Magazine article The American Prospect

Axis of Incompetence: On the Shambles That Is the Bush Foreign Policy

Magazine article The American Prospect

Axis of Incompetence: On the Shambles That Is the Bush Foreign Policy

Article excerpt

IF THE ADMINISTRATION'S FOREIGN-POLICY APPARAT (minus the increasingly isolated Colin Powell) were placed under one roof--Rice, Rumsfeld, and Reich; Perle, Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Bush--what watchword would be inscribed over the door? No, not "Abandon all hope, ye who enter." There are any number of supplicants who should not abandon hope--Latin American putschsters, China's Leninist social Darwinists, the Colombian paramilitary, Ariel Sharon, even al-Qaeda terrorists scrambling over mountaintops with no U.S. soldiers around to impede them. If not Dante, then, the inscription could be provided by another immortal. Casey Stengel, whose term in purgatory managing the '62 Mets prompted the deathless line that fits the Bush gang to a tee, said, "Can't anybody here play this game?"

Apparently not. In record time, the Bush administration's foreign policy has become a cosmic shambles--its interventions increasingly ineffectual and counterproductive; its refusals to intervene only making bad situations worse; its unilateralism undone by the impossibility, even for the world's superpower, of going it alone; its Manichaeism unsustainable in the face of complex, not to mention simple, realities; and its president's pronouncements good for the life span of a gnat.

Herewith, just a few instances in which our government has charged uphill and back down again:

THE MIDDLE EAST Initially this was the one problem area on which all groups within the administration concurred: The United States should stay out of the growing Israeli-Palestinian conflict; there was nothing it could do. A more stunningly self-fulfilling prophecy is hard to recall. In recent weeks, the Mideast has become the one problem area in which administration disagreements produce self-negating positions on an hourly basis. The very day the United States supports a United Nations resolution demanding Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank, the president defends Israel's "right of self-defense." As Powell trundles from Sharon to Yasir Ararat to promote de-escalation, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld back Sharon's offensive and the poor president, beset by conflicting counsel, is left spinning like a top. Powell's trip enters the history books as the U.S. diplomatic mission most completely undermined by its own government. The manifest need for the United States to impose itself (and some allied forces) between Israel and Palestine is lost in the shuffle.

AFGHANISTAN After campaigning for more than a year as the Anti-Clinton, George W. Bush has been compelled to embrace two fundamental Clintonian policies. First--for the better--he has reluctantly concluded that nation building is the responsibility of a great power after all, particularly because, in its absence, Afghanistan might quickly revert to a state of semi-anarchy in which terrorists could resume their pre-September 11 activities. Second--for worse--after all the rhetorical bravado that the Bush presidency would never pull a punch in a military action, the administration decided to fight the same kind of high-tech, no-ground-troops, low-casualty war that Clinton waged, successfully if belatedly, in the Kosovo war. What ultimately worked in that case, however, was bound to fizzle in a war where success was measured by our capture of Osama bin Laden, dead or alive. With most U.S. intelligence analysts agreeing that bin Laden slipped through our surrogates' lines at Tora Bora (our surrogates being the local chapter of Rent-A-Warrior) while U.S. soldiers were kept far from harm, Bush's mighty vow--not just to get bin Laden but to wage the appropriate war--looks mighty hollow.

LATIN AMERICA From the moment that Bush gave the Latin American desk at the State Department to Otto Reich, one of the architects of the Iran-contra idiocy, the Venezuelan coup may have been a fait accompli (though clearly less accompli than its architects had thought). …

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