Entries from March 2003

Britons Are So Wrong About Bush The Brave

David Frum March 27th, 2003 at 12:00 am Comments Off

After
my book on President Bush was published in the United States, I was interviewed
by a British journalist about the relationship between Bush and Blair.

He
asked me what these two very different men could possibly find to talk about,
and I suggested religion. He visibly winced. “You don’t think they pray
together do you?” “You say that,” I answered, “as if it
were worse than showering together.” “I suppose I would find that
less disturbing.”

British
people distrust George W Bush’s public religiosity. They don’t much care either
for his verbal stumbles, or his lack of concern about global warming, or his
indifference to the UN.

This
dislike is bad news, and not just for Mr Bush. The low regard for him in
Britain is weakening the Anglo-American alliance, on which the peace of the
world has depended for nearly 90 years.

But
there are also grounds for hope that now the British will come to change their
minds.

When
I went to work for Mr Bush in January 2001, I found that the better I knew him,
the more I liked him.

Many
Britons continue to believe that he is not merely occasionally tongue-tied, but
downright stupid. When pressed to explain how he has managed to function as an
effective chief executive, these critics reply that he gets good advice, as if
advice came in envelopes labeled “good advice” and “bad
advice”.

Mr
Bush’s mind is not crammed with facts and figures. But he has tremendous focus.
He can instantly separate the essential from the inessential. And he has the
presidential temperament, the moral courage to make decisions and stick to
them.

His
war leadership is defined by three characteristics that you would not normally
expect to see together: boldness, moderation, and persistence.

Whenever
Mr Bush has had to make a wartime decision, he has opted for the boldest
choice. He decided to fight Hezbollah as well as al Qaeda and Iraq as well as
the organised terrorist groups. He sought the overthrow of not only the Taliban
but also Saddam. He is pushing not for any Palestinian state, but for a
democratic Palestinian state.

Some
may regard these choices as over-ambitious. But they bespeak a president who is
willing to take risks and who is mindful of a fact that some more articulate
presidents never absorbed: doing nothing or doing too little is often the
riskiest choice of all. While Mr Bush sets big goals, he is willing to advance
on them by a slow and careful route.

Fourteen
months elapsed between the “axis of evil” speech and the opening of
the ground campaign in Iraq, 14 months in which Mr Bush won resolutions from
both Houses of Congress and waged a five-month campaign to win two UN
resolutions endorsing military action.

It’s
not at all clear that, say, a Democratic president would have been able to move
so deliberately.

The
mood in the US was red-hot and angry in 2001 and perhaps the greatest of all of
Mr Bush’s gifts to his country was his guidance and restraint.

Mr
Bush’s advisers remember his father’s experience. The elder George Bush tumbled
from 89 per cent approval after the Gulf War to 37 per cent of the vote in
1992, the worst Republican showing since Barry Goldwater. The elder Bush’s
defeat is usually attributed to too much focus on foreign affairs, and many of
the younger Bush’s advisers urged him in December 2001 to avoid his father’s
fate by swiftly downshifting the war on terror and turning instead to a
domestic agenda. He has refused, come what may.

The
decision to go to Baghdad was characteristic Bush boldness.

The
decision to integrate the humanitarian campaign for the Iraqi people into the
military operation was characteristic Bush moderation. And the decision to
proceed unrattled by the inevitable reverses and disappointments of war is
characteristic Bush persistence.

Americans
too were not at the start over-impressed with George Bush. But as they have
come to appreciate his virtues, they have learned to make their peace with his
faults. If this Iraq war ends in the victory we all want, British people should
open their minds to reconsider their opinions.

Blair Must Find The Courage To Turn His Back On The Eu

David Frum March 24th, 2003 at 12:00 am Comments Off

It’s
tough to see through the dust clouds that swirl about the allied tank columns
on the road to Baghdad – but tougher still to see our way out of old habits of
mind. The critics of the war against Saddam have been right about one thing:
this war will overthrow and transform the status quo in the Middle East.

But
there is another status quo that is also being overthrown and transformed – the
status quo of the transatlantic relationship between America and Europe. And no
country on Earth will have to make bigger and more difficult choices in the
aftermath of this transformation than Britain.

The
idea that Britain has any choices to make may sound odd to British ears. Over
the past year, no theme has echoed more loudly through the British media than
the claim that Britain and its leader Tony Blair are mere “poodles”
following tamely at the heels of the Bush Administration. From an American
point of view, this self-disparaging analysis is worse than insulting – it is
bizarrely blind.

Mr
Blair’s voice was the decisive one in swaying America to take its case against
Iraq to the United Nations Security Council in September.

It
was Mr Blair who persuaded America to return to the Security Council in
January. And it was for Mr Blair’s sake that George W. Bush gave his speech
earlier this month pledging swift post-war action on a Palestinian state.

Every
instinct in Mr Bush’s political being would have told him that the time for
such a speech would come after the battle (when it would have been seen as a
magnanimous and unforced gift), rather than beforehand (when it looks like a
nervous concession). But Mr Blair wanted it, so Mr Blair got it. Some poodle.

And
after the war, Mr Blair’s prestige will if possible rise even higher in
America. So what will Mr Blair and Britain do with this influence?

The
temptation will be strong to use it to restore the pre-war world: to use it
abroad to mediate between Mr Bush and the leaders of France and Germany and
mend the rift between America and the Security Council; to use it at home to
push Britain toward closer integration with the European Union.

But
there is another way. Instead of using his transatlantic clout to help others,
Mr Blair could use it for the benefit of Britain. You can see why many French
politicians dream of a world in which in a future crisis the president of the
United States picks up the phone and makes his first call to the president of
Europe, not the prime minister of Great Britain.

But
why would Britain want it? When British leaders began pushing the country
toward the EU back in the 1970s, they did so because they feared those phone
calls would stop coming, that the relative decline in Britain’s economic and
military power would reduce an independent Britain to a third-tier power, well
behind Japan and the rest of Europe.

Those
fears look outdated today. After five decades of European integration, Britain
still wields more military power than all the rest of Europe combined.

And
the promise of a “strong Europe” suddenly looks wholly fictional. The
French attempt to devise a “European” policy opposed to that of
America bumped up against the hard fact that the large majority of the
countries of Europe feel they have much more to gain – and fear – from America
than from France. Meanwhile, Britain continues to prove itself the most dynamic
large economy in the continent.

Britain
doesn’t need the EU to be powerful. The EU does need Britain. Doesn’t that
suggest that it is France and Germany that should be left to mend the fences -
while Britain seeks instead to institutionalise its renewed military alliance
with America?

The
great geopolitical lesson of the Iraq war is that America, despite its
strength, does not wish to be a unilateral power. Americans understand and
value the international legitimacy that comes from acting with others – and are
prepared to pay the political price for joint action.

On
the other hand, the existing structures of multilateralism now stand condemned
in American eyes. Jacques Chirac’s opposition to American policy went beyond
dissent, which Americans will always accept, to outright sabotage – pressuring
former French colonies, for example, to follow France’s orders against America.

After
this stunt, it would be a careless American president indeed who ever took an
important security decision to any body in which the government of France
wielded a veto.

If
Britain tries to revive such multilateral bodies, it will fail. And even if it
somehow succeeded, what would Britain gain? When did it become a British
interest to seek to increase French political influence?

Instead,
Britain should work to develop and renovate institutions that offer the
Anglo-American alliance multilateral legitimation – without a veto for
governments that fundamentally oppose that alliance’s purposes and values.

What
would such institutions look like? They might look like Nato: a council of
like-minded allies to face common security threats across the globe.

As
the Iraq war demonstrates, this council already exists: it includes America and
Britain, Australia and Japan, and other countries as well who recognised the
threat from Iraq and were prepared to take action – and who also already
recognise the even greater threats taking shape in east Asia.

The
council lacks a name and a building and a chairman, but it exists and takes
decisions. And Britain matters much, much more inside this council than it ever
has or could at the UN or even within the EU.

America
is often glibly accused of imperialism. The accusation is not very convincing:
would the Romans ever have permitted the Gauls or the Cappodocians to do to
them what the French and the Turks have done scot-free to the United States?

America
craves partners – and of all potential partners, Britain is both the most
capable and the most reliable. This is not empire; this is that
“role” that Dean Acheson long ago urged Britain to find.

Bush Puts France In A Corner

David Frum March 8th, 2003 at 12:00 am Comments Off

At
his press conference Thursday night, President Bush offered his
much-anticipated ultimatum … to France.

The
news from the question-and-answer session was Bush’s announcement that the
United States and Britain would proceed with another Security Council resolution
authorizing force despite French warnings of a veto. “No matter what the
whip count is, we’re calling for a vote. We want to see people stand up and say
what their opinion is about Saddam Hussein and the utility of the United
Nations Security Council … It’s time for people to show their cards and to
let the world know where they stand when it comes to Saddam.”

For
France, Bush’s decision to proceed is very unwelcome. French diplomats and
opinion leaders have been hoping (as one of them told me last week) that the
United States would take note of France’s opposition and drop the idea of a
force resolution. One of the smaller nations at the Security Council could then
introduce a substitute resolution urging the Security Council to continue
monitoring the situation. The United States and Britain would then launch their
war — France could boast to its Arab friends that it had resisted to the last
– and the illusion that France belongs to the Atlantic Alliance could be
sustained.

Some
might say that there is something awfully hypocritically about France first
lecturing the whole world about the importance of the UN — and then secretly
inviting the United States to bypass the UN to spare the French embarrassment.
But if the newspapers were to remark on every instance of French hypocrisy,
we’d need to buy vast forests of extra paper.

Instead,
let’s just note that Bush used his prime-time broadcast to rebuff the French
manoeuvre. As he cleverly said in his speech at the American Enterprise
Institute in February: “We believe in the Security Council so much that we
think its words should mean something.”

Now
the French face a terrible dilemma. If France refrains from vetoing, the
Russians have to decide whether to veto. But Russia will be very reluctant to
use its veto without France: If France and Russia veto, then the anti-American
press can tell a story about the “whole world” opposing U.S. military
action in Iraq. But if it is only Russia against the United States, then the story
becomes Cold War II. And the losers of Cold War I are naturally reluctant to
start a second round.

Without
a French or Russian veto, though, it’s not clear that an Anglo-American
resolution can really be stopped. If France abstains, will Mexico vote against
the United States? Pakistan? Chile? Cameroon? Guinea? It seems unlikely. Which
means the resolution could carry and France’s big talk would be exposed as
bluff. A bad outcome for France.

But
what if France does veto? From France’s point of view, the consequences of a
veto are even more ghastly.

First,
the U.S.-French relationship would be shredded. France may well remain an
American “friend,” as President Bush soothingly promised at his press
conference. But few in the U.S. national-security establishment would continue
to regard it as an ally.

Second,
after such a veto, no American President would ever again return to the
Security Council before military action. For most of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s
and 1980s, Americans dismissed the UN as a basically useless institution.
Dwight Eisenhower did not ask it for UN authority before his military actions;
neither did John F. Kennedy; ditto Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford,
Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Neither for that matter did Bill Clinton. The
one and only U.S. President of the past 60 years to trouble himself with UN
authority for the use of force was George H.W. Bush before the Gulf War of
1991.

The
UN’s ability to act decisively in 1991 rehabilitated the old talking-shop on
the East River in American eyes — and, incidentally, dramatically increased
the value of a permanent seat on the Security Council. If the UN fails to act
in 2003, its prestige in the United States will plunge back toward its usual
level: approximately zero. And the value of a seat on the Security Council will
tumble with it.

Why,
after all, do French opinions about Iraq matter more than those of, say, Italy
or Brazil? If wealth is the measure of national importance, France ranks behind
the State of California; if it’s military strength, France barely makes it into
the top 10, rather behind Israel. Americans are transfixed by French opinions
only because the United States submitted its case to a body where, by an
accident of history, the French happen to wield disproportionate power. If
France wields that power in a hostile manner, no American president will ever
return to that body again.

President
Bush’s words at his press conference elegantly reminded France of those
unspoken facts. The French are attentive listeners: I am sure they understood
Bush’s meaning. So it’s not just Saddam who must decide whether to plunge into
a confrontation he knows he will lose — it is Jacques Chirac as well.