While the anti-Saddam uprising he had called for was being mercilessly put down, President Bush went fishing.
His spokesmen declared that we would not interfere in the internal affairs of a country 20 percent of whose territory we occupy, 100 percent of whose air space we control and whose oil revenues, arms trade and unconventional weapons we propose to regulate by fiat of the U.N. Security Council.This is cynicism of a high order. To have permitted Saddam to slaughter thousands of Shiites in southern Iraq and to devastate the Kurdish north is a blot not easily washed away.
Bush's indifference to the rebels he encouraged is being compared to our betrayal of the Hungarian revolutionaries whom we encouraged in 1956. The better analogy is the Red Army of 1944, triumphantly sweeping through Poland but stopping at the gates of Warsaw while the Nazis annihilated the (anti-communist) Polish resistance.
A president simply has no right to call a foreign leader Hitler - correctly, as Saddam has demonstrated yet again in the mountains of Kurdistan - and then stand by while he massacres his people by the thousands.
The president's spokesmen airily dismiss these objections as the complaints of a few columnists out of sync with the public mood.
The president's men were not so dismissive six months ago when these very same columnists were the only ones supporting the use of force to liberate Kuwait. Then, too, the public was at best ambivalent about intervention. Then, however, the president led. Now he goes fishing.
What happened? Bush has returned to his Tiananmen mode: The conduct of foreign policy as the coldest realpolitik. It is symbolic that while the massacre was on in Iraq, Brent Scowcroft was sent on a secret mission to Saudi Arabia, recalling his secret diplomacy in 1989 to mend fences with the butchers of Tiananmen Square.
The mission to Saudi Arabia is doubly symbolic because the president has allowed himself to become the instrument of Saudi policy.
The one country in the region that favors the current denouement in Iraq is Saudi Arabia. Its primary goal is to prevent a Shiite ascendancy in southern Iraq or Baghdad. This might strengthen Iran and/or encourage the restless Shiites in Saudi Arabia's oil-rich, eastern province.
The Sunni Saudis prefer some Sunni thug running Iraq with an iron hand. They would prefer that the thug not be called Saddam, but that is a detail.
The United States has larger interests than that, but Bush, close as he has been with the Saudis since his oil days, seems oblivious to them.
We have an interest in some kind of pluralism and democracy in the region. The Saudis do not. We have an interest in repairing relations with the Shiites and establishing relations with the Kurds. The Saudis are hostile to the first and indifferent to the second. And most of all, we have an interest in demonstrating that we do not conduct our foreign policy at the same level of cynicism and indifference to human rights as do the states of the region.
Bush the realpolitician is missing the connection between America's moral and geopolitical standing. The gulf war marks the official beginning of an era of Pax Americana. The president calls it the New World Order. By whatever name, the fact is that the United States is now the dominant power on the globe.
Now, historically, the world recoils at the thought of a single dominant power for fear of what it will do with its power. Much of the world fought against Germany (World War II) and resisted the Soviet Union (the Cold War) for just that reason.
America is an exception to this rule. Most people who live under our influence welcome it. For every country demanding that Soviet troops leave their territory, there are two begging American forces to stay. When the people shut out of Pax Americana are offered entry, as the East Germans were, they vote overwhelmingly to join.
The world acquiesces to American hegemony because the world generally sees it as benign. The war for Kuwait has bolstered the sense that America acts not just out of self-interest but a sense of right.
Our easy jettisoning of that sense of right as soon as the war ended not only taints the whole Kuwaiti adventure, it puts the benignity of Pax America in question. Friends, allies and neutrals will be more reluctant to fall in behind a superpower that is driven by the coldest calculation of its own self-interest.
Most people are quite prepared to accept American ascendancy as probably as good a way as there is to keep order in the world.
Our indifference to the slaughter in Iraq, so characteristic of a traditional hegemony, might give them second thoughts: Perhaps they should be as independent as possible from us, lest when their interests and ours diverge, even if their cause is just, we might let them go the way of the Kurds.