NYTimes.com Article: War in the Ruins of Diplomacy
Mon, 17 Mar 2003 22:37:28 -0500 (EST)
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sum of two years.
War in the Ruins of Diplomacy
March 18, 2003
America is on its way to war. President Bush has told
Saddam Hussein to depart or face attack. For Mr. Hussein,
getting rid of weapons of mass destruction is no longer an
option. Diplomacy has been dismissed. Arms inspectors,
journalists and other civilians have been advised to leave
The country now stands at a decisive turning point, not
just in regard to the Iraq crisis, but in how it means to
define its role in the post-cold-war world. President
Bush's father and then Bill Clinton worked hard to infuse
that role with America's traditions of idealism,
internationalism and multilateralism. Under George W. Bush,
however, Washington has charted a very different course.
Allies have been devalued and military force overvalued.
Now that logic is playing out in a war waged without the
compulsion of necessity, the endorsement of the United
Nations or the company of traditional allies. This page has
never wavered in the belief that Mr. Hussein must be
disarmed. Our problem is with the wrongheaded way this
administration has gone about it.
Once the fighting begins, every American will be thinking
primarily of the safety of our troops, the success of their
mission and the minimization of Iraqi civilian casualties.
It will not feel like the right time for complaints about
how America got to this point.
Today is the right time. This war crowns a period of
terrible diplomatic failure, Washington's worst in at least
a generation. The Bush administration now presides over
unprecedented American military might. What it risks
squandering is not America's power, but an essential part
of its glory.
When this administration took office just over two years
ago, expectations were different. President Bush was a
novice in international affairs, while his father had been
a master practitioner. But the new president looked to have
assembled an experienced national security team. It
included Colin Powell and Dick Cheney, who had helped build
the multinational coalition that fought the first Persian
Gulf war. Condoleezza Rice had helped manage a peaceful end
for Europe's cold war divisions. Donald Rumsfeld brought
government and international experience stretching back to
the Ford administration. This seasoned team was led by a
man who had spoken forcefully as a presidential candidate
about the need for the United States to wear its power with
humility, to reach out to its allies and not be perceived
as a bully.
But this did not turn out to be a team of steady veterans.
The hubris and mistakes that contributed to America's
current isolation began long before the attacks of Sept.
11, 2001. From the administration's first days, it turned
away from internationalism and the concerns of its European
allies by abandoning the Kyoto Protocol on global warming
and withdrawing America's signature from the treaty
establishing the International Criminal Court. Russia was
bluntly told to accept America's withdrawal from the
Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the expansion of the North
Atlantic Treaty Organization into the territory of the
former Soviet Union. In the Middle East, Washington
shortsightedly stepped backed from the worsening spiral of
violence between Israel and the Palestinians, ignoring the
pleas of Arab, Muslim and European countries. If other
nations resist American leadership today, part of the
reason lies in this unhappy history.
The Atlantic alliance is now more deeply riven than at any
time since its creation more than a half-century ago. A
promising new era of cooperation with a democratizing
Russia has been put at risk. China, whose constructive
incorporation into global affairs is crucial to the peace
of this century, has been needlessly estranged. Governments
across the Muslim world, whose cooperation is so vital to
the war against terrorism, are now warily navigating
between popular anger and American power.
The American-sponsored Security Council resolution that was
withdrawn yesterday had firm support from only four of the
council's 15 members and was opposed by major European
powers like France, Germany and Russia. Even the few
leaders who have stuck with the Bush administration, like
Tony Blair of Britain and José María Aznar of Spain, have
done so in the face of broad domestic opposition, which has
left them and their parties politically damaged.
There is no ignoring the role of Baghdad's game of
cooperation without content in this diplomatic debacle. And
France, in its zest for standing up to Washington,
succeeded mainly in sending all the wrong signals to
Baghdad. But Washington's own destructive contributions
were enormous: its shifting goals and rationales, its
increasingly arbitrary timetables, its distaste for
diplomatic give and take, its public arm-twisting and its
failure to convince most of the world of any imminent
The result is a war for a legitimate international goal
against an execrable tyranny, but one fought almost alone.
At a time when America most needs the world to see its
actions in the best possible light, they will probably be
seen in the worst. This result was neither foreordained nor
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