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Chaos within Republican party & White House threaten world stabilty

By deepsand ·
Still think that all's well with the current administration in the White House? Well, read this, and then re-visit that thought.

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GEOPOLITICAL INTELLIGENCE REPORT
10.03.2006

Bush and the Perception of Weakness
By George Friedman

There is good news for the Republican Party: Things can't get much worse. About five weeks from the midterm elections, a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) asserting that the situation in Iraq will deteriorate in 2007 is leaked. On top of that, Bob Woodward's book is released to massive fanfare, chronicling major disagreements within the White House over prosecution of the Iraq war and warnings to U.S. President George W. Bush in the summer of 2003 that a dangerous insurgency was under way and that the president's strategy of removing Baathists from the government and abolishing the Iraqi army was a mistake. These events are bad enough, but when U.S. Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) -- the head of a congressional committee charged with shutting down child molesters using the Internet -- is caught sending e-mails to 16-year-old male pages, the news doesn't get much worse.

All of this is tied up with the elections of course. The NIE document leak was undoubtedly meant to embarrass the president. The problem is that it did, as it revealed the rift between the intelligence community and the White House's view of the world. The Woodward book was clearly intended to be published more than a month before the elections, and it was expected to have embarrassing revelations in it. The problem is that not a whole lot of people quoted in the book are denying that they said or did what was described. When former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card is quoted as trying to get U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld out of office and the assertion is made that first lady Laura Bush tried as well, and denials are not flying, you know two things: Woodward intended to embarrass Bush just before the election, and he succeeded. For all we know, the leak about Foley asking about a 16-year-old's boxer shorts may have been timed as well. The problem is that the allegations were true, and Foley admitted what he did and resigned.

These problems might be politically timed, but none of them appears to be based on a lie. The fact is that this confluence of events has created the perception that the Bush White House is disintegrating. Bush long ago lost control of leakers in the intelligence community; he has now started to lose control over former longtime staffers who, having resigned, have turned on him via the Woodward book. Bush appears to be locked into a small circle of advisers (particularly Vice President **** Cheney and Rumsfeld) and locked into his Iraq strategy, and he generally appears to have suspended decision-making in favor of continuing with decisions already made.

Now, this may not be a fair perception. We are not in the White House and do not know what is going on there. But this is now the perception, and that fact must be entered into the equation. True or not, and fair or not, the president appears to be denying what the intelligence communities are saying and what some of his closest advisers have argued, and it appears that this has been going on for a long time. With the election weeks away, and the Foley scandal adding to the administration's difficulties, there is a reasonable probability that the Republicans will get hammered in the elections, potentially losing both houses of Congress if the current trend continues.

One theory is that Bush doesn't care. He believes in the things he is doing and, whatever happens in the 2006 elections, he will continue to be president for the next two years, with the power of the presidency in his hand. That may be the case, although a hostile Congress with control over the purse strings can force policies on presidents (consider Congress suspending military aid to South Vietnam under Gerald Ford). Congress has substantial power when it chooses to exercise it.

But leaving the question of internal politics aside, the perception that Bush's administration is imploding can have a significant impact on his ability to execute his foreign policy because of how foreign nations will behave. The perception of disarray generates a perception of weakness. The perception of weakness encourages foreign states to take advantage of the situation. Bush has argued that changing his Iraq policy might send the Islamic world a signal of weakness. That might be true, but the perception that Bush is losing control of his administration or of Congress can also signal weakness. If Bush's intent is the reasonable goal of not appearing weak, he obviously must examine the current situation's effects on his ability to reach that goal.

Consider a matter not involving the Islamic world. This week, a crisis blew up in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, which is now closely aligned with the United States. Georgia arrested four Russian military officers, charging them with espionage. The Russians demanded their release and halted the withdrawal of Russian troops from Georgia -- a withdrawal Moscow had promised before the arrests gave it the opportunity to create a fundamental crisis in Russo-Georgian relations.

Normally a crisis of this magnitude involving a U.S. ally like Georgia would rise to the top of the pile of national security issues at the White House, with suitable threats made and action plans drawn up. Furthermore, the Russians would normally have been quite careful about handling such a crisis. There was little evidence of Russian caution; the Russians refrained from turning the situation into a military conflict, but they certainly turned up the heat on Georgia as the crisis evolved on its own. The Kremlin press service said Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin talked about Georgia in a telephone conversation Oct. 2, and that Putin told Bush third parties should be careful about encouraging Georgia.

The Russians frankly do not see the United States as capable of taking meaningful action at this point. That means Moscow can take risks, exert pressure and shift dynamics in ways it might have avoided a year ago out of fear of U.S. reprisals. The Russians know Bush does not have the political base at home, or even the administrative ability, to manage a crisis. Both National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are obsessed with Iraq and the Washington firestorm. As for Rumsfeld, Woodward quoted the head of U.S. Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid, as saying Rumsfeld lacks credibility. That statement has not been denied. It is bad when a four-star general says that about a secretary of defense. Since the perception of U.S. crisis management is that no one is minding the shop, the Russians tested their strength.

There is, of course, a much more serious matter: Iran. Iran cut its teeth on American domestic politics. After the Iranians seized U.S. Embassy personnel as hostages, they locked the Carter administration into an impossible position, in which its only option was a catastrophic rescue attempt. The Iranians had an enormous impact on the 1980 election, helping to defeat Carter and not releasing the hostages until Ronald Reagan was sworn in as president. They crippled a president once and might like to try it again.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was involved in the hostage-taking and got a close-up view of how to manipulate the United States. Iran already undermined Bush's plans for a stable government in Iraq when it mobilized Shiite forces against the Baghdad government over the summer. Between that and the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, Iran saw itself in a strong position. Iran then conducted a diplomatic offensive, as a former Iranian president and the current Iranian president both traveled to the United States and tried to make the case that they are more moderate than the Bush administration painted them.

With five weeks until the U.S. congressional midterm elections, the Iranians would love to be able to claim that Bush, having rejected their overtures, was brought down -- or at least crippled -- by Iran. There are rumors swirling about pending major attacks in Iraq by pro-Iranian forces. There are always rumors swirling in Iraq about attacks, but in this particular case, logic would give them credibility. The Iranians might be calculating that if Iranian-sponsored groups could inflict massive casualties on U.S. troops, it would affect the U.S. election enough to get a Democratic Congress in place -- which could cripple Bush's ability to wage war and further weaken the United States' position in the Middle East. This, of course, would increase Iran's standing in the region.

The Iranian perception is that the United States does not have the resources to launch either an invasion or massive airstrikes against Iran. The Bush administration's credibility on weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is too low for that to be regarded as a plausible excuse, and even if strikes were launched to take out WMD, that rationale would not justify an extended, multi-month bombing campaign. Since the Iranians believe the United States lacks the will and ability to try regime change from the air, Tehran is in a position to strike without putting itself at risk.

If the Iranians were to strike hard at the United States in Iraq, and the United States did not respond effectively, then the perception in key countries like Saudi Arabia -- a religious and geopolitical rival of Iran's -- would be that aligning with the United States is a dangerous move because the U.S. ability to protect them is not there, and therefore they need to make other arrangements. Since getting the Saudis' cooperation against al Qaeda was a major achievement for the Bush administration, this would be a major reversal. But if Riyadh perceived the United States as inherently weak, Riyadh would have no choice but to recalculate and relaunch its foreign policy.

Iran and others are feeling encouraged to take risks before the upcoming U.S. election -- either because they see this as a period of maximum American weakness or because they hope to influence the election and further weaken Bush. If they succeed, many U.S. allies will, like the Saudis, have to recalculate their positions relative to the United States and move away. The willingness of people in Iraq and Afghanistan to align with the United States will decline. If the United States is seen as a loser, it will become a loser. Furthermore, the NIE and the Woodward book create the perception that Bush has become isolated in his views and unable to control his own people. He needs to reverse this perception.

It is easy to write that. It is much harder to imagine how he will accomplish it, particularly if there is a major attack in Iraq or elsewhere. Bush's solution has been to refuse to bend. That worked for a while, but that strategy is no longer credible because it is not clear that Bush still has the option of not bending. The disarray in his administration and the real possibility of losing Congress means that merely remaining resolved is not enough. Bush needs to bring perceived order to the perceived chaos in the administration. Between the bad luck of degenerate congressmen and the intentions of the Iranians, he does not have many tools at his disposal. The things he might have done a year ago, like replacing Rumsfeld, are not an option now. It would smell of panic, and he cannot afford to be seen as panicky. Perhaps Bush's only option at this point is to remain self-assured and indifferent to the storm around him.

Whatever the perception in the United States, Bush's enemies overseas are not impressed by his self-assurance, and his allies are getting very worried that, like Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, his political weakness will not allow him to control the U.S. course.

We believe that, in the end, reality governs perception. But we are not convinced that, in this case, the perception and the reality are not one and the same; and we are not convinced that, in the coming weeks, the perception is not in fact more important than the reality. And if the Republicans lose the upcoming elections, the perception that Bush lacks the plans and political power needed for decisive action will become the reality.

For Bush to be able to execute the foreign policy he wants, his party must win the midterm elections. For that to happen, Bush must get control of the political situation quickly. To do that, he must change the perception that his own administration is out of control.

Easy to write. Harder to do.

Send questions or comments on this article to analysis@stratfor.com.

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Unfortunatly...

by dawgit In reply to Chaos within Republican p ...

That pretty much sums it up. And, the Iranians 'feel' threatened, that's 'their' prerspective, and that can't be changed by any-one but them. To them, the threat is real. That is indeed a dangerous situation. (When one has a dangerous animal cornered, one really has a problem)

edited to ask; Where have you been hidding? geeze, I was missing all the argue'n around you. ;\ (tongue in cheekie)

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Even more unfortunate

by Tony Hopkinson In reply to Unfortunatly...

The iranians are 'right' to feel threatened.

First of all no one likes them

Second, in america's position they would do what they think US will do

Third right after awe and destruction a few well publicised hawks were attributed with "who's f'ing next" comment and Iran was on the list along with Syria.

Fourth and most important even if Iran was a reasonable player, by invading Iraq we set a precedent and gave ourselves a convenient beachhead for further agression in the area.

In threat assessment terms only capability matters.

As for GWB's credibility domestically I'll have to leave that for domestic comment, the view from across the pond is very negative but we don't get a vote.

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You can have my vote.

by deepsand In reply to Even more unfortunate

It does'nt seem to have much effect when I use it; perhaps you'll have better luck with it.

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Been up to my *** in alligators.

by deepsand In reply to Unfortunatly...

At the moment, I've a little time to get back to the business of draining the swamp. Of course, I'm sure that the nasty critters will not remain at bay forever. Such is my lot.

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Glad to see that they didn't drag you under

by neilb@uk In reply to Been up to my ass in alli ...
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They spit me out.

by deepsand In reply to Glad to see that they did ...

Guess they did'nt like the taste.

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Weakness is one danger. Too bad that strength is another.

by DelbertPGH In reply to Chaos within Republican p ...

GWB (and the U.S., since he's driving our bus) has gotten himself into a box. Iraq looks like it can never be won by the kind of force we're applying, only get worse; there are no Iraqi political players who can step up and take charge; and we have to ignore more serious threats because we're tied down by this war.

The parallels to our entry into the Viet Nam war are so striking, it's amazing that GWB and team decided they could follow exactly the same path and come to a different outcome. Of course, the conservative view has been that irresponsible cowards broke our will and encouraged the enemy, and if we had all just stuck the course and turned up the pressure, a badly chosen war would have worked out okay.

The biggest difference between Viet Nam and Iraq is that we were able to walk out of Viet Nam, and nothing bad happened there (unless you were a Cambodian or an ARVN officer.) If we sail hastily out of Iraq, we leave the place in a civil war, to become a failed state and a base for terrorists, and maybe the start of a regional war between the Saudis, Syrians, Iranians, and Turks.

Of course, if GWB was at the height of his strength, what would he be doing with it? Invading Iran, probably; the one Middle Eastern mistake he could pull that was dumber than invading Iraq. That, and declaring a National Defense Anti-Terrorist USA Patriot Tax Cut, to make sure we couldn't pay for it.

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GWB failed to learn what his father tried to teach him.

by deepsand In reply to Weakness is one danger. ...

His father recognized that Iraq was a country not yet predisposed to self-governance, one that remained stable only by virtue of the presence of a strong dictator, and that the removal of such would yield catastrophic results.

The younger Bush believed that he knew more about geo-politics than did his father; a mistaken belief for which the world now pays the price.

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Another point:

by maxwell edison In reply to Chaos within Republican p ...

Q. What is (your) main point?

A. The United States is winning the war that began on September 11, 2001. At this point, Al Qaeda and the Islamist extremists are on the ropes.

Q. How can you say that when warnings of terror are everywhere and the situation in Iraq looks so grim?

A. We have to remember the goal of Al Qaeda is to create an uprising in the Islamic world and overthrow what they consider to be corrupt, secular Islamic governments. Not a single Islamic government has fallen or sided with Al Qaeda. In fact, almost all are actively cooperating with the United States in fighting Al Qaeda.

Q. But the situation is still so dangerous.

A. I am not saying that the war is won. I am saying that the United States is winning. Al Qaeda doesn't intend to lose. It intends to reverse the trend. So, the situation is extremely dangerous. But the trajectory favors the United States.

Q. How has the United States done this?

A. By creating a situation in which it has proven too dangerous for Islamic governments to work with Al Qaeda or remain neutral. A range of actions has forced these governments to confront Al Qaeda. The result has been increased instability in many countries, such as Saudi Arabia-the more pressure there is, the more instability.

Q. Doesn't this risk resentment among the Islamic masses?

A. The resentment against the United States is enormous. Nothing can be done about anti-American feeling in the Islamic world beyond shifting the burden of containment to local governments.

Q. You must think that George W. Bush has done a good job.

A. The Bush Administration played a bad hand moderately well. But it still committed enormous errors, some of which are threatening the success of the war.

Q. What are some of these errors?

A. The failure to force the military and intelligence communities to go to wartime footing immediately after September 11th has left both organizations undermanned and in disarray. Not a single major reform of the military or intelligence structure has taken place since the war began. This has resulted in both military and intelligence failures that leave the U.S. open to major reversals. Bush and his team appear to have been paralyzed by events.

Q. Was the invasion of Iraq one of these errors?

A. Lying about why we were invading Iraq was a massive error. The invasion itself helped generate the forces that have Al Qaeda on the defensive now. Iraq is the most strategic country in the Middle East and following the invasion of Iraq, key countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran began to change their policies to support the U.S. against Al Qaeda. The invasion was a good idea and the administration had good reasons for doing it. But they had nothing to do with WMD or Al Qaeda.

Q. Why did we go into Iraq?

A. We went into Iraq to isolate and frighten the Saudi government into cracking down on the flow of money to Al Qaeda. Bush never answered the question for fear of the international consequences. Early in the war, the President said that the key was shutting down Al Qaeda's financing. Most of the financing came from Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi government was refusing to cooperate. After the invasion of Iraq, they completely changed their position. We did not invade Saudi Arabia directly because of fear that the fall of the Saudi government would disrupt oil supplies: a global disaster.

(Note: Maxwell Edison suggested that very thing on several occasions.)

Q. What is the situation in Iraq now?

A. The situation is manageable even though violence will continue for years. Like Northern Ireland, it will be a generation before it calms down. At the same time, it doesn't effect the strategic situation.

Q. What happens next?

A. Al Qaeda has got to try to get some points on the board. If it doesn't, its credibility in the Islamic world will dissipate. If it can, it will attack. The United States is now engaged in a global counter-offensive designed to block them. It's not clear what will happen. In addition, Al Qaeda will try to bring down Saudi Arabia.

Q. What will the United States do?

A. It will play defense against Al Qaeda in the United States and Saudi Arabia. It will threaten Iran with war if Iran aids Al Qaeda. Most important, the United States will have to invade northwestern Pakistan. There are plans for this already. In addition, if Pakistan collapses due to an invasion, the United States and India will have to jointly occupy Pakistan. The end game is in Pakistan.

Q. Why are we going into Pakistan?

A. Stratfor said in December 2003 that the campaign is being planned. In February 2004 a spokesman for the Pentagon said they were going in to Pakistan. Since then we have been carrying out small scale incursions for months. The war cannot end until the command cell of Al Qaeda is destroyed and that is located in Northwestern Pakistan, but it has been delayed by manpower shortages.

Q. Is victory for the United States guaranteed?

A. Not at all. Japan was winning World War II, until the United States fought back. Al Qaeda struck the first ****, and the United States has counter-attacked successfully. Al Qaeda will try to recover.

Q. Can it recover?

A. Yes, but in my view, Al Qaeda is far more likely to lose than to win.

Q. If the Bush adminstration mishandled things so badly, how can victory be possible?

A. The United States had a lot more room for error than Al Qaeda did. When you are big and powerful, you can afford mistakes.

-- George Friedman

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Questions

by onbliss In reply to Another point:

..to George Friedman. But maybe if others want to answer, please do so.

Based on the following two questions and answers, does'nt it appear that Iraq was then just used as a pawn? Is it different from proxy wars?

So in order to scare a nation, another nation was invaded resulting in many civilian deaths and damage to property.

Yes, everything is fair in love and war. So how do we explain or rationalize the entire affair to the common Iraqi who is seeing his/her country in difficult times? Would it be fair to answer him/her saying he had a bad ruler?

How would you feel, if you were punished by someone who actually wanted to punish your friend, but instead punished you to instill fear in the friend?



Q. Was the invasion of Iraq one of these errors?

A. Lying about why we were invading Iraq was a massive error. The invasion itself helped generate the forces that have Al Qaeda on the defensive now. Iraq is the most strategic country in the Middle East and following the invasion of Iraq, key countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran began to change their policies to support the U.S. against Al Qaeda. The invasion was a good idea and the administration had good reasons for doing it. But they had nothing to do with WMD or Al Qaeda.

Q. Why did we go into Iraq?

A. We went into Iraq to isolate and frighten the Saudi government into cracking down on the flow of money to Al Qaeda. Bush never answered the question for fear of the international consequences. Early in the war, the President said that the key was shutting down Al Qaeda's financing. Most of the financing came from Saudi Arabia, but the Saudi government was refusing to cooperate. After the invasion of Iraq, they completely changed their position. We did not invade Saudi Arabia directly because of fear that the fall of the Saudi government would disrupt oil supplies: a global disaster.

(Note: Maxwell Edison suggested that very thing on several occasions.)


edited: grammar

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