Published on Saturday, October 26, 2002 by the International Herald Tribune
America's Global Hegemony
No One Elected Bush to Attack Iraq
by William Pfaff
PARIS The 21st-century destiny of the United States has proved to be global hegemony, but is this to be an hegemony well assumed and acknowledged as legitimate, or is it to be illegitimate, resented, resisted and short-lived?
The question is urgent because of the decision made early in the Bush administration to break with the traditional multilateralism of American policy.
George W. Bush's government from the start was deliberately and provocatively hostile to treaties constraining American freedom of action, arms limitation and environmental agreements, and the rest of the apparatus of international constraint, cooperation and international law that previous American administrations had helped to construct since 1945.
The hawkish coven of neoconservatives who supply the administration's thinking seems to have believed collaboration in any of this an unmanly stance for the nation they now led. They preferred unilateral action, and against Iraq, war.
Yet no one elected this war party. The country elected George W. Bush, who promised that the United States would conduct a "humble" foreign policy that would respect the good opinion of mankind.
Had he offered the electorate a platform incorporating the views of the leading figures of the neoconservative camp, who now make foreign policy for him, one may think that he would have lost in more states than Florida.
The crucial element being ignored is that any hegemonic power must be perceived as legitimate if it is to succeed in the long term.
After World War II, U.S. leadership of the West was consensual. Not everyone agreed with all that the United States did, but even those hostile to specific U.S. initiatives or policies acknowledged that the American position was defensible and principled, and they respected its overall stance.
The much-cited example of this was General Charles de Gaulle, who ousted NATO bases from France and opposed the United States on many issues but stood with it in such crises as the Cuban missile confrontation.
Today's leadership in Washington appears to believe that the legitimacy of its power will be established by making war on rogue and failed states, and by bullying the rest. The opinions of America's allies of the past half century are dismissed as those of societies whose nerve has failed and who have abandoned a responsible and effective role in international affairs and can be ignored.
Washington has just given an ultimatum to the United Nations Security Council to approve its resolution on disarming Iraq or make itself "irrelevant." Its logic is that relevance for the Security Council exists in conforming to what the United States demands.
A clear theme in this administration's policy is that the United States neither needs nor particularly wants the good opinion of the states it dominates.
It is indifferent to the legitimacy provided by the respect of other peoples. It is content to rest its claim to international leadership on the exercise of its power.
That certainly is not what the electorate voted for two years ago. It is why Bush will almost certainly be a one-term president.
Copyright © 2002 the International Herald Tribune