By Phil Leckman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday January 27, 2003
It was a typical lead-up to the Super Bowl this year, chock-full of macho posturing and chest-beating ad nauseam. There's just one big difference this time around, though ÷ the game is over, but the tough-guy bluster shows no signs of abating. That's because it comes not from pumped-up professional athletes, but from our own government. And while the rhetoric may sound the same, the stakes in this war of words are far, far higher than a Super Bowl trophy.
Through a persistent pattern of abrasive, poorly considered comments directed not just at our nation's enemies but at its closest friends as well, President Bush and his administration are jeopardizing the carefully constructed web of alliances and agreements that have kept the world from the brink of major war for the past 50 years. The current squabble may focus on the pending war with Iraq, but this administration's string of blustery, poorly-considered machismo stretches all the way back to the President's first months in office.
Take last week's diplomatic showdown ÷ not with Iraq or North Korea, but with France and Germany, historically two of our closest and most important allies. The groundwork for the confrontation wasn't anything new ÷ the leaders of the two European nations publicly expressed their reluctance to use force in Iraq without a new United Nations resolution authorizing war, stressed the need for compelling evidence of Iraqi weapons violations, and advocated giving the current inspections more time to work.
Those aren't exactly remarkable positions ÷ similar views are publicly held by three of the five members of the UN Security Council and, if a slew of recent polls are to be believed, by solid majorities of citizens in both Britain and the United States. Even Tony Blair's government in Britain has talked in recent days about giving the inspectors more time to ply their trade.
But if the joint French/German statement was nothing extraordinary ÷ just another example of a strong and growing world consensus on Iraq favoring negotiation and continued inspections rather than a rush to war ÷ the Bush administration's response to the Europeans was something else entirely.
In another display of the public arrogance that has become his trademark, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had a simple answer to the French/German "problem" ÷ he wrote them off as "old Europe," and declared them irrelevant to U.S. plans. "The center of gravity" in Europe, he explained, "is shifting to the east."
French and German reactions to Rummy's insightful analysis were unsurprising. One French official described the U.S. comments as "deeply irritating." Another alluded to a famous French expletive. "Cool down," scolded German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. And a diplomatic rift between the United States and two of its most important allies continued to deepen.
But the problem with Rumsfeld's rhetoric goes deeper than the dubious wisdom of alienating France and Germany in favor of global powerhouses like Lithuania, Slovakia, or Moldavia. The current diplomatic snit with Europe is only one symptom of a much wider problem.
Again and again, Bush and his advisers have charted out an uncompromising, unilateralist path. They've revealed themselves as an administration steeped in their own moral rectitude, unwilling to consult outside advice, and resistant to change once a course has been laid in, no matter how compelling the evidence to the contrary. Confronted with this "my way or the highway" approach, America's allies are increasingly heading for the on-ramps.
In one sense, at least, the administration hawks are probably right ÷ the United States can, if necessary, go it alone. This nation's unchallenged military and economic preeminence guarantees that. It would be foolish to assume, however, that we should act alone simply because we can, and even more foolish to expect other countries to jump into line behind policies conceived without their input.
The United States seems to view its role as some sort of global coach, calling plays for its allies to run obediently. But world politics is no football game ÷ ultimately, any global agenda gets a lot further as the product of a consensus between cooperative, mutually supportive allies, than as a set of marching orders from the self-appointed Caesars of some sort of Pax Americana.
Despite the wishes of some of Bush's more uncompromising supporters, the world is not an American empire ÷ not yet, anyway.