Thursday, October 7, 2010

"What Do We Have on the Ship That's Good?"

Thinking about the current state of US relations with Middle Eastern (and, more broadly, most Muslim-dominated) countries bring to mind (well, mine at least) a scene from the Ron Howard movie "Apollo 13," just after the on-board explosion cripples the spacecraft and the NASA controllers in Houston are scrambling for answers and a strategy.  (A scene that one might use as a metaphor for the American international experience after 9-11, when the toppling of the Twin Towers crippled our sense of secured invulnerability and set our foreign-policy establishment to likewise scrambling for answers.)  Ed Harris (portraying NASA mission-control chief Gene Krantz) turns to his colleagues and asks, "What do we have on the ship that's good?"

I look around at the cratered landscape of US foreign policy and have to ask that question.  Consider:

1. Our military intervention in Afghanistan is swirling down the commode, and taking with it the stinking mess that US credibility has become (as well as valuable American lives and treasure, all of which could be put to much better use back home).
2. Our putative allies in Pakistan hate our guts - thanks largely to spillover (drone strikes, Special Ops) from what we're doing in Afghanistan, as well as years of our supporting military dictators who thwarted popular movements toward democracy there.
3. Our ostensibly more than putative allies in Israel dissed our vice-president and are now dissing our president with increasing impunity and making the US into a laughing stock in the eyes of the world.
4. Despite our backing of pro-Western politicians in Lebanon, an organization that professes to hate the US has nonetheless emerged to wield effective veto power over that state's policy, and is about to welcome an Iranian leader who denies the Nazi Holocaust and intends to visit Lebanon's border to throw rocks toward Israel, despite the US's warnings and protests.
5.  Despite billions spent and more than 4000 Americans killed - as well as hundreds of thousands of Iraqis - American leverage in that country is diminishing at the same rate that Iranian leverage may be expanding (especially if, as seems likely, a Shii-dominated, largely Iranophile government is installed), and the democracy that the US tried to install may never really get off the ground.
6.  The publics of the "moderate" Arab countries - Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia - largely detest the US for its invasions of Muslim countries and its support of Israel.
7. The leaders of Turkey, a NATO ally of the US, are increasingly navigating away from the US's preferred policies in the region, even as anti-American feeling among the Turkish public is spiking (for the reasons, see above, #6)

Not much good on this ship. And it's hard to say that anything is looking up.

If you recall, the Apollo 13 astronauts were forced to spend a long period in frigid cold (which is about where US policy is right now), had to make some difficult course corrections, and then survived a fiery re-entry and dicey splashdown to eventually make it back to earth in what evidently came to be known as one of NASA's finest moments.  Of course, that required a large team of people working together to come up with creative solutions to solve many daunting problems in the face of possible disaster.

I wonder if the White House has a Netflix subscription?

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