Even Bush's Foreign Policy Was Found Wanting

WILLIAM PFAFF

January 14, 1993|By WILLIAM PFAFF

PARIS. — Saddam Hussein is sending George Bush off with the rude reminder that, whatever the costs to Iraq's army and people, it is he who survived the Persian Gulf confrontation and has profited from it. The Iraqi president's challenge, however, is wider in its implications. The international community still has failed to formulate an approach to the problem of rogue states and rogue regimes, as well as to what Mr. Bush has been pleased to call the New World Order.

The Serb nationalist forces in Bosnia have been brilliantly successful until now in getting what they want, despite the mobilization of U.N. protection forces, humanitarian interventions, an incessant debate in the Western press over what more to do, and international conference after conference devoted to discussing, and evading, the problems posed by the struggle in ex-Yugoslavia.

In Cambodia the same thing has gone on. The Khmer Rouge defies the largest of all U.N. peacekeeping operations, so that the U.N. mission is close to a humiliating collapse. Local interests, notably those in Thailand, but in China too, collaborate to frustrate a U.N. intervention which -- just as in Bosnia-Herzegovina -- has taken as its basis the unfounded assumption that the parties to the conflict can be brought to act with good will, and persuaded to perceive the interests they have in common with their rivals.

The Somalian intervention came as the result of a unilateral U.S. decision, so there should not have been the same inhibitions about treating the local factions as if all were equally respectable and responsible interlocutors. But even though the United States has now (reluctantly) taken on some disarmament of the war lords, given that neither the U.S. nor the U.N. is prepared to make Somalia once again a colony, the political problem has to be solved.

The American authorities on the scene find they have to talk with the local claimants to power, and try to sort them out, in order for the United States to be able to withdraw. This, of course, gives each of those individuals the same recognition, and the same power to blackmail the disinterested outsider, that has been employed with devastating tactical success by Radovan Karadzic in Bosnia, Slobodan Milosevic of Serbia, and the Pol Pot forces in Cambodia.

Iraq's impudent defiance of the U.S. and U.N., evoking yesterday's air attacks, provides a sad end of term for Mr. Bush, whose principal claim in the presidential campaign last fall was that he knew what he was doing in foreign policy. Actually, he knew a good deal about how international relations work, and had much experience of the offices responsible for such matters. But that he had actually thought seriously about the general issues of American foreign relations -- or world order, new or old -- is to be doubted.

This lack of large ideas and ambitious projects probably served him well in dealing with the Soviet Union's implosion. He did not know what to make of its long-term implications, and therefore treated events with the greatest prudence. The same was true with respect to German unification. A man with big geopolitical ideas might have intervened, with destructive effect.

In the Gulf, Panama and Somalia, one feels that Mr. Bush was simply acting out of immediate personal emotions: anger and a sense of betrayal with respect to Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein, and compassion concerning the afflicted people of Somalia. This is not responsible policy-making, and did not serve him well.

The Panamanian leader is in an American prison but Panama, and Panamanian-U.S. relations, still are no better off than they were. Saddam Hussein is dramatizing to the world that he still can do much as he pleases in dealing with the minorities in his country, while the American people have sent George Bush home to a hotel suite in Dallas. Somalia is left for the Clinton administration to deal with.

The international community remains far from any common policy on resistance (or even non-resistance) to regional aggression and atrocious abuses of human rights. It has no policy to deal with anarchic social breakdown, as in Somalia. There is no common will to act, and existing mechanisms of common action are being discredited by the defiance of those who disturb the peace.

The only recent occasions when the community of nations has acted collectively to deal with international disorders -- of which the number increases -- it did so because George Bush personally felt like doing it. Otherwise we have drifted. This is a disquieting conclusion, which merits the most serious reflection not only by Mr. Clinton's foreign-policy people but also by leaders and elites in the other democracies. We can't go on like this.

William Pfaff is a syndicated columnist.

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