super hanc petram

Tuesday, August 31

Assessing Foreign Policy  

Last Thursday Brad DeLong took issue with an editorial from the Economist that sized up the current administration. The Deputy Editor of the publication then wrote a letter to Brad. I take particular issue with the Economist's opinion (expressed in both the editorial and in the letter) that, "Bush has got the big things right on foreign policy." I am unable to see how this can plausibly be judged as true. Perhaps it is that Bush has been so uniformly miserable on a wide range of issues that the editors gave him some slack on the one action he took that was seen widely as both correct and admirable. His retaliation for the 9/11 attacks against al Qaida and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Operation Enduring Freedom, however, was not a Churchillian act of self defense or a Lincolnian war for the present and future of the country. It was, in short, what any president would have done. That Bush wielded the most powerful military force in the history of mankind to oust a fundamentalist regime (perhaps only temporarily at that) from one of the most barren parts of the earth confirmed that he would defend the US when it was attacked. That is comforting, but no great achievement in and of itself. Jefferson is not remembered for heroically sending the navy to put down the Barbary pirates. Ranked properly, Enduring Freedom could be set just below the ouster of Noriega (after all, Bush pere got his man). I will not soon forget 9/11 or the days following here in the city, but I will also not allow my sentinentality to glorify reality. Indeed, it is the desire to prevent another 9/11 that compels me to take issue with the Economist's assertion.
For this newspaper, that verdict looks mostly right for Mr Bush's foreign policy. The charge that he set off in a needlessly unilateralist direction on taking office is vastly overdone; he sought allies throughout; and in many ways his forthright style was a breath of fresh air after the muddle and evasions of the Clinton era. Yes, he dropped out of the Kyoto Protocol in a tactless way; but that was a bad treaty which America was never going to accept in any case (the Senate voted against it by a margin of 95-0). Mr Bush upset many people by ripping apart the outdated anti-ballistic-missile defence treaty with Russia—then baffled his critics by getting both Russia and (more hesitantly) China to go along with him.
This is the pre-9/11 roundup of Bush's foreign policy. There is a noticable lack both here and in the entire editorial of any mention of North Korea. Recall that it was very early on that Bush declared that he would deal with North Korea in a far more effective and confrontational manner than had Clinton. The fact that NK now stands ready to service the outlaws of the world with nuclear weapons seems to concern the Economist not at all. Bush very much treated North Korea in a "needlessly unilateralist" way from the outset of his administration. The second intifada had been raging before Bush was inaugurated, but he chose not to pick up any of Clinton's efforts to bring peace between Israel and Palestine; indeed he very publicly chose to do nothing at all. It was only after 9/11 that Bush decided to engage in the least and it has always been a halting engagement at best. What I find most confounding about the Economist's editorial is that it treats Bush as something other than a politician willing to do and say whatever it takes to get his way. This is a common affliction among the media with Bush and one by which they should be terribly embarassed.
But it was the thunderbolt of September 11th that counted most. Those atrocities set the course for the remainder of his presidency. Since then, we continue to think that Mr Bush has got the big foreign-policy decisions right. He understood the nature of the war that had been declared against America and the western world. He made it clear that it is not a war between civilisations, let alone religions; but he has also served notice to Arab regimes of the need to change. He rightly decided to destroy al-Qaeda's home in Afghanistan—and, yes, on the evidence that presented itself at the time, he rightly decided to invade Iraq.
If one were to read Bush's speeches alone, one would certainly be under the impression that he does indeed understand the nature of the war against al Qaida. One could persist with this opinion only without an honest assessment of his actions or a determined effort to believe the words and not the deeds. When one matches words and deeds, however, the result is that Bush does not understand the nature of the war. Nothing demonstrates this clearer than Bush's Wilsonian drive to invade Iraq in 2002 and early 2003. Only with a blinkered and myopic view of the evidence can one state that Bush had cause to invade Iraq in 2003 or that he sought the assistance of allies. He may have believed he had the cause based on the evidence he selectively examined, but it is the totality of the evidence at that time that is relevant. More importantly, when one compares the latter to the former, the result is that only a politician that had decided to invade ex ante could believe his case was supported by the record. The trips to the UN were nothing more than political theater engineered to protect Tony Blair from immediate ouster by his own party. Bush's belligerence toward both Iraq and the UN as an institution were plain to anyone willing pay attention. His bravado posturing and declaration that either the UN bless his invasion or decamp to the Oxford Union bore no resemblance to a statesman entreating his allies to join the good fight. When the UN insisted on determining what, exactly, was actually happening on the ground in Iraq (by having Hans Blix establish a record), Bush became impatient and petulent. Finally, having done his kabuki dance ("No matter what the whip count is, we're calling for the vote.") he walked away from the international body, cut the inspectors off and launched the invasion. All of this the Economist presumably knows but chose to ignore. Indeed, unless the members of the editorial staff were babes in swaddling clothes a mere 14 years ago, they would recall the massive diplomatic effort Poppy put into assembling a true coalition to attack Saddam. Glossing over the facts of how the Iraq invasion was launched is inexcusable. Need I remind the Economist that Bush even refused allied assistance when it was explicitly offered? Do they forget that the invocation of Article V of the NATO charter after the 9/11 attacks was unceremoniously snubbed by Bush? The assertion that he sought allies throughout is false on its face. The post-war reconstruction of Iraq demonstrates lucidly and painfully that Bush understands very little about the world even after 9/11. Bush's actions have shown that the liberty of the Iraqi people is secondary to their unwilling assistance in his reelection effort. His actions show his belief that their land and its resources are little more than chips to be handed to the winner of no-bid contracts. The butcher's bill of the post-war failure stretches from the morgue to the Oil Ministry to the Iraqi National Museum. The Economist notes some of these failures but bizarrely contends that Bush understands the war on terror. If, after all, it is, "the thunderbolt of September 11th that count[s] most," then Bush has been an abject failure. There is no single issue that is a greater threat to the security of the US than nuclear proliferation. As Bush and his fellow fear-mongers love to remind their audiences, "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." Nuclear proliferation remains the single biggest foreign policy issue facing the world. It has been for the past 60 years and yet the Economist mentions nothing of North Korea or Bush's pathetic coddling of Pakistan and Dr. Kahn. There are no real politik or terrorist hunting exuses for allowing Kahn to get off with a slap on the wrist. North Korea and Pakistan have very publicly formed an Axis of Proliferation and yet the actions of both remain studiously ignored by Bush. The Economist praises Bush for doing away with the ABM treaty but sees no reason to elaborate on why it was good to be rid of such an agreement aside from declaring it "outdated." The Economist takes Bush to task for many domestic issues on which it disagrees with him, and I can only assume that its poor analysis of Bush's foreign policy record is an attempt at balance. Either that or the Economist is simply afraid to call a spade a spade. Its offices, like my own, are here in the city and perhaps it is too painful to look at Mr. Bush and say, "you let us down, you did not do enough," but that is plainly what has happened. The Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan, bin Laden remains at large and, thanks to Operation Iraqi Liberation, has become a prophet. These are the big things in foreign policy over the past four years, and Bush has got them wrong.


Previous Posts:  You Broke It, We Bought It  …  Brave Sir Robin  …  Perfect Test Run  …  Same Press Conference, Different Day  …  Iraqi Profile  …  On the Record -- 3/18  …  Accountability = Appeasement  …  More on Delusions  …  Dangerously Confused  …  Perhaps That's the Problem  … 

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