George Bush's Foreign Policy Was Nothing to Write Home About
Long Beach Press-Telegram
Long Beach, California
March 28, 1993
Although some political pundits praised George Bush's foreign policy, it was no better than his domestic policies that cost him the election.
President Bush inherited the final chapter of the fall of communism that Ronald Reagan had set in motion. But Bush did not know what to do with it. Foreign policy lies in preventing war and Bush failed in Iraq and former Yugoslavia.
The parallels between Iraq and former Yugoslavia are remarkable. A week before Iraq invaded Kuwait, U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie assured Saddam Hussein that the United States had no opinion on Iraq's border dispute with Kuwait, and implied the United States would not interfere. Secretary of State James A. Baker told Belgrade the United States had "no position" on Yugoslavia's border disputes and Yugoslavia should use "all means possible to preserve the stability of the country". The Serb military took his statements as tacit approval that a Serb-controlled Yugoslavia was a key to stability. Interestingly, Hussein and Slobodan Milosevic have survived Bush.
Since the end of World War II, the linchpin in U.S. policy was to contain communism, encourage self-determination and champion human rights. Bush abandoned these tenets in Russia, the very country for which these policies were specifically formulated, and in Yugoslavia. But in Yugoslavia, Bush, seemingly unable to comprehend "realpolitik", continued his policy of status quo, snubbed Boris Yeltsin, supported Mikhael Gorbachev, and most importantly, the survival of the communist Soviet Union.
The unexpected fall of the Berlin Wall was the seminal event that reversed fear of the Russian monolith into euphoria and bravado. Believing what the United States verbalized, all of the former captive nations, without exception, looked to Washington for approval and guidance in their self-determination efforts. However, they were rudely awakened with U.S. realpolitik.
What transpired in Yugoslavia's is a microcosm of a rude awakening. Bush ignored highly credible CIA warnings in 1990 that Yugoslavia would break up spontaneously within 18 months into a violent civil war. The Bush administration threw its diplomatic weight against the idea of independence of any of the Yugoslav republics in the mistaken concerns that succession and nationalism would become contagious and destabilize the Soviet Union. Yet Bush's proponents claims he deserves praise for seizing the opportunity to promote democracy in the void created by the collapse of Soviet communism.
Bush reverted to Henry Kissinger's theses that status quo is the key to stability, which was in sharp contrast to Reagan's approach of a clear priority to self-determination and human rights. In December 1991 Bush reiterated that states should neither be created nor destroyed. Condemning "suicidal nationalism," he begged Ukrainians to remain in the Soviet Union and stick with reliable Gorbachev.
Following Secretary of State James Baker's Belgrade's speech, Serbs forces unleashed their attack on the republics that opted for self-determination. Heeding his advisers, the Bush administration consistently blamed the war on Croatia.
It is noteworthy that before being named advisers, Lawrence Eagleburger and General Brent Scowcroft were principles and served on the board of Kissinger and Associates, whose major clients included Yugoslav government-owned industries and banks. When Eagleburger went back to the State Department as deputy secretary he received $1.14 million in severance pay from his former employer.
Bush remained aloof about the Balkan crisis until presidential candidate Bill Clinton called for armed protection of relief operations. Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater labeled Clinton's idea "reckless," but a few days later the administration came out with basically the same statement
Bush dismissed the Bosnian horror as a "hiccup" one month after the United Nations Commission for Refugees said the conflict resulted in 2.2 million refugees. Not until Bush lost the election did the administration start to make statesmanship like noises. It was a little too late for millions of refugees, the wounded and the countless dead.
President Clinton certainly did not inherit a silver spoon. Facing a multitude of problems - domestic and foreign - in his first real test he did not implicitly bow to Lord Owen's pressure. Rather, he appears to have stepped outside of U.N. guidelines and is in the process of implementing strong economic sanctions against Yugoslavia. Clinton wants the United States to take a more active role in the peace negotiations and would back a plan with U.S. troops.
The cantonization of Bosnia is nebulous. Ultimately, what has been advocated by Clinton in the presidential campaign - lift the arms embargo that prevents Bosnians from effectively defending themselves, use American air power to counter Serbian aggression and not to use American ground troops in any capacity may prove to be the only feasible solution. It would take no Solomon to know what the Bosnians choose if there had a choice - to have no "peacemakers" and the means to defend themselves than be denied the means and be mired with peace-keepers who cannot keep the peace.