Debating President Bush’s Foreign Policy
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MARGARET WARNER: As President Bush arrives in Europe to meet with longtime allies, his stewardship of foreign affairs remains a contentious issue abroad. Here, for example, is an exchange he had with an Irish television reporter shortly before he left.
CAROL COLEMAN: No doubt you will be welcomed by our political leaders. Unfortunately, the majority of our public do not welcome your visit because they’re angry over Iraq, they’re angry over Abu Ghraib. Are you bothered by what Irish people think?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Listen, I hope the Irish people understand the great values of our country. And if they think that a few soldiers represents the entirety of America, they don’t really understand America then. There have been great ties between Ireland and America, and we’ve got a lot of Irish Americans here that are very proud of their heritage and their country. But, you know, they must not understand if they’re angry over Abu Ghraib– if they say “this is what America represents,” they don’t understand our country.
CAROL COLEMAN: I think there is a feeling that the world has become a more dangerous place because you have taken the focus off al-Qaida and diverted into Iraq. Do you not see that the world is a more dangerous place?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I do believe the world is a safer place and becoming a safer place. I know that a free Iraq is going to be a necessary part of changing the world. Listen, people join terrorist organizations because there’s no hope and there’s no chance to raise their families in a peaceful world where there is not freedom.
MARGARET WARNER: The president’s handling of foreign affairs is also contentious here at home. Last week, a bipartisan group of 27 retired Foreign Service and military officers issued a statement lambasting the administration’s performance, and saying, “it’s time for a change” in the White House.
Here to debate the points raised are two retired foreign service officers: Former Ambassador William Harrop, who signed the statement. He served as ambassador to five countries including Israel, and as a deputy assistant secretary of state. And Joseph Sisco: He served as undersecretary of state for political affairs, and held two assistant secretary posts. Welcome to you both. Ambassador Harrop, this was a very unusual move for former Foreign Service officers who rarely take a partisan stand publicly, to call for the defeat of a sitting president. Why did you do this?
WILLIAM HARROP: You know, it is very unusual. We’ve worked with Republican administrations, Democratic administrations. We keep domestic politics to ourselves. It’s something that career professionals, whether military or diplomatic, don’t just get involved in. We just feel so seriously that the performance of this administration has been deleterious, it has injured our overseas position, it has injured our security and our ability to lead the world that we felt we had to speak out.
MARGARET WARNER: But now some people in the Bush/Cheney campaign say really most of you are sort of Democrats in non-partisan clothing.
WILLIAM HARROP: Well, you know, that– I suppose that would be a natural counterattack to make when they’re criticized, but it simply is not the case. I was appointed to four presidential appointments by Republican presidents, almost all of our group were. We’ve all really worked for Republicans and Democrats alike. And we have not been gauged in domestic politics, now we’re doing it and we knew we’d be accused of partisanship.
MARGARET WARNER: What about, Secretary Sisco, their overall critique, which is simply that the Bush administration’s foreign policy has just been damaging to America’s standing in the world?
JOSEPH SISCO: It’s made mistakes. But what we’ve got to look at is the long term, particularly with respect to Iraq. Saddam Hussein is gone. There was undoubtedly a major intelligence failure. But Margaret, perhaps I’m being unduly optimistic, I happen to think that we’re moving in the right direction. And the question of whether there should be a change in the administration, I’m perfectly comfortable in leaving it to the American people in November. But there is a plan; the plan is June 30 on to some sort of a constitution and election.
There is a plan for reconstruction, although we’re in the business of really correcting a number of things that we should have done earlier. Moreover, I’m struck, too, that it goes beyond Iraq. We’re on the diplomatic course in Iran, and Iran is a great challenge in the nuclear field. I believe in 2005– and we’re marking time right now– the real threat will be North Korea. They’re ahead of Iran. And here, again, the Bush administration is moving collectively in Iran with the Europeans in Japan, collectively in Asia with our Asian allies so that mistakes, yes, but it’s moving in the right direction.
MARGARET WARNER: Ambassador Harrop, your statement takes a totally different tack. You say that essentially the Bush administration from the outset had an overbearing approach to America’s role in the world relying on military might and righteousness insensitive to traditional friends and allies and disdainful of the United Nations.
WILLIAM HARROP: Well, you see, the Bush administration, I think, being leading the last superpower, the only superpower, felt that it was in a position to make the decisions itself, in a position to dictate what was to be done, not to consult, not to work with the United Nations, not even with NATO, as a matter of fact, to any great extent, to step out on its own, unilaterally. We feel this was unwise. We feel that most of the world’s problems today, whether they are terrorism, whether they are ethnic disputes, whether it is drugs, whether it is HIV/AIDS, all these things, they require multilateral solutions. They require the United States to lead. The United States really is not going to be in a position to lead when the polls show globally that the United States is held in disrespect, the United States is not only disliked but lacks credibility now. It’s hard to lead when you’re in that circumstance.
MARGARET WARNER: What about that point – the Pew polls and other global attitudes polls have shown that the United States is deeply unpopular even in, among the European public much less in the Middle East.
JOSEPH SISCO: I don’t deny there’s been some loss of credibility. But the inherent fact is that the United States is the number one superpower and I believe that it can and will lead. Moreover, as I look at the two parties– and I don’t want to get into the politics of it all, because Bill was indicating that he had several appointments– I was– I had two appointments under a Democratic administration, one under the Republicans for 25 years. And my father read the “Chicago Tribune”, a conservative– and he never voted anything but Democratic. So I think that proves my independence, Bill.
But in any event, I think that credibility can be restored. I think we are in the process of restoring it, and as far as I’m concerned, Kerry and the president will face the very same problems. And I’ve cited them just a moment ago, and that is that, yes, it’s got to be more collective and moreover the fight on terrorism has to get at the root of terrorism and moreover it cannot be fought effectively unless it is fought globally. And that is critically important in terms of the next decade.
WILLIAM HARROP: Yes. And I think really that you need to have global leadership to fight globally. The war in Iraq was billed as a war against terrorism but, in fact, it’s a war which has created terrorism. And I think that now we have to get into a posture in which we can lead the rest of the world. I think it’s going to be very hard for the Bush administration to remake itself, to repair the disarray that it has caused in the respect in which it is not held around the world. I think a new administration with a fresh start would have a much better likelihood of being able to rebuild those confidences and credibilities.
JOSEPH SISCO: I believe that, again, I would repeat what I said, that only time will tell in this regard. I believe in diplomacy, as Bill does.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me just ask a point Ambassador Harrop made, though. Do you think– and their statement makes the same point– that actually Bush administration has made America less secure, that there’s now more terrorism not less?
JOSEPH SISCO: No, I don’t– I reject that particular notion. I think that there is a basis to terrorism globally. What I was interested in is what Lee Hamilton said in the commission report. There is this — these headlines all say that there has been no credible collaboration between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein. I think that’s factually supported. But by the same token, Lee Hamilton said there were links. There were connections. They did meet with one another.
And so that I think we have to take that into account. Not that Saddam Hussein was a direct threat, but if there were weapons of mass destruction– and there’s been a massive intelligence failure in that regard — very easy for interchange between al-Qaida and Iraq and therefore I believe, I supported going in to try to bring representative government to Iraq. I’m impressed with the new leadership, and I believe a satisfactory result will come about, costly, painfully, but I think we will prevail.
MARGARET WARNER: What, Ambassador Harrop, would you say if President Bush manages on this trip, for instance, to get NATO to help with training missions in Iraq? I mean, is his position not evolving, in fact, quite close to Sen. Kerry’s position at this point on Iraq?
WILLIAM HARROP: Well, I’m not defending Sen. Kerry’s position. We’re completely autonomous from Sen. Kerry. I think that there has been a turn toward the better, certainly. The Bush administration found that its going it alone posture in Iraq was completely dysfunctional. It was a failure. They found they had to come back to the United Nations; they had to get international certification for what they were trying to achieve. They received a unanimous vote. They’re now trying to go to Istanbul to try to get forces to try to get support. The chances of getting what is really needed, which is boots on the ground, the security situation is disastrous, every morning we hate to open the newspapers about this. They need more forces, international forces to maintain order. None of the members of the Security Council, none of the members of NATO have offered fresh troops and are unlikely to do so. It puts us in a very difficult position.
MARGARET WARNER: But when you call for the defeat of the current president, the main alternative– and I’m sure we’ll get e-mail from Ralph Nader supporters here but — is John Kerry. How different would John Kerry be on the points that you have raised?
WILLIAM HARROP: Well, I think it’s evident that John Kerry would be more interested in multilateral solutions. I think John Kerry would be interested in listening instead of declaiming, I think he would be interested in working with NATO, with the United Nations. He’s made very clear and his history shows that he is someone who wants to work with the rest of the world and lead it and not dictate to it.
MARGARET WARNER: And you don’t think President Bush, despite this evolution, can do that?
WILLIAM HARROP: I think what we’ve seen is a tactical change in the administration. I think that President bush is a forceful, willful president. I think he’s– he thinks that in moral terms he’s leading the country where he thinks it should go. I don’t think he’s leading it correctly. I don’t think he’s going to easily change or shift his overall worldview. I think it’s there.
MARGARET WARNER: A forceful, willful president leading in moral terms who’s only making a tactical shift?
JOSEPH SISCO: I think he’s a strong president. I think that he’s already made the tactical shifts. That’s the point I’m making. And it’s evident in how he’s proceeding in Iraq in trying to go to get a few additional help. He won’t get it. He answers the question himself. “I don’t expect any troops, but maybe they’ll help with training.” We’re already moving in that direction. We’re involved in Iran in that way. We’re involved in North Korea that way. Has he learned some lessons? You bet he has. I don’t accept the view that one president is going to be more flexible than another. I think the whole history of American foreign policy is continuity and change; and we’re very pragmatic, hard-hitting people.
WILLIAM HARROP: I think our present administration is less pragmatic Joe, than many we’ve had in the past.
MARGARET WARNER: I’m afraid we have to leave it there. Thank you both.
JOSEPH SISCO: Thank you.