The Fundamentals

I'm not sure I quite understand where Josef Joffe comes from. Or, rather, why it is that a certain number of editors seem to feel that North America can't supply a sufficient supply of wingnutty commentary on foreign policy without importing additional labor from Germany. But for whatever reason, Joffe has firmly established himself on the post-9/11 scene as Europe's premiere purveyor of ludicrous neoconservative arguments. In yesterday's Wall Street Journal he offered a forecast of the things that would happen if the US were to withdraw from Iraq:

  • "Iran advances to No. 1, completing its nuclear-arms program undeterred and unhindered."
  • The Sunni Arab states "are drawn into the Khomeinist orbit."
  • "[E]mboldened jihadi forces shift to Afghanistan and turn it again into a bastion of Terror International"
  • "Syria reclaims Lebanon"
  • "Hezbollah and Hamas . . . resume their war against Israel"
  • "Russia . . . rebuilds its anti-Western alliances"

One might note that Joffe's thinking about this essentially parallels the paranoid fantasies of the domino theorists, but Joffe actually acknowledges as much but just insists that this time things are different. But this is crazy. Iran may or may not build a nuclear bomb, but our ability to prevent this won't be seriously impacted by our presence or absence in Iraq. Similarly, anti-Israel violence from Hamas and Hezbollah wax and wane according to those groups' own imperatives, it has nothing to do with Iraq. And, again, anti-Syrian forces in Lebanon either can or can't resist Syrian efforts to impose its will. Outside powers like the United States and France may or may not be able to help sympathetic groups in Lebanon. Having tens of thousands of American countries engaged, at great expense, in an unpopular occupation of a nearby country is neither here nor there.

Why would the Sunni Arab states be drawn into the Khomeinist orbit? What would this even mean? Will Hosni Mubarak convert to Shiism? Will the UAE just hand its oil over to Teheran? It's very hard to imagine any of our friends in the region deciding that Russia would be a more useful ally than the United States, and if Iran already dominates the whole region then it's hard to believe Russia will be able to dominate it too. By the end, Joffe has the whole world collapsing into anarchy as American hegemony collapses:

For all the damage to Washington's reputation, nothing of great import can be achieved without, let alone against, the U.S. Can Moscow and Beijing bring peace to Palestine? Or mend a global financial system battered by the subprime crisis? Where are the central banks of Russia and China?

These are good questions, but the answer is, of course, that the United States will still be the world's primary economic and military power no matter what happens in Iraq. The United States is, simply put, not nearly so fragile as Joffe imagines. We'll still have our 300 million people and our $13 trillion GDP and our aircraft carriers, universities, etc. All that stuff that made us an important and powerful country in the first place is still here. We've been seeing in Iraq that it doesn't make us omnipotent. Joffe is acting like facing up to that reality in Mesopotamia would somehow reveal all the rest as just a mirage, but it's all real. America and the world will survive.