Skip to comments.Bush Didn't Squander The World's Sympathy. He Spent It.
Posted on 05/10/2003 6:08:57 AM PDT by Lyford
By Jonathan Rauch
© National Journal Group Inc.
Friday, May 9, 2003
Quagmire? Sure, the war in Iraq was a quagmire. It was just a short quagmire. On the spectrum of quagmires, it was the shortest since the Six Day War.
| Bush is no sophisticate, but he has the great virtue of knowing a dead policy when he sees one.
In fairness, the war's critics feared a quagmire not so much during the fight as after, and they had a point. One reason the first Bush administration didn't drive to Baghdad in 1991 was to avoid an American occupation of a major Arab country. And now there we are.
Still, George W. Bush can probably do a better job in Iraq than Saddam Hussein did. The new quagmire is unlikely to be as bad as the old one. The stronger objection to the war invokes not the "Q" word but the "S" one: squander. As in: President Bush won in Iraq, but in the process he has squandered the world's goodwill.
Howard Dean, a Democratic presidential candidate and former Vermont governor, blames Bush for turning the "tidal wave of support and goodwill that engulfed us after the tragedy of 9/11" into "distrust, skepticism, and hostility.... It could well take decades to repair the damage." George McGovern accuses Bush of converting "a world of support into a world united against us, with the exception of Tony Blair and one or two others." And so forth.
Poll numbers suggest that America's war in Iraq did indeed come at a very high cost in international support and sympathy. In countries throughout Europe -- including Britain, Italy, and Spain, all of whose governments supported the war -- public opinion turned sharply against the United States. Favorable ratings of well above 60 percent in many countries declined to the 30s, 20s, and even teens.
In March, on the eve of the American invasion, Ipsos (an international public-opinion research firm) asked people in Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and Spain whether their government's foreign policy should "get closer to the U.S. or distance itself more from the U.S." In all of those countries except Germany, respondents called for more distance from the United States, usually by large ratios: 63-28 percent in Japan, 60-13 in Spain, 54-38 in Canada, and 52-36 even in the U.K. The Germans split 44-46 percent, hardly a vote of confidence.
Bush's supporters retort that post-9/11 sympathy was ephemeral. At the end of the day, they argue, a strong America will attract more support than a weak one. In any case, France and Russia were determined to play the spoiler; it was the world that squandered America's goodwill, more than the other way around.
Probably, possibly, and maybe. It's all very complicated. But those arguments miss the larger point. The talk of squandering is fundamentally misconceived. Bush did not squander the world's goodwill. He spent it, which is not at all the same thing.
The Cold War was a five-decade confrontation in which the United States often found itself aligned in awkward and even obnoxious ways but remained, through it all, on the right side of history. In the end, the Soviet Union fell not because of Star Wars or glasnost, but because Communism was a dysfunctional system that lost the ability to fool even its friends.
Perhaps the most awkward and obnoxious of America's Cold War alignments were in the Arab world. Washington supported tyrannies and monarchies that wrecked their economies and stunted their politics. The Arab regimes wallowed in corruption and incompetence. They entrenched poverty and blocked middle-class aspirations. They jailed liberal dissidents and political moderates. They fertilized the soil for militant Islamists who provided the only outlet for dissent. They then attempted to neutralize Islamism by diverting its energies to hating liberalism, Americans, and Jews.
In both Iran and Iraq, Washington supported or tolerated corrupt and brutal regimes, with disastrous results in both places. Saudi Arabia has been a different kind of disaster, propagating anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism and Islamic extremism all over the world. Syria and Libya are disasters. Lebanon is between disasters. Egypt is a disaster waiting to happen. Maybe Jordan is, too.
In short, the United States has been on the wrong side of Arab history for almost five decades, and it is not doing much better than the Soviets. The old policy had no future, only a past. It was a dead policy walking. September 11 was merely the death certificate.
Bush is no sophisticate, but he has the great virtue -- not shared by most sophisticates -- of knowing a dead policy when he sees one. So he gathered up the world's goodwill and his own political capital, spent the whole bundle on dynamite, and blew the old policy to bits. However things come out in Iraq, the war's larger importance is to leave little choice, going forward, but to put America on the side of Arab reform.
Reform will take years, decades even, and it will mean different things in different countries. In Iraq, it meant force. In Syria, it means hostile prodding; in Saudi Arabia, friendly prodding. It means setting a subversive example for Iran, creating the region's second democracy in Palestine, building on change in Qatar and Kuwait, leading Egypt gently toward multiparty politics. Progress will be fitful, at best. But the direction will be right, for a change.
This is a breathtakingly bold undertaking. The difficulties are staggering. Everything might go wrong. But the crucial point to remember is that everything had already gone wrong. No available policy could justify optimism in the Arab world, but the new policy at least offers hope. It offers a path ahead, a future where there had been only a past. It is not dead. It puts America on the right side of history and on the right side of America.
Much of Europe is alarmed by the change, but then, it would be. American troops in Saudi Arabia guaranteed the flow of oil while turning the United States (along with Israel) into the scapegoat of choice for millions of angry Muslims, some of whom live in Europe. From Paris's or Amsterdam's or Bremen's point of view, what's not to like about that deal? Why must Washington go and stir everything up?
Not long before the Iraq war began, the Heinrich Böll Foundation sponsored a debate in Washington between Richard Perle and Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Perle, of course, is a hawkish American neoconservative who supported the Iraq war. Cohn-Bendit, a Frenchman, leads the Green faction of the European Parliament, but is perhaps better known as "Danny the Red" for leading student uprisings in France in the 1960s. In a telling moment, Cohn-Bendit blurted out that Perle, the conservative, was now the revolutionary, trying to reform the whole Arab world -- whereas Cohn-Bendit, the former radical, was now the conservative.
"Suddenly you want to bring democracy to the world," Cohn-Bendit said. "Recently, your government has been behaving like the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. You want to change the whole world. Like them, you claim that history will show that truth is on your side." Savoring the irony, Danny the Red accused America of "revolutionary hubris."
He was right about "revolutionary," though the administration would prefer a gradual revolution. But "hubris"? Not exactly. The effort to reshape the Arab world would indeed seem hopelessly overweening but for the fact that the old policy had already collapsed beneath America's feet. It had also collapsed beneath the Arab world's feet. The question is whether the fall of Baghdad might be the sort of wake-up call for Arabs that September 11 was for Americans.
On April 14, The Washington Post rounded up some examples of what it aptly called "fear and rethinking in the Middle East" -- there being plenty of both. "With the fall of Baghdad," wrote Shafeeq Ghabra, the president of the American University of Kuwait, in Lebanon's online Daily Star, "Arab thought as we knew it since the 1967 defeat collapsed. The nationalism that misled Saddam and our peoples has also collapsed, as well as a pattern of Arabism many of us exploited in favor of autocracy, oppression, dictatorship, and the confiscation of other people's rights."
Abdul Hamid Ahmad, the editor of a United Arab Emirates-based Web site called Gulf News, wrote, "With the stunning and shameful collapse of the Iraqi regime and its Baathist reign, another Arab era has vanished.... And a stark reality was revealed: that these institutions were virtual phantoms as far as the people were concerned." Single-party monopolies "only lead to the suffocation of people, politically and socially."
Just straws in the breeze, those opinions; but at least now there is a breeze. Spending the world's goodwill on reform in the Arab world is the most dangerous course the Bush administration could have set, except for all the others.
Jonathan Rauch is a senior writer for National Journal magazine, where "Social Studies" appears.
But...but...but the Ayatollahs have led Iran into the 4th Century! They have released their women from the burden of freedom, self-determination and decision! They made major contributions to Zero Population Growth!
Lyford used what I would have chosen for the impact quotes, they really sum this up.
.....and I hope others do as well.
Not only is that image of our president so wonderful, but it is like a dagger in the hearts of the Dimwits every time they see it.
Life is good !!!!!!!
No, it most certainly did not fall because of glasnost!
But Reagan's insistence on pushing ahead with SDI did have something to do with it, and Rauch seriously mis-underestimates this.
I also recommend reading carefully the text of the President's commencement address at the University of South Carolina yesterday.
Our nation is strong. Our greatest strength is that we serve the cause of liberty. We support the advance of freedom in the Middle East, because it is our founding principle, and because it is in our national interest. The hateful ideology of terrorism is shaped and nurtured and protected by oppressive regimes. Free nations, in contrast, encourage creativity and tolerance and enterprise. And in those free nations, the appeal of extremism withers away.
Free governments do not build weapons of mass destruction for the purpose of mass terror. Over time, the expansion of liberty throughout the world is the best guarantee of security throughout the world. Freedom is the way to peace.
Some believe that democracy in the Middle East is unlikely, if not impossible. They argue that the people of the Middle East have little desire for freedom or self-government. These same arguments have been heard before in other times, about other people. After World War II, many doubted that Germany and Japan, with their histories of autocratic rule and aggressive armies, could ever function as free and peaceful societies. In the Cold War we were told that imperial communism was permanent and the Iron Curtain was there to stay.
In each of these cases -- in Germany, in Japan, in Eastern Europe and in Russia -- the skeptics doubted, then history replied. Every milestone of liberty over the last 60 years was declared impossible until the very moment it happened. The history of the modern world offers a lesson for the skeptics: do not bet against the success of freedom.
Wow. Fascinating analysis, and wonderfully written. I especially love that last line. Thank you for posting this article.
In March, on the eve of the American invasion, Ipsos (an international public-opinion research firm)asked people whether their government's foreign policy should "get closer to the U.S. or distance itself more from the U.S." In all of those countries except Germany, respondents called for more distance from the United States, usually by large ratios: 63-28 percent in Japan, 60-13 in Spain, 54-38 in Canada, and 52-36 even in the U.K. The Germans split 44-46 percent, hardly a vote of confidence
Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, and Spainmass media keep their respective citizens objectively informed as well as the U.S. mass media does for American citizens.
Where is the poll on the LIBERATED Soviet Bloc nations, who are far more capable of detecting socialist/globalist spin than the polled citizens?
No. This is not right. Unless America can wave a wand and make everything perfect right away, then it should do nothing at all, except cringe in shame and abasement while it is criticized for doing nothing. </Leftist Mode>
I love this part. Great imagery, and true, too. Ever since 9/11 I've had a feeling that the status quo needed to be grabbed by the feet and shook upside down.
What do these countries, people think about last weeks ruling which found Saddam played a major role in the training of the terrorists who participated in 9/11?
"snicker1 snicker! Keep them comin'. Demoncrap agida!!!"
That's what I'm saying. That's how I see it and that's all that matters. I'm sick of us tiptoeing around with our finger to the wind, wanting only to be liked by stinky, dirty marxists who aren't fit to shine our shoes with their hair grease. Oui, même les Françaises. Especiamente les Françaises!