“SPOT THE DIFFERENCE”, says Andrew Sullivan, discussing Bush versus Clinton when it comes to Iraq:
Here’s a simple pop-quiz. Who said the following: “What if [Saddam] fails to comply and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route, which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction? … Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you he’ll use the arsenal.”
Full marks if you guessed Bill Clinton. It was 1998. But I wonder how many of you did. The political amnesia of so many in Europe with regard to the Iraq crisis is one of the most striking aspects of the whole current trans-Atlantic divide. To read the papers, to watch the “anti-war” protestors, to listen to the BBC, you’d easily imagine that out of the blue a belligerent and brand new American administration had just torn up the old rule book and started a new foreign policy utterly unconnected to the old one.
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[T]he point is: the foreign policy of Bush is not so drastically different from Clinton. On Iraq, in particular, there isn’t a smidgen of principled difference between this administration and the last one. In fact, Bush came into office far less interventionist than Clinton and far more modest than Gore. His campaign platform budgeted less for defense than Al Gore’s did. And his instincts were more firmly multilateral. That, of course, changed a year and a half ago. 9/11 made him realize that American withdrawal from the world was no longer an option. But even then, the notion of Bush’s unilateralism is greatly exaggerated. To be sure, last spring, the Bush White House argued that taking out Saddam’s weapons was non-negotiable, implying that it would be done with or without U.N. support (a position, by the way, that Bush had announced in the 2000 primaries). But by last September, as the world knows, Bush decided to pursue the policy of disarmament through the United Nations, despite the risk of falling into the inspections trap that has proved so intractable. And now, even after a unanimous resolution supporting serious consequences if Saddam refused to disarm immediately and completely, he’s still going back to the U.N. for further permission to enforce the resolution by military means. His reward for this multilateralism? Contempt and derision.
Now compare that policy to Clinton’s similar dilemma with how to deal with the Balkan crisis throughout the 1990s, culminating in the Kosovo intervention. Did Clinton go through the United Nations to justify his eventual NATO bombardment of Serbia? No he didn’t. He didn’t go through the U.N. because the Russians pledged to veto such a military engagement. So where were the peace protestors back then? In terms of international law, those American bombs in Belgrade – even hitting the Chinese embassy – were far less defensible than any that will rain down on Baghdad. Serbia had never attacked the U.S. No U.N. mandate provided cover. But Clinton ordered bombing anyway. And the same people who now viciously attack Bush as the president of a rogue state – Susan Sontag anyone? – actually cheered Clinton on.
What the world, after all, is afraid of is not the deposing of the monster, Saddam. What the world is afraid of is American hyper-power wielded by a man of very American faith and conviction and honesty. Bush’s manner grates. His style – like Reagan’s – offends. But, like Reagan, he is not an anomaly in American foreign policy – merely a vivid and determined representative of a deep and idealistic strain within it. And history shows that the world has far more to gain from the deployment of that power than by its withdrawal. If the poor people of Iraq know that lesson, what’s stopping the Europeans?
Good (if entirely rhetoric) question.