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|Don't wag your finger at us, Mr Bush|
|05/26/02 at 03:12:45|
Don't wag your finger at us, Mr Bush
Henry Porter, a proud friend of America, reluctantly concludes that the President must listen more and lecture less if he is to win Europe's support.
Sunday May 26, 2002
There's a lot about President Bush's manner, breezing through Europe and telling us all to pull our socks up, that makes you want to wipe the smile off his face. 'Iraq ought to be on the minds of the German people,' he said to a TV station in Berlin, 'because the Iraq government is a dangerous government.' Well, yes, but how exactly has Saddam's stance changed since this time last year when America was enjoying the first month's of George Bush's carefree unilateralism and Iraq was some way down the agenda?
Not much, is the answer. Saddam has probably acquired a little more weaponry but essentially his regime is as barbarous to its own people and as menacing to the outside world as it was last year. 'This is a government that has gassed its own people,' Bush added, pressing home the point. Indeed, but that was back in August 1988 when estimates of between 50,000 and 180,000 were killed in the final solution of the Kurdish question. At the time it raised only modest interest in the US media.
The President's lecture tour of Europe and Russia reminds us how little experience he has of foreign affairs and how recent is his discovery of the history and complexities of issues which have been unquestionably better covered and probably better understood in Europe than in the US. As if to underline this point, the US Joint Chiefs of Staff have used the Commander-in-Chief's absence from Washington to reveal their deep concerns about any attack on Iraq.
Europe may have its faults, as Bush and Colin Powell reminded us last week, but whatever our weaknesses of coordination, resolution and principle, it still seeis mightily rich of Bush to expect us to go along with a policy General Tommy Franks, head of US Central Command, said would require at least 200,000 US troops and result in large casualties.
Eight months on from the 11 September attacks George Bush's reflection on the grave new world appears to be no more than a couple of slogans deep. The war on terrorism took America just so far, but now Europeans want to see some evidence of thought and leadership beneath the rhetoric, especially because that particular phrase has been readily adapted to neutralise American diplomatic intervention by, for example, Ariel Sharon, whose invasion of the Palestinian territories reduced the US diplomatic response to a shake of the head and a murmured, 'but we didn't quite mean that kind of war on terrorism'.
And what about Pakistan, so recently rehabilitated from near pariah status? On one border the country has undoubtedly aided the war on terrorism, but on another it has been sheltering the Islamic insurgents that have murdered thousands of Indian Kashmiris and have pushed the two countries close to war. In other words, Bush's fine phrase has brought him to the point where he is doing a fair impression of backing a state that sponsors terrorism. If Iraq was behaving so brazenly he would have all the excuse he needed.
Mercifully for the White House, Bush's tour has occurred just as the first serious doubts about the President's behaviour prior to 11 September were raised by the US media and in Congress. While Bush was warning the Bundestag that if we ignore the threat presented by the 'axis of evil' we invite certain blackmail and place millions of our citizens in danger, America was gripped by the story that on 6 August last year Bush ignored just such a warning.
This wasn't by any means a lone briefing. From 22 June 2001 the Director of the CIA, George Tenet, was 'nearly frantic' with concern and wrote to the national security adviser that 'a significant al-Qaeda attack' was highly likely in the near future, 'within several weeks'. Through the year the FBI and CIA had picked up hard evidence that bin Laden was training pilots and planned a major airborne attack. The French intelligence service passed on clear warnings about individuals and their plans. And Jordan and possibly Morocco did likewise, supplying the CIA with important intercepts. But in the fiercely competitive US intelligence community none of this was coordinated. The President, meanwhile, was cheerily content to pursue his programme of country boy disengagement. Whatever else emerges from the Congressional inquiry into what went wrong on 11 September, we can certainly conclude that there was a monumental lack of grip at the top. And it is from this man that we are now all expected to take a dressing down about moral fibre, cohesion and foresight.
What Americans - currently in a more edgy and defensive mood than I can ever remember - do not recognise is that the vast majority of Europeans are not at base anti-American. It's just that we require more in the way of solid reasoning and debate if we are to support serial campaigns against the members of the 'axis of evil' - an awkward phrase which was, incidentally, chosen by the great wordsmith himself. The American attitude to Iraq, for instance, seems to Europeans to be utterly baffling. While Bush instructs his commanders to consider the options for attack, on the grounds that Saddam has built a vast stockpile of biological, chemical and radiological - if not nuclear - weapons, (an arsenal which is probably less dangerous than Pakistan's, incidentally), his administration does everything to undermine the freely elected opposition, the Iraqi National Congress.
The INC is the one organisation which has seriously planned for an Iraq after Saddam. It also has by far the best intelligence network in the country and is constantly scooping the CIA, which pretty much gave up on Iraq after the failed uprising in 1995. And yet the State Department impedes the funding of the INC - so much so that the organisation has recently been forced to close down its satellite broadcasts to the country - and refuses to take any notice of what the free Iraqis have to say about devel opments in Saddam's regime. Given that a Pentagon official was quoted in yesterday's Washington Post as saying covert intelligence operations were now the most likely method of effecting a change of regime, the neglect of the INC is all the more remarkable.
Besides this, the White House has offered no post-Saddam vision for a country which contains 9 per cent of the world's known oil reserves and, let's not forget, some of the most abused and terrorised people on earth. No one in Bush's administration thinks beyond the slogan which means that in the event of Saddam being toppled another despot will probably fill the void and the whole process will begin again.
One can see why Americans get frustrated with European opinion, but equally the US press, which is only just beginning to emerge from the patriotic support of the Bush regime in the wake of 11 September, must realise that we need an idea of White House thinking which goes beyond slogans and the talk of smart bombs and invasion. And yes, dammit, if there is to be any removal of Saddam, the exercise of the principle that an innocent Iraqi has as much right as an American or an Israeli to live his life freely and without being terrorised.
At the end of this week it is clear that Bush's presidency is showing signs of being disorganised and intellectually under-powered. He returns home to face a group of generals who are in more-or-less open contempt of his plan to launch against Saddam and an intelligence community which is riven with competition and cover-ups about who knew what before the al-Qaeda attacks. Reason enough for Europeans to be circumspect about his slogans in the future.
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