In “The Subtle Authoritarianism of the ‘Liberal Order’“, I take on the “liberals” of all parties who presume to know what’s best for all of us, and are bent on making it so through the power of the state. I also had in mind, but didn’t discuss, the smug “liberals” who have long presided over U.S. foreign policy.
One of the smuggies whom I most despise for his conduct of foreign policy is the sainted George H.W. Bush. War hero or not, he failed to protect America and its interests on two notable occasions during his presidency.
The first occasion came during the Gulf War. I have this to say about it in “The Modern Presidency: From TR to DJT”:
The main event of Bush’s presidency was the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Iraq, whose ruler was Saddam Hussein, invaded the small neighboring country of Kuwait. Kuwait produces and exports a lot of oil. The occupation of Kuwait by Iraq meant that Saddam Hussein might have been able to control the amount of oil shipped to other countries, including Europe and the United States. If Hussein had been allowed to control Kuwait, he might have moved on to Saudi Arabia, which produces much more oil than Kuwait. President Bush asked Congress to approve military action against Iraq. Congress approved the action, although most Democrats voted against giving President Bush authority to defend Kuwait. The war ended in a quick defeat for Iraq’s armed forces. But President Bush decided not to allow U.S. forces to finish the job and end Saddam Hussein’s reign as ruler of Iraq.
And the rest is a long, sad history of what probably wouldn’t have happened in 2003 and the years since then.
What I didn’t appreciate when I wrote about Bush’s misadventure in Iraq was his utter fecklessness as the Soviet Union was collapsing. I learned about it from Vladimir Bukovsky‘s Judgment in Moscow: Soviet Crimes and Western Complicity. Bukovsksy is the “I” in the following passages from chapter 6 of the book:
George Bush and his Secretary of State Jim Baker … outdid everyone [including Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan], [in] opposing the inevitable disintegration of the USSR until the very last day.
“Yes, I think I can trust Gorbachev,”—said George Bush to Time magazine just when Gorbachev was beginning to lose control and was tangled hopelessly in his own lies—“I looked him in the eye, I appraised him. He was very determined. Yet there was a twinkle. He is a guy quite sure of what he is doing. He has got a political feel.” [Like father, like son.]
It is notable that this phrase is illogical: if your opponent “believes deeply in what he is doing” does not necessarily mean that he is trustworthy. After all, Hitler also “believed deeply in what he was doing.” But the thought that their aims were diametrically opposed did not enter George Bush’s head. It is not surprising that with such presidential perspicacity, their top-level meeting in Malta (2-3 December 1989) was strongly reminiscent of a second Yalta: in any case, after this the US Department of State invariably maintained that the growing Soviet pressure on the Baltics was “an internal USSR matter.” Even two months prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union Bush, on a visit to Kiev, exhorted Ukraine not to break away.
The extent to which Bush’s administration did not understand the Soviet games in Europe is clear from its position on the reunification of Germany. Secretary of State Baker, who hurried to Berlin immediately after the fall of the Wall, evaluated this event as a demonstration of Gorbachev’s “remarkable realism. To give President Gorbachev his due, he was the first Soviet leader to have the daring and foresight to allow the revocation of the policy of repressions in Eastern Europe.”
And possibly in gratitude for this, Baker’s main interest was to respect the “lawful concern” of his eastern partner by slowing down the process of reunification by all means [quoting Baker:]
In the interest of overall stability in Europe, the move toward reunification must be of a peaceful nature, it must be gradual, and part of a step-by-step process.
The plan he proposed was a total disaster, for it corresponded completely to the Soviet scheme of the creation of a “common European home”: it was envisaged at first to reinforce the European Community, the Helsinki process and promote the further integration of Europe. All this, naturally, without undue haste but “step by step” over the passage of years [again quoting Baker:]
As these changes proceed, as they overcome the division of Europe, so too will the divisions of Germany and Berlin be overcome in peace and freedom.
Furthermore, even without consulting Bonn, he rushed to embrace the Kremlin’s new puppets in Eastern Germany in order to signal “US intentions to try to improve the credibility of the East German political leadership and to forestall a power vacuum that could trigger a rush to unification.” And this was in January 1990, i.e. shortly before the elections in the GDR that actually solved the key question: would Germany reunite on Soviet conditions, or Western ones? Luckily the East Germans were less “patient” and smarter: knowing well what they were dealing with, they voted for immediate reunification, ignoring Baker and the pressure of the whole world.
Why, then, did the West and the USA with its seemingly conservative, even anti-communist administration, yearn for this “stabilization” or, to put it more simply, salvation of the Soviet regime?
Let us allow that Baker was ignorant, pompous and big-headed, dreaming of some kind of global structures “from Vancouver to Vladivostok”, of which he would be the architect362 (“the Baker doctrine”). I remember at one press-conference I even suggested introducing a unit of measurement for political brainlessness—one baker (the average man in the street would be measured in millibakers). At the very height of the bloody Soviet show in Bucharest at Christmas in 1989, he stated that “They are attempting to pull off the yoke of a very oppressive and repressive dictatorship. So I think that we would be inclined probably to follow the example of France, who today has said that if the Warsaw Pact felt it necessary to intervene on behalf of the opposition, that it would support that action.” The new pro-Soviet policy of the USA after the top-level meeting in Malta he explained by saying that “the Soviet Union has switched sides, from that of oppression and dictatorships to democracy and change.” This was said at the moment when the Soviet army was smashing the democratic opposition in Baku, killing several hundred people people (which Baker also “treated with understanding”). But Baker was not alone, and this cannot be explained away by sheer stupidity. That is the tragedy, that such an idiotic position was shared by practically all Western governments, including the conservative ones.
Baker and Bush, what a team.
America’s enemies will do what they will do, whether our “leaders” are nice to them or confront them. And when they are confronted forcefully (and even forcibly), they are more likely to be deterred (and even prevented) from acting against America.
For most of the past century, U.S. foreign policy has been run by smug “liberals” who have projected their own feelings onto the likes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ho, Putin, Saddam, and the ayatollahs. And where has it landed us? Scrambling from behind to win in World War II, on the defensive against Communist expansion, losing or failing to win wars against vastly inferior enemies, and giving our enemies time (and money) in which to arm themselves to attack our overseas interests and even our homeland. This tragic history has been abetted by hand-wringing from the usual suspects in the academy, the media, the foreign-policy tea-leaf-reading-signal-sending society, the left generally (though I am being redundant), and “liberals” of all political persuasions who are feckless to the core when it comes to dealing with domestic and foreign thugs.
Enough! I hope and believe that’s what President Trump just said, in effect, when he authorized the killing of Iran’s General Soleimani.
A Grand Strategy for the United States
The Folly of Pacifism
Transnationalism and National Defense
The Folly of Pacifism, Again
September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of “Unity”
Patience as a Tool of Strategy
The War on Terror, As It Should Have Been Fought
The Cuban Missile Crisis, Revisited
Preemptive War and Iran
Some Thoughts and Questions about Preemptive War
Defense as an Investment in Liberty and Prosperity
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The World Turned Upside Down
Utilitarianism and Torture
Defense Spending: One More Time
The President’s Power to Kill Enemy Combatants
My Defense of the A-Bomb
LBJ’s Dereliction of Duty
Terrorism Isn’t an Accident
The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues
Planning for the Last War
A Rearview Look at the Invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror
Preemptive War Revisited
It’s a MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD World
The Folly of Pacifism (III)
“MAD, Again”: A Footnote
More MADness: Mistaking Bureaucratic Inertia for Strategy
World War II As an Aberration
Reflections on the “Feel Good” War