic moral precept about the wrongness of the war in Iraq is rejecting the advice of his general on the ground and is willing to jeopardize and squander the great pragmatic victory US forces achieved in Iraq over al-Qaeda and the al-Sadrist militias. And to his everlasting ignominy he will be known in history as the only commander-in-chief who withdrew his troops from a crucial battle against global terror when these same troops under their capable Generals Petraeus and Odierno were winning the war against it and solidifying their victory; a victory moreover that shows the way and heralds the defeat of all other jihadists in this borderless war on terror. That President Obama would be willing to sacrifice this great strategic victory over the jihadists in Iraq on the altar of his morals is breathtaking.
If you have a president whose guiding principles about war and peace are emanating from moral precepts then such president does not deserve to be the leader of a great nation whose paramountcy of strategic military power is pivotal to the order of the world. In a Hobbesian world of bellum omniun contra omnes, unless President Obama has the wisdom and the strength of character to be at times like the “Feudal Knights” in full armour “who made literal mincemeat of their enemies, leaving the clergy to handle the morals,” to quote the great Austrian writer Robert Musil, he will weaken America’s will and power to confront and defeat its implacable enemies.
But his predilection to appoint envoys in the hot spots of the world, where in most cases the arbiter is military force, in the hope that diplomacy and the use of ‘soft power’ will reconcile irreconcilable foes, reveal that President Obama will be neither a wise nor strong leader but the embodiment of Jimmy Carter who will have just enough strength to break the peanuts that the latter was farming. And despite the fact that as president he will be orbiting close to the Sun of geopolitics he will be unable to “know thy enemy” and see his ferocious visage as an outcome of his lack of nerve and debilitating politically moral passions.
For the sake of America and Western civilization and its out posts, one can only hope that his top close advisors have greater insight more mettle and less moral fervour than President Obama and will imbue his administration with these qualities that are the sine qua non of statecraft. As the danger to civilized societies will not be eliminated until the ‘serpent’ of statesmanship has terror in its belly.
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