Along the Tracks

Friday, April 25, 2003

Who's next?

I'm a little less confident that we can avoid military action against North Korea - but we've been on Kim Jong Il's rollercoaster for years now, so maybe I should stick with what I wrote. From last Saturday's Bryan Times:

The question everyone is asking: Who’s next?

By Paul A. Miller

With Saddam toppled in three weeks and Iraq largely pacified in four, the American military has demonstrated a capacity to eliminate an enemy force at lightening speed - and not only with few losses of its own. The careful avoidance of civilian casualties (successful even when measured by the gross exaggerations bandied about by the left) belied the accusations of bloodthirsty warmongering, and the effort to minimize deaths of enemy combatants was a gesture unheard of in the annals of war, ever.

This pinnacle of military prowess invites the question: “Who’s next?”

The short answer: “No one.”

The long answer: If other pariah states step away from the nexus which drove the recent war - terrorism and weapons of mass destruction - they have little to fear from the United States, other than diplomatic condemnations and some economic strictures. An improved human rights record would even alleviate those sanctions. However, if such nations persist in harboring, training or bankrolling killers; or if they spend their resources on uranium enrichment, chemical mixers or disease weaponization; or, already possessing the means of mass death, they choose to export those weapons or technology - then they are volunteering to be the next demonstration of American might.

Just as it was foolish for war critics to declare “quagmire” five days into Iraq, it would be foolish for supporters of the Bush administration’s foreign policy to overstate the political effects of the successful completion of a quick war. Still, early signs are hopeful:
•Iran’s former “Supreme Leader” has publicly stated it may be time for deeper democratic reforms in that oppressed nation, which incidentally is an original member of the “axis of evil.”

•North Korea - another “axis” original - has switched gears and agreed to “multilateral” talks concerning its nuclear programs.

•Syria - a junior “axis” wannabe prior to and during the war - has started denying entry to escaping Iraqi Ba’athists and invited inspectors to check out its weapons, all in response to a few pointed comments from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Interestingly, the resounding success in Iraq may prove beneficial on other fronts. Reports from Russia indicate their generals were stunned by the American advance on Baghdad. No longer an enemy, not yet a friend exactly, Russia has been split politically since President Vladimir Putin decided to align his country with the U.S., post-9/11. Nationalists - many in the military or with military backgrounds - opposed this new direction, not seeking renewed confrontation but a more substantial world role. Call it France minus the snobbery and backstabbing. Now, some of those same generals may be thinking it advantageous on the international stage to learn from and work with the United States, rather than “counterbalance” it.

Ultimately, all these leading indicators are hopeful for U.S. diplomacy and security. But a caveat is in order: These are volatile times, and require strategic determination and nimble diplomacy which takes advantage of opportunities when they appear.

First and foremost, Iraq must be built into a functioning democracy with an economy built on more than selling oil. This is not a six-month or two-year project; it will take the rest of the Bush presidency (yes, through 2008) and well into the next. Still, it can be done. It must be done.
Second, the Israeli-Palestinian issue must be brought to a resolution. Recent signs have been positive on this front as well. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has stated some West Bank settlements - one of the prickly issues in the conflict - will need to be removed, a signal of flexibility on the Israeli side. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority’s parliament has chosen a prime minister to hold real authority, which, if Yasser Arafat steps back, creates an opening for reform in the PA. Taking out Saddam has deprived terrorists of one of their leading financiers; Syria’s Assad must be pushed to end his support as well, and Saudi Arabia must be strong-armed to keep its “charities” out of the terror business. New peace talks could be weeks away.

Third, China was also sobered by the American victory in Iraq. North Korea’s turnaround came partly at Chinese prodding; further concessions will only come with Chinese muscle. China does not wish to see North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Il, knocked out by American power - something they now realize could very well occur, and in stunning fashion. China’s new leadership is showing signs of being less contrarian, more pragmatic than its predecessors. The U.S. needs to encourage this without covering the truth of China’s own human rights abuses. North Korea’s Kim Jong Il is dangerous and unpredictable, but he can be contained, perhaps even quietly ousted, with the help of the Chinese.

Finally, alliances and institutions need to be rebuilt along lines which recognize the end of the Cold War. The United Nations needs to be reformed, recognizing greater legitimacy for democracies and countries which respect human rights - any organization that chooses Libya to head its human rights commission is a farce. “Permanent” Security Council membership should be based on true measures of world importance: population, economic strength and military responsibilities. Nations which contribute to U.N. peacekeeping and peace-making missions should have greater influence than sideliners. Alliances such as NATO must offer the flexibility to act even when some members are split over policies. One or two or three determined political opponents should not bring 18 other members to a standstill.

If the Bush administration, and future administrations, can capitalize on these post-war opportunities, and the worst despots act in their own self interest and avoid confrontation, a new period of international stability could be on the horizon. This might also be the start of a new wave of liberalization in autocracies around the world. Democracies could indeed spring up like wildflowers in the hard scrabble of the Middle East, the heat of Africa and elsewhere.

Nobody needs to be “next.”

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