The Iraq Crisis

NO TURNING BACK?

Foreign policy experts in Washington are expressing doubts about the Bush approach,

ARTHUR KENT March 24 2003
The Iraq Crisis

NO TURNING BACK?

Foreign policy experts in Washington are expressing doubts about the Bush approach,

ARTHUR KENT March 24 2003

NO TURNING BACK?

The Iraq Crisis

Foreign policy experts in Washington are expressing doubts about the Bush approach,

ARTHUR KENT

THE BAGHDAD DAILY Babil couldn’t restrain its joy. With the floundering U.S. and British attempts last week to push through a second UN resolution authorizing military action against Saddam Hussein, one editorial proclaimed that the allies had lost the round, “while we have won it.” At week’s end the majority of Security Council members openly acknowledged they would not support the resolution. But the U.S. and Britain could invade Iraq on their own: that, among other things, was on the agenda for a weekend summit in the Azores involving George W. Bush, Tony Blair and another ally, Prime Minister José María Aznar López of Spain. While Bush has insisted he is ready to move without the UN, Blair, facing a massive revolt inside his own Labour party over his proU.S. stand, desperately needs international authorization. Going into the weekend meeting, he said he wanted one more week for negotiations. But in Washington, where Maclean’s contributing editor Arthur Kent spent the week, the die appeared to have been cast, any extensions notwithstanding—to the dismay of some foreign policy experts. Kent’s report:

EVEN THE MOST stalwart White House staffers could not have held their hands over their hearts at prayer meetings this past week and sworn in good conscience that their chief deserved flattering comparisons with the presidential ghost of the moment, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It was the 70th anniversary of the first of F.D.R.’s Fireside Chats—those reassuring radio homilies that rallied the nation against the ravages of the Depression and World War II.

While Roosevelt made international affairs comprehensible to ordinary Americans, George W. Bush seems only to confuse them. Although one poll last week showed that more U.S. citizens now support action against Iraq, even without the UN’s authority, the

same sampling revealed that a clear majority of Americans feel the President hasn’t clearly explained the justification for a preemptive attack. While F.D.R. convinced the nation to join a great world alliance against Hitler—“Our future independence is bound up with the future independence of all of our sister republics”—Bush has been turning some of America’s traditional allies into opponents faster than Iraqi wrecking crews turn their al-Samouds into trash.

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Roosevelt famously intoned in one chat—that of May 27, 1941. If only things were that simple today, grumble a growing number of U.S. lawmakers, conservative Republicans among them. Bad enough they fear the cost of war in human, geopolitical and monetary terms; they’re also deeply troubled by the Bush administration’s genius for inflicting massive amounts of collateral diplomatic damage even before the first sand berm on Iraq’s southern border with Kuwait has been breached.

“There’s no question that this administration has been ham-handed in dealing with our allies,” says Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for the New American Century. PNAC is not a nest of lefty critics—it’s the neo-conservative think-tank founded in 1997 by, among others, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, these days the brain-and-brawn trust of the Bush administration. “But what about the Europeans?” Schmitt continues. “They’re preoccupied with their own social and economic programs, essentially enriching themselves while they live off the umbrella of global protection the U.S. provides.”

Euro-bashing sounds more like the far right’s agenda—but nothing like responsible statesmanship, according to the U.S. government’s in-house adviser on diplomacy. Charles Dolan is vice-chairman of the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, a bipartisan consultancy to the President, secretary of state and Congress. He told

Maclean’s: “I think the administration’s messaging has been a little too belligerent and it’s been counterproductive in some cases. You’ve got people using words like ‘pygmies’ to describe allies, and words like ‘irrelevance’ for world bodies.” Dolan continued: “The name of the game of diplomacy is making friends out of enemies, not the other way around. And one of the fundamental purposes of public diplomacy is creating a positive atmosphere abroad, which in turn makes it easier for leaders in those countries to shift to our position. Through a lot of missteps, we now find ourselves going the wrong way in that respect.”

For proof of those missteps, look no further than Britain’s Tony Blair, the embodiment of incipient diplomatic burnout. Battling the flu, scrapping his way through a hostile Euro-hood, the prime minister could be forgiven for sometimes thinking that his best friend was at times insensitive. Bush had promised Blair and other European leaders that, prior to any invasion of Iraq, the White House would unveil a “road map for peace” between Israel and the Palestinians: mutual concessions that might lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. That road map had been bumped out of the slow lane and into the pits—to Blair’s acute embarrassment. Last week, with the prime minister on the ropes, Bush suddenly revived the Mideast peace plan—perhaps a case of too little, too late for Blair.

And then there had been Donald Rumsfeld. In a classic slip of the tongue, the U.S. defense secretary said American commanders were prepared to go ahead alone should Britain balk at putting its troops at Washington’s disposal. Rumsfeld backtracked, but Blair’s parliamentary opponents leaped to their feet at Westminster and pummelled the hapless Blair, saying the U.S. didn’t even need Britain.

“It’s surprising,” comments diplomatic adviser Dolan. “When this administration together with the British undertook the Afghan war, they set up coalition offices in Washington, London and Pakistan. They kept the message straight and clear, and we had 80 per cent of the world behind us. What happened? Clearly the message has become confused.” And expensive and dangerous, say critics of the Bush war plan.

“The destruction and loss of life will aggravate tensions in the region,” says Joseph Wilson, who as U.S. chargé d’affaires to Iraq during its occupation of Kuwait was the last

‘I think the Bush administration’s messaging has been a little too belligerent and counterproductive’

U.S. diplomat to deal directly with Saddam Hussein. “And this is the wrong destination—the road to peace and stability in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem, not through Baghdad.” Aside from strategic concerns, both Democratic and Republican senators complain that the administration hasn’t adequately planned and budgeted for post-war peacekeeping. Estimates of war costs alone range up to $100 billion, and a $900-million price tag was put on the initial post-war phase of occupation and reconstruction, when it emerged that the administration has quietly been seeking tenders from America’s elite construction giants such as Fluor Corp., Bechtel Group, Inc., and Halliburton Co., formerly headed by VicePresident Cheney.

“Let’s just stop a minute and do the math,” says Wilson. “Last year, America’s corporations—all of our companies—earned a total of $450 billion after taxes. Can we afford a war and the costs of cleaning up afterward? Absolutely not.” The nation’s cloudy economic horizons bear that out: unemployment is rising and budget deficits look like flashbacks to the Bush Sr. era. For many

state legislatures, the situation is worse. Lawmakers in one state within shouting distance of the White House, Maryland, are currently fretting over a proposed raft of spending cuts, tax increases—even legalizing slot machines—to counter a budget shortfall estimated to reach $2 billion by June 2004. For all the administration’s chest-beating, America’s war chest is draining fast.

That’s not a problem, says PNAC’s Schmitt, just a challenge. “You’ve got to compare the short-term costs with the long-term costs. The consequences of having Iraq still armed with weapons of mass destruction, that’s what I call a high-cost option. The truth is that during the Cold War, we routinely spent anywhere from six to nine per cent of GDP on defence, and we still had pretty good economic growth. Now we spend between three and four per cent of GDP on defence. We clearly could spend more.”

But while some U.S. pundits speak fast and loose about financing warfare, America’s record for post-war reconstruction hardly glitters like gold. Even the CIA admits to the dismal reality of life in Haiti—“assisted” by U.S. forces in the last decade. Today, Haiti remains politically unstable and is still one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries: 80 percent of Haitians live in abject poverty. And Afghanistan, last year’s model for U.S. military intervention, figured darkly last week in assessments of American reconstruction capabilities, when Amnesty International called for urgent reform of the country’s police forces and western help

to restore the rule of law. Aid specialists in the Gulf, meanwhile, warn that nowhere near enough food, water and emergency supplies have been gathered to help Iraqis displaced by war. Clare Short, Britain’s international development secretary, who has threatened to resign from the Blair cabinet should war proceed without UN approval, told Parliament that no amount of delay would allow adequate preparations for the worst-case scenario of open warfare in Iraq.

Despite those warnings and America’s lacklustre history in long-term foreign aid, Bush persisted with his push for a massive military onslaught. Washington observers from across the spectrum agree that two factors are at work. The first, doctrine; the second, a lack of escape routes. The vaunted Bush political machine has left itself no room for error, much less for withdrawal.

“We can’t withdraw now, no way,” says PNAC’s Schmitt. “We’d show our friends, as well as our enemies, that we’re just not serious. That’d be a failure too dangerous to think about.” One seasoned member of Washington’s foreign diplomatic corps agrees, but laments the inevitability of bloodshed. “This is like August of 1914. Everything appears to be moving in slow motion, but then wham!—it will all open up.” Doctrinal inflexibility, he says, has left the administration trapped. “There’s a powerful group of people here who have a larger vision of using war in Iraq to force change in the Middle East, to foment reform within oligarchies like Saudi Arabia, and to bring fundamentalism under control in places like Pakistan.”

Leaders of America’s Muslim community scoff at that strategy. “They say there’s going to be Jeffersonian democracy, that people will dance in the streets when Saddam Hussein is gone,” says Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “But there’s going to be tremendous bloodletting and revenge by all the people who’ve suffered under the regime. And if you really have democracy in Iraq, you’ll get a Shia government. Is America

‘Iraq is the wrong destination-the road to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem, not through Baghdad’

going to say, ‘Let’s have a Shia government in Iraq that can ally itself to Iran?’ They’ll never let that happen. They’ll make sure some crony gets in—another strongman who’ll do what America wants him to do.”

But the fact that Iraq’s post-war leadership ! is still just a glimmer in the President’s eye ; isn’t dissuading him. An eerie sense of mission weighs heavily in his voice; it was Roosevelt who pioneered the presidential use of religious overtones, but Bush adds an unwavering-some say blind—conviction to his speeches. “This is his moment—this is his Omaha Beach,” a close friend, Craig Stapleton, America’s ambassador to the Czech Republic, told the Washington Post last week.

In contrast, many statesmen and soldiers are by nature uncomfortable with such zeal: how many times in history have leaders set off in search of an Omaha Beach, only to find themselves in Mogadishu instead? This was precisely the point raised this week by Col. Mike Turner, who was Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf’s briefing officer in the 1991 Gulf War. Turner cautions that a weaker coalition, operating on a much more treacherous battlefield, makes the planned assault on Iraq look much less like Desert Storm and more like the situation prior to the disastrous U.S. operation in Somalia, depicted in the film Black Hawk Down.

What is Canada to do faced with all of this? Like much of the rest of the world, that’s a policy work-in-progress. “The PM is still undecided as to what Canada might contribute militarily,” says one Canadian diplomat in the U.S. capital. “There’s a determination to concentrate on what we do best, which is to maintain multilateralism, encourage democracy and support reconstruction.” For democracy and reconstruction, read Iraq: multilateralism means helping to pick up the pieces of decades’ worth of painstaking effort in creating international alliances. If its Iraq campaign goes badly wrong, the U.S. will need emergency relief of its own, nothing short of a diplomatic Marshall Plan to regain a measure of credibility and trust abroad.

Invading Iraq against the explicit warnings of the UN secretary general and some members of the Security Council amounts to something a long way from George W. Bush’s vision of an Omaha Beach in the Middle East. It’s an immense gamble, one that history may eventually regard as America’s own diplomatic day of infamy. □