Published on Thursday, May 30, 2002 in the International Herald Tribune
The Confusion Deepens Over US Foreign Policy
by William Pfaff
PARIS -- President George W. Bush finished his European journey with U.S. foreign policy in deepening confusion. The crises between Pakistan and India, and Israel and the Palestinians, are slipping beyond American control. The European trip did nothing to add to the administration's credibility.
Speaking in Paris on Sunday, the American president admonished Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf to "show results" in stopping incursions into the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir.
His demand got no better response than his angry and peremptory order in early April to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to immediately halt Israel's military offensive against the Palestinians, withdraw from the occupied territories and end the settlements.
That was simply ignored. Expansion of the settlements, terrorist attacks and retaliatory incursions and assassinations have all since resumed.
Bush's inability to control his own protégés in the war on terrorism undermines the administration's credibility. It lends weight to the accusation that U.S. policy in practice disrupts international order.
The risk of another India-Pakistan war, conceivably nuclear, is now considerable. Musharraf's enforced cooperation with Washington's war against terrorism in Afghanistan has so destabilized him in his own country that he seems to have lost control of the extremist elements in Pakistan's army and intelligence services.
Their efforts to liberate all of Muslim Kashmir from Indian control have stoked a virulent Hindu nationalism in India, and within the government in New Delhi, which has been relying on Washington to keep Pakistan in check.
Israel has this week rejected Washington's plan to reform Palestinian security forces under CIA director George Tenet's guidance, meant to rebuild a foundation for Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
This scheme was unrealistic from the start. It serves nothing to tell the Palestinians to reform a Palestinian Authority that Israel has spent the last three months destroying. Negotiations would be a charade so long as Israel insists on colonizing the territories and the Palestinian terrorists insist on destroying Israel.
The administration's favored solution for the Middle East is to attack Iraq, but another generals' revolt, this one in Washington, has become the obstacle to that.
While Bush was away, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff made it known that they are unanimously against a military move against Iraq this year, and harbor serious doubts that such an attack should take place at all. In leaked stories to The Washington Post and other newspapers, spokesmen for the Joint Chiefs argued that it is an illusion to think that someone else, with a little American help from the air, is going to fight and defeat Saddam Hussein on behalf of the United States.
They say that American forces numbering at least 200,000 would be needed to overturn Iraq's government, requiring a lengthy buildup and bases in a region hostile to such an undertaking.
The chiefs say there is serious risk of chemical or biological weapons used in defense, and they fear high-casualty urban combat to take Baghdad. They see the political outcome uncertain at best, and at worst as producing an even more hostile successor regime in Baghdad.
Until now, the Washington policy debate has been dominated by civilian hawks in the Defense Department, promoting the idea of a painless war that would lead to pro-American forces' taking power throughout the region, turning the Middle East into an American protectorate.
Those who really believe this - Defense Department civilians; General Wayne Downing, the White House anti-terrorism coordinator; and the neoconservative press - have not backed down, so Bush faces a Washington policy struggle bigger than any his administration has faced yet.
Nothing happened in Europe to counterbalance these negatives. The arms control and NATO agreements with Moscow were mainly successes for Vladimir Putin's foreign policy, giving him a place in NATO and, it seems, tacit American acquiescence in how he runs his war "against terrorism" in Chechnya.
Light notes were provided by Bush's reiteration of personal confidence in the Russian president, assured this time not by looking into Putin's soul but because Putin and his wife "loved their daughters."
His rather bad-tempered appearances in France with his friend Jacques Chirac produced faintly ironic, or possibly amused, responses from the French president, similar to those Bush had already received, if perhaps not registered, from his other great friend, Vladimir.
The president's final meeting was with still another great friend, Silvio, and other friends from the NATO countries, meeting in Prime Minister Berlusconi's travertine-painted plywood edifices, built for the occasion on a secure military air base near Rome. There were 15,000 troops and police present, to protect NATO and Bush from Al Qaeda and the rogue states.
Copyright 2002 International Herald Tribune