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New World Disorder

they might have received firmer allegiance to the painful process of reform. As it has developed, reform sometimes has become increasingly equated with chaos and disorder rather than economic progress, with the result that reformers have occasionally been replaced by neo-communists promising order and stability.

These prophetic words were written before the collapse of the Russian economy and the free fall of the ruble. What neither Scowcroft nor Bush admits is that the profligacy of the Reagan years deprived Washington of such funds. And even if funds were available, the shortsighted, neoisolationist leaders of Bush’s own party would have resisted any serious expenditure on foreign assistance.


The reuniting of Germany was certainly made smoother by Bush’s willingness to follow Kohl’s lead, notwithstanding Thatcher’s fears that reunification would cause trouble for Gorbachev. In fact, the Russian public was far less concerned about German reunification than it was about the issue of economic and social reforms in Russia itself. What really worried Baker and Bush, and West German foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and Helmut Kohl as well, was whether a reunited Germany would be able to stay in NATO. Fear of a neutral Germany, which had haunted the Western allies since the founding of the Federal Republic in 1949, now also became the overriding obsession of Gorbachev, who worried that an independent, unified Germany would eventually pose a threat to the USSR.

That Germany had to accept its postwar boundaries was taken for granted: Gorbachev could accept nothing else. Thatcher, Bush writes, believed that a reunited Germany would dominate Europe. Mitterrand said in reply that the only way to prevent German domination was to anchor Germany within NATO and the European Community.

Bush sided with Mitterrand. By February 1990 he was insisting that a reunified Germany be a member of NATO. To persuade the Russians that this was in their interest, Baker explained to Gorbachev in Moscow in May 1990 that it was important to keep Germany in NATO, “not out of any fear of the Soviet Union,” but as reinsurance against any resurgence of a German military threat to Western Europe or Russia. These words echoed the remark of Lord Ismay, the first secretary-general of NATO, who famously said that NATO was founded not only to keep Russia out but also to keep Germany down.

Gorbachev’s reluctance to accept a unified Germany as part of NATO sprang from his fear of critics within the Soviet military establishment. Having accepted the need for an American presence in Europe, he had little room for maneuver. Nonetheless, in a summit meeting in Washington in May 1990, Gorbachev finally accepted the American position: all countries had a right to choose their alliances, and if a united Germany chose to be in NATO, no other country had a right to block it. Scowcroft and Bush write that Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, the former chief of the Soviet General Staff and now Gorbachev’s principal military adviser, who was accompanying Gorbachev to Washington, was visibly appalled at Gorbachev’s concession.

The deal over Germany’s membership in NATO was finally concluded at a meeting between Gorbachev and Kohl at Gorbachev’s house in Stavropol in July. Kohl agreed to assume all of East Germany’s economic obligations to Moscow, provide East Germany a three-billion-dollar credit to subsidize German unity, and pay the costs of Soviet troops in East Germany during the transition period. By undertaking such commitments, and making Eastern currency equivalent to Western deutschmarks, Kohl added hugely to the financial burden West Germany would assume. The immense costs of reunification resulted in high interest rates on German bonds, forcing other European countries to raise their interest rates in turn. Germany’s European partners therefore paid a heavy price for unification. Bush and Scowcroft don’t say so, but one consequence of Kohl’s arrangements was high European unemployment—particularly in France—for the next seven years. Unlike the Americans, however, the Germans had the money available to buy off the Russians.

The cold war truly ended when the Germans struck a financial deal with the Soviets and the Kremlin accepted a united Germany within NATO, agreeing that German NATO forces—but not nuclear weapons—could be stationed in eastern Germany. Scowcroft is probably right in saying that Gorbachev finally decided that “an unattached Germany on the loose in Central Europe may have looked to him worse than one embedded in NATO.”

The abortive coup against the Soviet leader in August 1991 was a desperate attempt by the right wing to prevent the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and when Boris Yeltsin stagily mounted a tank to call for the restoration of the “legally elected organs of power,” his eventual ascent to power was all but assured. His willingness to dismantle the Soviet Union as such was another turning point in the politics of the cold war.

The Bush foreign policy apparat was divided over the breakup of the USSR. Baker believed a “peaceful” dissolution to be in America’s interest. But Bush was wary of “a number of independent republics” with “a weak center.” Today, the unacknowledged policy of the Clinton administration is to allow Russia a sphere of influence on the southern rim of the former Soviet Union. But the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991 was decidedly a mixed blessing: the new Commonwealth of Independent States—nominally a group of republics that had formerly been part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—was in reality Yeltsin’s device for destroying Gorbachev, who could not accept the end of the Union.

Could the Bush administration have done anything to save Gorbachev? To Scowcroft, Gorbachev’s “fatal flaw” was his inability to make tough decisions and then stick with them. He “shrank from the task” of “selecting and enforcing a stern program of economic reform.” The same of course has turned out to be true of Yeltsin, notwithstanding his rhetoric. What Scowcroft does not say is that Gorbachev and his allies were doomed when the leaders of the major industrialized countries—the so-called Group of 7—refused economic aid to Russia at the London meeting in July 1991. Perhaps nothing would have worked. But the Bush administration had no cash, and the Germans were paying heavily to buy unification. In any event, the money that might have saved Gorbachev had been needed for Desert Storm—to send half a million troops and countless missiles to the Middle East to subdue the armed forces of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.


For Bush and Scowcroft, the Gulf War was proof that a new world order had finally emerged. Mobilizing a military and political coalition under American leadership as the Soviet Union came to an end opened the way to American hegemony. Bush and Scowcroft write about it as if it was a splendid little war (as McKinley’s secretary of state, John Hay, described the 1898 war with Spain); it was just what America needed to recover from its Vietnam hangover. Before the actual engagement of troops, however, there were plenty of reasons to believe that the conflict would be neither splendid nor little: the size of the Iraqi armed forces posed the risk of thousands of American casualties. Nonetheless, Bush, whose ambassador to Baghdad had failed to warn Saddam Hussein that an attack on Kuwait would bring American reprisal, was determined to expel Saddam from Kuwait and destroy the Iraqi military. Moreover, he was prepared to use all the American manpower and weapons needed to accomplish these ends. He succeeded in the first aim, and failed badly in the second.

Bush soon turned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 into a moral crusade. The main strategic concern of the US—that Iraq’s attack on Kuwait might be a prelude to an assault on Saudi Arabia and control of Persian Gulf oil—was consistently played down by the President. Seeking popular support for American resistance to Saddam Hussein’s act of aggression, Bush used language that compared Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait to the situation in the Rhineland when Hitler defied the Treaty of Versailles and marched in. This time, Bush asserted, there would be no appeasement: “If history teaches us anything, it is that we must resist aggression or it will destroy our freedoms.” In a later speech he evoked the emergence of “a new world order”—“free from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace.” This Wilsonian rhetoric set the tone that he used to promote the war, calling for “a world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.”

The phrase “new world order,” we now learn, was suggested to Bush by Scowcroft while the two men were fishing for bluefish off Kennebunkport. According to Scowcroft, the President and he now believed that “the United States and the Soviet Union could, in most cases, stand together against unprovoked interstate aggression.” Scowcroft says in retrospect that the phrase “applied only to a narrow aspect of conflict—aggression between states,” and was subsequently “broadened beyond recognition.” But if this was the case, then Bush has only himself to blame. Heightened rhetoric usually leads to misunderstanding. Bush and Scowcroft never made clear their more limited goals in the region—not only to eject Iraq’s force from Kuwait and cripple his elite Republican Guard, but also to preserve Iraq as a counterweight to Iran. The closest any cabinet member came to acknowl-edging the heart of the matter was James Baker’s press conference in Bermuda on November 13, 1990, when he explained the economic stakes of Iraq’s invasion for the United States by saying the issue was “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

Although Bush mentioned the economic threat of Saddam’s control of the Gulf in his August speech, neither he nor Scowcroft had put forward strongly enough what Scowcroft now describes as the “core of our argument,” which rested on “preserving the balance of power in the Gulf, opposing unprovoked international aggression, and ensuring that no hostile regional power could hold hostage much of the world’s oil supply.” At the same time Scowcroft writes rather grandiosely of the implications of this strategy for the future of the US. He writes that from the moment he and Bush came up with the Wilsonian phrase “new world order,” their “premise” was that the United States “henceforth would be obligated to lead the world community to an unprecedented degree” as it attempted “to pursue our national interests.”

To exert American leadership, however, did not necessarily mean to act unilaterally. Like Truman and Acheson when they decided to intervene in Korea in 1950, Bush and Scowcroft sought the UN’s blessing for their actions; this was considered “politically desirable.” But—also like Truman and Acheson—“never did we think that without its blessing we could not or would not intervene.” Echoing Richard Nixon, who feared that the United States, were it not to use force in Cambodia, would appear as a “pitiful helpless giant,” Bush wrote in his diary for November 28, 1990: “Our role as a world leader will once again be reaffirmed, but if we compromise and if we fail, we would be reduced to total impotence, and that is not going to happen. I don’t care if I have one vote in the Congress. That will not happen.”

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