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Bush's dangerous singleminded dualism
By Ehsan Ahrari

Watching President George W Bush at the United Nations on September 20, I was reminded of the foreign policy behavior of two major personalities of the United States: John Foster Dulles and Lyndon B Johnson. Dulles, who served as secretary of state during the Eisenhower administration, viewed the Cold War as essentially a struggle between "good" and "evil".

In his worldview, the USSR epitomized the devil, while the United States symbolized everything virtuous and good. By so portraying the international struggle of the Cold War, he was scornful of the fence sitters (ie, the non-aligned nations) as essentially immoral for not joining the "good guys" in that epochal struggle. Even though president Johnson inherited the Vietnam War from John F Kennedy, the former's obsession of winning it, never mind the cost, became an albatross around his neck. He could not defeat the North Vietnamese because of domestic political reasons. The worsening Vietnamese imbroglio then drove him to the painful decision of not seeking re-election.

Regarding Iraq, Bush is manifesting the Dulles-Johnson complex in the following way. First, he continues to view his "war on terrorism" as a struggle between the good and the evil. The terrorists were described in the days and weeks following the September 11, 2001, attacks as the "evil-doers". Invoking the Manichean (extreme dualism) view of Dulles, Bush declared on September 21, 2001, "Every nation and every region now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." Then, on January 29, 2002, he made his much publicized speech when he lumped Iraq, North Korea and Iran in the phrase "axis of evil".

Addressing the international community on September 23 this year, Bush posited the "clearest of the divides" along the following axiomatic lines, "... between those who seek order and those who spread chaos; between those who work for peaceful change and those who adopt the methods of gangsters; between those who honor the rights of man and those who deliberately take the lives of men and women and children without mercy or shame." Then he concluded, "Between these alternatives there is no neutral ground."

Second, since Bush's arguments are so heavily value-laden, he manifested no remorse or second thought about invading Iraq by blatantly ignoring the will of the international community. His September 2002 speech at the UN will be remembered for its admonishment of the world body that if it were not to support the then impending US invasion of Iraq, it risked becoming irrelevant. Ironically, the American president has returned to the same world body this September seeking for help.

However, even in that call for help he did not express any willingness to accommodate those countries who are insisting that the US share the ruling authority with the UN and establish some sort of a timetable for departure from Iraq. Bush's new line is "because a coalition of nations acted to defend the peace - and the United Nations - Iraq is free today ..." One is left to wonder how the world body was defended by foregoing its endorsement prior to the invasion of one of its sovereign members, or how that action enhanced its credibility.

Third, the Johnson aspect of Bush's Dulles-Johnson complex is his tangible growing emotional commitment not only to the notion of "liberation" of Iraq, but in his resolve to link that liberation to the larger proposition of a "transformed Middle East". As the American occupation of Iraq is becoming increasingly bloody, one wonders what Bush is talking about when he stated, "Success of Iraq will be watched and noted throughout the region. Millions will see that freedom, equality and material progress are possible at the heart of the Middle East." The suggestion that his administration is "successful" in transforming Iraq is dangerous in the sense that it is not at all connected to the realities on the ground. However, the worse aspect of such a frame of reference is that it would keep the US from finding common ground between its perspectives of what should be done in Iraq and those of France, Germany and other allied and friendly nations.

Contrary to the Dulles-Johnson complex of Bush, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's speech was not only closer to the ugly realities of the international arena, but also to their implications for the global order. In a speech that underscored the growing chasm between the US and the international community, Annan was quite critical of Bush's preemption doctrine. That "logic" of preemption, in his words, "represents a fundamental challenge to the principles on which, however imperfectly, world peace and stability have rested for the last 58 years".

He went on to add, "My concern is that if it were to be adopted, it would set precedents that resulted in a proliferation of the unilateral and lawless use of force with or without justification. But it is not enough to denounce unilateralism unless we also face up squarely to the concerns that make some states feel uniquely vulnerable, since it is those concerns that drive them to take unilateral action. We must show that those concerns can and will be addressed effectively through collective action."

It is not clear at this point how far the US is willing to go in abandoning the Manichean rhetoric of Bush's speech and incorporating the demands of the international community for giving the UN and multilateralism a chance before the security situation in Iraq becomes hopeless. Bush has much to think about the legacies of Dulles and Johnson. The US won the Cold War by replacing the simplistic Manichean worldview of Dulles with policies that were based on hardcore and highly nuanced realism. The US lost in Vietnam largely because Johnson failed to realize at what point he should have cut his losses and extricated his country from it. The US may not have reached that point in Iraq yet. That is precisely why it should give its options in that country a steely-eyed scrutiny.
Ehsan Ahrari, PhD, is an Alexandria, Virginia, US-based independent strategic analyst.

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Sep 25, 2003



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