Living in San Francisco, the epicenter of anti-war protests in America that have resulted in several thousand arrests of protesters since the start of the war, it may be subversive to say this, but I find George Bush's cowboy style refreshing. For twelve years prior to Bush jr., American presidents aped the realpolitik style of the Europeans. George Bush the elder (although a WWII combat veteran himself) forgot that America's distinctive military tradition rested upon the goal of “unconditional surrender” and allowed Saddam Hussein escape total defeat in 1991.
Indeed, the level of punishment visited on the Iraqi military in that war was very restrained. Instead Bush senior adopted the European style of warfare which aims at limited wars for limited objectives. In 1991 that meant expelling Iraq from Kuwait and no more. Consequently, Saddam escaped total defeat living to fight, as is painfully obvious today, yet another day.
Bill Clinton at times seemed to think he was a British prime minister, even suggesting at first that he engage in “question time” in the American Senate a la the House of Commons. Like his predecessor in the White House, Clinton pursued a European inspired realpolitik approach to foreign policy that had little connection with America's traditions.
Perhaps as a product of that cultural, Clinton suffered from the handicap of over intellectualizing everything, frequently making action nearly impossible. He seemed not to be able to distinguish between a college seminar on foreign affairs and the presidency of a super power. To many it seemed as if it was all theory to him. Not surprising for a man who grew up in the Vietnam era of the 1960s, Clinton was simply afraid of American power.
Now, with George Bush the younger, we are witnessing a return to a foreign policy rooted in American traditions. Gone is the diplomatic nuance and phrasing; gone is the near slavish imitations of the Europeans; gone is a submission to an historically ineffectual U.N. Security Council. Bush speaks in terms that reference the American old West: “Wanted dead or alive” in the case of Osma — or his ultimatum to Saddam to in effect, “get out of town by sunset.”
As in old American Western mythology, Bush views figures as wearing black hats or white hats, that is, good or bad. Granted, Bush's old West manners has grated on many, perhaps all, Europeans — particularly the French and the Germans. Yet, consider the source of some of the objections from around the world:
* Russia: Vladmir Putin has joined with the French in an attempt to delegitimize America's attack on Iraq. Russia? Had they not been carrying on a campaign of de facto brutal ethnic cleansing against the Chechens throughout the 1990s? I don't seem to recall Putin bringing this dirty affair (that included extensive human rights violations by the Russian Army) to the U.N. Security Council for approval and I seriously doubt that he would have accepted any kind of U.N. inspections or observers. The U.S. by contrast did both many times prior to the current attack on Iraq. Yet, Putin has self righteously insisted that a standard he would never apply to Russia be applied to the United States.
* Turkey: The parliament in Ankara has, at least for the moment, denied permission for the the U.S. to deploy troops on Turkish soil in preparation for an attack on northern Iraq. Even if Turkey does eventually grant such a deployment (which seems unlikely now) it will certainly be in far lower numbers than the U.S. had counted on. Moreover, polls say that virtually 100% of the Turkish population is both opposed to the American invasion of Iraq and/or the deployment of American troops in Turkey.
Turkey? Neither the Turkish government nor most (if not all) Turks were particularly discerning about the use of force against the Kurdish PKK guerrillas or Kurds in general. Like Russia in Chechnya, the Turks fought an ugly war with the Kurds and committed serious war crimes in the process. They sought no U.N. or world approval or international observers. In fact the Turks attacked the Kurds in defiance of European opinion, although Washington unfortunately frequently remained silent.
It's only now that Turks have become squeamish about the use of force which they in the past have applied so frequently and indiscriminately, often against civilian targets and certainly without asking anyone's permission. Like Moscow, Ankara insists on applying a standard to America that they would never apply to themselves.
It is interesting to note that in all the protests against the American-Iraq war one has seen around the globe and among the hundreds of thousands who have demonstrated here in San Francisco and in the U.S. in general, one never sees any references to the prospects for freedom for the long suffering Kurdish people who have in fact made their desire for statehood clear.
There is always plenty of Palestinian support at these demonstrations: many Palestinian flags and thousands of “Free Palestine” signs but never any supporting Kurdish freedom or statehood. Either anti-war protesters do not care about the Kurds' desire for statehood or they believe Palestinians are the only stateless people in the region or they just don't want to offend Saddam. Perhaps it's all of the above.
* France: The anti-American rejectionist front is led by France. Of course one can always count on France to take a position critical of the application of American power (envy is the psychological explanation here) yet Chirac's absolute opposition to America in the Security Council was going well beyond the expected call of duty for a former great power and exceeding the anticipated general cultural snobbery. Unfortunately the French President never quite explained why his Foreign Legion is constantly rampaging through West Africa these days without U.N. Security Council or anyone else's authorization.
Parenthetically, one might note that France seems to have forgotten the advice of her most famous soldier and one of history's greatest generals. It was Napoleon who advanced the ultimate definition of unilateralism when he said that he preferred to fight allies rather than fight with allies. Perhaps Bush is more influenced by the French tradition than he is given credit for.
* China: Another permanent member of the Security Council , China in all probability would have joined France and Russia in rejecting a bid by America for U.N. authorization. Indeed, Saddam has lately taken to referring to the trio as his “friends.”
Both before and after, China made it clear that they rejected any American war on Iraq as illegitimate. That is interesting coming from a nation that invaded Vietnam in 1979 and today occupies Tibet. Perhaps the Chinese government believed it established its right to judge the use of American power when at Tiananmen Square Chinese Army tanks ran over peacefully protesting college students.
* European Union: Clearly a fear and resentment exists in Europe of American military power which dwarfs that of all the European nations combined. Yet, can America be blamed for this state of imbalance? The European nations could have maintained and expanded their military status to counter balance America but instead they decided to spend their treasure on their bloated public sectors which dwarf those in the Untied States.
That is their choice of course and it may be in tune with the European tradition. It is hardly Washington's fault that European countries have chosen to be militarily ineffectual. Their inability to apply power on the world stage (or even within Europe, as the Balkan war in the 1990s demonstrated) is a state of affairs they created for themselves.
Consider the following: the history of 20th century Europe was one of civil war that begin in 1914 and ended in 1945, settled by two non-European powers: the U.S. and USSR who dominated the continent for the next 50 years. Along the way, hundreds of millions died. European powers simply do not have a credible historical track record to offer advice on the issues of war and peace.
* Anti-war protesters: Around the globe, anti-war groups have been most offended by Bush's cowboy image. Although no doubt they are also grateful since it provides them with such an easy target to satire. Strange however, that these so-called anti-war demonstrators have once again lined up on the side of a third world fascist dictatorship. Saddam has patterned his whole existence and that of his regime after Joe Stalin but that hasn't dimmed the enthusiasm of most opponents of the U.S. attack on Iraq both in the region and abroad. They supported a hard core Stalinist regime in North Vietnam in the 1960s and are apparently determined to do so again in this century.
How many of these peace advocates turned out during the Iran-Iraq war or when Saddam deployed poison gas? Answer: none. Very consistent however since they also over looked North Vietnam's war crimes/human rights violations.
Oddly, in spite of all the evidence of double standards, anti-war protesters across the world condemn Bush for not having gained the approval of the Security Council or America's leading “allies” (the exception being the UK) around the world. Why these protesters place such importance on the approval of these hypocritical nations is a mystery.
What exactly have they done to establish their credibility on the use of force? They have all acted unilaterally when it has suited their needs (frankly more often then they care to admit) and they all have applied military force far less cautiously than America has thus far done in Iraq. None have been particularly concerned about seeking U.N. approval for any violent action they deemed vital to their security and survival. Many of these nations joined the coalition assembled by Bush the elder back in 1990-1991. Yet, there is good reason to regret their participation in that initial coalition against Saddam.
Although it looked appealing at the time, with plenty of color flags and encampments in the desert, the assembly of a broad based coalition only made for a delay in the inevitable showdown with Iraq. They helped to inhibit the American use of power to deliver a fatal blow to the Iraqi military. Fear of alienating the Europeans et. al. and thus preserving the coalition was a critical factor in preventing a decisive decision in 1991.
Bush jr. however has made it clear that in 2003 the Anglo-American forces will not deviate again from the American way of war: unconditional surrender is the stated goal. Bush has this time promised no half measures or compromises — a benefit in not fighting with a broad coalition with disparate ends and methods of warfare. Lonely independence has always been an enduring image of the American cowboy and in this case, it will pay considerable dividends by producing a definitive and uninhibited outcome that will not require yet a third war in a few years or less.
Finally it is invigorating to have a president who is willing to stake much on a sizable gamble. For eight years, Clinton lived by focus-group poll numbers. He never made a move that wasn't virtually predetermined to meet with public approval. Consequently, Clinton rarely took a chance let alone a gamble. Bush has accepted a gamble-even if it is a calculated one – that will, win or lose, result in an historic end.
True to the cowboy image he cultivates, Bush doesn't take the temperate of public opinion before acting but relies on a simple, black and white, code. You may dislike or disagree with it but one isn't left uncertain. “Either you're with us or you're against us” leaves little room for doubt. Refreshing indeed.