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A New World Order? Policy Or Platitude

ISSUE:  Summer 1992

Every American general officer studies the work of Carl Von Clausewitz. The object of arms, Clausewitz taught, is always more than battlefield “success;” it is the construction of “a better kind of peace.” To Clausewitz, war is a “stronger form of diplomacy,” and the battleground but an extension of the conference chamber. The diplomat and warrior, Clausewitz believed, are twinned in purposes, married by shared objectives. Since no president since Adams could claim more diplomatic preparation than President Bush, the professional military had reason for its confidence that the president would instinctively appreciate Clausewitz’ insistent dictum: combat, if it is to mean anything, furthers policy; indeed, war is definitionally “foreign policy by other means.”

Though no president seemed more capable of comprehending the meaning of a global change of “almost biblical proportions,” as Bush put it, the president’s bellicosity and boyish enthusiasm for arms made seasoned warriors wince. From Panama to Libya, “punitive expeditions” were threatened and armed forays were launched when it appeared that the president’s authority as much as the national interest had been put at risk.

Like a persistent spring rain, the Bush administration called for a “new world order,” an unhappy phrase for those with a long enough memory to recall the language of imperial Japan in the 1930’s. Yet the substance of American policy seemed more an exercise in unabashed national narcissism than any new, enthusiastic embrace of multilateral institutions. With a chest-thumping regularity, Bush administration officials pronounced the United States the world’s “sole superpower.” While broad rhetorical strokes painted a picture of a new multilateralism, collective measures were rejected if they abraded American autonomy or authority. Indeed, in the practice of Bush’s new world order, American actions came to fit Charles DeGaulle’s acid observation that American ideals, in the 20th century, had become a cloak for the American will to power.

The greatness and tragedy of Woodrow Wilson was his valiant but vain attempt to transform international society at a time when precedent proved too resistant. Instead of transcending history, the Bush administration has made submission to events a virtue. Policies once proffered enthusiastically, have evanesced. America went to war to oust the drug lords from Panama, but post-Noriega drug exports burgeoned. There was to be an energy policy in the wake of the Gulf war, but Congress objected to another “supply side” remedy that opened the coasts off Florida and California and the Arctic Wilderness to drilling—while leaving oil imports and energy appetites unimpeded. There was to be a permanent U.S. presence in the Gulf, but the Saudis lost interest. There was to be a program to “defang” Saddam Hussein, to eliminate his weapons of mass destruction, to break the aggressive and repressive menace of his “Republican Guards.” But the Saudis fretted that Saddam’s undoing would be taken in the coin of regional “instability”; and, then, the money for international inspectors ran low. There was to be an arms-control accord in the Middle East—a suppliers’ agreement that might, in Bush’s words of May 1991, exercise “collective self-restraint.” But, as Defense Secretary Richard Cheney opined, limits on arms sales to U.S. associates in the Gulf would be “counterproductive.”

The president was not merely aware that his tenure corresponded to extraordinary times, he was exultant in its implication for America’s position in the world. As he told Congress: “we won” the Cold War, and achieved a position as “the undisputed leader of the age.” Bush spoke of the “return of history.” and America’s special place in societal evolution as the “sole superpower.”

In fact, the American-led West’s ascendancy over the East was almost without parallel. It was as if all those Moslems who besieged Vienna in the 1680’s had not just been rebuffed, but converted, by the 1690’s. Not since Agincourt has any country enjoyed a victory quite so complete as the route of the Iraqis in early 1991. Yet, along with Henry V, it might be said that “without stratagem. . . . Was ever known so great and little loss [o]n one part and on the other?”


Perhaps at the onset of the Bush presidency, General Noriega might have left quietly, as Filipe Gonzales, Spain’s prime minister, had tried to quietly arrange. But, as vice president, Bush had broken with President Reagan over “making deals with drug lords.” He could hardly begin his tenure making just such an arrangement with a man whom he had accused of “thuggery on the campaign trail.” Time and again, in public, President Bush appealed to the Panamanian Defense Forces “. . .to do everything they can to get Mr. Noriega out of there.” Yet when a coup came, it was greeted by an astonished immobilism. For the lack of a decisive American hand, the coup failed, “Amateur hour is over,” Mr. Bush vowed, as U.S. military preparations began in earnest.

When, at the end of 1989, in Panama, one U. S. serviceman was shot and another officer and his wife were roughed up, General Noriega’s forces handed defense planners the provocation they had been seeking. Still, Secretary of State James Baker felt obliged to add a never-to-be-heard-of-again warrant for intervention: American intelligence just received information that General Noriega was planing an “urban commando attack on American citizens in a residential neighborhood in Panama.” Bush’s accounting was simpler: “Enough is enough,” he explained, as “Operation Just Cause” commenced.

With SEALS, dogs, helicopters, informants, rock music, and a million dollar bounty on his head, the villain was brought to heel. Old wooden houses adjacent to Panama Defense Force’s headquarters were fired on by helicopter gunships using phosphorous tracers. The next day, one reporter claimed the area had been reduced to the semblance of an ashtray. Hundreds of Panamanians were killed and 23 U.S. servicemen lost their lives. General Noriega was all but brought back in a cage, like some rebellious tribesman delivered to face the Grand Vizier.

As a consequence of America’s invasion, Panama was hardly any less burdened by drugs and drug money. Sustained by U.S. grants amounting to hardly a million dollars a year, without planes, and equipped with but one speed boat, Panama’s antidrug forces bided their time. Some of the most prominent members of Panama’s ruling Endera family—the relatives of the Panamanian president the U.S. installed to take Noriega’s place—involved themselves in drug trafficking and money laundering in Noriega’s stead. Indeed, the General Accounting Office estimated that Panama was able to export twice the amount of cocaine compared to the Noriega years.


Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, with his folded umbrella, has long been the dead cat of U.S. foreign policy, exhumed only to flail those who doubted the utility , of far-flung American commitments. But the lesson of the European experience between the wars always seemed to dissipate when it came to the operational level of American statecraft. The U.S. did not oppose China’s armed attempt to “teach Vietnam a lesson” in 1979. U.S. policy-makers said nearly nothing about Indonesian actions in Timor in 1975. Syria’s de facto embrace of Lebanon—a matter of such concern that it nearly led to war in 1983—was quietly cheered in 1991. Nowhere, however, in the American experience had appeasement been more egregious than in the case of Iraq.

All during the 1980’s, Washington shamelessly courted Saddam’s disreputable regime. In 1987, Vice President George Bush’s office informed the State Department that “Now is the time to begin building a solid trading relationship with Iraq for the future.” In September 1989, the State Department overrode Pentagon reservations about the sale of a computer-driven lathe to Iraq’s sole producer of gas centrifuges. In the summer of 1990, the White House threatened to veto any Congressional restrictions on U.S.-Iraqi trade. The month before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, U.S. satellite images of Iranian troop dispositions were still being provided to Iraq—a move that allowed Iraq confidently to mass even more troops on the Kuwait-Iraqi frontier. When U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs John Kelly appeared before Congress the week after the administration had been warned by the Defense Department and the CIA that an Iraqi attack on Kuwait was imminent, Representative Lee Hamilton asked: “Do we have a commitment to our friends in the Gulf in the event they are engaged in oil or territorial disputes with their neighbors?” Kelly affirmed the U.S. did not, noting that “we have historically avoided taking a position on border disputes. . . .”

Three days later the assault on Kuwait began. The expectation, as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie had put it, was that Saddam would not take all of Kuwait (with an emphasis on all). Just after the first Republican Guards entered Kuwait City, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher stiffened the resolution of a still vacillating president. Filled with the blinding light of insight, President Bush rose to the challenge. Aggression’s illegitimacy ascended once more to first principle. As he himself forthrightly put the matter later: “[t]his war was not fought about democracy in Kuwait. The war was fought about aggression against Kuwait.”

For the entire war, the president refused to treat with any of the Kuwait resistance forces lest they cast doubt on the exiled Emir. Indeed, democracy in Kuwait seemed a kind of taboo to the Bush administration. The State Department’s Desert Storm task force director was told not to take Kuwait resistance leaders’ calls.. When the Sabah family and its retainers were free to return, Kuwaiti native resistance was systematically disenfranchised. Putative collaborators, and “Bedoons,” (“outsiders,” some of whom had been in Kuwait for generations) were driven out of the country. Middle-East Watch and Amnesty International protested. In late winter 1992, when the UN considered the appointment of a human rights monitor for Kuwait, the U.S. voted to kill the initiative.

For all the fervor with which he episodically embraced internationalism, President Bush’s constant star seemed raw realpolitik. On Feb. 15, 1991 Bush asked the “Iraqi people” to “take matters in their own hands” and “force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.” But when rebellions materialized, he ordered a cease-fire 28 hours ahead of the schedule suggested by his commander in place, General Schwarzkopf. As a result, 57,000 elite Iraqi troops and 700 top-of-the-line T-72 tanks escaped to battle in a “civil war” that suddenly conjured, to Bush, the apparition of Vietnam. Within earshot of U.S. troops, Shiite rebels fell to Saddam’s helicopter gunships, while in Washington, on March 26, presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater announced that the United States would not interfere. “On background,” a “high administration official” clarified the Administration’s motivations: “we were not going to leave the world’s second largest oil exporter without some means of self-defense.”

Later, in the fall of 1991, Bush told the General Assembly that his “new world order” would find no nation surrendering “one iota of its own sovereignty.” It was a formulation that must have seemed as lyrical to Saddam Hussein as it was, elsewhere—to advocates of a greater Serbia, and to a Soviet General Staff, fuming over the loss of Ukraine, Belorus, and the Baltics.


Slowly, President Bush developed a great confidence in the future of perestroika and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. But while rhetorically insistent on the necessity that Gorbachev “succeed,” in practice the long, languorous collapse of Soviet power was largely met by a stupefied gawk. Like the simple-minded protagonist, Chauncey Gardner, in Jerzy Kosinski’s novel, Being There, the Bush administration “liked to watch.” For more than a year before the August 1991 coup against Gorbachev, CIA warned that the Soviet Union was ripe for fascism and civil war. Bush conveyed the warnings, but let events take their course. Most-favored-nation trading arrangements were denied until after the coup and Gorbachev was on the way out. While Germans and Europeans poured tens of billions of dollars in frantic assistance, the U.S. initially blocked Soviet membership in the International Monetary Fund—an organization with 157 members, including Burma and Albania. No Soviet concession was quite right. Even nuclear, chemical, and strategic arms agreements that might drastically draw-down Soviet arsenals—whether or not Gorbachev stayed in power— stalled. The problem, the Bush administration said, was that the Soviets had actually accepted far-reaching verification procedures that the U.S. had proposed several years earlier. The result would be that too many Soviet inspectors would be wandering around sensitive American defense plants. Until funds for more agents could be found, the FBI’s resources would be overtaxed.

Once Gorbachev was finished, Secretary of State Baker finally committed the U.S. to a partnership with the new Commonwealth of Independent States: “We will help them move along that path of democracy and economic freedom,” he vowed. While President Bush pledged that “nobody will starve,” there was only an abundance of inaction. “They talk and talk,” exclaimed an exasperated Russian President Boris Yeltsin. “For the past five months we have been asking for help and it hasn’t happened.” Yeltsin alluded despondently to the “breath of the Redshirts and Blackshirts on [the] neck” of the new Russian experiment, while, in corridors and cocktail gatherings, the word was out. CIA had warned that Yeltsin had become “indispensable” to the Russian transition to democracy. But the Bush administration’s corridor and cocktail whispers held Yeltsin to be an “interim” figure in the cascade of unfolding events. It was a doleful stricture of the times: action would have to wait until the right conditions materialized—or, until after the election.

The sum total of all the confessedly “symbolic” U. S. food aid programs to the Commonwealth of Independent States amounted roughly to the size of the programs mounted by Italy and Belgium. Ambassador Robert Strauss termed U.S. food aid to Russia a “drop in the bucket.” Most official U.S. postcoup food aid was not for benefit of people at all, except indirectly, as animal feed. As the average caloric intake in Russia shrank by an estimated 22 percent, America’s official response was a two-week long program to carry some 19 tons of over-ripe “Meals-Ready-to-Eat” that had been left over from the Gulf War. This “Operation Provide Hope” was claimed to be an effort reminiscent of the Berlin Air Lift. There was a difference. For ten months, starting in July of 1948, U.S. planes arrived in Berlin at the rate of one every two minutes, and carried an average of over 50,000 tons a week.

In mid-January 1992, Washington called together one of the largest conferences held there in 50 years to coordinate aid to the former Soviet Union. Curiously, not one of the 12 commonwealth states, nor any of the three new Baltic republics, received invitations. The French, rebuffed in early proposals for similar initiatives, sent only a junior minister. In light of the enormous disparities between the EC and the U.S., the conference itself, said France’s Francois Mitterrand, seemed a bit “superfluous.” A top German foreign ministry official summed up his government’s reaction to a conference in which the U.S. was trying to exert “leadership” over donor countries without making any commensurate contributions: “[t]he current relationship in which 90 [the true figure was 57 percent] percent of the bilateral aid to Russia [comes] from Germany is nothing less than sick.” Even the ever-tactful Vytautus Landsbergis, the president of Lithuania, asked if it were “not a little strange,” a country the size of “Denmark gives the Baltic states more than the United States?”

Large U. S. food programs have been part of the traditional U.S. foreign policy repertoire. Seventy-two years ago, Herbert Hoover directed a staff of 600 Americans operating through a distribution network of 18,000 stations. In a three-year period, Hoover’s network saved some 20 million lives in an effort that cost eight million dollars. The Pentagon had staffed an “Operation Provide Comfort 2” for the new Commonwealth of Independent States, using the massive emergency assistance to Kurds in early 1991 as a guide. The money was to come from the Defense Department. Congress approved, but Secretary of Defense Cheney balked. The White House, fearful of awakening a recrudescent isolationism, maintained its distance. In the end, a Senate authorization for nearly a billion dollars in aid failed to find a sponsor. A “once in a century opportunity,” as Secretary of State Baker put it, was ducked. Richard Nixon labeled the White House response to the emergency in Russia “tokenism,” “penny ante” and “pathetically inadequate.” Ambassador Strauss called it “a goddamn outrage.”

Despite Russian penury and Europe’s long divisions, much of the continent, especially Germany, has come to be critically intertwined with the former Soviet Union. Thirty percent of Germany’s natural gas and 20 percent of Germany’s oil comes from the former Soviet Union. At a time when international savings dried up, the former Soviet Union stopped paying interest and principal on 33 billion dollars owed to German banks alone. In 1991, a million people drifted West out of the Soviet Union. Europeans became preoccupied with the prospect of many millions more. To John Hardt, the Library of Congress’ understated authority on the economies of the East, the specter of new Berlin Walls and soup kitchens speckling Europe’s eastern frontier portend a worldwide depression as severe as any seen this century.

* Named after the successful food lift to the Kurds in Northern Iraq in the early Spring of 1991.


The former Soviet army remained largely intact, armed and desperate. At least 3 million strong, employing 11 million people and affecting some 40 million lives directly, the Red army has been called the 16th Republic, the third largest in the new Commonwealth of Independent States, after Russia and the Ukraine. Never paid, except in more than “wooden rubles,” Soviet soldiers’ rewards were, once, an honorable mission, and, for Soviet officers, special privileges. But the mission went the way of the Soviet regime, and the privileges vanished as well. Whole battalions started to seek their own fortunes. In a kind of stupendous yard sale, tanks, radioactive materials, missiles, and talent went on the block. It was impossible to audit the buyers—the traditional assortment of pariahs, ruffians, mullahs, and despots, who have always kept Western military planners and intelligence officers up at night.

Tens of thousands Red Army officers spent the winter of 1991—2 shivering in boxcars and tents. One highly disciplined elite unit, stationed in the Baltic, simply refused to withdraw because there was no place for them in Russia. The fate of Red Army troops stationed in Germany, slated to leave in two years, remained an open question. In early February 1992, General Konstantin Kobets, Yeltsin’s closest military advisor, wrote ominously that “[t]he alarm felt by officers over their future has reached its limits.” According to NATO travel reports, missile factories still make missiles on one line and break missiles up on another. Teams of missile engineers hand-assemble bicycles. “It’s not conversion,” observed one senior NATO expert, “it’s technical leaf-raking; and don’t you know how humiliating that is?”

At the end of February 1992, Henry Kissinger, back from a trip to the former Soviet Union, reported to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Russian anger had become more important than their hunger. U.S. actions hardly mollified Russia’s sense of indignity. The U.S. managed to reject as “impractical” Mr. Yeltsin’s suggestion that it not target Russian cities and missile fields at the same moment that Secretary Baker toured Russia and Central Asia with a view to creating a joint missile attack warning center. At the same time, the Pentagon’s “scenario four” leaked. The new war plan postulated a rejuvenated Red Army, in league with Belorus, invading Poland and Lithuania. The U.S. would need some eight divisions and three months, and possibly tactical nuclear weapons, to beat the Russians back over a stake that had never before been considered important, much less “vital.”

Vital for the survival of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), though, was economic aid; and, at long last, on April 1, 1992, the Bush administration sketched out a new package of assistance to the CIS. The relief package was said to have been in the works for months, but it was rushed to delivery at 11 that morning, shortly before Democratic contender Bill Clinton was scheduled to give his first major foreign policy address in which he advocated a large and more comprehensive aid package. Later in the month, Russia and other members of the CIS were allowed to join the International Monetary Fund. Yet the hour was late, and gross domestic production in the former Soviet states had already fallen more than 37 percent in two years by the time they joined the IMF.


A NATO relationship with the former bloc countries could have helped engage military forces in common undertakings, limited arms exports, and suffused tensions in common undertakings. NATO could have been involved in food distribution in the Commonwealth of Independent States, or police duties in the Balkans, or in providing continuing forces to stabilize the Turkish-Iraqi border. A NATO association could have helped socialize the former Soviet military into the fraternity of Western arms.

But for most of the Bush administration, European defense policy concentrated less on making NATO relevant to contemporary events, and more on insisting that alternatives to NATO were impermissible or superfluous. NATO was embraced, as the draft 1992 “Defense Guidance,” put it, as a “. . .channel for U.S. influence and participation in European security.” In the fall of 1990, Bush had invited “a new partnership of nations . . .based on consultation, cooperation, and collective action. . .” In private, however, U.S. defense planners were determined to keep allies and other “competitors . . .from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.”

The 1992 Defense Guidance failed even to mention the UN. In public, the White House argues that American national security, “requires . . .a strengthen [ing] [of] international institutions like the United Nations to make them more effective in promoting peace, world order, and political, economic, and social progress.” In private, leaked documents revealed multilateralism to be at a steep discount. Germans and Japanese lobbied openly for what Japanese Prime Minister Kiiche Miyazawa called an “adjustment” in the UN’s “functions, [and] composition . . .” that could take into account “the realities of the new era.” The overt rationale for the U.S. reluctance to bring others into the UN Security Council was that the administration feared that “Kibitzers”—as one official uncharitably termed them—would dilute American influence. In a new kind of “domino analogy,” the administration posited that an opening of the Security Council to the wealthy would also be followed, inevitably, by demands from others. Soon India, or the EC, or Brazil and Argentina would make similar demands. The sotto voce rationale for U.S. resistance to demands of Germans and Japanese to reform the Security Council was fear that if Japan and Germany were accommodated, then the message would be that military wherewithal was no longer the essential stuff of leadership and power in international politics.


From Brussels to Canberra, there dawned an understanding that virtually any multilateral initiative would be interrupted by the U.S. as a challenge to its leadership and therefore could be expected to be resisted. For example:

  • France called for a four-power summit to discuss nuclear weapons with the former Soviet Union. The suggestion was first rejected out of hand and then stalled. “On background” the State Department explained: arms control ought to “be a bilateral issue, not a multilateral one,” since bilateral negotiations were “more efficient.”

  • While offering no solution of its own, a NATO solution to the breakup of Yugoslavia was taken off the table by the Bush administration. Finally, in June 1991, Secretary Baker made a last ditch trip to Belgrade to urge unity, while others in the EC were searching for a means to disarticulate Yugoslavia without bloodshed. A few months later, when one part of Yugoslavia, Serbia, made war on another, Croatia, the Bush administration’s fustian “policy” was to urge a “boycott” all of Yugoslavia, as if Serbs, Croats, Montenegrans, Greeks Slovenes, Armenians, and the rest, were equally culpable. Months of carnage ensued until a UN-brokered peace was readied. Inexplicably, and unsuccessfully, the U.S. tried to stall the intercession of UN peace keepers.

  • In the far Pacific, Australian Foreign Secretary Gareth Evans suggested that an Australia-New Zealand-ASEAN association might gradually supplant the more narrow Anzus formula. By private missive, the Australian foreign secretary was told by Secretary Baker of America’s “serious doubts” that Evans’ project was needed. In public, a U.S. diplomat in Canberra was even plainer: the Australian suggestion, he said, was a “fantasy” permissible only “as long as [the Australian Foreign Secretary] didn’t do anything about it.”

  • In June 1990, the IMF agreed, in principle, to raise its funding by 50 percent. The U.S. fell 12 billion dollars behind in its IMF pledges. In fact, IMF officials complained that the U.S. not only stalled its own capital increase, but sought, in private, to veto until the administration’s efforts were leaked the planned overall increase in IMF capitalization since that might reduce U.S. voting power from 19 to 14 percent.

  • Security Council peace-keeping programs proliferated. But the U.S. owed more than 700 million dollars to the UN in arrearages. Outgoing UN Secretary General Perez de Cuellar offered a melancholy coda to American leadership: “It is a source of profound concern to me that the same membership which deems it appropriate to entrust the United Nations Secretariat with unprecedented new responsibilities has not taken the necessary action at the same time to see that the minimum financial resources are provided. . . .”

  • The UN charter calls for a permanent Military Staff Committee to direct a small peace-keeping force. The Soviets suggested that the Military Staff Committee be used in the Gulf War. The U.S. begrudgingly honored the request in form, but not in substance. At the end of January 1992, Francois Mitterrand offered to make 1,000 French troops available to the Military Staff Committee, 40 hours from the onset of any emergency. Within another 40 hours, another 1000 were promised. Shortly thereafter, when the American ambassador to the UN, Thomas Pickering, suggested, informally, looking at the French proposal more closely, it was announced that Pickering was to be reassigned to India.

  • VIII

    While claiming that human rights were the “guiding factor in U.S.-Sino relations,” President Bush refused to relate China’s record in human rights to most-favored-nation trade, high technology transfers, and most World Bank loans. For three years, China had been indicted in UN and State Department reports for torture, religious repression, and using slave labor—gaining in the process, a whopping 15 billion dollar trade surplus with the U.S. In February 1992, another State Department report on human rights, that would condemn China’s “repressive practices” was stalled so that Mr. Bush could meet with Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng, the architect of Tiananmen Square, without any embarrassment. In early March, 1992, the president vetoed a measure that would have merely required that he certify China’s “progress” in moving toward a more decent standard of human rights. The next day, the U.S. mission to the UN failed to support, “in time,” a European Community effort to condemn the Chinese human rights record.

    Human rights also suffered a setback in Haiti, where the Bush administration initially seemed little distraught when a military coup in 1991 ousted Haiti’s first democratically elected, but passionately Socialist government. When, however, the new military clique turned to the criminal “Ton Ton Macoutes” of the Duvalier years—and began to raise money by extortion, drug peddling, and gun smuggling—the Bush administration joined with Venezuela and Argentina in sponsoring an Organization of American States embargo. Secretary Baker, at the time, hailed the action as a “milestone” in hemispheric solidarity. Three months later, under pressure from American transplanted manufacturers, the U.S. unilaterally eased the blockade.

    Some 15 thousand desperate fleeing Haitians were scooped up from the beaches of Florida and from the high seas, and returned by the U.S. to Haiti with five dollars and a new track suit. Fearing that repatriated Haitians were at risk of persecution and starvation, the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees issued unusual and unheeded public protests. Earlier, the U.S. had objected to Prime Minister John Major’s forcible repatriation of Vietnamese “boat people” who had made their way to Hong Kong. Later, when asked to reconcile, on the one hand, the sanctuary argued for the Vietnamese and offered, in the U.S. to Cubans; and, on the other, vigorous American efforts to exclude Haitians, U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials were candid: there were Cold War refugees—and there were Haitians.

    There was also Saddam Hussein. An in absentia trial of Saddam for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ecological crimes, even if he were not brought to the docket himself, would have shrunk the Iraqi despot several sizes at home, and perhaps reduced him in the Arab world as well. It would have also alerted future tyrants of the risk of engaging in monstrous crimes. To push forward the issue of postwar multilateral action against Saddam, Britain’s John Major and German Foreign Minister Hans Dietrich Genscher called for a convening of an International Court of Justice to try him on the basis of the Nuremberg principles. The Senate urged Bush to establish an office charged with promoting an international tribunal, something that they believed he would support since he had told the Congress in March 1991 that, “[f]or all that Saddam has done to his own people, to the Kuwaitis, and to the entire world, Saddam and those around him are accountable.” President Bush claimed, however, that the “most important thing,” was not a formal exercise in justice, but “. . . to get Saddam Hussein out of there.” Still, a year after the Gulf War, Saddam remained; and his crimes, labeled in a UN report as the worst since World War II, remained as well.


    Like Louis XIV, who would habitually devastate the career of a courtier with the remark that “we do not know him,” George Bush seemed to predicate foreign policy on his personal relationships. When warned by CIA and Defense Intelligence of an Iraqi build-up that pointed to an inevitable invasion, the president asked Arab leaders if his analysts could possibly be right. His informants, various sheiks, emirs, potentates, ersatz presidents and princes, thereupon assured him that Saddam would not possibly turn on an Arab brother. Bush listened to his friends. The professional intelligence officers were ignored, and in one case, demoted.

    With an almost 18th-century air, the personal pronoun tripped as readily from Bush’s tongue as any occasional epiphany to a “new world order.” “I’ve had it;” “Consider me provoked;” and “I am more determined than ever before in my life,” were not unusual reactions to the external affairs of the nation. Mr. Bush mentioned Saddam 20 times in his address announcing the onset of the war; and he deliberately mispronounced and burlesqued the Iraqi leader’s name, each time making the dictator’s name sound like a “shoe-shine boy” to the Arab speaking ear, in order to get the man’s goat. And if that didn’t do, the president was heard to say that the dictator was going to get “his ass kicked.”

    World politics were defined in personal terms. Gorbachev was, at first, a “drugstore cowboy”; and then metamorphosed into “a friend.” As a consequence, Gorbachev’s rival, Yeltsin, was virtually shunned by the White House. KGB-inspired stories relaying Yeltsin’s use of a mangled hand to sop up butter, his vigorous drinking, and his willingness to use the outdoors instead of a lavatory, were, for nearly two years, an accepted part of White House water-cooler wisdom.

    The president was most at ease on the phone, where he could capitalize on 25 years of activity at the highest level. The amazing 31-nation coalition against Saddam was cobbled together by the president personally. He had a real rapport with Syria’s Assad, Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, and Egypt’s Mubarak. Only in those lands ruled by parliamentary government, like Germany, France, Japan, and Israel, did the President seem confounded and uncomfortable.

    For most of the Cold War, the national security advisor to the president or the secretary of state plumbed the bureaucracy for options, papers, advice, and expertise. But in the Bush years, policy was made at the White House by a coterie of five or six: professionals in the State Department and CIA were frozen out. When Ambassador Robert Strauss issued an anguished call for attention to the imploding former Soviet Union, he was dismissed as a Democratic poseur acting up in advance of election season. Access to Mr.. Bush’s narrow national security team was restricted to those who were comfortable with the president’s predisposition. The president’s secretary of defense, skeptical of summitry, learned of the president’s Malta meeting with Gorbachev from a press conference. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, never could get his preferred option—”strangling” Saddam’s regime, without war, by means of an international quarantine—considered at any meeting attended by the president. As detailed in Bob Woodward’s Commanders, a recourse to arms was “chosen,” in August 1990, not from any menu of well-stafled-out options, but in almost giddily informal improvisation.

    Policy management by a circle within a circle was necessarily inattentive. The secretary of state, explained one confident, was simply “too busy,” handling Mid-East talks to think about accompanying the president on what proved to be a disastrous trip to Japan. Similarly, the rising menace of Saddam Hussein was missed, it was said, because both the president and secretary were “preoccupied” in attending to German reunification. When asked to explain the delay in planning for the aftermath of the war, the officer charged with directing the State Department’s Gulf War Task Force noted that Secretary Baker had been so absorbed by “operation tin cup”—the effort to raise funds to pay for the war—that he had “no time” to consider what would happen when it was all over.

    It was all over, too, when the president told Congress, “[i]t would be tragic if the nations of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf were now, in the wake of war, to embark on a new arms race.” No sooner had the president proclaimed a goal of creating a “general code of responsible arms transfers,” than a new wave of arms sales commenced. In the year following the conclusion of the war, a record 19 billion dollars in arms was sold to Saudi Arabia alone. Meanwhile, the president vetoed legislation that would have mandated the publication of the names of companies engaged in supplying lethal technologies to any area of the world. And a Japanese-sponsored idea of a UN arms exports register was first stonewalled, and then watered-down.

    The Bush administration claimed that it gave nearly 18 billion dollars of foreign aid in 1991; but the truth was that more than 50 percent of that figure was dedicated to military transfers to the Third World. For the first time, the Bush administration has started to use scarce Export-Import Bank monies—funds previously restricted by law to civilian projects—in order to promote the commercial sale of arms. The Bush administration’s senior diplomats were instructed to assume an “affirmative arms export” posture . . .apparently the only kind of affirmative action the administration program would willingly support. Hence, in one of the first, and perhaps most symbolic acts of the Bush administration, the old Office of Munitions Control was abolished by transferring its duties to the State Department. The usual business of diplomats is the smoothing of interstate relations. In the classic diplomatic career, skill in the conference chamber was prized above all. In the Bush years, diplomats were graded on a new mission—their ability to partner arms exports.

    James McGregor Burns once observed that Jefferson, Adams, and the other great framers of our republic were “obsessed” with the idea of posterity. Washington used the word nine times in one speech. Thomas Jefferson was wont to speak of the thousandth thousandth generation. While America’s competitors looked to more than the next election and the next quarter’s balance sheet, the Bush administration was firmly fixed on its own priorities, as the President chirpily confided to David Frost, on Dec. 23, 1991, “. . . I will do what I have to do to be reelected. . . .”

    As a consequence of government policy, Japan realized a 500 percent increase in industrial fuel efficiency in the last 20 years, and now uses half the energy the U.S. uses for any equivalent finished product. But the hallmark of the Bush administration was disinterest in planning for tomorrow. As the Northern hemisphere’s “ozone hole” widened, the United States found itself alone among the industrial countries in resisting a limit on CO2 emissions. Environmental clean-up standards were obstructed. The Endangered Species Act was belittled. The population crisis was dismissed. No energy policy resulted from the great opportunity the Gulf war presented. Posterity might have its day. . . .on someone else’s watch.

    “No one . . . doubts us anymore,” Mr. Bush told a flag waving South Carolina crowd in March of last year.

    That may be. All during the Bush years, the U. S. reputation at arms was earnestly nurtured. Posterity, however, like the product of some Victorian shame, found no voice to speak its name.


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