President Bush's recent statement about needing to "stay the course" in Iraq gives pause for reflection and concern. To "stay the course" implies that there is a charted course to follow, a defined course objective, navigational tools to guide the progress and an expected time of arrival.
None of these appear to be the case in our Iraq adventure, and the president's statement rings hollow. Broader analysis may cause us to question the entire "course" laid out by a neo-conservative philosophy grounded in a belief that the United States is a divinely inspired empiric instrument for global transformation whose immediate goal is the creation of a democratic Iraq to usher in a new era of peace and freedom in the Middle East.
On the face of it, this course is not a course at all, but a na´ve ephemeral projection of individuals who do not value the lessons of history and have no real understanding of the complexities of the Middle East.
History tells us that nations rise and fall, empires are made and unmade, and that devolution is a companion of evolution. Much of this occurs in a fashion unpredictable to the protagonists of the moment and only much later understandable by historians. The British Empire is no more and no amount of British riding on U.S. coattails can change that fact.
Can a U.S. empire be created to enforce a new world order starting in the Middle East? No. The United States stands on a cusp of history where false moves can result in devolution. We have no divine assurance of success. We are seriously overstretched militarily. There are no more troops available to invade and topple Iran or North Korea. Bombing is possible but will not depose governments, only fuel enmity. Democracy is not created at the point of a gun.
We are in an economically fragile state. The burden of national debt is overwhelming. The U.S. dollar is under attack. Our energy resources are being poorly shepherded and we are not using what technological prowess that we do have to achieve short- or medium-term energy independence. Other economic giants emerge on the global stage and our trade policies seem increasingly disjointed. Under those conditions, are we in a position to impose our will in the Mideast? No.
We need to re-evaluate our position: to think of ourselves as a global partner and part of the U.N. family in the truest sense. We need to recognize that the ability to make nuclear weapons cannot be eliminated but that the willingness to use them can be reduced by a rational, fair and compassionate foreign policy. Terrorism cannot be eliminated; it has existed throughout history. But we can reduce it to minimum levels by the same attention to fairness and compassion as a supporter, not a detractor, of the United Nations.
Most important, we need to eliminate the underpinning for our greedy attachment to the Middle East, the need for oil. We need a bold new energy project to achieve essential energy independence within 20 years.
As for Iraq, we need a new well-defined "course": full withdrawal of our troops within six months with accelerated training of Iraqi troops. We must also accept the reality that civil war has, indeed, come to Iraq, largely caused by ourselves. We can hope that this civil war will be relatively contained through assistance from the Arab border states and the United Nations, and that three relatively autonomous entities will emerge, a southern Shiite state closely associated with Iran, a northern Kurdish entity with de facto independent status, and a Sunni central entity, closely linked to Jordan and perhaps Syria. We need to let the Middle East transform itself, not according to our na´ve philosophy, but according to its own pace and logic.
James. E. Maynard, M.D., is a former World Health Organization Collaborating Center director and senior vice president of PATH, an international health NGO in Seattle. He is retired and lives in Sammamish.
© 2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer