Foreign Policy Blogs

Nostalgic for George Bush

FPA's Public Diplomacy blog published today a post about an author who was quite critical of the Bush administration's conduct of foreign policy. Fred Kaplan gave the next US president advice on how to “undo the damage” done by the Bush administration.

This post reviews another article critical of President Bush's diplomatic practices. Timothy Garton Ash, a British professor and a regular columnist for the Guardian newspaper penned an article this week titled “Europe owes a huge thank you to skilful, patient President George Bush.”

Ash states: “Future historians will record that Europe owes much to George Bush. With patient, accomplished statecraft, they will note, he played midwife to a historic unification of eastern and western Europe. His handling of Russia was little short of masterly. At the same time, he built an impressive international coalition to defeat Saddam Hussein.”

Nostalgic for George BushOnce we get the image of the President dressed up as a midwife out of our heads we can deal with Ash's argument. OK. Unification of Europe? Impressive coalition? “Masterly” diplomacy with Russia? One might ask what planet is Ash on?

But wait-he's talking about Bush's father, George H.W. Bush. In fact Ash's article dishes out a scathing review of Bush Jr.'s diplomatic engagement with Europe, beginning with this remark: “It is painful to reflect how much the father did for Europe in four years and how little (to put it mildly) the son will have achieved in eight.”

(Ash depicted by the New York Review of Books).

He goes on to remark “In short, the W in George W stands for weak. For all the macho Texan swagger – “your man [Blair] has cojones” and so on – this Bush has been, on the things that really matter to the world, a weak president. Whereas the outwardly mild and preppy George Bush Sr was, on things that really mattered to the world, a strong president – that is, an effective practitioner of international statecraft.”

Ash spoke nostalgically of Bush Sr.'s success at unifying Germany in the 1990's, and his “soft-talking” of Mikail Gorbachev into accepting that Germany should belong to NATO. Today Bush Jr. faces resistance from Germany and France over his proposal to fold Ukraine into NATO. Ash comments:

“Had Bush Jr taken a leaf out of his father's book, or at least read Condi's [book about Bush Sr.'s negotiations with Gorbachev]; had he done the intensive, private diplomacy with allies and with Moscow as well as the public diplomacy in Ukraine; called in yesterday's favours; chosen his moment; worried less about form than about content; then the US could, over a number of years, have achieved the desired result in partnership with its European allies. Instead, he's making yet another unilateral cod's ear.”

It's no wonder Ash is nostalgic for Bush senior when you consider how he predicts the world will be like under a Democratic President's watch. Two years ago Ash played Nostradamus for his Guardian readers, writing a fake news story titled “The tragedy that followed Hillary Clinton's bombing of Iran in 2009: In retaliation, suicide bombers trained by Tehran massacred civilians in Tel Aviv, London and New York.

In this doomsday scenario set in 2009 the US goes to war with Iran (with the help of the British military of course) after failing to even consider any diplomatic options. It may come as no surprise that Ash‚ albeit indirectly‚ attributes the resort to war in 2009 to lack and failure of diplomatic engagement by Bush Jr., along with France, Germany and Britain, respectively:

“With hindsight, it appears that the turning point [in the West's relations with Iran] may have come in the spring of 2006. Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, having proclaimed his intention to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, announced that his country had already successfully enriched uranium and hinted that it had the superior P-2 centrifuge technology. Whether true or not, these claims effectively destroyed the last hopes of achieving a diplomatic solution through negotiations led by the so-called E3 – France, Germany and Britain.”

Luckily in the real world diplomatic options for engaging Iran are still open‚ although each US Presidential candidate, Clinton included, says that the military option for getting Iran to halt a nuclear weapons program remains “on the table.” [Here is an interesting analysis of the three candidates’ positions on engaging Iran]. But apparently, at least as Ash sees it, the next President's approach to Iran and the war on terror won't matter much, since Bush Jr. has already set the path for diplomatic failure.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.