Neoconservatives can't dig their way out of this hole

The more resentment and violence spawned by Middle East wars, the more wars neoconservatives want to fight.

Published August 7, 2006 7:01PM (EDT)

In his radio address last weekend, George W. Bush defined the goals of our Middle East policies, including our occupation of Iraq, this way:

"The lack of freedom in [the Middle East] created conditions where anger and resentment grew, radicalism thrived, and terrorists found willing recruits. We saw the consequences on September the 11th, 2001, when terrorists brought death and destruction to our country, killing nearly 3,000 innocent Americans ...

"The experience of September the 11th made it clear that we could no longer tolerate the status quo in the Middle East. We saw that when an entire region simmers in violence, that violence will eventually reach our shores and spread across the entire world."

According to the president, American security is threatened when anti-U.S. resentment grows in the Middle East and the region is awash in violence. Our goal, then, is to bring about a new Middle East where the U.S. is viewed as a force for good and peace and freedom can take hold. That is the essence of the neoconservative worldview.

Measured by that standard, how are things going for the U.S. in the "new Middle East"? As the Independent reports, this is what was happening this weekend across that region:

"Mass protests have erupted across much of the Muslim world against the war in Lebanon, prompting louder and more desperate calls for a ceasefire from governments fearful of a popular backlash.

"Indonesia's President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who leads the world's most populous Muslim nation, said: 'This war must stop now, or it will radicalize the Muslim world, even those of us who are moderate today. It is just one step from there to a clash of civilizations.'"

As that same article notes, "these protests were dwarfed yesterday, the Muslim sabbath, by demonstrations in Baghdad, where hundreds of thousands of Shia thronged the streets to voice their support for Hizbollah as Arab anger toward Israel mounted ... Crowds of [Shia cleric Muqtada al-]Sadr supporters from across Iraq's Shia heartland converged on the capital's Sadr City district, chanting 'death to Israel, death to America.'"

Trends in the Middle East certainly appear to be headed -- quite precipitously -- in the opposite direction from the outcome President Bush says he is pursuing. Violence is exploding in region, not diminishing -- in Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon and, soon, quite possibly in Syria, Iran and beyond.

And anti-U.S. hostility is spreading even faster than the violence. The U.S. is perceived as an occupying force in Iraq and as the primary enabler of, if not an outright participant in, the Israeli bombing campaign in Lebanon. The more war we wage in the Middle East, the more violence we create and the more anti-U.S. resentment we spawn, and thus the further away we move from the president's claimed objectives.

Amazingly, the neoconservatives response to the patent failure of their warmongering approach is to urge more of the same, just with more intensity and with less restraint. When the violence they urge produces results that are the opposite of what they claim they want to achieve, their solution is never to reconsider the approach but, instead, to urge more violence and more wars. The National Review's John Podhoretz, for instance, recently suggested that the West is insufficiently brutal to win wars, and on Friday, here was Podhoretz's response to the massive anti-U.S. and anti-Israel protests in Baghdad:

"Among the worst decisions in the course of the war in Iraq was allowing Moqtada al-Sadr to live."

So Podhoretz sees seething anger and anti-U.S. resentment even among Iraqi Shiites -- the group that has been the greatest beneficiary of the U.S. invasion -- and the only response he has is to lament our failure to have killed their revered religious leader months earlier, as though that would have diminished the anti-Americanism and prevented resentment.

The reason we "allowed Moqtada al-Sadr to live" is precisely because killing him would have provoked a massive and violent Shiite uprising against the U.S. and our 140,000 troops in the middle of that country. Had we satisfied Podhoretz's desire to see Sadr dead, the resulting backlash would have made Friday's demonstrations in Baghdad look tiny and sedate. When you bomb a region and kill their leaders, you necessarily radicalize them, i.e., you spread the resentment and hatred that the president says is what caused the 9/11 attacks. But neoconservatives know no other approach besides killing and bombing their failures away, which -- as the state of the Middle East today conclusively demonstrates -- serves only to exacerbate those failures.

That is the inescapable incoherence that lies at the core of neoconservatism. It claims as its goal the transformation of "hearts and minds" but the only instruments it knows are air raids and ground invasions. This approach is no different than trying to extinguish a fire with gasoline, and unsurprisingly, the flames that for decades were simmering are now raging, with no limits and no end in sight.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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