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Thursday, October 27, 2005

Scowcroft's Realism

Harold's List
The New York Sun

It's beginning to feel like 2002 all over again. In this week's New Yorker, Jeffrey Goldberg, one of the finest reporters working today, provides a recap of General Scowcroft's leading gripes - some of them heard at the outset of the war - and a newsy look into his estrangement from the White House. The general still thinks the Iraq war will feed terrorism, though he thinks the U.S. can win the war in Iraq. He wants America to focus on pressuring Israel to negotiate the final status of a Palestinian Arab state. He accuses Paul Wolfowitz of dangerous utopianism. He's not getting on well with his old protege, Condoleezza Rice. He covets the adjective of realist.

"The reason I part with the neocons is that I don't think in any reasonable time frame the objective of democratizing the Middle East can be successful," he told Mr. Goldberg. "If you can do it, fine, but I don't think you can, and in the process of trying to do it you can make the Middle East a lot worse." If, in General Scowcroft's view, there is a connection between how a government treats its people and how it will act towards other nations, it's hard to discern. For him and others who place themselves among the realists, democracy is a third-order priority. It is a vision of dreamers to imagine that Arabs could one day live in freedom.

This view was most apparent when General Scowcroft recounted a dinner he had in 2003 with Secretary of State Rice. The repast did not end well when Ms. Rice observed that America has tolerated authoritarians for 50 years in the region. He responded, "But we've had fifty years of peace." James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal, among others, promptly pointed out that 50 years of alleged stability encompassed the Iran-Iraq war, the Gulf War, the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the two Palestinian intifadahs, and civil wars in Yemen and Sudan. Not to mention September 11, 2001. To which one is tempted to wonder what, if this is what he calls stability, does he call instability?

There are those of us to whom General Scowcroft, the former insider, looks like a tragic figure now operating in league with the Middle East's autocrats. Maybe for business reasons, maybe for other motives, maybe for some failure of analysis. We don't question his honor. But the fact is that for years the House of Saud, the Baathists, and the Hashemites have been telling us that they are the only defense against terrorism. They have tried their best to channel real discontent with their corrupt family-owned regimes on Israel. America bought into this logic for 50 years only to get attacked. The aging general can rattle on for the old approach, but it strikes fewer and fewer as realistic.
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