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