The first thing to understand about President Bush's policy in Iraq is that it would be unrecognizable to Woodrow Wilson and a host of other idealistic, moralizing American leaders. Mr. Bush is the consummate Realpolitiker, a latter-day Metternich with a hard eye for what he perceives as the right, realistic course to protect U.S. interests.
During the conflict to liberate Kuwait, Mr. Bush indulged in rhetoric about a "just war," a struggle between "good and evil" and the creation of a "new world order." Wilson could hardly have said it better, having waged "the war to end all wars" and godfathering the League of Nations. The only difference is that Wilson took himself literally.
Mr. Bush evidently harbors no such illusions. Demonization of the enemy has its uses in rallying popular support in war. But in war's aftermath, the Realpolitiker concentrates on the re-creation a satisfactory balance of power. Do-goodedness must be tTC suppressed. As the United States has learned all too well, it can lead to entrapment in the internal struggles of multi-ethnic nations with no consequent benefit to U.S. interests or purposes.
It is not for nothing that Mr. Bush is surrounded by acolytes of Henry Kissinger, the latter-day practitioner of balance-of-power diplomacy. Brent Scowcroft, the national security adviser, Lawrence Eagleburger, undersecretary of state, and Richard Cheney, secretary of Defense, carry on a Kissinger tradition. Their approach fits neatly with the deal-making proclivities of Secretary of State James A. Baker. Then there is Mr. Bush himself, the only president ever to have headed the CIA, a man steeped in foreign affairs with a now-proven willingness to use force within deliberate parameters.
One can envisage Wilson trying to create a Kurdistan out of the Persian Gulf war. But if the United Nations charter means anything, it means the sanctity of national borders, no matter how artificial their imposition, and non-interference in internal affairs, cruel as it sometimes seems.
Mr. Bush's penchant for Realpolitik was first brightly illuminated in his refusal to punish the Chinese regime for crushing the democracy movement. The payoff came when Beijing did not use its U.N. veto to derail anti-Saddam resolutions.
Now comes the wrenching ordeal of the Kurds and the Shiites, both of whom are being slaughtered by Saddam Hussein's forces while a huge U.S. army nearby keeps hands off. If the U.S. were to shoot down Iraqi helicopters, would it not then have to go after Iraqi tanks and artillery? Would it not then get entangled in an internal struggle that could lead to the dismemberment of Iraq? Such is Mr. Bush's reasoning, much to the outrage of critics on the right and on the left.
Surely, humanitarian efforts must be pursued to ease the plight of Saddam Hussein's victims. But heart-warming as it would be to see the U.S. come to their rescue in more direct and decisive ways, we believe Mr. Bush's Realpolitik will prove over the long run to be the wiser course.