Saturday, August 30, 2003

If you read nothing else this weekend, read this. Best get a beer or two and settle in because this concise and full look at the failure of US diplomacy leading up to The War runs 10 pages:
The lack of coordination between the State and Defense Departments was a further problem. American diplomats emphasized the wmd argument because that allowed war to be justified in terms of Iraqi violations of mandatory UN resolutions. Meanwhile, Defense Department officials too often played up the al Qaeda link, which did not resonate anywhere outside the United States.

In fact, Rumsfeld's frequent public appearances harmed rather than helped his country's case in the court of world opinion. His blunt language may have won him a few laughs in domestic settings, but his every gaffe and insult was greeted with disgust throughout Europe. Public diplomacy is supposed to persuade, not infuriate. German officials still cannot forgive Rumsfeld's rhetorical lumping together of Germany with countries such as Cuba on the grounds that all refused to support the war. Overcoming Germany's postwar pacifism would not have been easy in the best of circumstances, but challenging Germany's core democratic values by comparing it to dictatorships only caused its diplomats to dig in their heels.

Rumsfeld's reputed disdain for NATO, the UN, and any force other than the American military rendered him particularly unsuitable to pushing Washington's case in Europe. Yet, to the dismay of many American and British officials alike, he persisted throughout the crisis in accepting interview requests and maintaining the highest possible profile. The most candid quote of the whole failed diplomatic effort came from Spain's normally reticent prime minister, Jose Maria Aznar, a crucial Bush ally, who broke precedent by complaining that in order to build a coalition, "we need a lot of Powell and not much of Rumsfeld."

Even Rumsfeld, however, cannot be blamed for the diplomatic disaster in Turkey, where parliament voted on March 1 to block the deployment of U.S. troops and thereby prevented them from opening a northern front against Saddam. Fault for that debacle lies with the whole Bush administration. Despite their professed admiration for Turkish democracy, American diplomats were just not prepared to deal with the inexperienced and rowdy Turkish legislature. Moreover, almost nothing was done to try and turn around the Turkish public, which staunchly opposed the war. Instead, the Turkish press ran frequent reports of bullying by and insults from U.S. officials, as well as their attempts to bluff Turkey with phony deadlines. At the beginning of the crisis, Wolfowitz boasted that Turkish support for the deployment of American troops was "assured." But when things began to get dicey, rather than insisting that Powell travel to Ankara to persuade key Turkish legislators one by one, both the Pentagon and the State Department relied on the Turkish military to assure a victory. Given that the measure ultimately lost by a mere handful of votes, it seems obvious that providing some personal care and attention would have made the difference. But the Bush administration failed to do this. The subsequent Turkish vote not only undercut U.S. military operations, but also emboldened smaller countries to stand up to U.S. pressure on the Security Council.

American diplomats have since lamented the fact that no serious public diplomacy strategy existed to persuade key foreign publics or at least reduce opposition. It is hard to overstate how important this failure was. Crucial votes were lost in democratic countries such as Chile and Mexico. No matter how close their personal ties to Bush were, Presidents Ricardo Lagos and Vicente Fox simply could not sell a matter of war and peace to their constituents by saying that they did not want to upset the White House or risk trade retaliation. Similarly, had public opinion not been so overwhelmingly antiwar in France and throughout Europe, it seems fair to assume that even Chirac's opposition would not have been so rigid.

The problem, in sum, was that the United States did not approach its prewar diplomacy with a coherent and comprehensive strategy. Although the use of decisive and overwhelming military force may have been his signature at the Pentagon, Powell did not convince the Bush administration to adopt a similar approach to diplomacy. Perhaps that was because Cheney and Rumsfeld would not support such a strategy. Or perhaps the administration as a whole just did not think securing international legitimacy for the war was particularly important. Whether the reason was incompetence or ideology, however, Washington's failure to maintain diplomatic consistency on its justification for war, to synchronize force and diplomacy, to plan for partial compliance by Iraq, to lay the groundwork for a second resolution, and to win over international opinion constituted a diplomatic defeat of the highest order for American foreign policy.