In his campaign and when he first took office, Bush gave some cause for hope. He spoke of a more humble role for the United States in the world, including a promise that the United States would withdraw its military from the Balkans. But even before the September 11 attacks, those policy predilections began to wane. For example, the promise to withdraw from the Balkans quickly disappeared from the agenda.
Then President Bushs foreign policy began to get dangerous. Responding to pressure from his partys right wing, he made an historically ambiguous U.S. policy to defend Taiwan less cloudy. Recklessly, he promised that the United States would do whatever it took to defend Taiwan. Although its always nice to support democracy, the security of the small island of Taiwan will never be vital to U.S. security. Yes, China is an autocratic state with a poor human rights record, but it also has long-range nuclear missiles that can strike the United States. Although the United States has nuclear superiority over China, Beijing regards Taiwan as part of China and is somewhat irrational about the issue. One Chinese military official cut to the core of the issue when asked if the United States was willing to trade Taipei for Los Angeles. The answer should be a resounding no! Its okay for President Bush to sell arms to Taiwan, but he should back off from saying that the United States will defend Taiwan. Potentially engulfing the United States in any kind of war with a nuclear-armed great power to preserve democracy in a small, faraway island is not smart policy. Endangering the American homeland to defend peripheral areas stands national security policy on its head.
The same can be said of President Bushs ever expanding war on terror. Bush needs to be given credit for eliminating the main sanctuary for the insidious al Qaeda terror group by knocking out the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But after September 11, all pretense of a more humble American foreign policy ended. Instead of focusing like a laser beam on the vital task of fighting the enemy at the gates--by taking down the remainder of the al Qaeda network worldwide--Bush has become distracted and appears to be ready to launch a wider war on evil. He has commissioned covert actions against terrorist groups that do not normally focus their attacks on the United States-most likely including Hezbollah and Hamas. Such a policy simply stirs the hornets nest of radical Islamic hatred of the United States and may increase the likelihood of other catastrophic terrorist attacks against U.S. targets at home and overseas.
In addition, instead of pressuring Israel to make peace, as Bill Clinton did, Bush has embraced Israel closer than most U.S. presidents at a time when Israel has warrior Ariel Sharon as its prime minister. Instead of taking a more prudent, even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Bush has sought to undermine Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat. Continued close U.S. support for Sharon may also lead to stepped up terrorist attacks by radical Middle Eastern groups.
Finally, Bush has expanded the war on terrorism into the war on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and the axis of evil. Using such rhetoric, Bush and his administration seem ever more willing to be distracted from the war against al Qaeda by invading Iraq. There are many good reasons why such an invasion is ill-advised, but the potent one is the potential use of Iraqs weapons of mass destruction (biological, chemical and maybe even nuclear weapons) in response. Unlike the Persian Gulf War, this invasion would aim at removing Saddam Hussein from power (and probably killing him). This time, backed into a corner, Saddam would have no incentive to refrain from using such weapons. He could threaten to use them or actually use them in the following ways: employ them against U.S. troops, install them on SCUD missiles and launch them at Israel, or attack the American homeland with weapons that had been smuggled into U.S. cities by Iraqi intelligence agents. If ragtag al Qaeda terrorists can operate on U.S. soil for many years without detection, professional Iraqi agents could too--and may be doing so even now. Is it really necessary to risk significant casualties when Iraq, a relatively poor nation, has been effectively contained for more than a decade?
Once again, President Bushs national security policy doesnt appear to be providing much security. Although Bill Clinton had no strategic vision, at least he didnt conduct a risky cowboy foreign policy that fundamentally endangered the nation.
Ivan Eland is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and he spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. He is author of the books Partitioning for Peace: An Exit Strategy for Iraq, and Recarving Rushmore.
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