The LA Times reports that Bush’s foreign policy is shifting:

…the presidential vision even has its own buzz phrase: “practical idealism,” a reference to the policy’s underlying premise that in a post-Sept. 11 world, America’s national security is tied directly to the spread of free and open societies everywhere, including the Middle East.

Although few foreign policy specialists interviewed for this article questioned the president’s personal sincerity, some dismissed his plan as little more than fantasy.

Maybe my problem is that I do question the president’s personal sincerity. But I take this ‘practical idealism’ so unseriously that I have spent zero time considering how well it’s going.


“The simplistic notion that you talk a great deal about democracy and twist a few arms and it will somehow come magically on its own is absurd,” said Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Right. It fact, it’s so absurd that I don’t believe the President really believes it will work. And it’s not because I disagree with the sentiment, which is expressed here:

“What we want is a world of democratic, market-oriented countries,” said Stephen Krasner, whose job as head of policy planning at the State Department is to direct the search for future external challenges that the country might face.

There is a long-standing theory that counties that develop trade relationships do not go to war with each other. Another theory holds that democratically elected governments co-exist peacefully. Those theories may not be air tight, but they do represent a decent theory of international relations that a progressive set of foreign policies can be built around.

But a close observor of our foreign policy establishment, and especially of the neo-conservatives, will note that our goals are to maintain sole superpower status, to prevent the emergence of any regional threats to our hegemony, and to set up basing rights all through Central Asia and the Middle East to, as former CENTCOM commander Anthony Zinni said:

have in place the right plans, forces, and basing options for any possible crisis…(including) keeping the Gulf open for the free flow of oil”. And so on.
Battle Ready, by Tom Clancy and Anthony Zinni, pp.313-4.

And I do believe that part of protecting our national security involves protecting our economic security, and also, to some degree, the massive investments of some of our corporations. I’m not entirely comfortable with admitting this because we have a very sordid history of behaving like economic hit-men.

That is what is so troubling about Bush’s performance in Iraq. The difference between imperialistic/colonialism, and economic development can be quite fuzzy. The whole developed world has an interest in maintaining a steady supply of energy out of the Middle East. They have an interest in developing new oil and gas fields. That interest had traditionally trumped any risky ventures to spread democratic reforms.

If Bush wants to take the giant step of risking the health of the international economy to push for democratic reforms, he needs all the help he can get. He needs a broad consensus that it is worth the risk of economic dislocation to see the House of Saud driven from power. He needs a committment that the world will be at our backs if the region becomes dysfunctional as a gas station.

If Bush was serious about taking this step we would see certain symptoms. He would not have raced to fly the Saudi princes out of the country after 9/11. He would have pushed much harder for domestic energy exploration and alternative fuels and conservation (as a safeguard against disruption). He would be trying to rally the anti-Soviet alliance, and former Soviet Bloc, to rally to a new generational cause (bringing freedom to the Muslim world). He would be making whatever concessions necessary to build such an alliance.

As it stands, he has zero support for his venture abroad, and less than 50% support at home. This sends a clear message that Bush is not serious about bringing freedom to the world, but he is interested in maintaining military hegemony and control over the world’s energy producing areas.

And with the United States in such an isolated space, our disastrous mistakes in Iraq and Guantanamo assure that any popularly elected governments in the Muslim world will be a threat to that hegemony.

The conclusion is inevitable. Bush’s practical idealism is neither practical, nor idealistic. It’s a recipe for disaster.

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