Bush Isolated by Failure to Learn Father's Lesson
Bush Isolated by Failure to Learn Father's Lesson
By Richard Beeston
Wednesday 5 March 2003
A DECADE ago the first Bush Administration assembled the most powerful military coalition in history, with 34 nations prepared to contribute soldiers, funds and political muscle in the war to oust President Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
Yesterday that formidable alliance seemed a distant memory as America, after a series of spectacular bungles, struggled to keep its handful of allies on board for the next war on Iraq.
The starkest difference between the preparations for the two conflicts is the use of diplomacy, a key tool in ensuring ultimate victory on the battlefield. Admittedly, the case for war against Iraq was much stronger in 1991, Saddam having ordered his troops to invade neighbouring Kuwait, but the elder President Bush had spent years cultivating other world leaders. Through his personal diplomacy, and a series of painstaking shuttle missions by members of his Administration, countries as disparate as Argentina, the Soviet Union and most of the Arab world signed up with Nato for a war that was won in a 100-hour ground offensive.
By contrast, his son s Administration finds itself isolated at the head of what one Washington pundit described as the coalition of the unwilling .
In the most recent setback, a memorandum by the US National Security Agency, leaked to The Observer, revealed that American spies were ordered to eavesdrop on the conversations of the six undecided countries on the United Nations Security Council. The embarrassing disclosure may come as no surprise to the nations concerned, but it is unlikely to help America to win its argument or make any new friends.
The most striking failure of US diplomacy has been the debacle in Turkey. For decades a staunch US ally, Turkey s parliament on Saturday rejected by three votes a motion to allow American forces to transit the country and open a second front against Baghdad from northern Iraq.
It was a stunning reverse. The US had offered Turkey huge financial inducements and a generous role in shaping a future Iraq. Turkey needs US support for International Monetary Fund loans and European Union membership. But Turkish deputies rejected America s advances in large part because of Washington s overbearing attitude.
Much of the blame for the fiasco has focused on hawks in the Administration, such as Dick Cheney, the Vice-President, Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, and Paul Wolfowitz, his deputy. They are accused of needlessly antagonising potential allies, taking key partners for granted and undermining their own case against Iraq.
After a visit to Ankara in December, Mr Wolfowitz claimed that Turkish support is assured and the Administration assumed that it was only a matter of time before the Turks gave their consent.
Richard Murphy, a former US diplomat in charge of Middle East policy and now at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that signing up Turkey should have been a relatively simple mission, which was bungled by arrogance: When we are right, people will follow. That encapsulates the Rumsfeld policy. The conviction of the rightwingers is pretty galling to the rest of the world.
I would like to believe that they will learn from their mistakes, but if they have they are hiding it beautifully.
Even moderates such as Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, have come under criticism for failing to make Washington s case abroad. James Baker, the Secretary of State in the first Bush Administration, made 39 visits in five big missions abroad to sign up allies and to make the case for war. General Powell has made a handful of short foreign trips, none recently to key capitals in Europe or the Middle East.
The Bush folks are big on attitude, weak on strategy and terrible at diplomacy, Thomas Friedman, a columnist in The New York Times, wrote. Going to someone else s country is a sign you respect his opinion. This Bush team has done no such hands-on spade work. Its members think diplomacy is a phone call.
According to Whitehall sources, part of the problem is the division within the Administration, particularly between the Pentagon and the State Department, which makes clear foreign policy impossible to achieve. Powell is very able, but he does not dare leave Washington because he fears what Rumsfeld and others might do in his absence, one source said.
The other hurdle is the lack of convincing US envoys capable of making Washington s case abroad. By default its public face often appears to be Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser and ultra-hawk.
The present Administration has very experienced foreign policy veterans. But most are skilled in making policy and fighting their battles inside Washington s Beltway, rather than implementing it overseas.
One example was Mr Bush s announcement last year that America was adopting a policy of pre-emptive action, a radical departure in security policy with implications around the globe. The strategy was announced without warning and took Washington s friends and foes alike by surprise.
One factor that could change attitudes in the White House is the influence of George Bush Sr on his son. The former President is very discreet about what advice he gives, but some of his former aides, such as Brent Scowcroft, his former National Security Adviser, have spoken out against the Administration s approach to foreign policy.
What others are saying:
"I think that the French position, that there cannot be a superpower that regiments the world's affairs without discussions with the (UN), is understood around the world."
- Nicolas Sarkozy, French Interior Minister
"I did tell the President that we need a lot of Colin Powell and very little of Rumsfeld."
- Jos Mar a Aznar, Spanish Prime Minister
"The relationship is spoiled. The Americans dictated to us. It became a business negotiation, not something between friends. It disgusted me."
- Murat Mercan, Turkish ruling party MP, on US-Turkish diplomacy before the recent vote
"The concern I have is that our single-minded and, unfortunately, rather demagogic fixation on Iraq is undermining the credibility as well as the legitimacy of US leadership."
- Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Adviser to President Carter
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