Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Good Will Squandered

(This article was originally written in 2002)

In the nearly six months that has passed since September 11, what is remarkable is how quickly the Bush administration has squandered the immense good will felt by the peoples of the world toward Americans in the immediate aftermath of the terror attacks. Famously, the day after the attacks, Le Monde, the influential Paris daily, carried the headline "We are all Americans." These days, anxiety about what the Bush administration will do next has replaced sympathy as the predominant emotion in many countries.

The respected British newspaper, the Observer, reported a few days ago that George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair will meet in Washington in April to set plans for a military assault on Iraq. "The meeting will be to finalize Phase Two of the war against terrorism," a senior official in Blair’s office was quoted as saying. "Action against Iraq will be at the top of the agenda."

Although Blair remains on side with Washington despite rising unease about his position in Britain, other Europeans have moved very far from their initially warm support for Washington’s war on terrorism. For their part, in the aftermath of the rapid, relatively low cost, military victory in Afghanistan, the Bush administration and a vast number of Americans appear to have concluded that allies, particularly those who are opinionated, are dispensable.

When French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine critiqued George W. Bush’s "Axis of Evil" label for Iraq, Iran and North Korea as "simplistic", Secretary of State Colin Powell replied that his French counterpart was suffering an attack of "the vapors". President Bush appeared to welcome the differences between U.S. and European attitudes toward his concept of the "axis of evil". He was reported to be fuming in private about weak-kneed "European elites" and Arab leaders, who he believed, lacked the courage to stand up to regimes that could someday provide terrorists with nuclear or biological weapons.

The dismissive tone toward the Europeans was based on the Bush administration’s calculation that the U.S. could deal with its foes in the world, with or without the support of its allies. The thinking behind the tone was revealed in a luncheon speech delivered by Vice President Dick Cheney to the Council on Foreign Relations. Cheney, who had been out of public view much of the time after September 11 told the Council: "America has friends and allies in this cause, but only we can lead it. Only we can rally the world in a task of this complexity against an enemy so elusive and so resourceful. The United States and only the United States can see this effort through to victory."

The administration’s stance reflected a muscular triumphalism that is widespread in American thinking in the aftermath of the military assault on Afghanistan. "America won the Cold War," wrote columnist Charles Krauthammer in the Washington Post "pocketed Poland and Hungary and the Czech Republic as door prizes, then proceeded to pulverize Serbia and Afghanistan and, en passant, highlight Europe’s irrelevance with a display of vast military superiority. We rule the world culturally, economically, diplomatically and militarily as no one has since the Roman Empire."

Steps taken in the last few months reveal the extent to which unilateralism is in and allies are out in the White House. In November, Washington announced that the U.S. would abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. Then came Bush’s decision to seek $48 billion in added spending on the military next year (more than Russia’s total military budget) to be added to $325 billion already allocated by Congress.

Finally, there was the adoption of the "Axis of Evil" doctrine. The label signalled a dramatic widening of the Bush approach to the war against global terror from that first conveyed in the president’s speech to Congress the week after September 11. Initially the doctrine pointed to a lengthy struggle against globally significant terrorist movements and the states that harboured them. With the "Axis of Evil" thesis, however, it appeared that states hostile to the United States that possessed or aspired to possess weapons of mass destruction could be legitimate targets for pre-emptive military strikes by the United States. Any demonstrated connection to September 11 no longer seemed to matter.

What has truly unnerved European governments is that the Bush administration has twisted the right of nations to self-defence into the right of Washington to attack countries on the ground that they may pose a future threat to the United States. What the Europeans fear is that this "rogue" notion completely undermines international law, returning the world to the law of the jungle.

Joschka Fischer, Germany’s Foreign Minister spoke for many, and not just Europeans, when he warned Washington that "an alliance partnership among free democrats can’t be reduced to submission. Alliance partners are not satellites."

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