There are many people in this country, such as myself, who ardently disagree with most of the policies of our current president, but saw the wisdom of confronting Saddam Hussein and hoped President Bush’s evil-slaying mission would work out for the best. It started promisingly, with his call for the resumption of weapons inspections dutifully heeded by the United Nations. The United States applied military pressure and Iraq relented to the U.N.’s demands, allowing the return of weapons inspectors for the first time since 1998.
But that hopeful begging has taken only a few short months to turn into a nightmare because of a foreign policy that has gravely damaged the alliances and international system the United States spent decades building.
American standing had already taken a beating as Bush trashed treaties protecting the environment and human rights, instituted protectionist tariffs and backed out on deals with other countries when it was convenient (those involving textile imports from Pakistan and Mexican immigration issues, for example). But it wasn’t until the push for an immediate war with Iraq that it became apparent how bad the damage could be.
Since the resumption of the weapons inspections process in Iraq little more than four months ago, a serious rift has developed with Europe. Some European countries – “Old Europe” as the administration dismissively dubbed the continent’s largest, wealthiest and most politically-influential nations – were always hostile to militarily disarming Iraq. Rather than seeing this as a problem for diplomacy, however, the administration responded to European dissent with a campaign of demonization eagerly picked up by the press. In many media outlets it began to seem as if France was the real enemy.
It is possible to coax reluctant countries into justifiable military action (as disarming Iraq by force if other means fail is) as demonstrated by conflicts like the first Persian Gulf War or Kosovo, especially by working through international organizations – where it is much easier to assent to a collective effort, rather than the demands of one country. But our response to the doubtfulness of friends was, “fine, who needs you.”
Even among the European countries Bush convinced to support war with Iraq, many of their governments are going against public opinion. The danger is boosting anti-U.S. politicians in those countries who may gain greater power there and push those countries away from the United States. There has always been a streak of anti-Americanism in European politics, but seeing their governments being dragged into a war they oppose will only inflame it among the European populace, perhaps for the long term, making any future cooperation – and not just with war – even more unlikely.
The drive for war with Iraq also led to a serious miscalculation involving Turkey. Their was a lot of grousing about how much it would cost in aid and grants to convince them to allow attacks on Iraq from their soil, but the Turkish parliament ended up rejecting the billions promised and the American deployment. I guess it’s a bad idea to bad mouth someone you’re bargaining with before the deal is sealed.
The vote may yet be retaken and succeed, in significant part because Turkey’s government and military is eager to enforce the U.S. promise to stifle, or allow them to stifle, any attempt by Iraq’s fervently anti-Saddam Kurds to gain independence or autonomy – and thereby possibly inspiring Turkey’s own restive Kurdish population. The Kurds of northern Iraq are currently as free as they’ve ever been under the protection of a U.S. enforced no-fly zone. But the most self-determination they’ve ever known will likely soon end because we’ve sold them out. (Didn’t someone say something about freeing Iraqis?)
Another victim of the administration may be the United Nations. While agreeing to attempt to get U.N. authorization for this war (to placate jittery European backers), the administration has made it clear that lack of Security Council approval (which is uncertain thanks in part to the aforementioned stiffing of council members Pakistan and Mexico) will not alter their plans. Many ask why we should have to ask countries like France or Cameroon for permission to take actions the United States determines are in its interest. The Security Council is a collective security organization, and that’s what we helped design it to do. When military action isn’t purely defensive, the only way it is legitimate is through ratification by a designated international council (over which we hold significant power). While it has certainly not always worked the way we believe it should, an international legal order controlling the use of force is something we should strengthen, not abandon for a might-makes-right world because it won’t approve a war as fast as demanded.
Time and effort, as it has before, could have overcome so many of these obstacles. Looking at the wreckage Bush has left in the wake of his quest to oust Saddam, its hard to believe one president could do so much damage to the alliances and world order that the United States had cultivated for generations. But it’s worth the price because this invasion will bring peace, security and liberty to the Arab world Bush now tells us. Considering his handling of foreign affairs thus far, I no longer see any reason to believe he can, or cares to, accomplish such things.
Cunniffe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.