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The Bush Touch: Turning Friends into Enemies

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George W. Bush came to power on January 20, 2001. He inherited the most powerful military force ever assembled in human history, and the most significant system of military alliances that any nation had ever constructed. It would be wrong to say that this was the product of the Administration of Bill Clinton. More accurately, it was the result of a bipartisan tradition in foreign policy and defense planning that stretched back to the era of Truman. Bush, however, was intent on using foreign adventures as a partisan political tool to enhance his grip on the helm of state. And he had little patience for or interest in alliances. The theme of his seven years of foreign and defense policy has been unilateralism.

One by one the leaders on the world stage who put their faith in Bush and thoughtlessly did his bidding have fallen in disgrace, usually rejected by their own voters. The first to go were Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi and Spain’s José María Aznar. Then Britain’s Tony Blair was forced to surrender 10 Downing Street to his Chancellor of the Exchequer, to give Labour a fighting chance to hold a majority in the next election. In the last week, Jaros?aw Kaczy?ski, a conservative ally in Poland fell, and over the weekend, Bush’s most faithful follower in the entire pack, the veritable boot-licker John Howard of Australia. In each case, the association with George W. Bush was electoral cyanide to voters back home.

Says former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, a man close to Bush’s father and to Henry Kissinger, in a recent interview with Die Zeit, given the choice between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush, he’ll opt for the man in the Kremlin. Bush 43 is just “too dangerous.”

When Bush’s presidency is written up for the history books, one aspect will merit a special chapter, and that is the amazing alchemy by which Bush turned America’s staunchest allies around the world into disaffected onlookers, if not in fact enemies. He is gifted with the opposite of the diplomatic Midas touch.

Another story out on Sunday, following right on the heels of the crushing defeat Australian voters dealt to John Howard, showed the depth of the problem, which most Americans underassess.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Anglican Primate, is not exactly a radical priest. He’s been solidly on the traditionalist side of the debates within the Anglican Communion on issues such as the ordination of women, the consecration of homosexuals as bishops and he has no equivocation in condemning abortion. But Williams’s conservatism had led him repeatedly to question the wisdom of Prime Minister Blair’s alignment with the United States in the War on Terror. And in an interview published this weekend, he unloaded. In fact, he called George W. Bush’s America a threat to Christian civilization. The Sunday Times (London) reports:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the United States wields its power in a way that is worse than Britain during its imperial heyday. Rowan Williams claimed that America’s attempt to intervene overseas by “clearing the decks” with a “quick burst of violent action” had led to “the worst of all worlds”.

In a wide-ranging interview with a British Muslim magazine, the Anglican leader linked criticism of the United States to one of his most pessimistic declarations about the state of western civilisation.
He said the crisis was caused not just by America’s actions but also by its misguided sense of its own mission. He poured scorn on the “chosen nation myth of America, meaning that what happens in America is very much at the heart of God’s purpose for humanity”. . .

Williams suggested American leadership had broken down: “We have only one global hegemonic power. It is not accumulating territory: it is trying to accumulate influence and control. That’s not working.” He contrasted it unfavourably with how the British Empire governed India. “It is one thing to take over a territory and then pour energy and resources into administering it and normalising it. Rightly or wrongly, that’s what the British Empire did — in India, for example. “It is another thing to go in on the assumption that a quick burst of violent action will somehow clear the decks and that you can move on and other people will put it back together — Iraq, for example.”

Update
A reader notes that today the Boston Globe has published an entire photogallery to accompany my post. It’s entitled “Bush’s Disappearing Alliances,” and can be viewed here.

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