|A History Channel television marathon last week
profiled US presidents from George Washington to George W. Bush. Every brief segment began
with bullet point summaries of each president's unique attributes and demeanor. The
profiles ended with over-arching themes of each administration. Lincoln's celebrated
his ability to rise to successive challenges presented by slavery and the civil war.
Theodore Roosevelt's was that of an enigma. Teddy was the big game hunter who became the
father of the ecology movement and national parks system. Herbert Hoover's spectrum ranged
from his early, but unsung, triumphs feeding Europe before and during WWI, and success as
Commerce Secretary. Overshadowing all was his fall as the scapegoat for the Great
George W. Bush's condensed profile was entirely unflattering. The forty-third president
was the only to be judged intellectually incurious but strong-willed, and highly religious
in his bullet points. The History Channel profile reasonably left open the defining themes
of president George W. Bush, since his term is not over. But here is a prediction; the
Bush theme will be that of a President who was constantly surprised by entirely
foreseeable challenges, many of his own making.
Bush will be remembered as the president who was hand-delivered presidential
briefs warning of impending attack by al Qaeda, but who chose not to act until it was too
late. He is the president of the administration that was unwilling to budget reinforcement
of levies against the destructive power of entirely predictable hurricanes, a mistake that
contributed to the destruction of much of New Orleans. Bush is the president that declared
the end of the Iraq war when it was in its infancy. Bush is the president surprised and
undermined by the criminal prosecution of corrupt operatives of the political machine and
spoils system that brought him into power.
Bush's biggest surprise yet may be just around the corner. Like the other
"challenges" it will largely be a disaster of his own making: both highly
predictable, but nevertheless devastating. Bush's fatally flawed Middle East policies may
drive either Russia or China to base nuclear missiles in Iran. China might do it in order
to maintain needed access to natural gas and petroleum reserves. The US rejection of
China's $18.5 billion bid to purchase a US petroleum company UNOCAL in 2005 has not been
forgotten. Rather, it serves as a reminder that access to reserves may have moved
beyond the reach of buyers, to the sole province of occupiers. China could also
benefit from offering a "strategic nuclear umbrella" in the region as a
checkmate to the US's forward Pacific naval deployment and maneuvers, endless
administration rhetoric about Taiwan, and pressure for not doing enough to reign in North
Korea. Chinese missiles in Iran would be a not-too-subtle rebuke to the US, simultaneously
reaffirming sovereignty and the legitimacy of Chinese national interests without creating
a direct threat to the US homeland.
Russia, for its part, might wish to create a "nuclear stockade" around territory
the Kremlin does not wish to see turned into another Iraq or radioactive slag heap. By
basing short and intermediate range nuclear missiles in Iran, Russia could send the
unmistakable message that it is unwilling to tolerate yet another seething mass of
violence and destruction created in its back yard by the US. It would buttress a standoff
with Israel's nuclear missiles, many of which are believed to target Russian cities.
Russia's key interests in deployment are the continued long term access to the Iranian
market for engineering services and large scale construction projects as well as the
protection of military exports. A Russian "sphere of influence" in a willing
Iran would counter and balance the expected permanent US military presence in Iraq.
Russian or Chinese missiles in Iran would create a global standoff over Iran's nuclear
program. It might even end Iran's uranium enrichment by eliminating the motivation to
develop its own nuclear weapons. Such a move would also undercut the Bush Administration's
stated designs for a "New World Order". A post Cold War realignment in the form
of a Sino or Russian-Iranian military alliance would be a regrettable, but realistic great
power response to the disastrous regional policies of neoconservative ideologues. It would
be the final failure of the aggressive, but na�ve, policies of an administration that has
been constantly surprised by its own shadow.