Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

Bush must work to align global opinion

March 30, 2003


— The most pressing need that the Bush administration faces in the war on Iraq is to deploy a diplomatic strategy that reinforces its justified battlefield aims. The world's only superpower has looked more like a midget in its early efforts to rally other governments and global opinion behind U.S. objectives.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair gamely tried to deny this at Camp David on Thursday. But their hastily arranged meeting was almost certainly a symptom of the failure of Operation Iraqi Freedom to generate the intensity of international support that Operation Desert Storm drew.

Jim Baker demonstrated in 1991 that war diplomacy is not an oxymoron: A determined secretary of state speaking with full authority can bend the will of other states. But this is a different war being fought in a different context. The administration does not seem ready to appreciate or overcome those differences.

Diplomacy is not public relations, a crucial point of misunderstanding in this administration's approach. Nor is it politics. Diplomacy involves the calculated use of leverage where it exists -- and of persuasion and camouflage where it does not -- to get other governments to fit their policies to yours.

Even in this electronic era, the task of diplomacy is to move governments, not outflank or upstage them by trying to change the hearts and minds of their citizens. Repeating on Arab or European television ad infinitum a message that the ruling authority then undermines or rejects is perhaps good for the ego, but it is not a strategy of change.

Nor is "getting the message out" a sustainable strategy in and of itself. Stressing the Pentagon's meritorious battlefield efforts to avoid casualties on both sides, and reciting past U.S. good works internationally, will not disarm most critics. These are necessary but not sufficient steps. Local content matters.

That makes Colin Powell's job a hundred times more difficult than was Jim Baker's. In 1991, the salient arguments involved "how" issues. "The world's fourth-largest army" was going to inflict staggering losses that the United States would not accept, critics claimed. This time the arguments are about "why" issues -- about right and wrong. They will not quickly fade away when the shooting stops.

But this is all the more reason that effective diplomacy is needed urgently from a suddenly missing-in-action State Department. Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld's occasionally impolitic utterances reverberate through Europe so loudly because they arrive in a vacuum of effective diplomacy. Deprecation from Rumsfeld seems to be the only price that France, Germany or Turkey expect to pay for opposing U.S. war aims.

France and Russia have even taken their diplomatic rebellion across a bright line of dishonor. Obsessed with blocking American power in the future, Paris and Moscow have been obstructing the efforts of Bush, Blair and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to get relief supplies into southern Iraq to ease suffering. Iraq's civilians remain pawns to be used cynically, by Saddam Hussein and now by the politicians of Paris and Moscow.

Out of these shambles can still come a better diplomatic context for a war that must now be pursued to victory and freedom in Iraq. The administration must pivot quickly from its expected battlefield success to a calculated effort to show the world that Washington will manage post-conflict reconstruction and rehabilitation fairly, efficiently and as briefly as possible.

It will be worse than pointless to prolong arguments over the "whys" -- the right and wrong -- or engage in political recriminations and economic retaliation. Iraq must not become or be seen as a U.S.-only zone.

Annan can play a role. His quiet efforts to minimize U.N. criticism of the coalition and his visible attempts to get relief into Iraq now have earned him denunciations from Baghdad and a chance to restore U.N. credibility in Washington. A steely realist, Annan has a balanced view of the responsibilities that U.N. agencies can and should take on in postwar Iraq.

Blair is also a guiding star for Bush in rearranging the diplomatic shambles into a workable international context for American power. The British prime minister has shown grit, nerve and vision in extraordinary quantities. His views on Europe, while not controlling, should be listened to carefully in Washington.

And it will be time most of all for Powell to do what he has done only sporadically until now: to use U.S. leverage, his own powers of persuasion and a clear vision of American power and diplomacy abroad to move other nations to follow his president. That is any secretary of state's indispensable duty.

-- Jim Hoagland is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.

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