From the beginning of the Persian Gulf crisis, President Bush has used diplomacy to create and bind an international coalition to support U.S. policy against Saddam Hussein and as a lever to try to pry Saddam out of Kuwait.
The coalition tactic worked. The lever did not."From the standpoint of supporting policy, the Bush administration's diplomacy has been highly effective, putting together the coalition, getting the resolutions through the United Nations," said David D. Newsom, director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University and a career diplomat whose ambassadorial posts have included Libya, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Winning the United Nations' approval to use force against Saddam if necessary, said Newsom, "was quite an astonishing diplomatic achievement."
However, in the more traditional view of diplomacy's usefulness, Newsom said: "If there was a failure, it's to resolve this without the use of force."
Throughout the crisis, American diplomacy has had to overcome unusual obstacles. By drawing such a deep line in the sand with non-negotiable demands for unconditional withdrawal by Iraq, the president left his envoys little of the usual maneuvering room to find common ground upon which to build a peaceful solution.
At the same time, the two sides consistently looked at the crisis and its roots across a gap of mutual incomprehension. For the United States and its allies, the crisis began Aug. 2, the day Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the only issue was Iraq's aggression. For Saddam, the decision to invade was colored by decadeslong Arab resentment against the West, resentment against colonialism and his own personal ambitions.
That diplomacy did nothing to bridge that gap could be ranked as another of its failures in the crisis, Newsom said.
Even with war, diplomacy is likely to have a continuing role in the gulf crisis. Some analysts expect that Saddam might be given a brief breathing spell to reconsider his options after a short, devastating demonstration of Western firepower. If that lull comes, said Newsom, "It's important to listen for indications of some willingness to talk on the other side."
"Diplomacy is not just talking. It's also observing and listening," Newsom said.