How to Fix this Mess
While it's still an open contest for Worst Legacy of the Bush Years, the destruction of goodwill for America around the world is definitely a contender.
In the days and weeks following Sept. 11, the United States enjoyed global sympathy and goodwill. All our old enemies sent regrets and offers of help. The most important newspaper in France headlined, "We Are All Americans Now." The most touching gestures and offers rolled in, wave and after wave -- nations offered their teams of rescue dogs to search for bodies; special collections were taken up by D-Day survivors in Normandy; all over the world, American embassies were surrounded by long lines of people coming to offer sympathy, write notes, leave flowers.
You could make a pretty good case that one root of the Bush administration's abysmal diplomatic record is simply bad manners. "We don't need any help" was certainly a true response. But, "Thank you" would have been better.
You recall that George W. went on to make a series of unpleasant statements. "You're either with us or with the terrorists" may have sounded like a great macho moment, but no one likes to be verbally shoved against a wall and given no choice. There was the whole world asking, "What can we do to help?" and our response was, "Our side or else." Why? Why coercion, rather than invitation?
Bush's State of the Union speech in January 2002 remains a monument to gracelessness. None of the language is worth remembering, but it contained a great deal of crowing about our defeat of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. As Barry Bearak of The New York Times observed before that war, if you wanted to bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age, you didn't have far to go.
The trouble with Bush's graceless provincialism on that occasion is that the invasion of Afghanistan was an international effort -- NATO, for the first time in its history, responded under its "an attack on one is an attack on all" clause. French, Germans and Canadians not only served in Afghanistan, but continue to do so. And, as we noticed increasingly is important, they shared the cost, as well.
You see, one beauty of building an international coalition is that you don't have to pay for the whole thing by yourself. Bush the Elder built a coalition for the Gulf War in 1990 that covered about 90 percent of the cost. By contrast, the financial burden of the Iraq War continues to be almost entirely ours -- with special thanks again to the British.
The colossal ineptitude of Bush's diplomacy, if it can be called that, leading up to the Iraq war was somewhere between ludicrous and nuts. Bullying, bribing, threatening -- and these were our allies. The insanity of our approach to Turkey, one of America's oldest democratic allies in the Middle East, is textbook -- to be studied in international relations schools for years. In the name of bringing democracy to Iraq (actually, at the time we never mentioned that as a reason), we threatened to end it in Turkey. Good grief.
The administration's open contempt for the United Nations did us incalculable damage. It wasn't just the ugly, clumsy pre-war "diplomacy," but the petty, vindictive attempts at revenge afterward against those who were right all along. Trying to get Mohammad ElBaradei fired as head of the International Atomic Energy Agency -- how small and wrong. Making John Bolton ambassador to the United Nations -- oh, please.
So, a lot of cleanup is needed. Cards and letters (well, OK, e-mails) have rolled in from the Beloved Readers. We are getting gems daily. People are full of dandy ideas about how to fix this mess -- any and all parts of this mess -- but the foreign policy suggestions are especially interesting.
What the people seem to grasp that the Bush administration doesn't is the link between the Middle East, energy policy, defense policy, the environment and the economy. Again and again, readers point out that oil is at the root of the knot of problems and we can give ourselves much more flexibility to deal with the Middle East if we are not so dependent on it for oil. Ergo, we need an energy policy that emphasizes conservation and alternative energy sources.
The geopolitical problems that stem from our dependence on fossil fuel are the most difficult part of our relations with the rest of the world right now, and they look ever more ominous in the future. Reader Jim Schmitz observes that oil is a limited resource -- if you accept the idea that we've already hit peak production and have nowhere to go but down -- and we're addicted to it. If we kick the oil habit, we not only solve huge chunks of our biggest national security problem, we are also positioned to take part in the incredible boom in the alternate energy industry.
The beauty of thinking long-term is that when you look at a problem like illegal immigration, your first thought is not building a fence on the border, it's helping economic development in Central and South America. This not only makes us more friends, it's a much better solution to the problem. Lots of folks have dandy ideas on how to have more friends and fewer enemies -- for example, convert the money we spend in this hemisphere on the drug war to economic development. We should set up clean drinking water systems in all Third World countries -- that suggestion comes from a reader who thinks the total cost would be less than we spend in Iraq in a month.
More ideas on How to Fix This Mess coming soon.