• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

The evolving Bush administration policy on the Balkans is now virtually
indistinguishable from the Clinton policy, so much so that Time magazine
online describes it as “Clintonesque.” This is a major
betrayal, a complete turnaround from the policy Candidate Bush led the
Republican Party and the American people to believe he would adopt toward
failed “nation-building” efforts in troubled corners of the world.

Perhaps, given the general credibility level of politicians and the
inclination toward inertia most administrations have, this is not
surprising. But it should be greeted with a lot more disappointment and
criticism than has been the case so far.

“I don’t see how even the most avid Republican partisan could put any spin
other than that this is a full-blown policy retreat,” Ted Carpenter told
me the other day. The director of defense and foreign policy studies at
the Cato Institute said that “whatever faint hope I entertained that this
administration’s foreign policy might be slightly more intelligent than
the Clinton administration’s is rapidly evaporating.”

The Bushies will stress continuity and bipartisanship, of course, and deep
respect for the abilities of our noble men and women in uniform in the
Balkans. But at last summer’s Republican convention Dubya received
tumultuous applause when he promised that America would no longer be “the
world’s 911 number.” Those who applauded should be willing to criticize
now that he has made a mockery of the statement.

The betrayal might not be quite as deep as that perpetrated by his father
on tax increases. Bush the elder was much more explicit in his convention
speech, promising that when the tax-raising interests came to him again
and again and again, as he knew they would, they would get the unequivocal
response: “Read my lips. No new taxes.” Dubya’s promises on foreign
intervention and meddling were markedly more vague and conditional. But he
left no question that at the very least he was much more skeptical than
the Clintonites about open-ended or “nation-building” foreign
interventions.

Most Americans – and especially (I still believe) most Republicans and
conservatives – are deeply concerned about the idea of converting the
U.S. military into civilian peacekeepers or peacemakers and social workers
and committing it to vague, open-ended, peace-promoting, policing and
municipal government missions in parts of the world afflicted by
deep-seated divisions and long-term instability.

It’s not simply a reluctance to shoulder the supposed responsibilities of
the sole remaining superpower or a sign of budding isolationism, as
establishment commentators like to imply. Instead, it reflects a realistic
assessment of what U.S. troops acting in ways they were not trained to act
are likely to be able to accomplish. There’s also a healthy recognition
that if people in unstable regions of the world are ever to achieve
something resembling stability, freedom and prosperity, they are more
likely to build something lasting themselves rather than having utopia
imposed on them by force by outsiders.

People in the Balkans – and the Middle East, Sudan, Rwanda, Indonesia and
a score of other places around the world – are not immature children who
need only a stern talking-to from the infinitely wise uncles, aunts,
nannies and parental figures who inhabit the chanceries of the United
States and Western Europe. They are fully adult people with deep histories
and local problems of their own – often troubling, difficult and perhaps
irresolvable. The arrogant notion that the all-wise “international
community” can fix things for them with enough good will and military
force is profoundly mistaken.

More often than not, the Western do-gooders don’t even bother to try to
understand the histories and roots of the conflicts they foolishly believe
they can resolve. They are inclined to believe they can simply waltz in,
fire a few mortars, utter a few platitudes about democracy, markets,
accountability and transparency, and prepare to accept the grateful thanks
of the benighted huddled masses who have been rescued from themselves by
their betters.

Experience doesn’t seem to shake this na?ve faith in the slightest.

Bill Clinton, fully aware of the skepticism of most Americans about
international social work, promised when U.S. troops went into Bosnia
(after NATO bombing, the usual prelude to the “international community’s”
version of salvation) that they would be out within a year. That promise
was fudged by six months, then a year, then another year. Finally, the
administration admitted quietly that the commitment wouldn’t be ended any
time soon, that it was open-ended and likely to last for years.

The payoff for “nation-building” in Bosnia was continued dissension
combined with renewed resentment of the United States and NATO, followed
by more troubles in Kosovo that became serious enough for NATO to think it
had to bomb once again. The intervention in Kosovo has resolved little if
anything. You could make a strong case that it was NATO intervention in
Kosovo, which involved overt and covert support for the ethnic Albanian Kosovo
Liberation Army (which had previously financed itself by smuggling drugs)
that led to the current unrest in Macedonia.

In Macedonia rebels attack the U.S. and other NATO embassies, and Western
diplomats just wonder why those people they’re trying to help don’t love
and appreciate them. This befuddlement hardly ever leads to anything
resembling a reassessment of the deeply resented “help” the condescending
NATOcrats insist on providing.

Most conservatives and Republicans understand all this very well and would
welcome the kind of reassessment and reduction of “nation-building”
commitments that Candidate Bush seemed to be promising. As National review
editor Rich Lowry put it in an article in the July 23 issue, “Support for
the U.S. involvement in the Balkans comes primarily from the
foreign-policy establishment, liberal do-gooders who favor U.S. military
activism so long as it doesn’t involve protecting U.S. interests, and
neoconservative defense hawks who argue the United States would cease
being a superpower should it ever pass up the chance to send its troops to
an international hot spot. None of these groups command much public
support.”

Ted Carpenter thinks Dubya is not a full-blown internationalist pawn, but
something like a “weak nationalist,” whose instinct is to concentrate on
U.S. national interests but who can be pressured into continuing
disastrous policies. He has held pretty tough on missile defense – indeed, the cave-in on Bosnia may be designed to defuse European
opposition to missile defense. He has talked tough on the absurd Kyoto
treaty, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see him do quietly what the
Clinton administration bragged about noisily – imposing CO2 emissions
limits on U.S. industries and tacitly buying the party line on global
warming.

The permanent interventionist establishment in the State Department seems
to be calling the shots on foreign policy these days, especially since
plenty of departments there are still run by Clinton holdovers. Nobody in
the Bush administration seems to have the intellectual firepower or the
conviction to challenge them or even to question their premises. So the
United States drifts dangerously in the Balkans. The attack on the U.S.
embassy in Macedonia might provide a bit of a wake-up call, but so far
it doesn’t seem to have been understood.

This is a gross betrayal of the implicit promises President Bush made as a
candidate. Will conservative institutions – perhaps the Heritage
Foundation and Republican members of Congress begin to call him on it? So
far the silence has been dismaying.

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.