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The President’s Wrong-Headed Thinking
by George Shadroui
15 December 2003GWB

The capture of Saddam aside, the President's decision-making last week was difficult to comprehend.

As someone who has defended President Bush on a number of occasions, I am sorry to say that I find his actions last week difficult to comprehend.

First, the President took a harsh line toward Taiwan, a long-time friend and partner and a nation steeped in democratic and free enterprise sensibilities. The President expressed his opinion that a public referendum in Taiwan gauging the opinion of its people about Chinese ballistic missiles aimed at the island was somehow a movement toward independence, which our nation opposes.

Bush took this position during a visit from Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who President Bush believes will act on our behalf in persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. The President should have simply reaffirmed our long-standing policy that there is only one China, and that the differences between the mainland and the island must be resolved peacefully.

The President could have said: “We are deeply hopeful that Taiwan and mainland China will find a way to bridge their differences without sacrificing the all important evolution toward free institutions and free trade, which are the basis of individual and human  rights.”

The President is sometimes overly eager to be candid – but there is a time and a place for candor, and there are times when the less said the better. In tweaking the democratic government of Taiwan, the President undercut his own claims to support democracy around the globe in the face of terrorism and intimidation. If communist China’s aiming of hundreds of missiles directly at Taiwan is not a form of global intimidation, what is? Does Taiwan pose a threat to China other than through its democratic example? Of course not.

In my view, the President misfired in Iraq, too, when he refused to allow  Russia, Germany, Canada and France to participate in the rebuilding that is essential to our success there.

There is no question that many of us in this country are upset about the refusal of these nations to support our Iraq policy. But as sovereign nations, they had a right to disagree with our position. We also have a right to be petty and snide in return. The larger question is whether that furthers our interests and saves lives long-term. In my opinion, it does not.

Our efforts need the support of the world community, not only because it will hasten normalization within Iraq, but because it will start rebuilding a consensus about the importance of cooperation within the international community. It would boost morale both among the Iraqis and the US troops there, who would sense a united world community in support of the work going on under increasingly difficult conditions.

No one is suggesting that partners who risked their own troops to support us should not enjoy even greater access to contracts, if they have the means to participate. I am not suggesting that Germany or France should get the big contracts, while Spain and Italy get shoved out. But given the ongoing destruction and the state of the infrastructure in Iraq, surely there is plenty of work to go around. Even symbolic contracts awarded our opponents in the UN would shore up long-term efforts to combat terrorism. Given the number of folks pulling out of Iraq because of the ongoing violence, I am frankly amazed that we are concerned about too many companies rushing into the fray.

Moreover, I think the President wrongly enlisted the American taxpayer on behalf of his position. We are already footing the bill for this war. Sure, I want American companies to have a fair shot at work, but frankly I am more interested in seeing our troops brought home safely than I am in some big corporation getting another multi-million dollar deal. Given the decency of the American people, I suspect they would agree as well – there are higher priorities than quibbling over who profits from the war.

The one fair criticism aimed at the President has been his occasional clumsy and arrogant diplomacy. This week only will reignite concerns that America is not a partner, but an empire interested in dictating to the rest of the world. Bush’s heavy-handed approach simply does not play in the world community where the battle of terrorism will be largely won or lost.

I must grudgingly agree, for a change, with the editorial writers of the Washington Post: “Last week Secretary of State Colin L. Powell appealed to the NATO alliance to involve itself more deeply in Iraq, and was pleased to hear no immediate dissent from Berlin or Paris. Yet now the president has consented to a policy that goes out of its way to reopen the wounds of the prewar debate”.

Bush then turns around and demands that the very countries he has just snubbed forgive Iraq debts incurred under the former regime. (All of this occurred even as Halliburton, the former firm of Vice President Dick Cheney, is being investigated for overcharging the government some $61 million for services rendered in Iraq.)

I quote the Post again: “Mr. Bush and his Pentagon hawks may believe they are meting out just punishment to countries that have opposed the mission in Iraq. But there will be little cost to Germany, France, Canada or Russia. Instead, the real price will be paid by Iraqis and the American soldiers and civilians trying to help them. They will have to continue an uphill struggle to stabilize and rebuild Iraq without substantial support from many of the world's richest and most powerful nations.”

The President should have spoken to our loyal allies and explained that token contracts would be awarded even to those who opposed the war, provided those countries forgave Iraqi debts. This would have served two purposes: it would rebuild important alliances and it might have won Iraq important financial concessions. That, in turn, would undermine our enemies by showing that the war on terror is too important to be compromised for the sake of selfish or parochial interests.

This would have been shrewd diplomacy that would have brought our opponents back into our camp, even while subtly indicting their own questionable actions before and during this war. But since we initiated the war, we bear even more of the responsibility to take the high road and ensure it ends as quickly and efficiently as possible for the sake of our troops and the Iraqi people. Let us hope the President was just having a bad week.

George Shadroui has been published in more than two dozen newspapers and magazines, including National Review and Frontpagemag.com

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