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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Iraq & US diplomacy « Previous | |Next »
September 6, 2003

In the light of comments such as this on flawed US planning in Iraq, this article by James P Rubin in Foreign Affairs is very useful. The link is courtesy of Logjam over at High Desert Skeptic.

The article is a diplomatic postmortem that analyses the failure of US public diplomacy to persuade world opinion about the need to invade Iraq. Instead the neo-cons in the US infuriated world opinion, especially in Europe where France and Germany, were treated with disdain and contempt. Ruben puts it well:


"....most of the same countries that had backed the United States in Afghanistan bluntly opposed the campaign -- as, indeed, did most of the world. Washington's failure to muster international support to depose a despised dictator was a stunning diplomatic defeat -- a failure that has not only made it harder to attract foreign troop contributions to help stabilize post-Saddam Iraq, but will more generally damage U.S. foreign policy for years to come."

And Ruben asks the right questions:


"What went wrong? Why, when the leader of the free world went to war with a brutal and hated dictator, did so many countries refuse to take America's side? How much collateral damage was caused in the process? And what lessons can be learned from this debacle?

And he gives good answers:

"First, the fact that Washington's justification for war seemed to shift as occasion demanded led many outside observers to question the Bush administration's motives and to doubt it would ever accept Iraq's peaceful disarmament. Second, the United States failed to synchronize its military and diplomatic tracks. The deployment of American forces in the Middle East seemed to determine American policy, not the other way around, and diplomatic imperatives were given short shrift. Third, the failure to anticipate Saddam's decision to comply partially with UN demands proved disastrous to Washington's strategy. Fourth, the belated effort to achieve a second Security Council resolution could still have succeeded, had the United States been willing to compromise by extending the deadline by just a few weeks. But such a compromise was not forthcoming, which leads to the last lesson: the Bush administration's rhetoric and style alienated rather than persuaded key officials and foreign constituencies, especially in light of Washington's two-year history of scorn for international institutions and agreements."

The Howard Government in Australia turned a blind eye to all this. Its position was simple. The US was right. The critics were wrong. It says that it is all in the past---just so water under the bridge. The US was all powerful. It would destroy the ememies forces. No matter that the moral case was weak and the invasion failed to win legitimacy in the eyes of world opinion. To hell with world opinion. The Coalition of the Willing could stand alone in following the neo-cons unilateral strategy of hegemony and preemption.

Today things are looking so different. The US has big problems in Iraq. It cannot rebuild Iraq alone. It needs the UN. The Howard Government now supports the US as it seeks help from a UN for a multilateral force in Iraq. Was it not so long ago that both the US and Aust dismissed the UN with contempt? People will not forget that history, even if the Howard Government does.

As James Ruben says:


"...troops operating under a UN mandate are far less likely to be regarded as invaders by the local population. Had Washington considered the diplomatic consequences of war as carefully as the military components, much of the collateral damage could have been avoided."

Oh, and do take some time to read Logjam's High Desert Skeptic. It's a great weblog.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 10:50 AM | | Comments (0)
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