Bush has spent the world's goodwill on reform in the Arab world. It was the most dangerous path, except for all the othersby Jonathan Rauch / June 20, 2003 / Leave a comment
Quagmire? sure, the war in Iraq was a quagmire. It was just a short quagmire. On the spectrum of quagmires, it was the shortest since the six day war. In fairness, the war’s critics feared a quagmire not so much during the fight as after, and they had a point. One reason the first Bush administration didn’t drive to Baghdad in 1991 was to avoid an American occupation of a major Arab country. And now there we are.
Still, George W Bush can probably do a better job in Iraq than Saddam Hussein did. The new quagmire is unlikely to be as bad as the old one. The stronger objection to the war invokes not the “Q” word but the “S” one: squander. As in: President Bush won in Iraq, but in the process he has squandered the world’s goodwill.
Howard Dean, a Democratic presidential candidate and former Vermont governor, blames Bush for turning the “tidal wave of support and goodwill that engulfed us after the tragedy of 9/11” into “distrust, scepticism, and hostility… It could take decades to repair the damage.” Poll numbers suggest that America’s war in Iraq did indeed come at a high cost in international support. In European countries-including Britain, Italy, and Spain, all of whose governments supported the war-public opinion turned sharply against the US.
In March, on the eve of the American invasion, Ipsos (an international public opinion research firm) asked people in Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and Spain whether their government’s foreign policy should “get closer to the US or distance itself more from the US.” In all of these countries, except Germany, respondents called for more distance from the US, usually by large ratios: 63-28 per cent in Japan, 60-13 in Spain, 54-38 in Canada, and 52-36 even in Britain. The Germans split 44-46 per cent, hardly a vote of confidence.
Bush’s supporters retort that post-9/11 sympathy was ephemeral. At the end of the day, they argue, a strong America will attract more support than a weak one. In any case, France and Russia were determined to play the spoiler; it was the world that squandered America’s goodwill more than the other way around.
Probably, possibly, and maybe. It’s all very complicated. But those arguments miss the larger point. The talk of squandering is fundamentally misconceived. Bush did not squander the world’s goodwill. He spent it, which is…