Bush gives good advice on foreign intervention ON POLITICS

January 07, 1993|By Lars-Erik Nelson | Lars-Erik Nelson,Tribune Media Services

WASHINGTON -- President Bush gave America and President-elect Bill Clinton parting advice Tuesday as valuable as George Washington's farewell address: We may be the world's only superpower but we are not the world's policeman. Don't concoct any grand global strategies that will send our kids to die in far-off lands.

"I know that many people would like to find some easy formula to apply to tell us with precision when and where to intervene with force," Mr. Bush told cadets at West Point. "Anyone looking for scientific certitude is in for a disappointment. In the complex new world we are entering, there can be no single or simple set of fixed rules for using force."

Mr. Bush's advice is especially pertinent because Mr. Clinton has been feeling pressure from commentators and busybodies to develop a master strategic vision. Secretary of State-designate Warren Christopher, a low-key lawyer, is derided in the current New Republic, for example, as an "empty suit" incapable of conceiving a "picture of the role of the United States in the world."

What the activists seek is a doctrine that will tell us in some automatic and objective way whether or not to intercede in Yugoslavia, whether or not to defend the Persian Gulf against Iraqi intrigues, whether or not to feed the starving people of Somalia.

Americans are good at coming up with master doctrines. But the doctrines themselves have invariably been flawed. The brilliant George Kennan's "containment strategy," advanced to restrain

the Kremlin after World War II, led us into costly, inconclusive wars in Korea and Vietnam by persuading our leaders we had to resist every hint of Soviet expansion wherever it occurred, even in areas that were not vital to our interests.

After Mr. Kennan came some doozies. John Kennedy wanted to bear any burden in defense of our alleged friends. Henry Kissinger had a "credibility" doctrine that cost us 20,000 more lives in Vietnam. Zbigniew Brzezinski saw an "arc of instability" along the Indian Ocean that somehow led us to aid the Somalian dictator Siad Barre, thus sowing the seeds for the present civil war and famine. Alexander Haig sought a "strategic consensus" that would have us arm Saudi Arabia and Iran in the expectation that both would join us in opposing the Soviet Union.

And Jeane Kirkpatrick developed the wonderful notion that totalitarian Soviet communism could never change, thus providing the intellectual underpinning for a trillion-dollar U.S. military buildup -- just as the Soviet system was collapsing of its own weight.

"People who propose master visions are simply trying to persuade you that they are visionaries," says a friend of Mr. Christopher's. "Chris is pragmatic. He can take two unalterably opposed forces and persuade them that there is a third way that meets their needs without fighting."

"A grand strategy for U.S. intervention would be a disaster," says Charles Maynes, editor of Foreign Policy magazine and a former assistant secretary of state. "Yes, we are a superpower, but the kind of issues we face today -- ethnic conflicts, economic challenges -- don't lend themselves to military solutions unless we want to be an occupation force or colonial power."

Mr. Clinton already has provided a rough outline of the foreign policy Mr. Christopher will carry out: America stands for freedom and democracy. We will not ignore the brutalities of leaders -- like the Chinese -- who pose as friends of America. We will use military power to defend vital interests.

And if Mr. Clinton should have to use force, Mr. Bush offered him one universal rule that deserves to be graven in stone: "In every case involving the use of force, it will be essential to have a clear and achievable mission, a realistic plan for accomplishing the mission and criteria no less realistic for withdrawing U.S. forces once the mission is complete."

"We must never forget that using force is not some political abstraction, but a real commitment of our fathers and mothers and sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors. You've got to look at it in human terms," Mr. Bush said.

That is, you don't sacrifice American lives just to appease the armchair doctrines of some intellectual posing as a tough guy. At last a doctrine that makes sense: the Bush doctrine.

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