Bush missteps make the world more perilous

July 21, 2002|By Melvin A. Goodman

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration has taken a series of steps that will weaken the international coalition against terrorism, compromise the pursuit of arms control and encourage the use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

These steps have not been discussed with congressional committees or debated in the foreign policy community. Many of these moves have reversed major tenets of American foreign policy and have weakened our international security.

President Bush used a commencement address at West Point to call for a policy of pre-emptive attack against states and terrorist groups trying to develop WMD. Mr. Bush's remarks produced an angry reaction in Europe, where opposition has been mounting to U.S. plans for a national missile defense, the withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972 and Washington's lack of support for the International Criminal Court.

Any policy of pre-emption will undermine the importance of self-defense in a decision to use military force and will be extremely dependent on timely intelligence, which was lacking in the events that led to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. Poor intelligence led to the erroneous bombings of an Afghan wedding party this month, the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, in 1999 and a pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan in 1998.

The first target on the Bush list for preemption is obviously Iraq, where there is no evidence that Baghdad has been able to reconstitute its WMD capabilities. The president also has lifted the ban on CIA assassination plots in order to target Saddam Hussein and is considering a full-scale military invasion, according to reports leaked from the Pentagon.

Such action against Iraq would create greater instability in Southwest Asia, isolate the United States in the Islamic world and weaken the successful coalition against terrorism. The president has agreed to increase support to Iraqi opposition groups, which have been useless in the effort to weaken Mr. Hussein, and to allow CIA and U.S. Special Forces teams to target the Iraqi leader.

CIA assassination plots against Fidel Castro, Patrice Lumumba - the first prime minister of the Republic of Congo, now Zaire, who was killed in 1961 - and others worsened U.S. security interests and led President Gerald Ford and all his successors to ban such actions.

The president's initiative on the Israeli-Palestinian situation offers no end to the extremist actions of both sides and no hope to moderates in both camps who favor an end to the cycle of violence of recent years.

The United States should be calling for an immediate Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian towns and villages and should not be endorsing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's failed policy to unseat Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Even Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres has been critical of Mr. Bush's speech, and the entire Arab community is critical that no nod was given to the Saudi plan for an international conference to defuse the situation.

The Bush administration previously decided to ignore the international opposition to a national missile defense and move pell-mell toward a strategic defense initiative that meant withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, the cornerstone of deterrence for the past 30 years.

These steps led Russia to withdraw from the START II nuclear arms treaty, which could mean the return of multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles on Russia's intercontinental ballistic missile fleet, and presumably will lead to a larger strategic inventory in China.

The president missed a major opportunity in Russia in May when he failed to sign a treaty that would have destroyed thousands of strategic and tactical nuclear missiles. Instead, Mr. Bush allowed Russia to place thousands of these weapons in storage, where they represent a greater security risk because of inadequate monitoring and the threat of theft and misuse.

The administration is working by the seat of its pants to advance very narrow short-term interests and ignoring the potential for a greater abyss of violence in unstable and unpredictable regions. Instead of finding ways to limit the strategic arsenals of the nuclear powers and to effectively destroy reserve nuclear forces, the administration has sanctioned greater uses for nuclear weapons and even the first-use of such weapons.

These policies will lead to the greatest peacetime increases in defense spending since the Reagan administration, which led to record levels of deficit and domestic economic problems.

The tragic events of Sept. 11 created excellent opportunities for creating a coalition against terrorism and improving the international position of the United States, but the Bush administration has squandered them.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy in Washington and an adjunct professor of government at American University and the Johns Hopkins University.

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