Mashing Our Monster

By Maureen Dowd (NY Times, March 16, 2003)

Everyone thinks the Bush diplomacy on Iraq is a wreck. It isn't. It's a success because it was never meant to succeed.

For the hawks, it's a succès d'estime. (If I may be so gauche as to use a French phrase in a city where federal employees are slapping stickers over the word "French" on packets of French dressing and on machines dispensing French vanilla yogurt at the Capitol. Seeing this made me long for the cold war, when you could eat your Russian dressing in peace and when Jackie Kennedy brought France to heel with élan, brains and charm, rather than scattershot embargos and inane suggestions in the capital L' Enfant planned that we disinter our war dead in France.)

Sure, the Bushies might be feeling a bit rattled right now, with the old international system and the North Atlantic alliance crashing down around their ears.

But you can't transfigure the world without ticking off the world.

It's not a simple task, carving new divisions in Europe, just as Europe is moving past the divisions that led to the greatest tragedies of the 20th century.

The Bush hawks never intended to give peace a chance. They intended to give pre-emption a chance.

They never wanted to merely disarm the slimy Saddam. They wanted to dislodge and dispose of him.

The president's slapped-together Azores summit is not meant to "go the last mile" on diplomacy, as Ari Fleischer put it.

If Mr. Bush really wanted to do that, he'd try to persuade some leaders who disagree with him; he'd confront the antiwar throngs in London, Paris or Berlin and not leave poor, exhausted Tony Blair to always make the case.

The hidden huddle in the Azores is trompe l'oeil diplomacy, giving Mr. Blair a little cover, making Poppy Bush a little happy. Just three pals feigning sitting around the campfire singing "Kumbaya," as the final U.S. troops and matériel move into place in the Persian Gulf and the president's "Interim Iraqi Authority" postwar occupation plan is collated.

The hawks despise the U.N. and if they'd gotten its support, they never would have been able to establish the principle that the U.S. can act wherever and whenever it wants to a Lone Ranger, no Tontos.

Cheney, Rummy, Wolfy, etc. never wanted Colin Powell to find a diplomatic solution. They hate diplomatic solutions. That's why they gleefully junked so many international treaties, multilateral exercises and trans-Atlantic engagements.

They blame the popular Mr. Powell for persuading Bush 41 to end Desert Storm with Saddam still in power, so that the Army would not look as if it was slaughtering the retreating Iraqi Republican Guard.

Once the war stopped, American troops could not intervene to help Shiite Muslims rising up in the south, a rebellion encouraged by Bush 41. Saddam massacred the rebels.

Mr. Powell embodies what the hard-liners want to root out of the American psyche: an "enfeebling" caution, bred by Vietnam, about sending American troops to impose American values.

We'll soon know if the hawks' ambitious foreign policy experiment has a miraculous result, or an anarchic one.

The Los Angeles Times reported on Friday that a classified State Department report debunks the hawks' domino theory and expresses doubt that installing a new regime in Iraq will foster democracy.

And Don Van Natta Jr. of The New York Times reveals that Al Qaeda is using rising anger among young Muslims about the plan to overthrow Saddam to recruit and groom a new generation of terrorists.

It's not easy to superimpose morality with certainty.

As Roger Morris, the author of a Nixon biography, wrote in The Times last week: "Forty years ago, the C.I.A., under President John F. Kennedy, conducted its own regime change in Baghdad, carried out in collaboration with Saddam Hussein."

And America is not known for its long attention span or talent for empire building. As Bob Woodward reports in his book "Bush at War," a month into the bombing of Afghanistan, when the Taliban stronghold of Mazar-i-Sharif fell, Mr. Bush turned to Condoleezza Rice, in a moment straight out of "The Candidate," and asked: "Well, what next?"

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

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