June 14, 2011 | Rousseau Institute Forum on the Middle East

USA: Victory or retreat?

Three leading American experts assess the Administration's policies in the Middle East.

President George W. Bush started his last year in office with a visit to the Middle East. Where does the U. S. Administration stand on Iraq, Iran, the Israeli-Arab conflict, Central Asia ? The Jean Jacques Rousseau Institute (JJRI) asked three leading experts : Michael Ledeen, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and contributing editor to the National Review ; Cliff May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and chairman of the Policy Committee of the Comittee on the Present Danger (CPD) ; and Dov Zakheim, former Undersecretary of Defense and Comptroller (2001-2004).

1. Do you think the Bush administration still has a global policy on the Middle East ?

MICHAEL LEDEEN. It never had one and still does not.
CLIFF MAY. He still has policies. I’m not sure they are “global.” Bush has refused to accept defeat in Iraq. Instead he found a general up to the task and, as a result, both al-Qaeda and the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq are on the run. This is hugely consequential. On Iran, Bush’s range of motion has been severely restricted by the U.S. intelligence community’s publication of a misleading NIE. The Israeli-Palestinian “peace process” is heading for the usual dead end for the usual reason: No Palestinian leaders yet accept the existence of the Jewish state.
DOV ZAKHEIM. Not sure–does not look that way.

2. Or is it just attempting to disentangle itself from a “new Vietnam” ?

MICHAEL LEDEEN. No, Iraq is not Vietnam, Iraq is improving.
CLIFF MAY. I don’t think Bush is attempting to disentangle.
DOV ZAKHEIM. No–it will not leave Iraq for some time.

3. Is the US finally winning the war in Iraq ?

MICHAEL LEDEEN. The Marines have won the battle for Anbar province, and other areas of Iraq are clearly improving.  But it is too soon to say that we have won in Iraq.  We are winning, on balance, which means that the Iraqis now have a chance to take control of their destiny.
CLIFF MAY. Yes.
DOV ZAKHEIM. Winning the war, but not the peace. Political solution not in sight.

4. Or are the recent apparent successes just the counterpart of far-reaching concessions to various protagonists, including Iran ?

MICHAEL LEDEEN. No, the recent successes–which are real, not at all merely apparent–are the result of effective fighting by coalition and Iraqi forces.
CLIFF MAY. I don’t think so.
DOV ZAKHEIM. See above.

5. In fact, is just the Bush administration implementing the Hamilton-Baker report ?

MICHAEL LEDEEN. What does that mean?  If it means 'are we negotiating with Iran?',  then the answer, today as most every day since 1979, is 'yes.'  So what else is new?
CLIFF MAY. Not at all. The Hamilton-Baker report called for slow-motion surrender. That’s not what is taking place.
DOV ZAKHEIM. Up to  a point, yes.

6. Do you think the Bush administration and Iran reached a secret agreement on nuclear plants, Iraq, etc ?

MICHAEL LEDEEN. No.
CLIFF MAY. No.
DOV ZAKHEIM. No.

7. Is the CIA report (NIE) on the Iranian nuclear program part of such a agreement ?

MICHAEL LEDEEN. No.  And please note that a NIE is not a CIA report.
CLIFF MAY. No.
DOV ZAKHEIM. No.

8. Is Russia supporting Iran and rolling the US back from its former Central Asian and Middle Eastern backwater ?

MICHAEL LEDEEN. I think the Russians want the United States to attack Iran, frankly.  That way they will be  rid of the mullahs–who after all support islamists in Chechnya, and the 'stans–and be able to denounce the United States for its bellicosity.
CLIFF MAY. Yes.
DOV ZAKHEIM. No evidence that Russia is rolling the US back. It may be trying, but not succeeding. We still have bases in central Asia.

© The Jean Jacques Rousseau Institute, 2008.

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