Essays on American politics and foreign policy

By Donald E. Nuechterlein

Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy, including

  • Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
  • America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
  • A Cold War Odyssey, 1997


Donald Nuechterlein



President Bush's new national security strategy, set forth in a 31-page White House document on September 17, is more conciliatory on coalition-building with allies than recent rhetoric flowing from the Pentagon indicates. Yet, his new policy may not gain Germany's support for a likely war in Iraq.

In July a crescendo of arguments urging war with Iraq was pressed by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and a key Pentagon adviser, Richard Perle. They and others asserted that the United States, with Britain, should undertake a large military operation against Iraq and, if necessary, without other European allies. They urged action even though key Arab countries--Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan--were opposed. During the 1991 Gulf War Saudi Arabia was the major staging area for allied troops.

Some war hawks also contended that there was no need to obtain Congressional approval because this military operation would be a continuation of the Gulf War which had failed to stop Iraq from acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

One Pentagon consultant predicted that ousting Saddam Hussein's regime would be "a piece of cake." Pro-war rhetoric became so intense that a group of Republicans in Congress and influential officials from the first Bush administration weighed in with these counter arguments:

President Bush made an eloquent appeal to the United Nations on September 12 to enforce its previous resolutions on disarming Iraq, or risk becoming irrelevant. Since then Secretary of State Colin Powell has negotiated with other members of the Security Council to draft a new resolution that imposes tougher arms inspections on Iraq.

Bush's appeal to the United Nations made clear to the world, and to official Washington, that he did not intend to act unilaterally on Iraq unless diplomatic efforts and renewed arms inspections prove futile and the Security Council fails to approve. "Coalition building" has now returned to Washington's lexicon, and Colin Powell is carrying the ball for the president's campaign to build international support for confronting Iraq on its defiance of U.N. resolutions.

Bush's security strategy

George Bush issued a thirty-one page document in mid-September titled: "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America." It is a clearly written, somewhat stunning paper because it represents a fundamental change in the way the United States views the international security environment and America's new role in dominating it.

Among the most interesting parts is a section headed: "Develop Agendas for Cooperative Action with the Other Main Centers of Global Power." It contains these key sentences: "America will implement its strategies by organizing coalitions--as broad as practicable--of states able and willing to promote a balance of power that favors freedom." The report adds this bit of diplomatic wisdom: "Effective coalition leadership requires clear priorities, an appreciation of others' interests, and consistent consultations among partners with a spirit of humility." {emphasis added}

This does not sound like the go-it-alone unilateralist foreign policy that super hawks were trumpeting during the summer. In fact, the White House document is a significant change from the words of Vice President Richard Cheney who declared in Nashville on August 27 that "it would be useless, if not a dangerous delay, to seek a United Nations resolution requiring that Iraq submit to weapons inspectors." His statement got headlines around the world.

Germany's response

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder reacted swiftly to Cheney's statement. The following day he said in an interview that the vice president's views signaled a shift in U.S. foreign policy away from U.N. inspections and toward the goal of removing Saddam Hussein by military means regardless of whether inspections occur. "It's the change of aim that is the mistake," he said.

Two days later the German defense minister warned that a special detachment of German troops, trained in combating chemical and biological warfare, would be withdrawn from Kuwait

if the United States launched an attack on Iraq. Schroeder then declared during the recent election campaign that his government would not participate in a war on Iraq, even if the U.N. Security Council approved. The chancellor strained his relations with the Bush administration by characterizing a war in Iraq as an "adventure."

To compound matters further, two days before Germany's September 22 election a member of the Schroeder's cabinet said that Bush's domestic tactics regarding Iraq were similar to those used by Hitler. This brought an unprecedented rebuke from Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, who called this a "poisonous" blow to U.S-German relations. After Schroeder's coalition government was returned to power, by a narrow margin, Bush did not send the usual congratulatory message. Secretary Rumsfeld snubbed his German counterpart at a NATO defense ministers' meeting in Poland.

Although efforts are underway to mend relations between Berlin and Washington, the larger damage done to U.S.-European relations remains.

Schroeder's refusal to participate in war against Iraq may have contributed to Bush's decision to tone down the war talk and give Colin Powell the lead to get a new, tougher, inspections resolution from the United Nations.

It is important to note that latent pacifism remains strong in German politics even after fifty years of recovery from World War II. Chancellor Schroeder recognized that public opinion was strongly against war with Iraq and took advantage of that mood when U.S. officials talked of launching war instead of getting inspectors back into Iraq.

The British government under Prime Minister Tony Blair strongly supports Bush on Iraq, but France's President Jacques Chirac opposes war except as a last resort. President Vladimir Putin of Russia also disapproves of war unless Saddam Hussein rejects U.N. measures to disarm.

Bush's policy dilemma

The president's national security doctrine rests on the tip of a major foreign policy dilemma. On one hand he wants the United States to lead the world in 1) establishing a safe world order against terrorists and states that harbor them, 2) building a global economic community that offers rising living standards to people everywhere, and 3) promoting freedom and democracy in areas where they do not currently exist.

But the president also says that the United States, with all its economic and military power, cannot accomplish these goals without the help of allies and friends., not least our European allies. Germany's refusal to participate in a second Gulf War, which Schroeder reiterated after his reelection, France's opposes using force against Iraq, and Russia's bargaining for economic concessions and a free hand in Chechnya are serious impediments.

So, if George Bush thinks that America should not police the world alone, he needs to curtail the go-it-alone rhetoric that comes from the Pentagon and the White House itself.

File last modified on Thursday, 13-AUG-2004 07:00 PM EST

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