The recent attacks on the decision by President Obama and Attorney General Holder to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM), one of the masterminds of the September 11th terrorist attacks, constitute one of those political moments where partisan sniping dominates everything else. For many Americans where KSM is tried is something of a non-issue a technicality that has little bearing on their lives, so long as justice is served. However, for many Republicans, none more so than former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani it is an opportunity to get some media attention and take a cheap shot at the president.
Citizens and leaders in Eastern Europe cannot be faulted for being worried about Russian policy in the region, particularly given the aftermath of the Russia-Georgia War of 2008. However, there is a danger of several issues being conflated with this fear. The serious concerns about Russia often contribute to a somewhat unfounded fear that the US is going to abandon its allies and principles in Eastern Europe as part of its goal of “resetting” relations with Russia. This fear is not always rational and has not been assuaged by anything President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton or others in the administration have said about the refusal of the U.S. to make any tradeoffs of this kind.
Rumsfeld’s remarks are so bizarre because they occurred after, if not during, an invasion of Iraq by the U.S. during which Iraq’s government was destroyed. Whether or not one supported that invasion, it is reasonably clear that less than four years later, the U.S. still had a fair amount of responsibility for Iraq’s reconstruction and security. While Rumsfeld’s remarks were clearly premature in post-war Iraq, there are many cases around the world where the question of when international, or U.S., responsibility should stop is far more difficult to resolve.
Thanks to the U.S. constitution and political realities, mercifully we will never know what a third Bush term would have looked like. But judging from the last year of the Bush administration, it’s possible to have some sense of what Bush would have done if he had stayed in office beyond January 2009. It’s not hard to imagine that Bush would have committed to gradual rather than complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and an increased effort — Bush might have used the term “surge” — in Afghanistan. A Bush-Medvedev summit in 2009 might well have resulted in a moderate commitment to reducing nuclear weapons; words, but no action, on democracy and the superiority of the American system to the Russian one; and an agreement to disagree about issues such as NATO expansion and Georgia.