Gary Hart : Where Is Bush Leading Us?
Where Is Bush Leading Us?
By Gary Hart
The Boston Globe
Monday 02 June 2003
SOMETIME LAST FALL, between the successful overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan and the notion of ''regime change'' in Iraq, the war on terrorism as it threatened America became a war on all terrorism everywhere. And ''terrorism'' came to include all evil and governments we didn't like. It would be interesting to know how this happened. Even more, it is important to know how this happened, because when the Bush administration decided to go after terrorism everywhere it fundamentally defined a new role for America in the world.
Iraq represented no immediate or unavoidable threat to the United States. We overthrew its government because key Bush administration officials convinced the president it was the next step in the war on terrorism. But they had decided Saddam Hussein must go a full decade before 9/11. The destruction of the World Trade towers, which Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with, simply gave them the excuse to resurrect an old agenda.
But the war on terrorism is now the excuse for America to assume imperial powers and to employ those powers even when our traditional allies oppose our actions. The war on terrorism is fundamentally altering our global policies. We have discarded our half-century reliance on the Atlantic Alliance for collective security. We have marginalized the United Nations at the precise time it should have been empowered to undertake peacemaking roles. And we have alienated key regional powers, including Russia, China, and India, at a time when we should be encouraging them to assume greater responsibilities for regional stability.
All this has transpired in the space of a few months without congressional hearings or review, any comprehensive statement by the administration, serious editorial discussion, or public debate over this new foreign policy. Throughout American history major departures in foreign policy have been the occasion for lively, even contentious debate. This has not been the case as the war on terrorism morphed into the centerpiece of a new imperial foreign policy.
Consequences abound. A nation whose announced national security policy is to eradicate dictators possessing weapons of mass destruction is then immediately faced with North Korea. Indeed, we are faced with a good number of nations fitting this description. Either we mean what we say, or we pick and choose. And if we pick and choose, what standards do we use? Whom do we invade and with whom do we negotiate? And if we can adopt this preemptive policy, why cannot other nations? If we can engage in preventive wars, why then cannot India or Pakistan or a rather large number of other antagonists do the same thing? Wipe out your enemy now on the grounds that he may someday represent a threat to you. And what about eradicating dictators who assault their own people - an argument used against Saddam Hussein? There are certainly plenty of those around.
A president who campaigned on a platform of humility in international dealings and resistance to ''nation-building'' now finds himself waving a big stick at almost everyone and rebuilding nations right and left. When exactly did this transformation occur? Was it 9/11 or was it the project of a handful of advisers perpetually eager to remake the Middle East? And how did the Philippines suddenly get into all of this? If the invasion of Iraq is simply the completion of Gulf War I, then perhaps deployment of special forces to the Philippines is the completion of the Spanish-American war. Who can tell? No one in Washington, including in my own Democratic Party, seems to be up to asking any tough questions.
A short year and a half ago America was astride the world like a moral colossus. Virtually the entire world united behind us in our grim search for justice against Al Qaeda. Sometime last fall, however, when Saddam replaced bin Laden as our white whale, we started on our own crusade and left the rest of the world behind. You can either believe much of the rest of the world became, almost overnight, obtuse and anti-American, or you can more plausibly believe we unilaterally launched ourselves on a mission that made little sense to much of the rest of the world.
Before we take the next step, wherever that may be (Syria? Iran? North Korea?), perhaps we should stop and take stock. What is our mission here? What exactly are we trying to achieve? Should not the president spell out in considerably more detail where he is leading us and what price, including in American lives and international goodwill, we must be willing to pay to achieve his goal?
America is a republic. Throughout history, republics have never been compatible with empire. Read the Romans, among others. When republics begin to seek hegemony and expand the reach and scope of their power, they no longer remain republics. America is still too young - and too noble - for that.
Gary Hart, a US senator from Colorado from 1975-87, recently served as co-chair of the US Commission on National Security/21st Century.
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