America: With the November Elections Looming, the Administration Suddenly Cares about What Other Countries Say. the Years of Arrogant, Bullying Foreign Policy Are Finally Over
Stephen, Andrew, New Statesman (1996)
How we all wept ... not, as American seven-year-olds everywhere say. Even a friend who worked closely with the Reagans and liked them--loved them, even--conceded that the funereal week arranged for the old Gipper's farewell was over the top. I would add that it was a peculiarly American brand of self-regarding mawkishness, combining treacly sentimentality with militaristic overtones (continual foot-stomping, flag-clutching guards of honour, military escorts, US air force flyovers, and so forth). We are told that Reagan himself planned the week with Nancy many years ago, and I'm afraid it showed.
The surprise of the week was that George W Bush, with the exception of a eulogy at the main funeral, kept largely out of it; perhaps he feared adverse comparisons with the Great Communicator himself, whose bons mots were played and replayed on television all week. Instead, Bush immersed himself in the G8 summit at Sea Island in Georgia, and showed how sea changes have overtaken his administration's foreign policy in recent weeks. Pragmatism rules, and to hell with principle.
On the Wednesday of the summit, for example, Bush was saying that "Nato ought to be involved in Iraq". Jacques Chirac immediately said he didn't think so, as did the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Next day, in the pattern of frenetic practicality that is engulfing his administration, Bush reversed course: "I don't expect more troops from Nato to be offered up," he said. "That's an unrealistic expectation. Nobody is suggesting that." Tony Blair bleated his agreement, as ever. Meanwhile, back at the United Nations in New York, the French were asking that reference be made high up in the UN resolution on Iraq to a need to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. "No problem," was the reaction of the suddenly all-obliging Bush administration.
It is not just me who thinks all this, either. In the words of Gerhard Schroder: "There has been a remarkable change in the American foreign policy." And of Chirac: "I must say the Americans truly understood they needed to play the game, and they did."
The great unilateralist administration that showed its contempt for international agreements--be they about greenhouse gases or the Geneva Conventions--has suddenly seen the advantages of falling in with international opinion. Now Bush is caught in a spiral of capitulation to the French, the Germans, the UN, and practically everybody else: principles he once supposedly held dear, particularly over Iraq, are speedily jettisoned.
We need not look far to find the reason for all this: the 2 November presidential election, on which Bush is utterly fixated. He is obsessed with the notion that he must not be thrown out after one term, like his father. That means keeping the saucepan lid firmly shut on the Iraq quagmire at least until then: all the supposedly high-minded concepts of bringing democracy to Iraq are being quietly dropped to that end. A recent Pew poll showed that 42 per cent of Americans are now in favour of bringing US troops home immediately, and even Colin Powell has said that US troops will leave Iraq if they are requested to do so by the new Iraqi government ("please, please ask us to withdraw" is the unspoken mantra in the corridors of the White House). Given the overriding need to win on 2 November, the prospect of the US actually abandoning Iraq to its fate is one that now seems at least conceivable. …