Neo-Con Rudux?

One of the hottest topics of discussion in the United States strategic community is that the neo-conservatives have launched a campaign of “redemption”. For now, the person most active is Douglas Feith, who served as under secretary of defense for policy under former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Feith has written a book, War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism, and is using the opportunity of its promotion to push the neo-con line. He even appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show , one of the US’s most popular shows that specializes in spoofing daily news.

Even Paul Wolfowitz, former deputy secretary of defense, is making himself available to offer revisionist perspectives on the war in Iraq. The George W Bush administration’s chief neo-con, Vice President Dick Cheney, is likely to present his version of revision at the end of Bush’s presidency.

Rumsfeld is writing his own book explaining his take on the Iraq war, and so is former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Meyers, a staunch defender of the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003.

The purpose of this campaign can be interpreted as a move to develop a new school of revisionist history of the early 21st century in which the neo-cons and hawks will be heroes, rather than the villains. As a report in the Washington Independent said, “They see this fight for historical dominance as the last battle of the war in Iraq.”

These developments are taking place during a presidential campaign in which one of the candidates, Republican Senator John McCain, has emerged as a darling of the neo-cons, while his opponent, Democratic Senator Barack Obama, has staked his candidacy on a much more critical assessment of the Iraq war. Clearly, the post-George W Bush era will mark the return of the neo-cons to the corridors of power if McCain were to win the White House.

The neo-cons’ campaign to establish “uncontested American supremacy” without care for the long-term implications for the lone superpower’s global interests or reputation will start again with gusto.

The chances of a return to power for the neo-cons will improve markedly if Iran is attacked by Israel, with America’s connivance, before the presidential elections in November. The US and Israel, among others, consistently claim that Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at building nuclear weapons, while Tehran says it is solely for civilian purposes.

The “defanging” of Iran may not be discussed openly as an option during the presidential campaign, but it is increasingly envisaged as an important precondition for re-establishing America’s dominance in the Middle East.

That dominance appeared shaky while the insurgency in Iraq was at its peak in 2007. Now, since Iraq – relatively speaking – appears to be calming down, there is a rising hope among neo-cons that America’s clout in that region will rise. Iraq, though, may be experiencing a false sense of calm before the outbreak of another round of chaos.

Shi’ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army is a potent force capable of conducting asymmetric war against the US and Iraqi security forces, much as Hezbollah in Lebanon, another Shi’ite group, successfully saw off Israel in the summer of 2006. There are powerful linkages between the Sadrist forces of Iraq and Hezbollah, although it is not clear what operational collaboration and training exists between the two groups.

In the case of al-Qaeda in Iraq, it is very much on the defensive. However, if the Sadrists were to launch an asymmetric war, al-Qaeda and related groups would do their utmost to fully exploit the ensuing turbulence.

Afghanistan boils
In the Pakistani tribal areas and in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda is resurgent and has established strong links with the Taliban, which continues to make gains against coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Given that militants make good use of sanctuaries in the tribal areas, United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, given Pakistan’s reluctance, will eventually have to expand operations into Pakistan.

One such recent attack severely rattled Islamabad, any more and ties between the US and Pakistan, a key “war on terror” ally, would further deteriorate – something that would be most welcomed by Islamists in Pakistan.

As complex as these issues are, and as obdurate as the linkages between the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq appear, the potentially harmful implications of these variables to America’s strategic presence and interests in South Asia and the Middle East are not even mentioned by McCain and Obama.

Yet in the Middle East and South Asia regions battles are raging between Islamists who are determined to oust US forces and those who support a long-term American presence.

Supporters of the latter include Sunni rulers such as Saudi Arabia, but not the newly elected civilian leaders of Pakistan, who are waiting for the outcome of the presidential elections before deciding how close they want to be to Washington.

The current high sentiment of anti-Americanism in Pakistan is a fact they must weigh heavily. Besides, the leaders have other matters to consider. They have to deal with sections calling for the ouster of President Pervez Musharraf, who has been a staunch backer of the US over the past seven years.

In the Middle East, Sunni rulers are fearful of growing Iranian clout, but there is no suggestion of their support for an attack on Iran. They prefer not to antagonize the Bush administration, so they don’t publicly oppose military action, but they also don’t want to encourage Iran in its confrontation with the US. This deferential attitude of the Sunni rulers will strengthen the hands of the neo-cons, who very much want a military strike on Iran.

Should Obama, who has talked of staging dialogue with Iran, become president he has a chance of quieting the clamor for war, but his voice might not be enough.

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