Skip to comments.ANDREW SULLIVAN: Clinton talked a good war — Bush has to fight it
Posted on 03/08/2003 3:19:45 PM PST by MadIvan
Heres a simple quiz. Who said the following: What if (Saddam) fails to comply and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this programme of weapons of mass destruction? . . . Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you hell use the arsenal.
Full marks if you guessed Bill Clinton. It was 1998. But I wonder how many of you did. To read the papers, to watch the anti-war protesters, to listen to the BBC, youd easily imagine that out of the blue a belligerent and new American administration had torn up the rule book and started a new foreign policy unconnected to the old one.
The truth, however, is that Bushs policy towards Iraq is the same as Bill Clintons. After the United Nations inspectors found they could no longer do their job effectively in 1998, America shifted its policy towards regime change in Baghdad exactly the policy now being pursued.
The difference lies in the sense of urgency being applied to the same policy. September 11 made the White House acutely aware of the ruthlessness of the new terror masters: suddenly, the American homeland was in play. The possibility of a chemical or biological 9/11 made Washington realise that its Iraq policy needed enforcement. Regime change needed to mean what it said.
Clinton was a master of the European dialogue. He meant very few things he said but he said them very well. He was a great schmoozer. When he compared the Serbian genocide to the Holocaust, it sounded earnest but nobody, least of all the Bosnians, believed he meant it.
And he didnt. If he had, he wouldnt have allowed 250,000 to be murdered in Europe while he delegated American foreign policy to the morally feckless and militarily useless European Union. Ditto with Iraq and Al-Qaeda. A few missiles; some sanctions that starved millions but kept Saddam in power; and a big rhetorical game kept up the pretence of seriousness. But there was no attempt to match words with actions.
Bushs style couldnt be more different. Hes blunt, straightforward, folksy, direct. Although his formal speeches have been as eloquent as any presidents in modern times, his informal discourse makes a European wince. And his early distancing from many of Clintons policies, his assertion of American sovereignty in critical matters, undoubtedly ruffled some Euro lapels. In retrospect, he could have been more politic.
But the point is: Bushs foreign policy is not so different from Clintons. In fact, Bush came into office far less interventionist than Clinton and far more modest than Al Gore. His campaign platform budgeted less for defence than Gores did. And his instincts were more firmly multilateral. That changed a year and a half ago. 9/11 made him realise that American withdrawal from the world was no longer an option. But even then, the notion of Bushs unilateralism is greatly exaggerated.
To be sure, last spring the Bush White House argued that taking out Saddams weapons was non- negotiable. But by last September, Bush decided to pursue the policy of disarmament through the UN, despite the risk of falling into the inspections trap that has proved so intractable. And now, even after a unanimous resolution supporting serious consequences if Saddam refused to disarm immediately and completely, hes going back to the UN for permission to enforce the resolution by military means. His reward? Contempt and derision.
Now compare Clintons similar dilemma of how to deal with the Balkan crisis in the 1990s, culminating in the Kosovo intervention. Did Clinton go through the UN to justify his eventual Nato bombardment of Serbia? No, because the Russians pledged to veto such a military engagement. Where were the peace protesters back then? In terms of international law, those American bombs in Belgrade were less defensible than any that will rain down on Baghdad. Serbia had never attacked the US. No UN mandate provided cover. But Clinton ordered bombing anyway. And the same people who now attack Bush cheered Clinton on.
Or take Kyoto, the emblem of what Europe finds so distasteful about Bush. What nobody seems to remember is that Clinton had done nothing to ensure the implementation of the Kyoto accord in his term of office. Besides, under the American constitution, it is the Senate that has to ratify such a treaty. And what happened when the Senate considered the Kyoto treaty? It was voted down 95-0, under Clinton. So how can Bush be held responsible? Bushs fault was not killing Kyoto, it was announcing its already determined demise.
Some have argued that Bush hasnt spent enough time schmoozing foreign leaders or reaching out to the broader global public like Clinton did. But Clinton never had to face the kind of tough decisions Bush has been presented with. Its easy to enjoy sweet relations with allies when no tough issues actually emerge.
In any case, Bush has spent many hours cultivating world leaders. Otherwise, how do you explain his remarkable relationship with Tony Blair, an ideological and personal opposite? Or the hours Bush spent bringing Putin around on Nato expansion and the end of the ABM treaty? Or the relationship with Pakistans President Musharraf, which last week delivered the biggest victory against Al-Qaeda since the liberation of Afghanistan? And last Decembers 15-0 UN resolution against Saddam was a huge diplomatic coup for the White House. It is hardly the Americans fault if the French and Russians refuse to enforce the meaning of the resolution they signed.
The truth is: Bushs diplomatic headaches have much less to do with his poor diplomatic skills than with the fact that he is trying ambitious things. Rather than simply forestall crises, Bush is doing the hard thing. Hes calling for democracy in the Middle East. Hes aiming to make the long-standing American policy of regime change in Iraq a reality. He wants to defeat Islamist terrorism rather than make excuses for tolerating its cancerous growth. When this amount of power is fuelled by this amount of conviction, of course the world is aroused and upset.
What the world is afraid of, after all, is not the deposing of Saddam. What the world is afraid of is American hyperpower wielded by a man of faith and conviction. Bushs manner grates. His style like Reagans offends. But, like Reagan, he is not an anomaly in American foreign policy; he is merely a vivid representative of a deep and idealistic strain within it.
And history shows that the world has far more to gain from the deployment of that power than by its withdrawal. If the poor people of Iraq know that lesson, whats stopping the Europeans?
You are the first person to complain about this.
I had one person thank me for doing so. If you can get sufficient people to vote in favour of your proposal, fine.
I thought I was being helpful. I'm sorry if I'm merely grating on your nerves.
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