President Bush described the future of Iraq in his final State of the Union speech:
"American troops are shifting from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and, eventually, to a protective overwatch mission."
What's that about? America as some sort of semi-permanent overlord? The first justification for this mess was WMD and mushroom clouds, then it became a war-of-choice to achieve "regime change," then it morphed into spreading democracy throughout the region. Now what? Eventual protective overwatch. What does that mean, really?
America has military personnel in numerous countries. We've had bases in countries for a century. We've been in South Korea (Republic of Korea) for 57 years (now 25,000 troops, down from 37,000 pre-Iraq), and Bush spokesman Tony Snow said last May that Bush favors the Korea approach in Iraq:
"The Korean model is one in which the United States provides a security presence, but you've had the development of a successful democracy in South Korea over a period of years, and, therefore, the United States is there as a force of stability."
But while we've been a check to the threat of North Korea's Kim Jong-ll, he's bankrupt and friendless, so we don't actually "overwatch" South Korea today. After all, they've had their own legitimate military for decades, they have twice the population as the North, and a GDP 30 times greater. They are the world's 11th biggest economy, for God's sake. The South long ago won this war.
And we damn sure don't publicly characterize ourselves as their overwatchers. They'd show us the door in a minute if we did. Polls show majorities or substantial pluralities of their people (particularly the young and educated) see us as imperialistic and have long been in favor of our withdrawal. Even many American thinkers right and left (from Heritage to Cato) find our continued presence an unnecessary geopolitical anachronism.
This is Bush's model for the Middle East?
Where on earth, in so large and established a country, are we engaged in the type of activity that Bush now ascribes as our future in Iraq? Didn't he decry "nation-building" when he ran for president in 2000?
The biggest problem with Bush's Korea model, of course, is that the Korean peninsula (75 million people) is not and never has been fraught with the complications of the Middle East. Openly crowing about overlording - er, overwatching -- the biggest land mass in the entire Islamic world is a prescription for seething resentment among the world's one billion Muslims, mainstream and otherwise. It's kindling that will easily spark continued disaster in the West.
Bush seems determined to saddle America with the neo-conservative notion of literally controlling this region at the barrel of a gun. This is clearly why he's pushing to sign a longterm protective agreement with the shaky Shiite government of Iraq without going through the normal treaty approval process with the U.S. Senate that is called for in the Constitution.
Most critics of Bush's foreign policy are not about being nationalistic "America Firster's" and turning up the draw bridge behind us, à la Pat Buchanan. Far from it. The problem is that Bush's foreign policy response to 9/11 has been to occupy a large chunk of Arabia and let bin Laden skate, all while failing to enlist the support of the broader civilized world against those who commit acts of terror. We're now largely isolated and despised as a result, with lives and treasury wasted, the world no safer.
John McCain said the other day that he'd be happy to stay in Iraq another 100 years. Willard Mitt Romney has echoed the Bush doctrine, too. One of them will be the Republican nominee. November can't get here fast enough.