Thursday, June 17, 2004

Knowing What We Know and Seeing What We Have Seen
Salon reprints a speech this morning given by law professor Stephen Holmes "to several hundred U.S. intelligence analysts from various agencies at their request." It's an analysis of the impact of the Iraq war on worldwide opinion, especially in Europe, and a forecast for the direction of American foreign policy after Bush is safely back in Crawford.

For a brief moment after 9/11, we had the sympathy and support of the whole world--remember the famous French newspaper headline "We Are All Americans"? (The French--the perfidious French!) In the following months the Bush Administration pissed away that international goodwill, but Americans could still rely on Europeans to understand the difference between the idiots running our government and ourselves as individuals. Holmes says of the situation today:
America's critics continue to distinguish between the U.S. administration, which they fear and despise, and the American people, with whom they feel sympathy.

But the pictures from Abu Ghraib prison may have finally changed that. If the American electorate, knowing what it knows and, above all, having seen what it has seen, proceeds to reelect George W. Bush in November, the moderating distinction between the American administration and the American people will be eroded or perhaps erased--with what violent consequences no one can predict.
Not exactly a comforting thought if you have plans to visit Europe in the next few years.

As for the direction of American foreign policy after Bush, many Europeans think that even if John Kerry continues the war on terror in about the same way Bush has, the simple fact that his administration will not have to "conceal embarrassing blunders or to continue failed policies" will be positive. Others hope he might tear up the script and start over at rebuilding alliances with Europe. But the challenge is still going to be enormous, particularly because Iraq is going to be a disaster even in the best-case scenario. If you were a European leader, would you want your country to have a share of this?
With extraordinary luck, Iraq could become, in a few years, something like Bosnia without the high representative of the E.U. It would have a weak central government because, given the fragmentation of the society, no all-Iraqi government can be simultaneously representative and coherent. Periodic elections would serve only to reinforce the independence of the Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions, and the government would constantly be in delicate negotiations with local and tribal leaders. Such a pseudo-state would be considered successful if it could protect its cabinet members from assassination, if most foreign fighters were evicted (breaking the lethal marriage of convenience between transnational terrorists and nationalist insurgents) and if neighboring powers were not driven to dispatch military forces into the country. But it would be at best a corrupt, criminalized and disorganized polity, festering, unsafe and characterized by violent weakness.
One possible result of this best-case scenario is a "contamination" of the concept of democracy throughout the entire Middle East--pretty much the opposite of the neocon master plan that got us into this mess. Some best case.

Recommended Reading: Jim Hightower charts the successes of "the people's media"--radio, the Web, and the alternative press--and its success at countering the corporate line spouted by the major media outlets. It's a long list of good news--and it mentions a former college classmate of mine, Sly Sylvester, currently doing mornings at WTDY here in Madison.

Quote of the Day: from Antonia Zerbisias, writing in the Toronto Star about the right-wing outcry over Michael Moore's film Fahrehneit 9/11: "The irony is, they complain about Moore being allowed to inflame partisan emotions during an election campaign when these right-wing gasbags never stop doing exactly that."

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