Anthills

ANTHILLS….Gerald Seib writes in the Wall Street Journal that maybe the anthill theory of foreign relations ? i.e., “the Middle East is stuck, so we might as well kick over an anthill and see what happens” ? has something going for it:

In its new national-security strategy released Thursday, the Bush White House put a happy gloss on what’s happened in the last three years: “The people of Lebanon have rejected the heavy hand of foreign rule. The people of Egypt have experienced more open but still flawed elections. Saudi Arabia has taken some preliminary steps to give its citizens more of a voice in their government. Jordan has made progress in opening its political process. Kuwait and Morocco are pursuing agendas of political reform.”

Some of that is political spin, of course ? but it isn’t entirely wrong.

Nir Rosen, who’s been reporting from the Middle East for some time, has a bit different take on this same set of facts:

Since the war, radical Islam has strengthened in Iraq. Hamas won in Palestine, and the Muslim Brotherhood gained strength in Egypt. Throughout the region, political, radical Islam, which might have been a spent force until a few years ago, is only strengthening. This is blowback, just like in the 1980s when a generation of Arab jihadists went to Afghanistan and gained skills.

We are now going to have a new generation of young fighters experienced in jihad from Iraq. They?re going to lead the fight for the next 20 years. When I was in recently in Pakistan, near the Afghan border, I bought a magazine dedicated to the heroes of Fallujah. I was in Mogadishu this summer, and there was actually a store named after Fallujah, and guys walking around wearing Fallujah T-shirts. Throughout the Muslim world, people actually believe that America is the enemy of Islam and even if this might not be true, they have Abu Ghraib and the destruction of Iraq to point to. We?ve also given reform and democracy a bad name. Suddenly, the dictatorships in the Arab world don?t look so bad, in comparison to Iraq, and people are more suspicious of change.

Rosen, of course, has also made one of the more compelling arguments for U.S. withdrawal from Iraq ? even if he does overplay his hand in a few places. Still, the United States has never had much luck with anthill kicking, and the Bush administration’s righteous indifference to facts on the ground has made it even worse than usual at this sport. We’re going to spend a very long time digging ourselves out from the hole that Bush has put us in.