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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of October 23 - 29, 2002

Opinion Columns

A strategy at odds with the world community

Commentary by ADAM TANOUS

Former President Clinton once remarked in an interview that George W. Bush’s political acumen should not be underestimated. The implication was that the naïve, country boy aura of the current president is not what it seems. And as time goes on, it would appear that Clinton knew what he was talking about.

Bush, indeed, seems to have a firm grasp of the dynamics of national politics. Where he seems to be lacking is in an understanding or perhaps just an appreciation of international politics. The Iraq debate provides an example of Bush’s astute national politicking working against our international interests and goals.

It is quite evident that the president is determined to do something about Saddam Hussein, his government and weapons. Some argue that Bush decided long ago that he would use military force to remove Hussein from power; others are convinced that military force is simply the stick with which to force-feed Hussein the carrot.

Early on in the political wrangling, the president’s press secretary and legal counsel made a half-hearted attempt to argue that the president didn’t really need congressional approval to go to war anyway. But President Bush quickly retrieved that trial balloon. Deep down he probably knew he would eventually need a congressional resolution to comply with the legal wrinkle of Article I of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to declare war. But more pressing for Bush was to forge a political foundation on which to stand.

The president had a choice: He could go to the American people and Congress first or to the United Nations first. Knowing that the U.N. debate would likely drag out for weeks, maybe months, Bush realized that the Nov. 5 elections would likely come and go before any resolution was hammered out there.

And there’s the rub. With control of the House and the Senate very much in play—a one-seat difference in the Senate and six-seat difference in the House—the odds of prevailing in the Congress after the election looked dicey. In choosing to get the debate moving and decided before Nov. 5, Bush had the political leverage he needed. The president was well aware that anyone voting against giving him military authority would pay for it in the voting booth. The pressure was especially acute given the fervor of patriotism that has come over the nation after the attacks of Sept. 11. When President Bush made the rhetorical effort, however subtle, to conjoin the issues of terrorism and Iraq, he certainly added to the momentum of his support. To vote against authorization would be equated with doing nothing about terrorism. It was a questionable but, nonetheless, effective link to make.

So, in the short term and in the national arena, it was a smart move to force the early vote. But in terms of world politics it was a mistake. By going after and getting authority for military action prior to the U.N. resolution, Bush sent a signal to the world community. It was to say not only can we act unilaterally, but we will, regardless of any vote by the Security Council. Implicit in this stance is an attitude of arrogance. What’s more, it implies the irrelevance of other U.N. nations. It is precisely what the world has been telling us about our foreign policy of late.

And, in fact, it is unlikely the Bush administration would quibble with this assessment. The policy is laid out very clearly in the recently published 33-page document titled "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America." This is a foreign policy paper that the president is legally required to produce on a regular basis.

The strategy paper lays out two key themes: one, that the U.S. will employ pre-emptive action against rogue states and terrorists and, two, that we should never allow the military supremacy of the U.S.—a fallout of the Cold War—to be challenged. In the words of the authors of the document: "The president has no intention of allowing any foreign power to catch up with the huge lead the United States has opened since the fall of the Soviet Union more than a decade ago. Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States."

Both themes represent profound shifts in our approach to the world. Deterrence has been the philosophy since the beginning of the Cold War. And, in one regard, Bush is quite right: Deterrence is a moot point in the modern world. Deterrence is predicated on self-interest and rational behavior, neither of which come into play when we are dealing with terrorists. For deterrence to work, the powers involved have to have something to lose. A terrorist group comprising martyrs and without a state does not fit into the equation.

The trouble Bush will face with pre-emptive action is the arbitrary nature of it. Now that North Korea, another member of the illustrious "axis of evil," has admitted to carrying out a nuclear weapons program, in defiance of a 1994 agreement with the U.S., shouldn’t we strike them? They are as much a threat to us and our allies as is Iraq. No doubt there are other countries trying to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. We can’t wage war against everybody, so how do we decide whom to obliterate?

The second theme of our strategy is equally troubling. It not only asserts the military dominance of the U.S. in the world, but it dictates that we will maintain a unilateral world through military might. Will we, again arbitrarily, decide that a certain nation is getting powerful enough to warrant a military strike? Where do we draw that line, and who draws it?

Both themes are bold approaches to a dynamic and difficult world situation. But they also unnecessarily paint us into a war-mongering corner. Almost by definition, strategies and policies demand a certain degree of consistency. With such a far-reaching policy, we are going to find consistency illusive, if not impossible to maintain.

The Bush administration is taking the stance that since we are much more powerful than the rest of the world, we will not only be the world’s policeman, but we will be its judge as well. For the most part, our nation has always done the right thing when it comes to the world stage. We have been, in general, forthright and moral over the course of time. That is not to say we will be impeccably moral or infallible in the future. In the end, we are telling the world, "Trust us."

It’s a leap of faith and one the other nations of the world are being told to take over an ever-widening gap.



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