President Bush's foreign policy
Article added on May 3, 2004
US President George W. Bush's foreign policy
rises many questions. His Iraq policy
seems to have reached a dead-end: increasing troop casualties, retreat or announced retreat of troops from Iraq
by US allies, humiliation and torture of
captured terrorists and/or insurgents by US
and British soldiers, threat of civil war.
Nevertheless, the intervention in Iraq was
necessary. To quote from March
2003 Cosmopolis article: "In any event, the problem is not the
existence of weapons of mass destruction, but Saddam Hussein. Only regime
change can bring durable peace to the region." Saddam Hussein had not
only produced but also used weapons of mass destruction in the past. It was
probable that he still had some since he could not prove that he had destroyed
them. Incidentally, some of them may still exist.
It should not be forgotten that Saddam Hussein's Iraq had not complied with
more than a dozen UN resolutions before the war. He was very uncooperative and UN resolutions did not impress him.
The UN had lost
its credibility in Iraq a long time ago. Action was needed. Mass protests in Western
cities and petitions by intellectuals and artists may impress a democratically
elected president, but not a bloody dictator such as Saddam Hussein.
President Bush's administration was quite unscrupulous in advancing reasons
to war. A low point was Colin Powell's presentation in front of the UN
Security Council in New York. However, most people would agree that Donald Rumsfeld's
military strategy in the war against Iraq was quite effective. Unfortunately,
the same cannot be said of his diplomatic strategy. And worse, a substantial
post-war plan for Iraq probably never existed.
A lot has been written about the errors made by President Bush and his team.
Instead of pointing to the fact that Iraqi soldiers have not been disarmed and the like, I would
rather insist on other inadequate preparations:
American soldiers often come from low income classes and lack higher education.
They were totally unprepared for the Muslim and Arab world. All soldiers
should have been taught the 200 most common words
of the predominant language in their area of engagement in order to allow them
basic communication with the people there. Instead, unable to speak the
language and wearing high-tech gear, most soldiers resembled aliens
from another planet.
Furthermore, hundreds of specialists fluent in the regional languages
should have been trained to instruct local police forces, judges, teachers,
etc. Only the combination of direct contacts with the population and immediate
concrete steps to
improve the economic and social situation can bring durable change to the
Bush's recent support for Ariel Sharon's hard line, especially legitimizing Jewish settlements in occupied territories, makes
the US President lose even more of the little credibility he still had in the
Arab and Islamic
world. Washington's ability to act as an honest broker between Israelis and
Palestinians has been damaged, and the US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan
appear in an even darker light in the eyes of most people in the Arab and
Islamic world, where conspiracy theories about "US and Jewish
imperialism" and the like are popular, even among educated people.
The intervention in Afghanistan has not yet yielded the expected results. The
danger of a new civil still remains. The country is again (or simply
still) by far the world's largest heroin producer and exporter. As in the case
of Iraq, after the military success, the real fight for peace only begins.
And then there is the sad chapter of US-European relations. The tone has been
rude, diplomatic skills have been lacking on both sides, and the result has
been disastrous. When
George W. Bush, the man from a wealthy family who had almost never traveled
abroad, became president, he seemed to be one of the most unprepared men for
this job in US history. Unfortunately, his actions so far have not proven the
contrary. It is also worrying that the skilled team around him - Cheney,
Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice (especially in the last two I had high hopes) - have
If we look further back, President Clinton's foreign and military policy was
not more successful. He did not try to win domestic support for the Kyoto protocol, which could not only help to preserve the
environment, but to prevent future conflicts resulting from ecological
disasters. Furthermore, after the failed US intervention in Somalia in 1993,
Clinton lacked the courage to confront Saddam Hussein militarily. In a few
years time, with most of the sanctions on Iraq lifted - as especially
French President Chirac had planned - the dictator would have again had the means to build up
a military force with the capacity to threaten his neighbors.
Speaking of Clinton, Rwanda has taught us how disastrous non-intervention
can be. In 1994, some 800,000 people were killed because the United States,
the United Nations and the rest of the world remained silent. If Americans,
Europeans, Christians, Jews and/or oil had been involved, intervention
would have been immediate, we would commemorate this genocide on a yearly
basis, and the literature on the subject would fill entire libraries. Where
were all this peace-loving people in 1994, holding up "Pace" flags
and signs in
defense of the Tutsis who were about to be exterminated by the Hutus? Most people -
and not only the peace activists - probably don't even remember whether the
Hutus killed the Tutsis or the other way around. One final note regarding Bill Clinton:
released ten years after the events of 1994 prove that he and his administration
knew that a "final solution" was under way. (On the subject of
inadequate US interventions see the book by Samantha Power: A Problem From Hell).
All the world's democracies have a vital interest in turning the US-led
interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq into a success story. Thousands of
innocent civilians, children, women and men as well as thousands of soldiers -
who are human beings too - have lost their lives. Let their sacrifice not be in
vain. The recent retreat or announced retreat of troops from Iraq by countries
such as Spain, Honduras, the Dominican Republic and Norway sends out the wrong
signal to terrorists and other insurgents. A retreat of US troops would be
disastrous and probably lead to civil war, wipe out the moderate Iraqis and
lead to a radical regime.
The humiliation and torture of
captured terrorists and/or insurgents by - hopefully only by a handful of - US
and British troops are disgusting and do not help the cause of stabilizing and rebuilding Iraq
at all. The soldiers involved must
be disciplined quickly and severely and their punishment made public as a clear sign
that the allied forces will not tolerate hideous actions by its troops.
The time for a fresh start in the US Iraq policy has come, whether on the
basis of a (symbolic) new UN resolution, the many existing ones or on the
basis of a major conference. All the world's major powers should be involved
and put the intervention in Iraq on a new legal, political and moral basis.
Only new, better prepared and motivated troops, civilian instructors and aid
workers from around the world can turn post-Saddam Iraq into a success
story. Let's hope it is not too late, or else years of unrest or civil war
may lie ahead of us.