AS the tragedy of the Kurdish refugees unfolds in Iraq, George Bush's post-Gulf-war honeymoon may turn out to be surprisingly short-lived. Instead of simply basking in the aftermath of the quick and easy victory in Iraq, Mr. Bush is coming under increasingly sharp attacks from critics of both the left and the right. Their moral arguments, which represent a powerful stream of American political culture, may begin to undermine the president's aura of foreign policy success, and hence, his overall popularity.
Morally outraged conservatives are citing two historical cases which parallel the Bush administration's decision not to aid the Iraqi Kurds: Soviet inaction as the Nazis brutally suppressed the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1944, and American refusal to aid the Hungarian rebellion of 1956.
Liberals in anguish over the current situation might cite another precedent: the killing fields of Kampuchea (Cambodia) in the mid-1970s. They can make the case that it was American intervention during the Vietnam war that destabilized Kampuchea, beginning the process that finally led to genocide.
In terms of the American political scene, the most interesting thing about the current debate is that liberals and conservatives are allied in opposition to Bush's post-Gulf-war policy. Both groups have a sense of moral indignation - liberals because Bush seems to have ignored the human costs of his policy, conservatives because he has not finished the job he supposedly set out to do.
The aftermath of the Gulf war is not the first time these strange bedfellows have found themselves in agreement regarding Bush's foreign policy. The administration's coddling of the Chinese government following the Tiananmen Square massacre resulted in a similar outcry from both liberals and conservatives. Tiananmen Square served as but one indication that, for the first time since Richard Nixon, there is a realist in the White House, someone for whom security takes precedence over morality.
High-sounding rhetoric aside, Bush did complete his mission in Iraq and at costs he deemed acceptable. In contrast to conservative aims, Operation Desert Storm was not a moral crusade against oppression or in favor of democracy, neither in Iraq nor in Kuwait. Bush set out to liberate Kuwait and reestablish its prewar government. He did just that.
In contrast to liberal values, Iraqi costs had no place in Bush's calculations. This was a war not for ideals but for interests. What counted were American costs.
Despite his initial success, however, …