The War Against World War IV
A Second-Term Retreat?All things considered, then, I feel safe in predicting that Bush will not reverse course in his second term, and that he will continue striving to implement the doctrine bearing his name throughout the greater Middle East—that, in short, he will go on "sticking to his guns, literally and figuratively," as Time put it in naming him "Person of the Year." But I feel equally safe in predicting that the forces opposing him, both in the region and at home, will persist in their struggle to nip this immense enterprise in the bud.
In Iraq, the insurgents—a coalition of diehard Saddamists, domestic Islamofascists, and foreign jihadists—have a simple objective. They are trying to drive us out before the seeds of democratization that we are helping to sow have taken firm root and begun to flower. Only thus can the native insurgents hope to recapture the power they lost when we toppled Saddam; and only thus can the Iranians, the Syrians, and the Saudis, who have been dispatching and/or financing the foreign jihadists, escape becoming the next regimes to go the way of Saddam’s under the logic of the Bush Doctrine.
The despots tyrannizing these countries all know perfectly well that an American failure in Iraq would rule out the use of military force against them. They know that it would rob other, non-military measures of any real effectiveness. And they know that it would put a halt to the wave of reformist talk that has been sweeping through the region since the promulgation of the Bush Doctrine and that poses an unprecedented threat to their own hold on political power, just as it does to the religious and cultural power of the radical Islamists.
But the most important thing the insurgents and their backers in the neighboring despotisms know is that the battle for Iraq will not be won or lost in Iraq; it will be won or lost in the United States of America. On this they agree entirely with General John Abizaid, the commander of the U.S. Central Command, who recently told reporters touring Iraq: "It is all about staying the course. No military effort that anyone can make against us is going to be able to throw us out of this region." Is it any wonder, then, that the insurgents were praying for the victory of John F. Kerry—which they all assumed would mean an American withdrawal—or that the reelection of Bush—which they were not fooled by any exit polls into interpreting as anything other than a ratification of the Bush Doctrine—came as such a great blow to them?
But too much is at stake in Iraq for them to give up now, especially as they are confident that they still have an excellent shot at getting the American public to conclude that the game is not worth the candle. General Abizaid again: "We have nothing to fear from this enemy except its ability to create panic . . . and gain a media victory." To achieve this species of victory—and perhaps inspired by the strategy that worked so well for the North Vietnamese3—they are counting on the forces opposing the Bush Doctrine at home. These forces comprise just as motley a coalition as the one fighting in Iraq, and they are, after their own fashion, just as desperate. For they too understand how much they for their own part stand to lose if the Bush Doctrine is ever generally judged to have passed the great test to which it has been put in Iraq.