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March 03, 2003

GWBush, Spendthrift

I can recall the brilliant part of Powell's book, or something I read of his reflections, that explained why Clinton was so wrong about Bosnia simply because he was so late. Drezner drudges up that vague memory this early morning, and bucks me up a bit.

These "conservative hawks" supported the [Clinton] administration even though they also -- justifiably -- disagreed about process and planning matters. If you read, Richard Holbrooke, David Halberstam, or Samantha Power, it's clear that the Clinton foreign policy team took far too long to act in Bosnia. When they did act, it was in a largely ad hoc manner to avoid the shame of deploying U.S. forces to cover a withdrawal of French and British peacekeepers. In the case of Kosovo, there was such a lack of consensus about the means that Clinton decided on his pledge not to use ground troops a few hours before his televised speech in response to an offhand comment from an ex-NSC staffer. Altruism and democracy promotion were not high up on the priority list.

I dredge all of this up not to argue that the Bush team is better than the Clinton team, but rather to point out that crafting foreign policy is like making a sausage -- you really don't want to know exactly how they do it, but the end result is usually pretty tasty. The interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo were not the result of carefully crafted decisions in line with an overarching philosophy of foreign relations -- they were messy and clumsy and, in the end, did much more good than harm.

Yes, yes but they were late. We would all do well to remember Srebernica, the city under seige that the UN security guards with Americans on the scene did nothing to save.  8,000 is 2.5 nine-elevens. We stood by and watched, and this was what got under Powell's fingernails.

I am somewhat beyond bashing GW Bush. It's not that I can't stand him so much, but that he may be destroying the Empire for the sake of Iraq. We might be fortunate and find some other corner of the globe in need of assistance, South America or West Africa for example, if we completely flub Iraq and North Korea. But GW doesn't have the strategic view, and never has, and a White House running on the egos of Rumsfeld et al is unbecoming. GW Bush cannot perform the Reagan trick. The world won't fall for it again, not after Clinton's rhetorical brilliance. Bush cannot play cowboy and be emperor at the same time; even if it were a good idea, he's incapable. That leaves us with dozens of foreign leaders who cannot be seduced, Colin Powell overburdened, and GW left with only the blunt weapons money and guns to achieve global diplomacy. It's a weakness that we cannot prolong no matter which direction the war goes.

Diplomacy may be sausage-making, and we may be looking too closely at GW. Saddam is a bad-guy who is one of the most appealing bullseyes in the world. Everyone would like his head on a plate, yet GW is making a hash of that order.

Drezner may be right. When Mandela was finally freed, the celebration was so great that many folks forgot how controversial was America's policy of 'Constructive Engagement' in the midst of a world of boycotts. The Administration would do well to keep up the pressure and allow more water to pass under the bridge. Sooner or later, the world will come around, but not if we anger them too much now for the sake of expediency.

Posted by mbowen at March 3, 2003 09:12 PM

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