President’s international policy a failure

Steve Chapman: syndicated columnist

In 1980, a book was published about the failure of liberal policies in New York City. Its title, “The Cost of Good Intentions,” soon became a conservative catchphrase about the limits of expansive government.

Even the best motives could produce dismal results. Policies had to be judged not by their ostensible purposes, but by their consequences.

What many conservatives didn’t recognize then is the lesson learned from Great Society programs also holds for foreign policy and military undertakings. What counts is not so much whether government means well, but whether it does well.

By that standard, the Bush administration’s approach to international relations must be judged a failure. In almost every part of the world, the United States faces graver problems today than when the president took office on Jan. 20, 2001 — or in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. And things keep getting worse.

Looking around the globe, it’s rare to see a bright spot. The North Koreans are building nukes and testing missiles. The Iranians are moving steadily toward building their own atomic arsenal. Israel suddenly finds itself fighting a two-front war.

Afghanistan has suffered escalating violence and a resurgence of the Taliban, and Osama bin Laden is still at large. Russia has moved in the wrong direction on democracy and human rights. And there is Iraq, wracked by mayhem that claims hundreds of American and Iraqi lives monthly.

Even in less menacing parts of the world, things look bleak.

Latin America is moving to the left under the influence of Venezuela’s fervently anti-American President Hugo Chavez. Public opinion in the Muslim world is almost universally against us.

Relations with our European allies have rarely been worse. About the only improvement has come with Germany — owing partly to the fact that things were so bad in Bush’s first term.

Early on, Bush decided he was going to show more toughness than Bill Clinton. He broke off negotiations with North Korea. Iran took our side when we went after the Taliban, but Bush rebuffed the overture. When a coup briefly ousted Chavez, a democratically elected leader, the administration cheered.

Sometimes, Bush chose a less confrontational approach. He had nothing but warm words for the former KGB agent who rules Russia. He declined to follow up on Clinton’s unsuccessful efforts to broker a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians. When the CIA told him al-Qaida was behind the bombing of the USS Cole, he didn’t retaliate.

After 9/11, though, the administration decided that using or threatening force was the only way to go. Bush courted a showdown with Saddam Hussein. He labeled Iran and North Korea part of the “axis of evil” and assured them, “The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”

The administration was confident that by removing a dictator in Iraq, we would intimidate a host of bad actors.

By establishing democracy in Iraq, we were told, we would promote popular rule across the Middle East, advancing both peace and freedom.

This approach achieved one obvious success when Libya abandoned its nuclear program. Elsewhere, things have not gone to plan.

Elections brought terrorists into government in the Palestinian Authority and Lebanon. Instead of capitulating, North Korea and Iran have behaved worse than ever.

Peace has yet to break out in the Middle East. The Security Council is not leaping to do our bidding.

Conservatives may say Bill Clinton also mishandled many of these situations. They may be right. If Bush is doing a better job than Clinton, though, you would expect to see better outcomes. Good trees are supposed to produce good fruit. What we’re harvesting is pretty hard to swallow.

Steve Chapman writes for Creators Syndicate. Contact him at:
schapman@tribune.com