When confronted by terrorism, action trumps inaction. So runs the conceptual underpinning of President Bush’s case for military pre-emption. Despite such tough rhetoric, America’s dawdling diplomacy regarding the liberation of Iraq makes it seem as though the president has failed to heed his own rule of statecraft.
Nearly half a year has passed since Bush made the case at the United Nations General Assembly for “disarming” Iraq. More than 100 days ago, Congress voted overwhelmingly in favor of going after Saddam Hussein.
In politics, as in life, everything is in the timing. Yet the administration’s haggling with the U.N. Security Council over resolutions and its hectoring of the hapless inspectors serve both to embolden Saddam and those opinion elites who sanctimoniously reach for the moral high ground in covering up for the Iraqi dictator. The administration, as identified with prevaricating Secretary of State Colin Powell, seems ill fitted to play the game of cold-blooded power politics. Too bad the Democratic Party’s base is weighted so much to the left, because next year’s presidential primaries cry out for a challenge to a vulnerable chief executive from the foreign policy right.
At this stage of history, it has fallen to the United States to maintain the order of world civilization. According to Henry Kissinger’s classic work “Diplomacy,” such leadership is consistent with the rules of international relations. In every century in the modern era, Kissinger claims, one nation has emerged to put its stamp on world statecraft. “Almost as if according to some natural law,” he writes, “in every century there seems to emerge a country with the power, the will, and the intellectual and moral impetus to shape the entire international system in accordance with its own values.” Despite America’s diplomatic destiny, Kissinger holds that no nation has been as reluctant as the United States to interfere in the affairs of other nations.
When political bullies and the variegated forces of anti-Americanism sense a disconnect between the rhetoric and action of a would-be crusader nation, the power of the latter languishes. As a result of Bush’s diplomatic shuffle since last fall, American power has dropped. This image of an indecisive leadership threatens American security and world order. Thus, Osama bin Laden had no reluctance to resurface in a broadcast calling for renewed jihad. With a straight face, the North Korean despot Kim Jong Il threw out U.N. arms inspectors and admitted lying about not developing nuclear weapons. Yasser Arafat continues to dangle in power, somehow exempt from the calls for regime change in the Middle East.
Bush’s uncertain leadership has laid the basis for the confluence of attacks on American intentions by the self-appointed representatives of public opinion. To be sure, it does not take much to ignite the latent anti-Americanism from the morally self-righteous, the jealous and the Muslim fundamentalists. But within the mob are those good and innocent people whose values will never be the same once they have acquiesced to the brazen insults directed at the world’s main beacon of freedom. A resolute American-led invasion of Iraq would have avoided such self-doubt and embarrassment about this nation’s intentions.
Domestically, Bush has also paid a price for his prevarication. The stock market meanders lower, Republicans in Congress are hesitant to come to the defense of his economic programs and only one Democratic senator has thus far embraced his tax cut proposal. Six Republican senators have had no fear to declare themselves opposed to the president’s wish to drill for oil in the Alaskan wilderness. Nearly 100 of the nation’s city councils have gone on record against military action in the wake of the president’s perceived waffling.
The lesson of Bush’s indecision is that there is a price to pay in the tough neighborhood of power politics and national self-interest if one insists on behaving like a consensus-driven nice guy. Those who gave us and died for the values of freedom deserve a more clear-headed leadership to execute Western civilization’s precious legacy of moral prescriptions.
Ron Rubin is a professor of political science at Borough of Manhattan Community College and a former legislative assistant to Rep. Jonathan Bingham.