AMERICA INTO THE ABYSS? JOSCHKA FISCHER ON THE BUSH NEAR EAST POLICY
Joschka Fischer, is a man, who I will admit to you frankly, I do not in the least like or admire. A man of 1968, a soixante-huitard, a man whose popularity as Germany's most liked politician from 1999 to 2005, was a complete mystery to me personally. A man who was not in the least entitled to become foreign minister, not having any, I repeat any prior experience of either diplomacy or any prior ministerial posts at the all-government level. Joschka Fischer, did reasonably well, not brillantly by any means whatsoever, but, did reasonably well as German foreign minister. He was not, obviously a Hans-Dietrich Genscher, or a Heinrich von Brentano, but, all in all, his performance in his post in the Schroder government was credible. And, of course in representing Germany in the crises over the Iraq war, he represented ably the German point of view: that the Bush regime's preventative war policy was a mistake from every perspective. Having retired from active politics with the ouster of the Green Party from government in the fall of 2005, Herr Fischer is now a 'Professor' at Princeton University. Something of an oddity for a man who never got his abitur in his native country, and, thus would be unfit for even entering a University....
Notwithstanding all this, Fischer's recent comments on the Bush regime's current policies towards the Near East, deserve a hearing for the following reasons: a) by virtue of the fact of his having said them; b) because his comments represent to a degree feelings and tendencies of a good cross section of European, especially West European opinion; c) a good segment of the pays legal, the 'official mind' in Western Europe, EU Europe, adhere to, and agree with the arguments that he lays out. Arguments, which insofar as they refer to future American policies in Iraq, will no doubt be repeated by members of the EU at the foreign ministry level, and, of course by many Brussels officials. How convincing are his arguments? I for one, could argue that he over-emphasizes the military aspect to current American policy, especially as it relates to Persia. Rightly or wrongly, 'fear' and the military build-up to create that fear, is a part and parcel of any diplomatic bargaining with Persia's Mullahs. Especially given the fact that the current debacle in Iraq, which one can agree with Fischer in decrying, has of course seriously diminshed American credibility in the region. And especially among the United States, traditional Sunni Arab allies, id est, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States. Fischer also overlooks the fact, that currently American policy vis-`a-vis Persia is at least equally focused on bringing to bear economic sanctions, on Teheran, as on the (very vague) military threat (on this idea behind the American military build-up, see: "Intelligence Brief: U.S. Moves to Regain leverage over Iran" in www.pinr.com). According to Thursday's Financial Times, the existing sanctions are already begining to seriously impact on the regime in Teheran. Indeed, one can hope that if the European powers in the contact group (UK, France and Germany) were indeed serious (as I think that they are) in looking for a non-military means of resolving the crisis over Persia nuclear programme, than utilizing the economic lever is one that they should eagerly subscribe to. Although, so far that is not the case (on American attempts to tighten the screws on Persia, see: www.ft.com). However, notwithstanding my own caveats, I do believe that Fischer's thinking is worthy of a hearing, and, with that in mind, I present herewith, Fischer's article. Please read and enjoy:
If Iran is next, the United States is making a big mistake
By Joschka Fischer
"Can politics learn from history? Or is it subject to a fatal compulsion to repeat the same mistakes, despite the disastrous lessons of the past? President George W. Bush's new strategy for Iraq has posed anew this age-old philosophical and historical question.
Ostensibly, Bush has embarked on a new political and military strategy for war-torn Iraq. His new course can be summarized under three headings: more American troops, more Iraqi responsibility, and more American training for more Iraqi troops.
If you apply this new plan to Iraq alone, two things immediately catch the eye: almost all the proposals of the Iraqi Study Group (ISG) report have been ignored, and the plan itself - in the face of the chaos in Iraq - is quite simplistic. In light of the failure of all previous "new strategies" for stabilizing Iraq, there is little to suggest that the newest "new strategy" will succeed any better, despite the additional 21,000 US soldiers.
What is interesting and really new in the Bush administration's policy is the way it reaches beyond Iraq, to deal with Iran, Syria, and the Gulf states. Here, unexpected and genuinely new decisions have been announced: an additional US aircraft carrier group will be moved to the Gulf; Patriot anti-aircraft missiles will be stationed in the Gulf states; and the additional 21,000 soldiers far exceed what the American generals had asked for to deal with Iraq. So one wonders about the purpose of this military build-up. One might think that Saddam was still alive and in power, so his overthrow had to be prepared all over again.
The surprise of Bush's new policy is its shift of political focus from Iraq to its two immediate neighbors. Bush accuses Syria and Iran of interfering in Iraq, threatening its territorial integrity and endangering American troops, and, more generally, of seeking to undermine America's allies in the region. If you add to this the seizure, on Bush's orders, of Iranian "diplomats" by US forces in the northern Iraqi town of Irbil, a completely new picture of the president's plan comes to the fore: The "new strategy" does not follow the advice of the ISG report, but harks back to the disastrous strategy of the neoconservatives. Iran is now in the superpower's sights, and the US approach brings to mind the preparatory phase of the Iraq war - down to the last detail.
Where does all this lead? Basically, there are two possibilities, one positive and one negative. Unfortunately, the positive outcome appears to be the less likely one.
If the threat of force - a force that the US is quite obviously building up - aims at preparing the ground for serious negotiations with Iran, there can and should be no objection. If, on the other hand, it represents an attempt to prepare the American public for a war against Iran, and a genuine intention to unleash such a war when the opportunity arises, the outcome would be an unmitigated disaster.
Unfortunately, this danger is all too real. Since the Bush administration views Iran's nuclear program and hegemonic aspirations as the major threat to the region, its new strategy is based on a newly formed undeclared anti-Iranian alliance with moderate Sunni Arab states and Israel. The nuclear program is the dynamic factor here, because it will set a timeline for action.
But air strikes on Iran, which America may see as a military solution, would not make Iraq safer; they would achieve exactly the opposite. Nor would the region as a whole be stabilized; on the contrary, it would be plunged into an abyss. And the dream of "regime change" in Tehran would not come true, either. Rather, Iran's democratic opposition would pay a high price, and the theocratic regime would only become stronger.
The political options for stabilizing Iraq, and the whole region, as well as for securing a long-term freeze of Iran's nuclear program, have not yet been exhausted. The current state of Iran's nuclear program does not call for immediate military action. Instead, the focus should be on diplomatic efforts to detach Syria from Iran and isolate the Tehran regime. But this presupposes American willingness to return to diplomacy and talking to all the parties involved. Tehran is afraid of regional and international isolation. Moreover, the recent municipal elections in Iran have shown that betting on diplomacy and a transformation of Iran from within is a realistic option. So why the current threats against Iran?
The debacle in Iraq was foreseeable from the beginning, and America's numerous partners and friends predicted it quite clearly in their warnings to the Bush administration. The mistake that the United States may be about to make is equally predictable: A war that is wrong will not be made right by extending it - that is the lesson of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.
The ideologically driven strategy of regime change by means of military force led the US into the Iraqi disaster. Getting into Iraq and defeating Saddam Hussein was easy. But today, America is stuck there and knows neither how to win nor how to get out. A mistake is not corrected by repeating it over and over again. Perseverance in error does not correct the error; it merely exacerbates it. Following the launch of the new American policy, the old question of whether politics can learn from history will be answered again in the Middle East. Whatever the answer, the consequences - whether good or bad - will be far-reaching."
Joschka Fischer was Germany's foreign minister and vice chancellor from 1998 to 2005.
A leader in the Green Party for nearly 20 years, he is now a visiting professor at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School. THE DAILY STAR publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org).