Mugged by reality

By EDITORIAL  |  October 19, 2006

A quantifiable factor in the position Russia and China take regarding this issue is that both nations make a lot of money trading with Iran. Those vital economic ties give them confidence that they have leverage with Iran that the US does not enjoy. Inexplicable as it may seem to us in America, the Russians and Chinese don’t think and act precisely as we do in matters of nuclear proliferation unless the threat to them is black and white. Even North Korea appears in shades of gray, at least for now, to the Chinese, which shares a border with Kim. America’s problem is that while we want to constrain nuclear development, our greater interest lies more in maintaining our pre-eminent position than in fostering nonproliferation. We’ll adopt a more flexible position only if we perceive compromise to be in our interest. Witness the hard line the US has taken with Pakistan’s nuclear program, but the softer approach we’ve taken with India. No one doubts that the Pakistani program poses a threat to world peace, especially when the strong influence of that nation’s radical-Muslim faction and its ties to terrorists are taken into account. But few warm to the prospect of a fully nuclear India. And in the face of a Europe that is more hostile to the US than usual because of Bush’s Iraq adventure, which angers the millions of Muslims who now live within European borders, China and Russia correctly calculate that despite its military might America is at a diplomatic disadvantage. These are harsh realities. But they are the fruits of Bush. Tough talk and cowboy conduct have their price.

Iraq. The root of international instability grows worse with every tick of the clock. The number of insurgent attacks against US forces has doubled over the past year from 400 to 800 each week. Even the US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, now admits that local violence is more threatening to Iraq than insurgency, with more than 6000 Iraqis dead in the past two months. That’s more than the number who died during the war’s first year. Against this grim backdrop the US is making plans to keep 140,000 troops in Iraq for four more years.

The bipartisan study group co-chaired by former Republican secretary of state James Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton appears to be working toward a series of recommendations that may result in a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq before 2010. But the big question is whether the pull of that reality will be strong enough to disengage Bush. Even if it is, the new nuclear reality that Bush has helped to foster will still be with the world.

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