ALL WE CAN DO now is hope. Hope that the war is short, that civilian and military causalities will be minimal, that the Middle East — a notoriously unstable region — won’t be further destabilized, that an oil shock won’t jolt an unstable international economy, that an erratic North Korean regime doesn’t decide to play a deadly game of nuclear chicken once the hostilities with Iraq begin.
When you consider the issue in full, the Bush administration has established a remarkable record in foreign policy. In just 26 months it has angered Mexico by failing to act on an implied promise to ease immigration, outraged the industrialized world by rejecting the Kyoto global-warming treaty, alienated an otherwise friendly Russia by voiding the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and thumbed its nose at NATO — which, after 9/11 and for the first time in its history, invoked the self-defense clause and offered to come to America’s aid. It’s as if Bush has been pursuing an anti-foreign policy.
Now, with his essentially isolating action against Iraq, Bush is effectively nullifying an international framework of relationships that has, since 1945, secured a semblance of international peace in the face of crises in Berlin, Hungary, the Suez, Cuba, and Czechoslovakia, and limited but fierce wars in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo, and between India and Pakistan.
The old world order, which effectively kept the peace for so long among Russia, the United States, and China during the frostiest days of the Cold War is — in the view of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld — over. In its place stands the new world order of the neo-imperialists. Their maxim? Never apologize, never explain.
Bush's limited explanations have been riddled with lies. The two biggest, intended to justify the need for instant war, are that Iraq poses an immediate threat to the security of the United States and that Iraq has meaningful ties to Al Qaeda terrorists. Compare this with the eloquent and thoughtful explanations Prime Minister Tony Blair has given a skeptical British public, and you can see the difference between a statesman and a second stringer.
Bush and his team have failed to learn the humbling lesson of Vietnam, that military intervention based on a tissue of lies can lead to domestic and international unrest that can rend the national psyche for years. Thirty-eight years ago, the bogus Gulf of Tonkin resolution led to a dangerous escalation of hostilities in Southeast Asia. Today, the attack on Iraq is just the beginning of a new and potentially hazardous involvement in the Middle East. Over the years, the antiwar movement has done itself a disservice by comparing every military intervention to Vietnam. But yesterday’s clichˇ is today’s reality. If the US doesn’t stay on in postwar Iraq, an anarchy of bloody ethnic rivalries will explode. And as if that’s not enough, right-wing cheerleaders are already starting the chant that real men don’t stop at Baghdad; they go on to Teheran. The specter of a quagmire is not fantasy.
That Saddam Hussein will be soon be gone is good news indeed for the world, the region and, most important of all, the long-suffering people of Iraq. But to assume that Iraqi concerns are in the forefront of Bush's mind is questionable at best. Despite Bush’s lofty words on the subject, our inadequate efforts to help rebuild Afghanistan underscore that sad truth.
And what of the cost? How can we afford the hundreds of billions of dollars it will take to maintain an armed presence in Iraq for up to five years (that’s the current behind-the-scenes thinking), let alone rebuild the country? Bush hasn’t a clue. He continues to push his $1.3 trillion tax cut. This show of duplicity prompted Senators Thomas Daschle and Edward Kennedy to rebuke the administration for being the first in our history to call for tax cuts during wartime. It seems Bush’s anti-foreign policy may bankrupt us all in the end.
A minority president with a questionable foreign policy and an even more questionable economic one has managed to alienate much of the world, but he has also cowed too many of the Democrats in Congress. Perhaps over the next few days, when American men and women — aided by Britain and Australian forces — are putting their lives on the line, isn’t the most appropriate time for elected officials to take Bush to task and question his policies. But up until now, there has been little enough questioning from Congress. And when the hostilities cease it will be time for others to follow the lead of Kennedy and colleagues like Senator Robert Byrd, who have the courage and conviction to challenge Bush.
Let’s hope that in the wake of whatever happens in Iraq, the United States has the gumption to reorder its priorities and work with — not against — our friends and allies. The great power this nation wields carries with it even greater responsibilities. Let’s hope that as a nation we learn to appreciate that in the weeks to come. Hope, at the moment, is all we have.
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