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Demolition Derby
Tallying Up Bush’s Toll

Bush version of climate change: it's a Lebanese village, and the bombs are Israeli, but the weather pattern is the same all over the Bush's new birth-panging Mideast.

President Bush projected a more democratic Middle East, a more secure world and a safer America when he launched the invasion of Iraq more than four years ago. Let’s tally up the results so far.

Iraq: By every measure, the occupation has been a catastrophe. With at least 70,000 civilians killed, 2 million refugees, a civil war, dismemberment physical, economic and social across the land, it’s foolhardy to still say the invasion was worth it, or that lengthening American involvement there will improve the situation. As Rory Stewart, the British deputy governor of two Iraqi provinces in 2003-2004, told a New York audience recently: “Despite some claims to the contrary, there is not a single indicator of significant, overall improvement I know of over the last four years, neither in electricity, nor in education, nor in police training, nor in the military. You might be able to achieve a temporary blitz, a temporary numerical drop in the number of security incidents, through deploying 20,000 troops into Baghdad, but this is not sustainable.... And there cannot be a justification for continuing, day by day, to kill Iraqis and to have our own soldiers killed in this kind of war.”

Afghanistan: Briefly thought a model of anti-terrorism conquest and reconstruction under NATO’s protection, the country is increasingly looking like Iraq. The Taliban controls entire provinces. Opium production, which fuels Taliban and terrorist activities, is at record highs. Various members of NATO contributing troops there, Germany, France, Canada and the Netherlands among them, are rethinking their role. NATO itself risks becoming the irrelevant auxiliary of American foreign policy.

Iran and Pakistan: A nuclear Iran may be a few years away. That’s not the problem. It’s hypocritical for nuclear nations to claim they’re entitled to stockpile nukes while others aren’t. It’s also unrealistic. For those who want it, nuclear weaponry is a matter of time, not of rights. The problem isn’t nukes. It’s who wields them. A belligerent Iran is a problem, which the twin American occupations on Iran’s borders (in Iraq and Afghanistan) is exacerbating. But a nuclear Iran is no more and no less threatening than a nuclear Pakistan, which is more unstable and possibly more dangerous than Iran: Al-Qaida and the Taliban are concentrated in western Pakistan, and roam free in parts of it. Pervez Musharraf, the dictatorial Pakistani president, has a fragile hold on power. It was his protége, A.Q. Khan, who developed Pakistan’s nuclear bomb, who also sold the technology to Iran, Libya and North Korea. For all that, Musharraf pardoned Khan. Meanwhile, the Bush administration has given Pakistan upwards of $10 billion in mostly military aid since 2001, with little security to show for it. The safety of Pakistan’s nukes is anyone’s guess.

Israel/Palestine: The Bush administration’s policy of talking to no one it doesn’t like have resulted in lost years in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 2001. Absent American mediation, the two sides are further apart than ever, with extremism entrenched on both sides — Hamas heading what’s left of Palestinian governance, a policy of wall-building and virtual strangulation of the occupied territories on Israel’s side. America’s handling of Iraq, in any case, has demolished American credibility as a peacemaker in the Holy Land, where the near future looks grim to hopeless.

Lebanon: As I’m writing this the Lebanese army, using freshly delivered American weaponry, is pounding a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon, where a band of Palestinian and other Arab fighters who got their training as Sunni insurgents in Iraq set up camp within the camp. The group, called Fatah al-Islam which means conquest of Islam — may have had vague attachments to al-Qaida and must have had connections with Syria, without whose help it couldn’t have crossed Syrian territory to enter Lebanon. Local Palestinians mostly don’t subscribe to Fatah al-Islam’s Taliban-like ideology. But that’s beside the point. Terrorism’s pipeline, now fanning out of Iraq, isn’t: The combustion of Bush’s war in Iraq is catching on.

So what’s been gained with the Iraq war? Not nearly as much as what’s being lost or endangered, regional and American security included. Meanwhile the repressive autocracies American still calls friends — Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia — live on. “America’s influence is not unlimited, but, fortunately for the oppressed, America’s influence is considerable,” Bush said in his second inaugural address, “and we will use it confidently in freedom’s cause.” Some cause.

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