June 07, 2004

Our Relationships with Arab States

I recently posted about how the Iraq war had "damaged" our relationship with Europe. But it's equally important to consider how it has improved our relationships with Arab states.

At first blush that may seem like a ludicrous thing to say – most Arab states hate us and, if anything, they hate us now more than before we began the war. The same is true for Iran and North Korea. But, fortunately in this case, the quality of international relations is not based on how much the other country "likes" you. In foreign policy, particularly with Arab states, respect is as important as love. And the Iraq war is major step towards regaining the respect of those that oppose us – respect for our power, respect for our resolve, respect for our interests.

Oderint dum metuant goes too far. But if they will not love us, let them at least respect us. Or at their peril, not.

The major events of the last 35 years have been, in perception if not reality, a series of capitulations proclaiming our weakness, fulfilling the worst expectations about our decadent culture. From Vietnam, to the ill-conceived Iran hostage rescue attempt, to the Beirut withdrawal, to leaving the Shi'a to their fate in 1991, to tolerating Saddam's intransigence, to Blackhawk Down, to having our embassies bombed in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam, to lobbing cruise missiles at caves – we painted a picture to the world of a country that dropped a few bombs, curled up and went home whenever the going got tough. "Evacuate non-essential personnel" was our battle cry.

And our enemies still hated us. And they grew bolder.

Afghanistan was the first break in the pattern – and al-Qaeda and many Arab states were surprised at our success, thinking the Americans would be easier to handle than the Russians. But the reliance on the Northern Alliance and our air supremacy left room for the belief that we could only win when we kept our hands clean, where ground troops were unnecessary.

Iraq will show what we are capable of. And in a strange way, the harder it is and the longer it takes, the better the outcome from this point of view. Those that oppose us – the terrorists, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia – will believe our media (and theirs), believe that we cannot win, cannot stay the course, cannot stand the loss of blood and treasure. And when we do win, it will shatter their illusions.

And in the power politics of diplomacy, this is an improvement.

Unless we cut and run....

Posted by richard at June 7, 2004 10:57 PM

Before I get too much grief, yes, I was trying out a different rhetorical style in the post. I was trying to be a bit less coldly analytical and, I suppose, a bit more emotional. Empassioned would be a nice description, but I'd forgive you for saying strident or even polemical.

But then, no one ever agrees with me anyway, so there may be no discernible difference to you....

Posted by: richard at June 8, 2004 10:50 AM