It's probably a bit risky to declare this amidst an "orange alert," but I think the events of December signal that it's time to declare President Bush's foreign policy a huge success.
Note: I didn't say it's an "unmitigated" success. We haven't found Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. The reconstruction of Iraq is incomplete and could go south again. American troops are still dying. North Korea hasn't abandoned its nuke program yet. The Middle East "Road Map" is a still a road to nowhere. And Osama bin Laden is still at large - unless Madeleine Albright is right and he's actually being held in the same warehouse where the U.S. government hid the Ark of the Covenant at the end of the first "Indiana Jones" movie.
But then again, there never have been unmitigated successes in foreign policy. "Mitigation" - i.e. downsides - is inevitable with any foreign policy. The Cold War, for example, averted global nuclear war, but it consigned millions to live under despotic regimes for generations and cost taxpayers trillions. And, lest we forget, failure to go to war in Iraq would have had big downsides too.
Regardless, consider just some of the developments this month:
- On Dec. 7, the Saudi Arabian government declared that it would revoke diplomatic visas for Islamic "religious" officials teaching, i.e. recruiting, in the United States and worldwide. Previously, Wahhabi clerics had been allowed to proselytize their extremist brand of Islam under the cover of "diplomatic duties." In reality, many allege, they were fomenting a fanatical anti-Western form of Islam in much the same way Soviet KGB agents worked under the guise of "diplomatic" functions.
- On Dec. 12, U.S. forces captured Saddam Hussein alive. The next day the whole world saw him deloused and demystified on TV. The significance of Saddam's capture has been thoroughly hashed out by now, and only Baathists, grumps, fools and Dean supporters think it is anything but an untrammeled victory for the forces of truth, justice and the American way. In the wake of Saddam's capture, lethal attacks on Coalition troops have decreased dramatically and hundreds of high-ranking resistance members have been scooped up.
- On Dec. 19, Syria intercepted couriers for al-Qaida carrying some $23 million.
- Later that day, the leaders of the United States and Great Britain announced that Libya will voluntarily abandon its unconventional weapons programs, including a nuclear program that was far more advanced than intelligence agencies had thought (admittedly, the clairvoyance of intelligence agencies is not universally admired these days).
- And in the last week, France, Russia and Germany have agreed to forgive even more of Iraq's debt than almost anyone anticipated.
President Bush's critics would have us believe that these developments are either isolated or accidental or exceptions to the rule. But they are, in fact, reflections of the administration's willingness to use all of the tools at its disposal.
While recent revelations about links between al-Qaida and Saddam are troubling (a recently discovered memo suggests that Mohammed Atta was trained by Abu Nidal in Baghdad months before 9/11), the real link between 9/11 and Iraq has been based in our newfound resolve. In response to those attacks, America said we're going to take threats seriously again.
For years Republicans and Democrats have condescended to and mollycoddled corrupt Arab regimes to ensure the oil supply, maintain stability or check Soviet ambition. No more. After 9/11, Saddam continued playing his games, smirking every time we asked him to come clean. We said, "We ain't kidding around any more." He kept it up. And we smacked that smirk off his face (which is why he needed that dental exam).
By some measurements, we are now spending more improving the lives of average Iraqis than we did on any recipient nation under the Marshall plan after WWII. We are also losing more American lives for our efforts now than we did during the Iraq war. This mixture of unprecedented generosity and military resolve amounts to a monumental carrot-and-stick approach to foreign policy.
Once our allies and enemies alike came to understand that we were willing to use both, all sorts of things fell into place. We threatened to cut Russia, Germany and France out of reconstruction contracts. They knew we were serious, and they agreed to cancel Iraqi debt.
The with-us-or-against-us logic of the war on terror forced the Saudis to choose between funding zealots or cutting them off. They chose smartly. Syria understands that too, which is why our enemies won't turn Syria into another Afghanistan.
The best example of fruits of seriousness is, of course, Gadhafi. Contrary to what its critics claim, the Bush Administration was perfectly willing to talk rather than bomb (as it is in North Korea and Iran).
But unlike the talk from the Clinton Administration or the United Nations, Bush's words have serious credibility. If he promises billions in help, it comes. If he promises the thunder, it comes too.
That's why Gadhafi told Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi last fall, "I will do whatever the Americans want, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid." That was before he saw Saddam's tonsils on CNN.