Interesting Times: Bush's missing blueprint for Iraq, rest of Middle East
The Jerusalem Post
March 14, 2003
Si monumentum requiris, circumspice.
Sir Christopher Wren's epitaph, on his tomb in London's St. Paul's Cathedral (If you would see his monument, look around.)
US President George W. Bush, like Christopher Wren, is an architect. Unlike Wren, he is also his own chief contractor.
Bush has been assailed for not making the case for his revolutionary foreign policy, particularly in contrast with his more eloquent partner, Tony Blair. The criticism is, by and large, unfair. The only real difference between Blair's case and Bush's tends to be the inability of some listeners to attribute to Bush a similar level of sincerity and intelligence.
The missing case is not the one for ousting Saddam, but for the new order that the war in Iraq is supposed to build. Think of it this way: Saddam is like the pillar of a wreck that needs to be torn down before building something nicer and more sturdy.
Many people agree that the wreck is bad, but they say it is not that dangerous, or if it is, why not start by tearing down a more central pillar, such as Iran (assuming it is more engaged in international terrorism than Iraq).
Bush argues strongly that the wreck is dangerous and only will become more so. He is less forthcoming on why start with Iraq, but there is a ready explanation: It is where he thought it would be easiest to get a "permit" from the international community. What Bush doesn't say but could is that it does not matter much which pillar you tear down first, what matters is to start, as opposed to continuing to live with the wreck.
Bush's problem is that if he elaborates too much on the global architecture he has in mind, it could complicate his application for a building permit. Bush wants to rebuild on a grand scale, but has been applying only to begin destroying the existing structure on the grounds that it is a menace to the neighborhood.
Ultimately, however, Bush cannot hide his grander plans in order to get this one permit. Like a developer who knows that the zoning board can be swayed by public pressure, Bush has to do more than hint at how Iraq fits into the larger picture.
HERE, TOO, it is wrong to pretend that Bush has been silent. For a supposedly inarticulate president, Bush has given a series of landmark speeches that have driven his revolutionary foreign policy. Since 9/11, he has taken great strides: from promising to end state-supported terror, to the doctrines of regime change (featuring "the axis of evil") and preemption, to the link between weapons of mass destruction and terror. All of this was also formally laid out in the annual National Security Strategy issued by the White House.
Despite the serious groundwork that has been laid, and the tactical problems in being more explicit, Bush can be faulted for not fleshing out his new global architecture into a coherent whole that would put the Iraq war in its proper context.
International architecture, it should be recognized, is a much less exact business than its bricks-and-mortar counterpart. Harry Truman's post-World War II architecture evolved as the threat from the Soviet Union, a former ally, became more apparent. Despite the fact that the doctrine of "containment" was neither ideal nor planned, it proved serviceable over half a century of the Cold War.
The Bush administration was clearly taken by surprise by the brazen French choice not only to resist, but lead the charge against the US. But this should only strengthen the case that international system is fundamentally broken and needs fixing.
Though the French cannot be described as an adversary on the scale of the Soviet Union, Bush's architecture must now take into account that the idea of "the West" taking on the forces of evil collectively is even more of a chimera than previously realized.
There is no doubt that America's war against terrorism cannot be brought down to the lowest European denominator. It is possible that a successful war and aftermath in Iraq will so discredit those who attempted to derail it that Europe's latest pacifist streak will be sidelined. But it is also possible that this same current is impervious to reality. How can there be a common language with those who see Bush as a greater threat than Saddam Hussein?
Given this yawning gap, it is even more important that Bush make his case not just for what must be torn down, but for what must be built in its place. The choice really is a binary one. Either the terror network will take heart from the West's divisions and terror will increase, or that network will lose steam as it is dismantled piece by piece.
As this global war goes, so goes everything else humanity holds dear: hopes for freedom, democracy, human rights, and prosperity. So far, understandably, the emphasis has been put on the threats that must be averted. As a result, the potential upside of a successful campaign, which is equally true, has gotten short shrift.
It is not too soon, in the aftermath of an Iraq war, for Bush to describe a world that we were cheated out of at the end of World War II and again at the end of the Cold War. A world in which international aggression, terror, and nuclear blackmail are truly unacceptable. A world in which freedom and human rights are not a luxury of the privileged few. A world that is no longer so wracked by conflict that the day-to-day suffering of grinding poverty goes unattended.
One ironic byproduct of 9/11 is that the world's sole superpower understands that the ideals it has always said should be universal must actually become so for its own safety and that of all nations. It is unfortunate that nations that should be helping to promote this vision are instead hampering it, but such divisions plagued the US during the Cold War as well, and they can be overcome. Decades from now, it will be the United States, not France and Germany, that determines the shape of the monument it sees when it looks around.