On his first post-Iraq War foreign excursion, President George W. Bush thanked Poles, greeted his "good friend" Vladimir Putin, and maintained photo-op civility with French President Jacques Chirac at the G8 Summit in Evian, France. Off to Egypt, the President lectured Israelis and Palestinians.
By talking, not listening, Bush may have missed the sense of agitation, anger and distance from America.
At issue is the fundamentally different way the United States administration sees the world.exemplified by Iraq where US and UK forces invaded, changed a regime and occupied a country. For most other governments and peoples, this chapter of American foreign policy evinces a terribly wrong turn taken by the United States and the current administration. For George W. Bush, this was victory and personal retribution.
But, the victory rings hollow. A real war - that which commenced for America on 9/11 - continues on many fronts. Its outcome is uncertain. In Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and elsewhere, globalized terrorists have demonstrated their capacities to kill and destabilize.
At the same time, imminent threats to the US and to other democratic societies expand daily. These include, but are not limited to, nuclear-armed dictatorships, pervasive global economic weakness, accumulating environmental degradation, and inequalities that divide the world's regions as never before. About these threats, were he listening, Bush may have heard consensus at all of his stops.
For Iraq's so-called liberation, more than one hundred young Americans and scores of British soldiers sacrificed their lives. Thousands of Iraqis met the same fate. But, occupation has brought Iraqi citizens less liberation than chaos. Efforts to impose Pentagon-decreed rule, headed by Ahmed Chalebi or others acceptable to US conservatives, will lead to protest, rejection and eventually rebellion.
Americans are not welcome in Iraq, except among Kurds. The Shia, principally in Iraq's south and east, remain embittered from 1991 when US encouragement to revolt against Saddam after the first Gulf War led to suppression and the slaughter of thousands. Now, Teheran has more influence, and the appeal of fundamentalist theocratic authority and hatred of the West gain with each week.
The Central Intelligence Agency assessments made Iraq's complexities clear long before the war. The Pentagon vigorously asserted that its information was better, and that its war plans were appropriate. Those plans almost went awry, and would have been disastrous had the Iraqis been better prepared for defensive tactics or, worse yet, had any credible air power. Yet, the aftermath of war is panning out very much as pessimists anticipated.
A democratic, unified Iraq is illusory. Stability will be maintained only to the degree that US troops remain in very large numbers for a long time, doing all of the things that the Pentagon says it hates to do
- police work and nation-building. During that period, our troops certainly will be subjected to continuing terrorist attacks and public abuse.
Are we safer today after combat in Iraq? That the United States and Britain have fewer friends after occupying Iraq is understating the negative consequences of such a victory. By dismembering NATO and disparaging the United Nations, Washington accrued worldwide opprobrium. Even in countries that diplomatically supported the Bush administration viewpoint (e.g., Spain, Italy, Philippines, Japan), public opinion was and remains solidly against the US action.
Unquestionable, too, is a far greater burden on the U.S. military and the American taxpayer. One eighth of our active duty armed forces will be tied down in Iraq. And, for the foreseeable future, US citizens will be paying for Iraqi bureaucrats, police, and public services - while one of our principal foes, Al Q'aeda, is unvanquished.
In a strategic context, worldwide antipathy towards the US grew with battlefield victories, while global terror has neither abated nor has its organizational core been disrupted. With weapons of mass destruction and many Iraqi leaders still missing, and liberation seemingly equated with anarchic lawlessness, not democracy, little of the Bush Administration's rationale for war remains intact.
Perhaps, then, Iraq is best seen as a costly detour - one that the Bush Administration felt compelled to take because the fight against Al Q'aeda was not reaping clear-cut success. The US must regain its focus and direction. Security - the key role of any presidency and any government - cannot be pursued solely by military capacities, even those of the United States. Coalitions of the willing, central to the Bush administration's strategy of pre-emption, cannot replace the legitimacy of multilateral institutions; only the latter have the stronger bonds of shared norms, rather than transient interlocking interests, and only the latter offer the imprimatur of legality. Institutions and policies that abate threats - reducing over time the genesis of hatred and violence - ought to be a central component of American global policy.
Until this president or his successor makes such a course correction, hollow victories will recur and the United States will find itself increasingly alone. And, when such pseudo triumphs accumulate - thinking we've won when we've lost - a real defeat could be not far behind.
Daniel N. Nelson, Ph.D. is Dean of Arts & Sciences at the University of New Haven and editor-in-chief of International Politics. He has served previously in the Department of State and Defense, and on Capitol Hill.