My weekly radio guest Joshua Micah Marshall has become a sort of young Blumenthal for the punditry of the very left edge of the Democratic Party. In recent months, he has taken to blaming the Bush administration for anti-American sentiment in France, Germany, South Korea and now Turkey.
He is right that there is opposition, but wrong to argue the source of that opposition is Bush administration incompetence. The governments of “Old Europe,” while professing to be America’s friends, are vocal in opposing the war in Iraq. Turkey’s legislature is divided. And South Korea’s government is apparently desperate to avoid confrontation with the North.
There are many reasons for this estrangement – from France’s oil contracts, to the Turkish concern over refugees, to worry over North Korea’s nuclear menace. Some additional causes are rooted in earlier Bush administration actions: Most of these countries wanted America to pick up the tab for Kyoto and other U.N. adventures without complaint.
The Bush administration refused to write checks to the world, of course, and is now pursuing important – indeed, crucial – objectives, and the path is a hard one. It has been made immeasurably more difficult by the eight years of feckless foreign policy during the locust years known as the Clinton presidency. This was the era when every treaty was good, every “new way” embraced, and every rogue nation redeemed except Serbia.
The world became used to a complacent and compliant U.S., and rather liked it. The Kyoto deal, the International Criminal Court, the presidential apology tours – all these were the marks of a shuffling, snuffling superpower willing to be led by its older, wiser European mentors and U.N. tutors. The international left loved Clinton and his team because there was no bow too low if it brought applause along with it. The facade of the ’94 Framework Agreement is the perfect symbol of the Clinton years: All champagne and no substance – a note drawn on international security that is now coming due.
Unfortunately for the national interest, the eight years of Clinton’s go-along-to-sing-along policy left a string of crises brewing and terrorists plotting. The damage to the country was immense, and the loss of 3,000 lives on 9-11 was just the beginning. The repair work is difficult, and it is bound to offend some of the nations that prefer their Americans pliant. But the American people had a first look at the Bush approach in November 2002, and overwhelmingly approved it. This upsets the “Blame Churchill for World War II” crowd, and the carping has only increased in volume. Turkey’s vote on March 1 was the occasion for another round of “See, Bush is upsetting the allies” hand-wringing.
I suppose it is possible to conclude that Al Gore would not have upset the North Koreans and the French, and would not have pushed the Turks so hard or reduced the Germans to mumbling, but only if Gore had chosen not to confront Iraq in a serious way and had not called the North Koreans on their cheating. I will leave it to Joshua and others of the left to argue how Gore could have accomplished this, probably by honoring the Kyoto and the ABM deals. But the hurdles that President Bush is crossing were built in part by Clinton’s indifference to the realities of the world. Blaming Bush for the sluggishness of the international system he inherited is like blaming Churchill for the Munich Pact.
If you need a guide to the costs of foreign policy by Clinton-types, consult this month’s Commentary Magazine. Joshua Muravchik’s “Facing Up to North Korea” is available on the Web and is a chilling account of North Korea’s non-stop drive to acquire nuclear weapons by one means or another and the inevitable sale of such weapons once assembled. In 1994, Clinton says he was prepared to strike at North Korea to prevent just this situation. He didn’t act, and North Korea systematically deepened its defenses and developed its WMD capacities. Bush is left holding Clinton’s bag, and the left blames Bush.
An even more chilling account in the magazine is that of Alex Alexiev, who deals at length with the depth of the roots of radical Islam in Pakistan. This is a problem 20 years in the making, and its acceleration to crisis status in the ’90s cannot be laid at Bush’s feet though, of course, the political front-men for a discredited foreign policy team are doing their best to make such a case.
Everywhere we find international opposition, we find nations that preferred Bill Clinton’s willingness to displace American security interests for his own political interests. We should not be shocked that Bush’s approach causes discomfort abroad, especially among dictators and their bankers. We should be glad, in fact, for the appearance of international criticism is a guarantee that our government has placed our interests ahead of those of the U.N.’s comfortable hypocrites. Mugabe is mad at us – thank God.
It is unfortunate and wasteful to have to spend time answering baseless attacks from partisans at home even as the foreign policy challenges of the new war emerge from the happy-talk ruins of the ’90s. But the left cannot accept political exile gracefully, even after the electorate has ratified that exile at the polls. Expect the presidential wannabes to repeat these arguments until November 2004. Perhaps after they lose that election they will at last wake up to the fact that the American voter won’t get fooled again.