Kondracke: Needing World’s Help, Bush Should Say, ‘I’ve Changed’

Posted December 2, 2003 at 9:29am

President Bush doesn’t practice “unilateralism” in foreign policy anymore, as U.S. actions on Iran’s nuclear program demonstrate, but to silence his critics Bush needs to be more explicit that he’s changed course. [IMGCAP(1)]

During his trip to London last month, Bush declared himself dedicated to “effective multilateralism” and identified reliance on international organizations and collective security as two of the “three pillars” of his foreign policy.

And, last week, his diplomats worked hard in Vienna to negotiate a compromise international stand to get Iran’s nuclear program under control.

Yet Democrats and foreigners, especially Europeans, keep accusing Bush of “going it alone” in foreign affairs and of acting “arrogantly … like a cowboy.”

It’s impossible for him to entirely erase that impression, but it would help if Bush declared that there has been a change in his attitude, that he understands why other countries don’t trust him and that he really is dedicated to working in concert with them as much as possible.

Particularly, such a confession — it needn’t be an apology — might help Bush persuade other countries that they should contribute troops and money to the struggle against despotism and militant Islam now being waged in Iraq, largely by U.S. forces.

It’s vital that the entire civilized world understand the stakes involved in Iraq, where a failure to produce stability and self-government would lead to chaos all over the Middle East and terrorism all over the globe.

Bush needs to employ every possible persuasive device he can because, as the latest attacks on Spanish and Japanese personnel demonstrate, the forces of darkness in Iraq are determined to drive foreigners out and isolate the United States.

What Bush said in London, eloquently and idealistically, and what the United States has been doing on Iran (and also North Korea) imply a change in course, but something — evidently, pride — makes it difficult for Bush to lay out explicitly.

In his Nov. 19 speech at Whitehall Palace, Bush simultaneously echoed Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson as he attempted to rally the world to the cause of defeating international terrorism and fostering democracy in the Middle East.

Bush declared that “the greatest threat of our age is nuclear, chemical and biological weapons in the hands of terrorists and the dictators who aid them. The evil is in plain sight. The danger only increases with denial. Great responsibilities fall once again to the great democracies. We will face these threats with open eyes, and we will defeat them.”

He said that “the peace and security of free nations now rest on three pillars,” the first of which is “international organizations must be equal to the challenges facing our world, from lifting up failing states to opposing proliferation.”

The second pillar “is the willingness of free nations, when the last resort arrives, to restrain aggression and evil by force” and the third, “our commitment to the global expansion of democracy.”

For Bush to name international organizations — not the use of force — as his first pillar flies in the face of the Democratic and European caricature of him.

And, in a joint statement with British Prime Minister Tony Blair on Nov. 20, Bush declared that “effective multilateralism, and neither unilateralism nor international paralysis, will guide our approach.”

On both days, Bush referred to Iran and North Korea as cases in point of his dedication to collective action. And, while he was in London, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Undersecretary John Bolton were in Brussels urging European foreign ministers to be tough with Iran at the subsequent gathering of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In October, the IAEA reported that for 18 years Iran has been systematically deceiving the world about the extent of its nuclear program — including experiments with both plutonium and highly enriched uranium — but found “no evidence” that Iran was intent on developing nuclear weapons.

Moreover, prior to U.S. intervention, France, Germany and Britain were prepared to issue only the mildest criticism of Iran — noting its “failures to meet safeguards obligations” — and threaten no consequences whatever if Iran continued blocking full inspections.

IAEA and European behavior toward Iran were just the sort of dangerous lapses Bush referred to in his Whitehall speech.

The United Nations, parent body of the IAEA, was in danger of “solemnly choosing its own irrelevance” by meeting world threats “with resolutions” rather than “resolve.”

And Europe, he said, has become so used to peace and quiet in the last half century that it’s forgotten that force was required to achieve that condition and that, beyond Europe’s borders, “oppression and violence are very real.”

When the IAEA board gathered in Vienna, the United States successfully argued for — and won — a resolution that “strongly deplores Iran’s past failures” to disclose its nuclear activities and warns of unspecified “action” if there are further “breaches.”

The IAEA’s statement was weaker than the United States wanted, but multilateral negotiation sets the stage for possible sanctions if Iran refuses to open itself to full inspections.

The bottom line is that, contrary to what Bush’s critics say, his administration is working multilaterally. It might help Bush get more co-operation if he’d just say, “I’ve changed my attitude.”