Leadership Drifting Away

March 5, 2003

On 9/11, French leaders stood before the world and declared "We are All Americans." That day in front of Buckingham Palace in London, in Moscow and in Tokyo the world suffered with us and on that day George Bush had a capital account of huge proportions, an opportunity to unite the world against terror, to lead, to reach for the high ground. Out of suffering could come transformation. The world was ready to be led.

Within hours of the event the president was instead urged by his war ministers to make war on Iraq and within weeks the president had agreed. In January of the next year he publicly identified Iraq as a target and in June he announced his doctrine of preemptive strike. It was probably then that his moral authority began to unravel and with it the historic military alliance of post-World War II. The United Nations was still willing as late as the fall of last year to give the president the benefit of the doubt. But the justifications for war kept changing. First it was Saddam the butcher and an American effort to support the people of Iraq. Then it went to Saddam's weapons, then to his lying, then he was a non-cooperator. Then it was about democracy. Or maybe it was all these reasons together. The bewildered world suspected that maybe it was about oil and about empire and grew more cautious. When it was the weapons, the UN proposed inspections and the president said it was not weapons, it was lying. When the UN said lying is not bad enough to unleash massive war, Colin Powell said it was connections with Al Qaeda, or potential connections. When the CIA admitted we did not know of actual Al Qaeda connections the president said it was that Saddam was evil and could never be contained. The flow of reasons appeared more and more manufactured to support a predetermined American intention for war. It was as if the decision in Washington had already been made way back after 9/11, and of course in this the world turned out to be correct. The decision had been made at Camp David in advance of any evidence. It was a decision in fulfillment of a dream of Secretaries Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. There was therefore a growing sense among our allies that consultation with them was merely a pretext, an attempt to confirm some plan for American global dominion. If that was the issue, if American empire was the objective, the allies would no longer agree. The alliance would unravel. By November the president was winning big in elections at home but he was sacrificing the global alliance to do it.

Today, 300,000 American troops are poised in the desert to put their lives and the lives of millions of Iraqis in danger because, it is said, Saddam does not keep his word, that is, for 'non-cooperation,' for breach of contract. Never mind that the United States has also got a formal legal contract with the United Nations, a treaty which is the supreme law of our land under our own constitution, a treaty which requires us not to attack unless we face armed attack ourselves. Never mind that the US sits ready to commit aggression as defined by the Nüremberg principles. Never mind that aggression is a war crime. Never mind that democracy would better be served if we also kept our word.

In a display of democratic independence the Turkish parliament turned down a 16-billion dollar US bribe and rejected our request to assist this aggression. We wanted democracy in an Islamic country and we got it. Free speech has led to Russia, China, France, Germany, and a parade of nations finding fault. Even 122 members of Tony Blair's labor party are in revolt. Italy's government has gone quiet and Italian stevedores are blocking the movement of American war materiel through their ports. The European Union is split; NATO is split; leaders in Europe are vying for leadership in the vacuum. The gossamer and imaginary web of Bush's moral authority has now been shredded by global tornado of unprecedented proportions.

In Britain, Pakistan, India, Spain, the Philippines, Greece, South Africa, Mexico and Chile, governments are being destabilized by one man's single minded determination for war. The ripple effects are beginning to make it look like the real battle is Bush against the world. If he unleashes his juggernaut upon a weaker enemy now, he will lose whatever is left of his moral capital. If he does not attack he will lose whatever is left of his credibility. The man who intended democracy in Iraq has given the world a full democratic view of his own contradictions and weakness and, as it happens, his own leadership is drifting away.