An unsafe world: Bush unbound?

Print edition : December 03, 2004

Ye gods, it doth amaze me,/ A man of such a feeble temper should/ So get the start of the majestic world,/ and bear the palm alone.

- Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare.

IT is a singularly unsafe world that George W. Bush created in his four years as the President of the United States of America. The American people have voted him to lead them, once again. It is unlikely that he will construe this as a mandate for change. Bush has torn apart the fabric of international law and undermined the United Nations and other international institutions. Worse, he has sought to create an international order devoid of legitimacy.

In a searing article in the China Daily on November 1, 2004, Qian Qichen, former Chinese Foreign Minister, attacked Bush's foreign policy on grounds shared by most across the globe. The U.S. was dreaming if it thought the 21st century was the American century. "The current U.S. predicament in Iraq serves as another example that when a country's superiority psychology inflates beyond its real capability, a lot of trouble can be caused. But the troubles and disasters the United States has met do not stem from the threats by others, but from its own cocksureness and arrogance."

The invasion of Iraq "has made the United States even more unpopular in the international community than its war in Vietnam. The Iraq war has also destroyed the hard-won global anti-terror coalition". It had caused a rise in terrorist activity around the globe and widened the rift between the U.S. and Europe. The U.S. strategy of pre-emptive strikes would bring insecurity and ultimately the demise of the "American empire". Washington's "anti-terror campaign has already gone beyond the scope of self-defence".

As Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee was more circumspect. But his remark on June 2, 2003, that "the world must become multi-polar again" was significant. On August 26 that year, he warned Indian Foreign Service probationers: "What has happened in Iraq can happen to us too." A Prime Minister's Office source clarified that the Prime Minister was referring to the dangers to the international order in a unipolar world. Very few are comfortable with the U.S.' predominance; fewer still with Bush's control over the U.S.' enormous power.

Lakhdar Brahimi, former Algerian Foreign Minister and U.N. Special Representative to Afghanistan, said on July 26, 2003: "The war in Iraq was useless; it caused more problems than it solved, and it brought in terrorism." Attacks on the U.S.-led forces were carried out by Al Qaeda terrorists with the support of foreign fighters as well as by people loyal to the ousted Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. But there was "a large group of Iraqis who will attack any foreign occupation force out of patriotism" - an emotion American leaders find hard to respect in others. The Iraqi government will have to prove that it was not "a puppet of the Americans, which is difficult to do when there are 150,000 foreign soldiers in the country". The same holds good for the Afghan government.

Despite its colossal failures in China and in Vietnam, the U.S. has not realised the force of nationalism. Scott Ritter, a U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq (1991-98) and author of Frontier Justice: Weapons of Mass Destruction and the Bushwhacking of America, warns: "The battle for Iraq's sovereign future is a battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people. As things stand, it appears that victory will go to the side most in tune with the reality of the Iraqi society of today: the leaders of the anti-U.S. resistance... . Regardless of the number of troops the United States puts on the ground or how long they stay there, Allawi's government is doomed to fail. The more it fails, the more it will have to rely on the United States to prop it up. The more the United States props up Allawi, the more discredited he will become...

"We will suffer a decade-long nightmare that will lead to the deaths of thousands more Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis. We will witness the creation of a viable and dangerous anti-American movement in Iraq that will one day watch as American troops unilaterally withdraw from Iraq every bit as ignominiously as Israel did from Lebanon" (International Herald Tribune, July 23, 2004). Judging by past form, Bush will try to crush the revolt and incur greater odium.

(From left) Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, Secretary of State Colin Powell, President George Bush, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and FBI Director Robert Mueller. A file photograph.-STEPHEN JAFFE/ AFP

These three books make a timely appearance. America Unbound explains how Bush brought about a revolution in U.S. foreign policy. Hoodwinked documents the lies he and his associates, especially his Vice-President Dick Cheney, told their people and the world. The last bears a sub-title, which reflects the mentality that the "revolution" created in many minds: "Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between the United States and its Enemies". It reveals such "secrets" as "a covert night operation in which the U.S. gained access to Pakistan's nuclear facilities at the height of the India-Pakistan nuclear scare" (2001-02) and a secret U.N.-Iran pact on a Shiite Iraq on which the U.S. reneged.

Of all the books that expound the New Look in U.S. foreign policy, America Unbound has been rightly acclaimed as the best. Its authors are academics who served on the staff of Clinton's National Security Council and now hold high positions in think tanks. The research is thorough; analysis is incisive, and the approach fair to the point of being generous to Bush. That makes their criticism of Bush all the more telling. Their careful record of the policy debate alone serves to make the book a reliable work of reference.

They write: "Bush had set in motion a revolution in America foreign policy. It was not a revolution in America's goals abroad, but rather in how to achieve them. In his first thirty months in office, he discarded or redefined many of the key principles governing the way the United States should act overseas. He relied on the unilateral exercise of American power rather than on international law and institutions to get his way. He championed a proactive doctrine of pre-emption and de-emphasised the reactive strategies of deterrence and containment. He promoted forceful interdiction, pre-emptive strikes and missile defences as means to counter the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and he downplayed America's traditional support for treaty-based non-proliferation regimes. He preferred regime change to direct negotiations with countries and leaders that he loathed. He depended on ad hoc coalitions of the willing to gain support abroad and ignored permanent alliances. He retreated from America's decades-long policy of backing European integration and instead exploited Europe's internal divisions... . By rewriting the rules of America's engagement in the world, the man who had been dismissed throughout his political career as a lightweight left an indelible mark on politics at home and abroad."

Change was bought at a terrible cost. "American troops in Iraq found themselves embroiled in what had all the makings of guerilla war. Anger had swelled overseas at what was seen as an arrogant and hypocritical America. Several close allies spoke openly about how to constrain America rather than how best to work with it."

Time there was when President John Quincy Adams said on July 4, 1822, that while 1821 America applauds those who fight for liberty and independence, "but she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is a well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own". America stuck to its own business not merely for pragmatic reasons, but because to do otherwise would repudiate its special moral claim. "The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force." Adams warned: "She might become the dictatress of the world. She would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit." The U.S. was then an inconsequential agrarian country of 23 States. By the end of the century, it became an industrial colossus. The authors trace the changes that newly acquired power instilled in American thinking.

Even at the best of times, the U.S. chafed at the curbs that alliances entailed. The end of the Cold War opened new vistas of unilateral ventures. Experience in Kosovo gave an edge to the new thinking. A crop of columnists grew, advocating unilateralism. The latent streak of militarism, never far beneath the surface, became overt and assertive.

The Bush revolution in foreign policy rests broadly on two beliefs. "The first was that in a dangerous world the best - if not the only - way to ensure America's security was to shed the constraints imposed by friends, allies, and international institutions... . The second belief was that an America unbound should use its strength to change the status quo in the world."

Pre-emption was coupled with unilateralism. The U.S. "should be prepared to act not just pre-emptively against imminent threats, but also preventively against potential threats" (emphasis added, throughout). It alone would be the judge of the urgency and gravity of that potential. A third element was "to produce regime changes in rogue states". The authors reject the theory that Bush was a puppet in the hands of neo-conservatives. "George Bush led his own revolution."

They provide brief bio-data of his chief associates. They fed him with the facts. He never allowed the facts to "confuse" him in his beliefs. They were his own. Criticism of his ignorance of the facts or of grammar missed this point. "Nobody needs to tell me what to believe," he said on the campaign trail in 2000. "But I do need somebody to tell me where Kosovo is." To help him locate Kosovo, Bush assembled a group of eight Republican experts, nicknamed the Vulcans, to tutor him on world affairs. It was drawn mostly from people who had served in the third and fourth tiers of his father's administration. Arrogance in the erudite is unpleasant and corrosive in the ignorant, it is repulsive and self-destructive.

They were Condoleeza Rice, who became National Security Adviser, Paul Wolfowitz; Defence Secretary, Richard Armitage; Deputy Secretary of State - a loyal friend of Secretary Colin Powell who differed with the others; Robert Blackwill, Ambassador to India; Stephen Hadley, Deputy to Rice; Richard Perle of the Reagan era; Undersecretary of Defence and Comptroller Dov Zakheim and Trade Representative Robert Zoellick. Bush's speeches during the election campaign in 2000 gave little indication of his thinking.

As the authors recall, hegemonist arguments were updated in the early 1990s after the Soviet Union's collapse. "An initial contribution was a 1992 Pentagon study prepared for Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz. The study, according to a draft leaked to The New York Times, maintained that U.S. national security policy after the Cold War should seek to transform the unipolar moment into a unipolar era by precluding "the emergence of any potential future global competitor" (read China).

The authors plead too much when they write: "Bush may not have spent any time consciously trying to develop a philosophy about foreign affairs. However, a lifetime of experience had left deeply formed beliefs - instincts might be more precise - about how the world works and, just as important, how it does not. In that respect, Bush was a bit like Moliere's M. Jourdain, who was surprised to discover he had been speaking prose his whole life. The fact that Bush could not translate his gut instincts into a form that would please political science Ph.Ds really did not matter." This is absurdly apologetic.

Conduct of foreign policy does not require erudition; but it does require understanding, maturity, patience, and a measure of tentativeness. What do the "hegemonists" believe? The authors sum up their credo in five profound propositions - the U.S. lives in a dangerous world; it must pursue its own self-interests; it must lead the rest just as Cheney "persuaded" Saudi Arabia in 2000 to accept U.S. troops on its soil, multilateral accord and institution "are neither essential nor necessarily conducive to American interests" and lastly the U.S. is "a unique, great power and others see it as such". None of the team had experience in dealing with China. Blackwill had advertised his ignorance of Asia and indeed of India particularly in his writings, before he came to India. Rice, the Soviet "expert", opined famously at the end of 2000 that Russia was "a threat to the west". She scoffed at nation building - the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to Kindergarten", a specimen of her debating tactics. Others were as arrogant and as ignorant. Dick Cheney began his "study" of Islam and the Arab world after 9/11. He met "scholars such as Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami", two of the most discredited names among scholars on the subject because of their unconcealed hostility towards Islam and the Arabs. Edward Said despised them. So did many others.

The authors fully confirm Richard Clarke's version that the Bush administration ignored Al Qaeda and terrorism before 9/11. Rice "effectively demoted" him. 9/11 simply confirmed Bush in his view of the world. Initially, he "took refuge in the world's embrace" only to spurn it. North Atlantic Treat Organisation (NATO) allies rushed to invoke Article 5 of the 1949 Treaty. The U.N. Security Council acted swiftly. But the U.S. "shunned offers of help from its allies" bar Britain and Australia, in waging war on Afghanistan.

Rice kicked herself for not having addressed an elementary question Bush asked her on October 4, 2001, shortly before he attacked Afghanistan. "Who will run the country?"

On September 11, 2004, the National Security Archive (NSA) put out its Electronic Briefing Book No.114 as part IV of The Taliban File. It comprised 16 documents, obtained through the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and is ably edited by Barbara Elias with useful prefatory notes. The NSA is a dedicated non-governmental organisation no-profit centre and a library of documents on security issues.

A document records a source, name deleted, telling U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, William B. Milam, on October 7, 1998: "The Taliban want to rid themselves of terrorist Osama bin Laden. Described three options - the second option was strongly intimated - on how to handle the issue: (1) A Taliban proposal that a combined Afghan/Saudi Committee of Clerics judge bin Laden; (2) The possibility of paying off the Taliban to expel bin Laden; and (3) A Taliban court judging bin Laden based on complaints from people who suffered injury in the Khobar Towers Bombing. Of these options [the source] favoured the first." Both Mullah Omar and his Deputy Foreign Minister called bin Laden an "enemy". The source pointedly recalled that the Russians had bought their seven airmen's freedom by paying a million dollars as ransom for each and cited this as a precedent for bin Laden. The U.S. never tried the weapon of diplomacy either in Afghanistan or in Iraq.

Iraq was mentioned as a target on 9/17. Evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) was manufactured subsequently. There was a strong belief that attack on Iraq would help solve the Palestine problem. Bush called for a regime change there by demanding the ouster of President Yasser Arafat. In 2002 he also urged regime change in Iran.

The most instructive part of the book is its discussion of the new doctrine of "pre-emptive action". It was expounded in the National Security Strategy, published on September 20, 2002 and proved contagious. "Days after the strategy's publication, Russia hinted that it might have to intervene in Georgia to go after Islamic terrorists allegedly hiding in the Pankisi Gorge. India embraced pre-emption as a universal doctrine. `Every nation has that right,' Finance Minister Jaswant Singh said on a visit to Washington days after the strategy's publication. `It is not the prerogative of any one country. Pre-emption is the right of any nation to prevent injury to itself'." However, Henry Kissinger pointed out that "it cannot be in either the American national interest or the world's interest to develop principles that grant every nation an unfettered right of pre-emption against its own definition of threats to its security". The strategy recognised this problem by warning nations not to "use pre-emption as a pretext for aggression". It was a cry back to the Age of Greece. As the historian Thucydides recorded: "What made war inevitable was the growth in Athenian power and the fear this caused in Sparta."

By mid-2003 the Bush revolution was losing some of its zeal, but not its direction. "It was way wrong to conclude that the Bush revolution had run its course that foreign policy had begun reverting to the norm" The authors conclude: "At heart, Bush was a revolutionary. Everything he did in his first thirty months as President suggested that he would be audacious rather than cautious, proactive rather than reactive, and risk-prone rather than risk-averse."

John Prados of the National Security Archive, analyses nine crucial official documents minutely to expose that there was no faux pas but deliberate falsehood on WMDs. Preceding this, is a 200-page Introduction, which records the history of official presentations. It is a work of great labour by a noted scholar who analysed the Pentagon Papers, The White House Tapes, exposed the "President's Secret War" and wrote The Hidden History of the Vietnam War; informed dissent at its best.

George Friedman and his wife set up in 1996 "the world's leading private intelligence company Stratfor". He holds: "The war that began on September 11, 2001, might be called the Fourth Global War, the U.S.-Jihadist war, the U.S.-Al Qaeda war, or the U.S.-Islamist war. Some would argue that it isn't a war at all but an isolated act of terrorism that has been manufactured into a war. Nothing tells us more about the extraordinarily ambiguous and divisive nature of the war than the fact that three years into it, we do not even have a name for it." The problem evidently lies in the "nature of the war" neither in the inadequacy of his intellectual equipment or the limitations of his understanding.

He writes of the men who committed the ghastly crime on 9/11. "Their skills at covert operations were superb." It would be more accurate to attribute the fruition of their plans to official neglect as the 9/11 commission has proved.

His potted history of the conflict between Christianity and Islam is of a piece with his comments on Al Qaeda about which he knows little and understands less. Nor is he better informed about India and Pakistan. It is well known that neither side brandished the nuclear sabre during Operation Parakram. India is pledged to the no-first-use doctrine. His reportage must be taken with a pinch of salt; but some comments are apt.

In the wake of the attack on Parliament House on December 13, 2001, "the Indians implicitly threatened Pakistan with a nuclear strike if the situation escalated any further... . The crisis was a golden opportunity for the Untied States. Following Tora Bora, the United States knew that it would be impossible for it to pursue the war without the cooperation of [President Pervez] Musharraf. They also knew that they had few levers to use on him. The crisis with India also created a massive crisis in Pakistan. There was serious doubt among the Pakistanis about the quality of their nuclear devices or delivery systems, although they bluffed well. Moreover, given the relative populations and their concentration, the Pakistanis would come out on the short end of any nuclear exchange. The Indians knew all of this, and Musharraf had reason to fear that the Pakistani nuclear force would not deter the Indians from attacking. The Indians, of course, had no intention of starting any war, let alone a nuclear war... .

"As the United States was being drawn into confrontation with the Islamic world, a natural foundation for an Indo-American alliance had surfaced... The U.S. did not want to move too hard against Pakistan or move too close to India. Indian intelligence realised quickly what the battle of Tora Bora meant. The United States would need the help of Pakistan, and Pakistan would not be in a position to give it. That gave the Indians an opening. The jihadist attack on India's Parliament gave India a perfect opportunity. By responding to the attack with the threat of nuclear war, India put Pakistan in a terrible position." It is a matter of record that India did not threaten a "nuclear war". According to Friedman, Musharraf was far less afraid of the Islamists than of the possibility that "the United States would solve its Al Qaeda problem through an Indian attack on Pakistan. He needed to persuade the United States not to align itself with India, as well as to intervene actively to stop Indian threats." He agreed to work with the U.S. in return for U.S. help vis-a-vis India.

It is a matter of record that Pakistan had accepted the U.S. demand well before this - in September 2001. However, the point about the "opportunity", which December 13 provided to India and the U.S., is well taken. For the rest, acceptance of his reportage depends on one's appraisal of his credibility. His poor scholarship does not inspire much confidence.

"A reliable work on the U.S.: National Security Agency by James Bamford entitled Body of Secrets published by Doubleday recently records (pages 432-433) that on May 16, 1973, when Nixon met the Chiefs of Intelligence (LIA, FBI and DIH) in the wake of Watergate, he was worried that the break-ins of the Embassies of India and Pakistan might also become public. It had resulted in "the breaking of their ciphers". Nixon said: "In fact, the India-Pakistan one, that's the way it was broken... although that's one we've got to bury for ever." Some in New Delhi will find the notorious hyphen more offensive than the crime of house-breaking.

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