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Bush Abroad

Marching in Place

by Michael Duffy, by Dan Goodgame
Simon and Schuster, 356 pp., $23.00

The Ruses for War: American Intervention Since World War II

by John Quigley
Prometheus Books, 310 pp., $24.95

Guardians of the Gulf: A History of America’s Expanding Role in the Persian Gulf

by Michael A. Palmer
Free Press, 320 pp., $24.95

The Imperial Temptation: The New World Order and America’s Purpose

by Robert W. Tucker, by David C. Hendrickson
Council on Foreign Relations Press, 228 pp., $14.95 (paper)

The Outlaw State: Saddam Hussein’s Quest for Power and the Gulf Crisis

by Elaine Sciolino
John Wiley, 352 pp., $22.95

Lines in the Sand

by Deborah Amos
Simon and Schuster, 223 pp., $21.00

Mr. Bush’s War: Adventures in the Politics of Illusion

by Stephen R. Graubard
Hill and Wang, 208 pp., $20.00

George Bush’s War

by Jean Edward Smith
Holt, 257 pp., $24.95

Sound and Fury: The Washington Punditocracy and the Collapse of American Politics

by Eric Alterman
HarperCollins, 352 pp., $23.00

The Commanders

by Bob Woodward
Pocket Books, 192 pp., $5.95 (paper)

It Doesn’t Take a Hero: The Autobiography

by General H. Norman Schwarzkopf, by Peter Petrie
Bantam Books/Linda Grey, 507 pp., $25.00

Illusions of Triumph

by Mohamed Heikal
HarperCollins, 320 pp., £16.99

Desert Shield to Desert Storm: The Second Gulf War

by Dilip Hiro
Routledge, 591 pp., $18.95 (paper)

Triumph Without Victory: The History of the Persian Gulf War

US News and World Report
Times Books, 477 pp., $25.00

Storm over Iraq

by Richard P. Hallion
Smithsonian Institution Press, 400 pp., $24.95

Needless Deaths in the Gulf: Civilian Casualties During the Air Campaign and Violations of the Laws of War

Middle East Watch/ Human Rights Watch, 402 pp., $15.00 (paper)

Ethics and the Gulf War

by Kenneth L. Vaux
Westview Press, 188 pp., $12.95 (paper)

But Was It Just? Reflections on the Morality of the Persian Gulf War

by Jean Bethke Elshtain, by Stanley Hauerwas, by Sari Nusseibeh, by Michael Walzer, by George Weigel
Doubleday, 132 pp., $15.00

Against the Fires of Hell: The Environmental Disaster of the Gulf War

by T.M. Hawley
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 208 pp., $23.95

The Fire This Time

by Ramsey Clark
Thunder’s Mouth Press, 368 pp., $21.95

Deterring Democracy

by Noam Chomsky
Hill and Wang, 421 pp., $15.00 (paper)

The Gulf War and the New World Order

edited by Haim Bresheeth, edited by Nira Yuval-Davis
Zed Books, 272 pp., $19.95 (paper)

War and the Media

by Philip M. Taylor
Manchester University Press, 338 pp., $19.95 (paper)

Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War

by John R. MacArthur
Hill and Wang, 260 pp., $20.00

The Media and the Gulf War: The Press and Democracy in Wartime

edited by Hedrick Smith
Seven Locks Press, 432 pp., $24.95

A Search for Enemies

by Ted Galen Carpenter
Cato Institute, 212 pp., $19.95 (paper)

Designing Defense for a New World Order

by Earl Ravenal
Cato Institute, 82 pp., $9.95 (paper)

Defense for a New Era: Lessons of the Persian Gulf War

by Les Aspin, by William Dickinson. the House Armed Services Committee
US Government Printing Office, 89 pp., free (paper)


The economic preoccupations of American voters have led all the presidential candidates to concentrate on domestic issues, and even less has been said about foreign affairs than during the election four years ago. However, Bush remains widely seen as having an advantage over Clinton when it comes to foreign policy. In April 1991, after the victory of the allies against Iraq, his popularity was so great that many potential Democratic opponents decided not to run. What, in fact, does the President’s record in world affairs amount to?

The Bush administration was the first in twenty years to have no overall conception of foreign policy, and it never put forward a set of goals against which its acts could be judged. The Nixon and Ford administrations were identified with Kissinger’s idea of a “stable structure of peace” and a clear strategy of Realpolitik. Carter wanted to shift from the emphasis on containment of the Soviet Union to resolving a large number of global problems, ranging from the conflict in the Middle East to underdevelopment in Africa. Reagan declared war on the Evil Empire and, after years of containment through American-led alliances, he (or his ideologues) proposed a “doctrine” that he claimed would roll back communism.1 Except for a few fleeting references to a new world order at the time of the victory in the Gulf, the Bush administration has put forward no coherent view of foreign affairs. Its goals, its definition of American interests, have to be derived from its actions—or its failure to act.

The record is dominated by two major and unexpected crises: the fall of Soviet communism and the Gulf War. When the Bush national security team came to power, some of its members, such as Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, thought that Reagan, in his last years in office, had become somewhat imprudent in his embrace of Gorbachev and in his desire to rid the world of ballistic missiles, if not of all nuclear weapons. After a few months of reflection, the administration decided that the Reagan policy was worth pursuing, and came up with the idea, or slogan (suggested by or borrowed from Shevardnadze) of “reintegrating” a reformed Soviet Union into the “world community.” Thus, as it had been for more than forty years, American foreign policy would remain directed at the other superpower, but the rivalry would be turned into a partnership in which one partner—Moscow—would increasingly adopt the idea, and accept the preferences of the senior one—Washington.

What shattered that design was the collapse of the Soviet empire in Eastern and Central Europe between August and December 1989. Suddenly the main concern was no longer guiding Gorbachev on the road to internal reform and international moderation, but the end of the division of Europe, in particular the division of Germany, and the need to reconcile the interests of a Federal Republic eager to absorb the former East Germany, and those of the Soviet Union. In reacting to the breach of the Berlin Wall Bush was as circumspect in his encouragement as he had been when he visited Poland a few months earlier.2 It was not altogether clear that his foreign policy advisers preferred the complexities and risks of a “post–cold war” world to the reassuring stability of a bipolar one.

During the year that followed, Bush never lost sight of two objectives. One was to make sure that a reunified Germany would remain within NATO and not be disrupted by the temptation of neutralization (as Henry Kissinger feared); the other was to do nothing that could undermine Gorbachev’s position. In order to help Gorbachev accept Germany’s reunification in NATO—or rather rationalize his acceptance of the inevitable—Bush got the North Atlantic Alliance’s Council to reassure Moscow by announcing a revision of its strategy and a shift of emphasis from military to political issues. Bush provided a skillful accompaniment, but the main musicians were not in Washington; they were in Bonn and in Moscow.3 Gorbachev did what few imperial leaders had ever done before: he gave up control of an empire without a fight, despite the USSR’s overwhelming military power in Eastern Europe. He succeeded in concealing for a long time the extent to which internal economic and political weakness obliged him to make such a retreat; and in doing so he managed to obtain from Bonn vast sums of money in exchange for handing over a territory and withdrawing from it an army that he no longer had the means to maintain.

Kohl quickly saw in the fall of the Honecker regime in October 1989 an opportunity not merely to obtain the reunification of the German nation, but to absorb the former East Germany into the Federal Republic and thus to consolidate his own power. While providing his allies as well as Gorbachev with all the reassurances they needed, Kohl understood that Gorbachev himself had come to see in NATO and in the European Community protection against a united Germany becoming too powerful; the Federal Republic, he concluded, therefore did not need to pay much more than money (plus a promise of a ceiling on the size of the future German army) to the country whose forces still occupied Eastern Europe. By dealing directly with Gorbachev when Gorbachev had no more cards to play, Kohl succeeded in reunifying Germany on his own terms and at his own pace. While he seriously miscalculated the costs of absorption, he also prevented the other major powers from imposing any constraints on him—other than those that he himself, like his model Adenauer, wanted for Germany, i.e., membership in NATO and the EC. Mrs. Thatcher was deeply suspicious, François Mitterrand was mildly disturbed, Bush was supportive, and the end result was, inevitably, a decline of American influence in Europe.

What followed the agreements and elections that sealed the unification of Germany during the second half of 1990 showed the limits of the kind of prudent foreign policy that Bush had so far pursued with considerable success. In the months that preceded the attempted coup against Gorbachev and the disintegration of the USSR, Bush did not press the Soviet leader too hard when Gorbachev slowed down reform, brought back old-style Communists, and cracked down on Lithuania. Nor did he provide Gorbachev with the kind of conditional large-scale assistance which, in the US, the advocates of a “grand bargain” were championing. The White House rationalized the drift in policy toward America’s former major rival by saying that things weren’t stable enough yet for aid to be useful, while US protests against repression could “destabilize” the Soviet Union further. When Bush warned the Ukraine against seceding and supported the preservation of the Yugoslav state, he and his advisers cited the same fear of “instability,” and the same dislike of “balkanization” and ethnic fragmentation. Their concerns were understandable and have been to a large degree justified by events, but they also failed to see that the old structures were too rotten to survive.

As a result, since the summer of 1991 the US has been little more than a spectator: the administration has, on the whole, limited its concerns in the former USSR to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, and it has denounced the impotence of the Europeans in Yugoslavia without—at least until early October 1992—doing anything to put an end to the bloodshed or to punish the Serbs for their expansion and atrocities (and all the while acknowledging, or boasting, that the Europeans could not in any case take military action without the consent of NATO, i.e., the US).

It is true that experts are deeply divided about what outside powers could and should do about the Bosnian tragedy, and the interests of the Europeans are in fact more affected by it than those of the US. But American passivity here offers a depressing contrast with American behavior in two other cases. In Western Europe, US officials have insisted not only on the need to preserve NATO, an alliance whose main raison d’être has vanished, but on NATO’s primacy as an instrument of European security—at a time when American forces in Europe are being reduced, when American officials and congressmen insist on the need for allies to carry more of the common burden, and when the American emphasis on NATO (the last instrument of US supremacy in Western Europe) clearly thwarts the development of the very kind of West European defense system that the French and the Germans want to build—and that Washington hypocritically says it would like to see! And, of course, in the Gulf, when Iraq invaded Kuwait, the US deployed formidable means to deter any attack on Saudi Arabia, and to expel Iraq from the territory it had annexed. No doubt the terrain in Yugoslavia is different; the conflict there began as a civil war and the stakes, for the US, are lower. Yet the contrast in treatment of aggressors is a sharp and telling one.


Was the Gulf War the finest hour of the Bush administration? If one begins the Gulf story on August 2, 1990, with Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and ends with the cease-fire at the end of February 1991, it is easy to make a case for the skill and success of the President. He realized almost at once (certainly soon after his meeting with Mrs. Thatcher at Aspen on August 3) that Saddam Hussein’s aggression could give the Iraqi leader the position he had sought for so long. He could now dominate the fragmented Arab world with threats and brute force; intimidate, if not control, the major producers of oil in the Gulf; and obtain, through his own oil resources (as well as Kuwait’s), the funds needed to become the strongest military power in the entire region.

Bush put together a remarkable coalition of diverse states that were opposed, for a great many different reasons, to Saddam Hussein’s designs. He obtained the support of the Soviet Union even though Iraq had been a major client of Moscow in the past. His refusal to censure China after the Tiananmen Square massacre paid off when China did not try to oppose the coalition. He mobilized the Security Council and obtained from it a formal seal of legitimacy for the use of force, and he achieved the kind of lopsided military victory that most of his critics (including this writer)4 and even many of his supporters had thought most unlikely. Kuwait is free of occupation, and Iraq’s war potential decimated.

What makes George Bush’s war look good is not only the success it achieved, but also the shakiness of several of the criticisms aimed at it. Many of them deal with the two alternatives to war that—officially or not—were being considered between August 2 and January 16, when the war began. One was sanctions. Many high-ranking military men (including if one believes Bob Woodward’s account,5 the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former national security adviser, Colin Powell) as well as many members of Congress, were willing to give them a longer chance; they were, indeed, hurting Iraq and reducing its economic power. It is not at all certain that, as Bush’s defenders have claimed, a longer period of sanctions without war would have led to a disintegration of the coalition, for the nations in it were held together by powerful converging interests, and there was always a risk that a war which did not go smoothly for the allies (for instance one in which Saddam Hussein would have succeeded in provoking Israel) would have been far more dangerous for the coalition’s survival. However, it is hard to believe that Saddam Hussein could have been dislodged from Kuwait by sanctions alone; at best, he might eventually have negotiated a partial retreat that would have left him with most of his power and prestige.

  1. 1

    See my Dead Ends (Ballinger, 1983), chapters 5–8 (several of which appeared in The New York Review).

  2. 2

    See Michael Duffy and Dan Goodgame, Marching in Place (Simon and Schuster, 1992), pp. 189–190; and Stephen R. Graubard, Mr. Bush’s War (Hill and Wang, 1992), pp. 85–86.

  3. 3

    See my essays “The Case for Leadership,” Foreign Policy, No. 81 (Winter 1990–1991), pp. 2,038, and “Balance, Concert, Anarchy or None of the Above,” in Gregory F. Treverton, editor, The Shape of the New Europe (Council on Foreign Relations, 1992), pp. 199–220.

  4. 4

    See “The Price of War,” The New York Review, January 6, 1991, pp. 6–10.

  5. 5

    Bob Woodward, The Commanders (Simon and Schuster, 1991; Pocket Books, 1992).

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