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.

This is precisely what was wrong with the other option: negotiation. It is true that the Bush administration showed no real desire to achieve a compromise; it was deeply suspicious of the “Arab solution,” involving a less than total Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, that King Hussein and President Mubarak advocated in early August; Bush apparently thought that a negotiated withdrawal would be a “nightmare scenario.”6 A careful reconstruction of Saddam Hussein’s own moves,7 however, does not convince one that he himself was ever eager for such a deal, especially not after the arrival of US forces in Saudi Arabia and his condemnation by a majority of Arab states at their summit meeting in early August. All the bargains he did suggest would have left him the political winner. It takes two to make a deal and neither party was willing; each side, in fact, spent a great deal of time, up to January 15, rejecting proposals made by self-appointed intermediaries.

Many mysteries remain, especially on the Iraqi side;8 it is clear that Saddam Hussein miscalculated the American reaction as well as that of the Saudis and other Arabs, but it is still not certain whether the invasion of Kuwait was an impulsive move followed by blustery improvisations in which Saddam Hussein trapped himself, or a calculated operation whose effects—a war—he had considered, even though he made a huge mistake about its outcome. If he had really wanted to get out of the trap, even the distaste of the Bush administration for a deal and its determination to humiliate him could not have prevented him from doing so. Just as he made a sudden concession to Iran of the territorial gains he had achieved in the Iran-Iraq war, he could have avoided an attack by pulling most of his troops out of Kuwait.

Another line of criticism concerns the “policy of minimum candor”9 followed by Bush throughout the crisis. He and his closest advisers seem to have decided very early in August to expel Saddam Hussein forcibly from Kuwait, and yet even Colin Powell thought for a while that the US would not go to war for Kuwait.10 The Bush administration exaggerated the danger of an Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia in order to obtain Saudi consent to American troop deployment (although how much persuasion King Fahd actually needed remains another mystery).11

These deployments were presented as defensive long after General Schwarzkopf, prodded by Powell, had started to prepare an offensive operation. Even though the President made a resounding statement about the occupation of Kuwait—“This will not stand”—on August 5, he did not announce the offensive buildup until after the mid-term election, on November 8. He delayed making a request for support from Congress until the House and Senate had very little choice, at the last minute before the war. The US goal gradually escalated from the protection of Saudi Arabia, to the liberation of Kuwait, to the crippling of Saddam’s war potential. Saddam’s army was described as much more powerful than officials must have known it was.12 All this is true, and deserves to be criticized; so do the ways in which the press and television were controlled and neutralized by the military during the war.13 A good Machiavellian would answer that once a goal is agreed on as a worthy one, it justifies tricky means, and that maximum candor could have backfired dangerously, especially at home.

Another case against the war has been presented with great power by Robert W. Tucker and David Hendrickson in The Imperial Temptation. 14 They offer an alternative policy, one that would have relied on sanctions insofar as the liberation of Kuwait was concerned, and would have mainly consisted in “punitive containment” through guarantees to, and air and naval protection of, Saudi Arabia.

Tucker and Hendrickson argue that the US had no binding commitment to Kuwait and that Saddam Hussein’s power was miniscule compared to Hitler’s (or to that of the Soviets in the 1950s and 1960s). It could therefore have been taken care of by rigorous containment rather than war. Even if one accepts their argument about Iran’s nuclear potential—that it could always have been kept in check by Israel or destroyed by American precision-guided weapons—they are too abrupt in dismissing any international obligation to Kuwait under the UN Charter. The annexation of one member of the UN by another is a particularly serious case of aggression; and while Tucker and Hendrickson are right to point out that minimizing violence in international affairs is no less important than resisting aggression, there may well be instances in which such resistance, undertaken in the hope of minimizing future violence, can only take the form of force.15

A more troubling line of criticism in The Imperial Temptation concerns the kind of force that was used. Theorists of the “just war,” since Augustine and Saint Thomas, distinguish the justice of going to war (jus ad bellum) from the justice of the means used in war (jus in bello). Even if, with Michael Walzer or George Weigel, 16 one acknowledges the justice of going to war for the sheik of Kuwait, the means that were used raise two different moral questions. The first concerns the air war. It is true that, unlike in the Second World War, a deliberate effort was made not to target civilians directly, and that the new technology of war reduces considerably the risk of what the antiseptic literature of warfare calls collateral damage—hitting civilians while targeting military objectives.17 Some writers have celebrated this as a triumph of the two key principles of jus in bello, discrimination (between combatants and noncombatants) and proportionality (the means should not exceed the goals).18

This is far too crude a judgment. For nothing is gained if direct attacks on people’s lives are replaced simply by deliberate attacks on all the underpinnings of civilian life. As it happens, the list of targets deemed military included almost the entire electrical power grid of Iraq as well as its communications networks and most of its water and sewage systems. Thus the bombing resulted in a major health crisis in the country, not to mention the environmental disaster in Kuwait, “the biggest oil spill in history,”19 to which both sides contributed. And there was in fact serious “collateral damage,” when old-style weapons missed their targets or when a targeted shelter turned out to be used by civilians.20

The second moral issue is that of the so-called “turkey shoot” of fleeing Iraqi soldiers at the end of the ground war. Killing soldiers is accepted under the jus in bello, but is this still right when the soldiers are neither volunteers nor mercenaries but the forcibly drafted cannon fodder of a tyrant and plainly in full flight from an overwhelming enemy? One might reply that this criticism is often made by people who, at the same time, deplore that Saddam Hussein was left with enough soldiers to crush his internal enemies. But the loyal soldiers he used to restore his power were not those who were fleeing Kuwait and who might have been captured rather than slaughtered during their rout.

But the main trouble with celebrating either the morality or the success of the war is that—like just war theory itself—it neglects both what happened before and what happened after the period of crisis. Just as much as World War II, the Gulf War was, to use Churchill’s words, an unnecessary war, which only became “necessary” because of the very mistakes made by those who, having tolerated and even encouraged the growth of a monster, had to fight him in order not to be further damaged by their creation. The record of American policy toward Iraq between the end of the Iraq-Iran war in 1988—a war in which the US at times supported both sides, and later fully tilted toward Iraq out of an understandable fear of Iran, while remaining willfully blind to Saddam Hussein’s crimes, methods, and goals—and August 2, 1990, is beginning to be known.21 Two features stand out.

The first is that the US sent remarkably mixed signals to the Iraqi dictator. The Bush administration was not alone in contributing to his power. Still, sensitive military technology and intelligence information were sent to Iraq even after 1988 (despite some Pentagon objections, but under pressure from the Commerce and State Departments). The Atlanta branch of the Italian Banco Nazionale del Lavoro helped Iraq “obtain billions of dollars in loans from the US,”22 an episode that deserves further investigation, and the administration opposed the attempt by Congress to impose sanctions on Iraq for its violations of human rights (the Reagan administration had been equally protective in 1988, after Saddam’s use of chemical weapons against the Kurds).23 In January 1990, the President signed an executive order certifying the necessity to continue providing Iraq with loan guarantees. This policy of friendship, aimed at “moderating” Iraq, was the one the hapless Ambassador Glaspie was trying to carry out when she assured Saddam Hussein shortly before his invasion that the US was neutral in the dispute between Iraq and Kuwait.

On the other hand, the US approved some steps against Iraq. There was the much talked about Voice of America editorial of February 15, 1990, which criticized the human rights record and the brutality of the Iraqi regime, the Administration’s blocking of the sale of advanced furnaces to Iraq,24 and the continuing American presence (the CIA in Kuwait, advisers in Saudi Arabia) in countries that had increasingly hostile relations with Iraq.25

In the days before the invasion of Kuwait, American statements ranged from April Glaspie’s soothing remarks to Saddam Hussein and Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly’s plea for more trade with Iraq and denial of any obligation to defend Kuwait, to a contradictory statement by the Secretary of Defense. The Kuwaitis were themselves probably encouraged by US diplomats to resist Iraq’s demands.26

Saddam Hussein seems to have derived from these mixed messages an equally mixed conclusion. On the one hand, he became convinced that the US was out to undermine his regime and to check his power at a time when he faced formidable financial difficulties as a result of the Iran-Iraq war; he expressed his distrust of the US and verbally attacked American imperialism and alleged American-Israeli plots in several Arab summits in 1990.27 On the other hand he also convinced himself that he could defy the American imperialists, because they knew nothing about the Arabs, and would not have the stomach to fight a protracted and bloody war. “His expectation that the US sought to destroy him became a self-fulfilling prophecy,”28 because he underestimated the reactions, determination, and formidable power of American opponents angered by the hostility of a man they had hoped to pacify by trade and friendly gestures. A mixture of appeasement and distaste on the American side resulted in failure to deter Saddam, and, on Saddam’s part, a will to confront Bush: it was the worst of both worlds.

The incoherent nature of American policy in the Gulf region before August 1990 can be explained by its second feature, its failure to pay sufficient attention to that part of the world. General Schwarzkopf tells us in his recent book that as the new Commander of Central Command (in charge of operations in the Middle East), he drew up war plans in 1989–1990 in which the old hypothesis of a Soviet invasion of the Gulf region was replaced by an Iraqi attack.29 But official policy did not reconsider relations with Iraq once the Iran-Iraq war was over, and the crisis between Iraq and Kuwait developed in July 1990 without creating any sense of urgency in Washington (partly because of reassuring messages from Mubarak and King Hussein)—even though Saddam was threatening to use force and left the possibility of force open in his famous meeting with Ambassador Glaspie. Thus if Saddam was comparable to Hitler, as Bush claimed, the Bush administration failed to recognize him for what he was, just as so many statesmen in Europe in the 1930s had failed to see the difference between Hitler and, say, Bismarck. When Bush, during the crisis, asserted that there had been nothing as important morally since World War II,30 or denounced Iraqi atrocities in Kuwait, one wonders where he was looking when earlier Iraqi atrocities had taken place, and how so evil a monster appeared so suddenly.

The other blot on Bush’s record concerns the outcome of the war. Here it was the administration that miscalculated. If Saddam Hussein was like Hitler—a charge that was used to justify the huge build-up of allied forces and the ferocity of the campaign—then the only appropriate outcome would have been his fall. Bush had hoped he could both remove him from power and avoid getting trapped in Iraq’s complex internal affairs, by inflicting on his enemy a defeat that would incite the Iraqi military to eliminate him without any further change in Iraq’s political and social system. He invited the Iraqi people and military to revolt against Saddam, but he had no intention of supporting a popular uprising. When the Kurds in the north and the Shiites in the south tried to oppose him, the rebellion (left to its own devices) actually helped Saddam consolidate his battered power, and he crushed his enemies with the force and weapons he still had, among others the attack helicopters that the politically naive General Schwarzkopf had allowed him to use, accepting the claims of Saddam’s generals that they were needed for “civilian” purposes.31 In drafting the terms of Saddam’s capitulation, the Security Council omitted any reference to human rights and minorities.32 Only British and French pressure, as well as Turkish protests against the flood of Kurdish refugees, led Bush to provide, belatedly, some military protection to the Kurds. Domestic criticism a year later led him to extend a more limited form of partial protection to the Shiites.

This miserable story—which includes the continuing mistreatment of the Kurds and Shiites by Saddam—points to a genuine dilemma. If the Gulf War were a traditional conflict aimed at restoring the territorial status quo and at curbing Iraq’s dangerous power, then the US would now be faced with the risk of having to deal in the future with the same Saddam Hussein whose methods and designs had led to the crisis, and who could be counted on to try to build up new resources for revenge (as Hitler had done against the treaty of Versailles). Indeed, this risk was compounded by the fact that he had sent into Kuwait far fewer forces than the allies thought, and that some four-and-a-half of his divisions in the war zone still managed to escape.33 In this respect, the decision in Washington to call for a cease-fire after a “hundred hour war” and Schwarzkopf’s preoccupation with minimizing allied casualties are open to criticism. 34

A different dilemma arises if Bush and the allies wanted to go to the root of the trouble: Saddam’s designs and methods, which did not distinguish between brutality and repression at home, and terror and aggression outside (whereas, his enemy Assad, in Syria, knew how to keep his two fronts distinct, and, abroad, pursued limited goals—in Lebanon—with sly and stealthy methods). In that case the US and whatever allies it could muster would have had to do much more. At a minimum, they would have had to capture and dismantle not merely most of the forces deployed in and around Kuwait, but most of Saddam’s army and high command, and they would have had to seize and destroy the country’s stock of heavy weapons and production of weapons of mass destruction. The UN, despite its resolutions and inspections, still has not achieved this last goal.

More plausible would have been the coalition strategy advocated by Tucker and Hendrickson35—but only as an alternative to their preferred strategy of containment—and by members of the Iraqi opposition abroad: to aim at the removal of Saddam and of his regime and the formation of a new Iraqi government, respectful of human rights. They argue that such a course would have allowed for a much less fierce military strategy, one which would not have required the destruction of the civilian infrastructure and the mass killing of frontline soldiers because it would have concentrated on the seizure of Baghdad, not on Kuwait and southern Iraq.

Tucker and Hendrickson recognize that most of America’s allies, especially the Saudis and the Turks, would have balked at this strategy. And it also seems true that the desire to exorcise the humiliation of Vietnam which, as they show, dominated official strategy, led Bush and his team to fear, above all, being trapped in Baghdad. They wanted, in the words of A Clock-work Orange, a quick in-out. Schwarzkopf confirms that “the Baghdad option” was never considered.36 The Arabs’ forces refused even to enter Iraqi territory during the war; they would have been more reluctant still to follow the US all the way to the capital, although many Arab leaders would have been relieved if Saddam had fallen.

General Schwarzkopf argues that only the British would have joined the US in going to Baghdad if he had continued the fighting; but he never entertained the different strategy concentrating on Baghdad that Tucker and Hendrickson propose. If it had been followed it seems likely that the US, as the dominant member of the coalition, could have overcome the reluctance of most of its allies. Unlike in Vietnam, the risks of a protracted war and of popular resistance—that is, of a military quagmire—were not high. A short occupation would have been necessary to eliminate or neutralize the regime’s military forces and highly repressive security organizations, and to put in place a new regime based on the consent of representatives of the Shiites, of the Kurds, and of anti-Saddam Sunnis. The legal cover would have been an admittedly broad interpretation of Security Council resolution 678 of November 29, 1990, which authorized “all necessary means” to “restore international peace and security in the area”; but the language did, after all, also serve as the cover for the bombing of Iraq and the crippling of its arsenal.

Bush failed to understand that the old legal barrier between external and internal affairs if often a political absurdity, whether in cases of secession, as in Yugoslavia, or when human rights violations and the crushing of minorities defy international obligations. The result of his misconceived strategy, for the moment, is a weakened Saddam and a degree of “humanitarian” protection for the Kurds. For the future, however, Saddam still has formidable means of internal repression and opportunities for manipulating other countries; and a “humanitarian” approach to political issues, while it helps the victims survive, often does little to prevent others from becoming victims, whether in Bosnia or in Iraq. The fundamental issues that Iraq posed to the Arab world are unresolved. Bush stopped the war in the way he did because of his concern for “stability”—the stability of the system of existing states. But in Iraq, as in Yugoslavia ans the former Soviet Union, and even in China, protecting the stability of states means often little more than protecting the regime in power; it fails to address domestic sources of instability that can all too easily spill over into international upheavals.

### 3.
Two qualities distinguish Bush’s diplomacy. The first is inconsistency. I have already referred to his different treatment of the aggression of Saddam and of Milosevic. In Iraq and in Haiti after the overthrow of Father Aristide, the US has been most reluctant to intervene in domestic affairs and relies on ineffectual sanctions to produce changes in governments that savagely violate human rights. But in Panama the US has no inhibition about removing by force an abusive leader, and in the Phillipines, when Mrs. Aquino was threatened by a coup in December 1989, American military assistance helped her to survive. the concern, in both these cases, was probably not so much democracy as safeguarding American influence.37 In the case of Panama, while Noriega was captured even though Saddam was not, there were many similarities with the subsequent Persian Gulf War. In “Operation Just Cause” as in Desert Storm, the civilian casualties were heavy, and in Panama the level of force used was certainly disproportionate. In both cases, the press was kept at bay. In both cases, the deeper causes of trouble and misery were left intact. Most striking of all, in both cases we had to fight, at great cost to the civilian population, leaders we ourselves had helped to stay in power , whose thugishness had often served our interests, and whose crimes or misdemeanors we knew about and abetted.38

The same kind of inconsistency marks American attitudes toward the UN. Bush wrapped himself in its mantle during the Gulf War and, in September 1992, he gave his blessing to the new secretary general’s ambitious proposals for expanding the peace-keeping role of the organization. But the US government has put little pressure on Congress to pay the UN the money the US owes in arrears, not to mention the sums Boutros Ghali’s plan would require. In relations with the European Community, we find, on the one hand, a comparable contradiction between verbal support for European integration and policies that tend to undermine it, not only, as was mentioned above, in dealing with security, but also in monetary matters (the fall of the dollar, tolerated if not encourage by the adminstration, has, by strengthening the deutschmark at the expense of all other West European currencies, contributed to the collapse of the European Monetary System). Moreover, excessive demands made by the administration for changes in the European Community’s agricultural policy (which is highly protectionist but is being gradually reformed) have contributed to blocking a new agreement on worldwide free trade, even as the administration was successfully working on a free trade zone for all of North America.

What also stands out in Bush’s record is a failure to look far into the future and to reconsider America’s role in the world after the end of the cold war. The administration has failed to address deeply threatening international issues such as population growth in the poorer countries and environmental damage. Even in the Middle East, where America’s military and economic commitment has been spectacular, little has been done to address, or to reflect upon, such long-term sources of disruption as Islamic fundamentalism, domestic social inequality and political authoritarianism (for instance in restored Kuwait, in Saudi Arabia, even in Egypt), or the fact that the biggest producers of oil, except for Iraq, are the least populated and most traditional countries. It is true that belatedly, and as a reward to the Arab members of the coalition, the administration has brought Israelis and Arabs, including the Palestinians, to the negotiating table; and it acted courageously in making the cessation of West Bank settlements a condition for guaranteeing further Israeli loans. But it has remained reluctant to take an active part in resolving the main difficulties between the different sides. Whatever progress is now occurring results primarily from the change in the Israeli government, from Assad’s reevaluation of his interests, and from Palestinian weakness. And one of the main requirements for peace in the Middle East, a curtailment of arms sales to the region, has been sacrificed to the political needs of the Bush reelection campaign.

Nor has there been any thoughtful reconsideration of America’s role in Europe or in the Far East, the other two regions of vital interests during the Cold War. NATO’s survival as a somewhat pointless tool of general reassurance contrasts with America’s increasing irrelevance to West European affairs and absence from Central and East European affairs. And while Japan still finds the American security guarantee useful, both as a shield against eventual militarism at home and as a guarantee against future troubles with China or Russia or in Korea, the US has not yet devised a coherent strategy aimed at trying to persuade Japan to move in what State Department jargon would call a constructive direction—i.e., to become a global civilian power, engaged in international institutions, rather that either a military superpower or a dominant regional power in Asia.39 Bush’s lamentable journey to Tokyo in January 1992, with his escort of overpaid and underachieving businessmen, only consolidated this view that has been spreading in Japan—that America has entered a period of decline.

The Bush administration has never made up its mind on a central issue. Did it want a new “world order” in which the US, as the winner of the cold war and only remaining superpower, would now aim at preventing the growth of any rival, as a Pentagon policy paper suggested a few months ago? Or would the strains on American resources and the need to deal with an accumulation of domestic issues require that the US become less active in foreign affairs and that costs and responsibilities be transferred to other countries? Twisting the arms of Japan and Germany led them to pay for much of the cost of the Gulf War; but this was neither the way to shake them out of their reluctance to play bigger parts in world affairs nor the way to preserve, in the long run, American supremacy.

At present, three ideologies dominate the intellectual debate on America’s role. Neo-isolationists want the US to deal only with threats to America’s physical security, political independence, and domestic liberty. they find no such threats at present, and therefore argue that the US should let other powers, and regional balances of power, take care of all the world’s woes.40 Realists such as Henry Kissinger want the US to continue to be the holder of the world balance of power, the arbiter of the main regional power groups, and the watchdog against all potential imperialistic trouble-makers. Internationalists want a greater roel for multilateral institutions and more emphasis on human needs and rights, the environment, and democracy.

All three views are flawed. The first discounts excessively the risks a world of fragmentary chaos would entail for the US, and exaggerates the ease with which it could disengage from, and transfer to others, accumulated interests and commitments. The second view, calling itself realist, neglects a major aspect of reality: the vast changes that have swept the world in the second half of the twentieth century (such as the spread of and demand for democracy) and the unwillingness of Americans to accept “the amoral and often cynical calculations of power politics.”41 (As Francis Fukuyama points out, Bush had to justify the Gulf War in terms of “world order.”) the internationalists have not thought through how democracy and human rights could be promoted in a world in which the obstacles to both remain formidable, and in which self-determination and self-government often clash with individual rights. Nor do they sufficiently take into account domestic resistance to and backlash against international institutions and commitments. (This is happening in Western Europe today.)

Ultimately, American strategy in the world will have to be a delicate combination of retrenchment, realism, and internationalism (the latter will be indispensable if one wants to begin dealing effectively with the needs, demands, and suspicions of the poorer countries). One can find elements of all three, although mainly of the second, in the Bush administration. But it has been more a matter of improvisation than a strategy, and it has been inadequate. During the campaign so far, moreover, nothing has been said to suggest that the other presidential candidates have a coherent foreign policy to offer to the public.

This Issue

November 5, 1992