The Magazine

The Tempting of the President

ADVANCE EDITORIAL from the April 21, 2003 issue: The postwar temptations that President Bush must resist.

Apr 21, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 31 • By FRED BARNES
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THE UNITED NATIONS is a temptation that's easy to resist. It won't enforce its own resolutions. Libya, a police state, chairs its human rights commission. It provides an arena where France, with its unearned Security Council veto, has enough leverage to pursue a campaign to restrain the power--and good works--of the United States. So when British prime minister Tony Blair, at the Belfast summit last week, pressed for a major role for the U.N. in administering postwar Iraq, President Bush had no trouble saying no.

But there are other temptations Bush will soon face in the aftermath of the Iraq war that won't be so easy to brush aside. They will be dangled in front of the president by friends and allies, and they will be alluringly presented as steps he should take to win popularity for America, to repair damaged alliances, and to win respect--and perhaps a Nobel Peace Prize--for himself. The following are four among many temptations that Bush must resist.

Leave Iraq. The president will be under enormous pressure from Europeans, Middle East leaders, and top advisers in Washington to withdraw American troops and civilian officials from Iraq within months, not years. He shouldn't. The military occupation of Japan after World War II lasted seven years, and Japan is homogenous, not divided as Iraq is among three often hostile ethnic groups. American forces won't need to stay that long, but it will take at least a year, maybe two or more, to restore order, foster a viable economy, and establish democratic institutions with roots deep enough to survive.

From the moment the war ends, Bush (and Blair, too) will be confronted with a drumbeat to withdraw. The argument will be that America must show it's not bent on erecting a worldwide empire or creating a puppet state. The charge of imperialism is frivolous, as is the claim the United States fought a war for oil. However, the State Department will no doubt treat it seriously and lobby for a quick exit to improve America's image and win friends. Meanwhile, the Pentagon, both military brass and civilians, will have its own reasons for getting out of Iraq: American forces are needed elsewhere in the world, and besides, our soldiers are warriors, not policemen. The Pentagon argument is a strong one, but the answer is to increase the force structure, not to pull out of Iraq precipitously.

Take a breather. The United States has gone to great lengths to free Iraq, and the temptation will be to breathe a sigh of relief and ignore opportunities to use the influence gained from the triumph. No, further countries don't have to be singled out for invasion. It's the psychological leverage that shouldn't go to waste. Bush should declare Iraq merely the beginning of a full-throttle assault on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. If five years from now Iran is a nuclear power, Syria is still harboring terrorists, and Saudi Arabia is exporting violent Wahhabism, the opportunity to have made the Iraq war a world-changing event will have been missed.

Lean on Israel. This may be the hardest temptation for Bush to resist. He'll be inclined to aid Blair, his friend and staunch ally, who wants to assuage the Labour party left by forging ahead with the "road map" for a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. But not only is the road map flawed, the time is not ripe for reaching agreement. Despite the appointment of a Palestinian prime minister, Yasser Arafat retains his hold on power. In fact, he's now blocking the prime minister's naming of a cabinet. With Arafat, there is no chance of peace, which is why Bush last June demanded he step aside. It will be months, if ever, before Arafat is eased out, and attempting to implement the road map immediately could delay that process. Blair has called for "even-handedness" in the Middle East, but we know what that means: pressure Israel. Blair should be rewarded for his brave support for the war, but not this way.

Be magnanimous. The president's postwar impulse will be to act generously toward critics and foes, rather than seek revenge. But magnanimity should have its limits. First, Bush should take whatever political or economic actions are appropriate to reward allies such as Australia, Spain, Italy, Poland, and dozens of others. Then, he must deal with the apostasy of France. Winking at President Jacques Chirac's bid to organize a French-led, international counterweight to American power would be a mistake.

The United States has allowed France to exert influence that far exceeds its economic or military strength. One source of this power, France's U.N. veto, will be curtailed quite naturally as Bush turns away from the U.N. as a vehicle for American foreign policy. But it will take boldness to dash French power in another arena, the G8 summit of industrialized democracies. The G8 is antiquated. Neither France nor Canada has an economy that warrants membership. What's needed is a new organization that includes representatives of the dollar (U.S.), yen (Japan), pound (Great Britain), and euro (Germany), plus Italy and nations with rising economies (India, China, Russia). The president may balk at going this far, and indeed it would look vengeful. But he should at least let the world know that lining up with France against the United States will have adverse consequences.

It's a cliché to say the stakes are high in postwar Iraq, but it's true. The success of the Bush presidency is conditioned, in part, on success in creating a reasonably stable democracy in Iraq and in using leverage gained from military victory to curb WMDs and terrorism. Both before and during the war, Bush showed great courage in resisting temptations to prolong arms inspections, to placate the coalition of the unwilling, to appease world opinion, to delay the war, and on and on. Great courage will be required once again, this time to resist the softer temptations of the postwar world.

--Fred Barnes, for the Editors