Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein


October 2006

Five years after U.S. forces invaded Afghanistan and toppled its Taliban regime,

NATO has assumed responsibility for combating a new Taliban insurgency there. The Pentagon has placed 14,000 American troops under NATO command, whose total force of 34,000 includes units from Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Britain, France, and Germany. A British general commands these allied forces.

George Bush acknowledged two weeks ago that Taliban insurgents are more aggressive in attacking allied forces in recent months, and that casualties have increased Clearly, the war in Afghanistan is not over.

A month before the November 7 elections, the president faces growing criticism from congressional Democrats and some Republicans over his handling of insurgencies in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial, underscores mistakes made by Bush's national security team, especially by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, in grossly underestimating the task of pacifying Iraq after U.S. forces ousted Saddam Hussein's regime April 2003.

Although NATO now has responsibility for combating the insurgency in Afghanistan, no such agreement regarding Iraq has emerged. One reason is that public opinion in Europe remains so opposed to the Iraq war that NATO governments are averse to increasing their role. Even Britain's Tony Blair, Europe's strongest supporter of Bush's Iraq policy, will step down as prime minister next year because of the war.

There is speculation in Washington that, following the November elections, George Bush will make a major change in his Iraq policy. One scenario is that he will accept de facto partition of Iraq, into Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish sectors where local authorities exercise wide autonomy, but not full independence. To make the plan work, NATO and the United Nations would have to approve a new Iraqi constitution whose implementation would be supported by an international agreement that includes Iraq's neighbors.

Is this a feasible plan?

French President Jacques Chirac would probably object to a NATO peace-enforcing role in Iraq because of his antipathy for Bush's policies. Germany too would be reluctant to support this plan, even though its chancellor, Angela Merkel, is more friendly with Bush than her predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder. But the German public strongly opposes involvement in Iraq, and Merkel is not strong enough politically to override it.

Canada, which did not support the Iraq invasion, has a new prime minister, Stephen Harper, who is better disposed to Washington than his predecessor, Jean Chretien. Although the Canadian public remains unsympathetic to U.S. policy on Iraq, it is possible that Harper could support a NATO effort to stop an incipient civil war there, as it did on Bosnia in the 1990s.

Another NATO member, Turkey, did not oppose the war against Iraq even though it did not participate. For hundreds of years before 1918, the Ottoman Empire, with Turkey as its center, ruled over most of the Arab world, and today Ankara continues to have a vital interest in Iraq, especially the Kurdish north. This results from Turkey's serious problem with its own Kurdish minority, which demands its own autonomy.. . The Ankara government might be persuaded to join a major international effort to pacify Iraq, but its price could be a peace agreement that explicitly bars Iraq's Kurdish population from establishing an independent state. George Bush may be obliged to make a public statement that opposes a sovereign Kurdistan, similar to one he made in 2004 regarding Taiwan...

Last week, the president held a lengthy meeting at the White House with Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They discussed the situation in Iraq and no doubt talked about Turkey's participation in a NATO peace-enforcing role.

But, the big question debated in Washington foreign policy circles is what Bush plans to do about his unpopular secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. The White House says the president supports him, and the embattled secretary says he has no plans to quit.

According to the Woodward book, President Bush and Vice President Cheney resisted White House staff efforts a year ago to replace Rumsfeld because they feared Iraq would be the major focus of a congressional confirmation process for his successor. That decision may have to be reopened after November 7, especially if Democrats make large gains in congressional races. Rumsfeld is so discredited among many NATO governments, and disliked by the U.S. military, that his future tenure at the Pentagon would be a hindrance to implementing a new Iraq policy.

If George Bush hopes to end his presidency in a better condition than Lyndon Johnson ended his, he needs to use the next two years in office to build an international coalition to enforce peace in Iraq and thereby avoid the humiliation that followed the forced U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam.

File last modified on Saturday, 11-OCT-2006 12:50 PM EST

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