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, Bush has not yet secured a
long-term foreign policy victory. …