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A Fierce Debate over Diplomacy


An unprecedented number of readers responded to the signed commentary by Editorial Page Editor Bruce Nussbaum, "The High Price of Bad Diplomacy" from our Mar. 24 Cover Story, "Beyond the War." The piece analyzes the consequences of the Bush Administration's diplomacy. Those who wrote to us disagreed with Nussbaum's commentary by a margin of roughly 2 to 1. Here is a sampling, followed by a reply from Nussbaum: Your commentary about our President is in very poor taste. Even though I have been a BusinessWeek subscriber for more than 15 years, I will not support anyone with those views. Perhaps you can send the remaining weeks of my subscription to someone in France.

Walter Sayko

Bracey, Va.

Kudos to BusinessWeek and Nussbaum for raising important questions about the long-term costs of Bush's "our way or the highway" approach to the complexities of combating terrorism globally. It's about time voices in the business community started raising such questions. Relentless pursuit of this high-risk policy will weaken the confidence of investors at home and abroad for years to come.

Richard E. Jones

Wilmette, Ill.

Some European countries suggest that the U.S. is after the oil in the Persian Gulf and world hegemony ("The high price of bad diplomacy," in "Beyond the war," Cover Story, Mar. 24). However, this idea does not fit with past events: There was no oil in Kosovo, in Bosnia, in Somalia, or in Afghanistan. There was no oil in France in World War II, either. Other people believe that America is going to create a Kurdish nation to act as a second Israel in the region. This, too, is a miscalculation. An independent Kurdish state cannot even survive in the region.

The most logical reason why America wants to change the Administration in Iraq might be self-defense. After the World Trade Center disaster, the U.S. realized that from now on any threat against its territory would be not military action, but a hidden assault. It figured out that the Middle East would be the origin of such attacks. The political, social, and military status of such countries, they thought, must be changed and brought up to the standards of the present century to reduce the potential of the region to create such attacks. This is a great goal and is a clever application of the principle of "preemptive strike." However, such an operation should be called "identify and prevent." This concept is not aggressive; it is defensive, as it should be.

If this is the case, we should expect America to stay in the region for many years. Immediately after the war, the U.S. must try to win the sympathy of the people of the region and prove that the U.S. has no imperial designs. Such designs would create great turmoil and expose the U.S. to far more attacks.

Murat Mehmet Sevinchan

Istanbul

As a French reader of BusinessWeek for 30 years, I was deeply shocked by Mr. Nussbaum's long and scrappy commentary. Calling U.S. foreign policy "inept" is in line with a left-wing European newspaper but not with what was once a respected business magazine. Saying that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has "publicly insulted" France and Germany by calling them Old Europe is laughable. In fine, writing that "since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 the concept of sovereignty of states has been sacrosanct" shows indeed some bookish culture -- and a plain ignorance of 19th and 20th century history (Napoleon, World War I, Hitler, World War II, Stalin, the Soviet Union, etc.). Please cancel my subscription.

Alain Wenger

St. Germain-en-Laye

France Based on the precedent set by former President Bill Clinton and supported by Congress, it was not even necessary to go to the U.N. for permission to defend our national interests. However, at the urging of mainly Senate and House Democrats, President George W. Bush went to the U.N. and made his case. The result was a unanimous vote for Resolution 1441.

That was not enough for the anti-Bush coalition of socialists, communists, and clueless or misguided dupes, here and abroad. They urged more time for U.N. inspectors to find the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that Saddam would not willingly account for. Everyone knew or should have known that he was stalling, and his co-conspirators by default -- France, Germany, Russia, and China -- helped him for their own reasons. Apparently, they and others wanted to "give terrorism a chance."

I would rather deal with the aftermath of "bad diplomacy" than with the horrors of WMD being directed against the U.S. or its allies by Saddam or his terrorist surrogates.

Peyton Lingle

Townsend, Ga.

As a new subscriber, I've found your magazine articles, including your editorials, to be informative and balanced and not espousing a particular political viewpoint. Unfortunately, Nussbaum's article has changed this opinion. To use a failed effort at multilateralism in national security to attack the Bush Administration is political diatribe at its worst. Nussbaum in effect takes the French-Russian position: Unless a country is threatened with a clear and present danger of an imminent attack by Iraq -- presumably by weapons of mass destruction -- that nation cannot defend itself even though it has credible evidence to believe it is threatened. Although Nussbaum acknowledges "that terrorists could potentially" bring Saddam's WMDs to large U.S. cities and other cities in the world, he fails to give credence to the powerful rationale for preemption: Nobody knows nor can know when, where, and how the terrorists will strike. Given these circumstances, a multilateral security policy requiring full agreement of the U.N. Security Council to take preemptive military action against Iraq seems to me very foolhardy. I believe such a policy makes the world an even more "uncertain and risky place."

Nussbaum should refrain from making accusations about bad diplomacy and instead enlarge on the reforms needed in the Security Council rules and membership that he refers to in his editorial on "Building a multilateral world" (Editorials, Mar. 24). Perhaps multilateral security diplomacy would then have a better chance to work in future "preemption" situations.

George D. Brandt

Fairfax, Va.

France's outrageous aggressive attacks against the U.S. that have given Saddam the support he needed to continue to thumb his nose at the U.N. No American President will ever go to the U.N. again when America's interests are involved. In essence, France's desire for glory has torpedoed the U.N.

Donn D. Dears

Reston, Va.

The Administration gets a failing grade in "getting along with others" in every regard. In international relations, they've already set us back decades. Its evisceration of the U.N. in the course of fomenting "preemption" has set human governance back more than 40 years.

C.W. Branch Talley

Irvine, Calif.

President Bush and his experienced and capable staff developed and implemented a bold, comprehensive plan to rid the world of a tyrant and to restore order to a chaotic region. Countries that had tried to play both sides were forced to take sides. The "say-one-thing-and-do-another" crowd found that platitudes were no longer effective. The U.N., given the opportunity to make itself relevant as the global facilitator of world peace, could have demonstrated conviction and resumed its assigned role.

The President prevailed. His diplomacy was a huge success. At least 45 allies are behind the President. The say-one-thing-and-do-another crowd is now faced with irrelevance unless it reassesses the nature of its role in achieving world peace. Throughout the world, people are relieved and united on the goals of removing the menace and reestablishing individual liberty in Iraq.

John Porter

Hendersonville, N.C.

"The high price of bad diplomacy" is full of wrong premises, incomplete thinking, and dysfunctional priorities. Bush is going to come out of this tall.

As a teenager in Shanghai's International Settlement, I saw the League of Nations' failure to stop Japan's invasion of China, Hitler's rearmament and expansion, Chamberlain's pathetic boast of "peace in our time," America's isolationism, Pearl Harbor, and millions of deaths and ruined lives. Many Europeans and Americans, like Nussbaum, have learned nothing. In 1990, most major American news magazines published a photo of Saddam holding a nuclear detonator in his hand. How short our memories are! BusinessWeek's, too!

Fred Richardson

Spokane, Wa. I am a member of the U.S. Army Reserve. I have recently been called to duty. I could exempt myself because of certain issues or instead be based in the continental U.S. I choose to go. I go to support the other soldiers whom I met in training and in the field. They, like me, believe in honor, duty, service, this country, and its principles. Many of them are risking everything, including their lives. I wish, however, I could say that I was willing to be deployed because I believe in this President or his foreign policy.

I was profoundly surprised, but pleased, by "Beyond the war" and "The high price of bad diplomacy." Your magazine raised a cautionary voice in a sea of right-wing media and an ocean of self-serving politicians and corporations who quietly endorse this policy of neo-American imperialism. The commentary finally highlighted the core political and ideological premises that are fueling this Administration's actions. Your report of the past poor consequences and possible future downsides to this foreign policy was compelling.

Eugene Lee

Daly City, Calif. President Bush and his experienced and capable staff developed and implemented a bold, comprehensive plan to rid the world of a tyrant and to restore order to a chaotic region. Countries that had tried to play both sides were forced to take sides. The "say-one-thing-and-do-another" crowd found that platitudes were no longer effective. The U.N., given the opportunity to make itself relevant as the global facilitator of world peace, could have demonstrated conviction and resumed its assigned role.

The President prevailed. His diplomacy was a huge success. At least 45 allies are behind the President. The say-one-thing-and-do-another crowd is faced with irrelevance unless it reassesses the nature of its role in achieving world peace. Throughout the world, people are relieved and united on the goals of removing the menace and reestablishing individual liberty in Iraq.

My opinions are the polar opposite of those expressed by Nussbaum in "The high price of bad diplomacy." One of us will be proved wrong.

John Porter

Hendersonville, N.C.

"The high price of bad diplomacy" is full of wrong premises, incomplete thinking, and dysfunctional priorities. Bush is going to come out of this tall.

As a teenager in Shanghai's International Settlement, I saw the League of Nations' failure to stop Japan's invasion of China, Hitler's rearmament and expansion, Chamberlain's pathetic boast of "peace in our time," America's isolationism, Pearl Harbor, and millions of deaths and ruined lives. Many Europeans and Americans, like Nussbaum, have learned nothing. In 1990, most major American news magazines published a photo of Saddam holding a nuclear detonator in his hand. How short our memories are! BusinessWeek's, too!

Fred Richardson

Spokane, Wa. Your commentary rightly condemns the Bush Administration for what Nussbaum astutely describes as a policy of "disdain, disregard, and disrespect for treaties, allies, and friends." But the admonition to "rebuild its multilateral ties" raises a formidable problem.

The problem arises because building multilateral ties requires an ability to think about international relations in way that goes beyond advantage, force, and fear, and precludes the promiscuous application of the moral categories of good and evil. As ways of thinking are deeply structured, they cannot be altered by arguments, let alone by admonitions. They evolve slowly and in response to failure. Unfortunately, the failure that would do most to restructure Bush's mind will be the consequence of the war that he is obsessively pursuing.

Robert E. Gahringer

Deering, N.H. "The high price of bad diplomacy" said that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's "gaffe" about "Old Europe" that led France "to disown 1441," thereby forcing U.S. to go unilateral instead of multilateral. I know being called names hurts, but I'll bet those $50 billion to $60 billion in unsigned oil contracts with Iraq better explain France's last-minute, tug-of-war tantrum.

Louis D. English

Columbus, Ind.

How could France vote for 1441 in November, then disavow the same resolution in March? Total Fina Elf, France's largest oil company, stands to lose major exploration and production contracts in Iraq if there is a regime change. Alcatel, France's largest telecom company, currently has huge contracts to supply and maintain Iraq's telephone system, and Renault Group is currently the favored auto import supplier in Iraq.

Jim Schultheis

Melbourne, Fla. The mutual animosity the war with Iraq is creating between old allies will affect international business for years to come. Markets between old allies turned antagonists overnight will continue to reflect political turmoil long after the bombing has ceased. Business suffered to varying degrees for decades through the Cold War that came after World War II. Now we are about to embark on a new nonmilitary confrontation: the Cold Shoulder War, with the U.S. and Britain dealing icily with France and Germany and vice versa.

Wes Pedersen

Public Affairs Council

Washington As September 11 has changed the U.S. forever (and has made us a little grouchy at times), so too must the world modify its approach to us and treat this country's interest with a modicum of respect. There may be a perception that the Bush Administration disdains, disregards, and disrespects treaties, allies, and friends. But I challenge anyone to show when one of our foreign friends, or for that matter anyone in this country, has not displayed the same attitudes to our country at one time or another. All of us will get over this, and the Iraqi people will be better off. The U.N. will live on and will become a better organization for it.

Paul Romano

Alameda, Calif. The major foreign policy problem that the U.S. has is that we no longer have an opposing superpower to balance against our country. This is a frightening factor for many countries that don't understand us very well. Leaders of our traditional allies such as France are also falling prey to the temptation to take the easy way out and to let street demonstrations decide their governmental policy.

The above is a shift in the dynamics of the policy of many in the U.N. and represents a major problem for us (perhaps at least temporarily insoluble) in dealing with rogue governments such as that of Saddam Hussein. Even "good" foreign policy is not always successful in getting a consensus to permit actions leading to optimal results for our nation.

John A. Bennett

Marietta, Ga.

Nussbaum refuses to find any fault with French and German leadership. The current governments there have chosen their role -- not only to be a force to stand up to America, rightly or wrongly, but to try to establish a separate European defense structure, political forum, and economic alliance in a Second World format.

There are nations in Europe that do not want this. Old Europe dreams of some sort of Greater France or Germany to dominate the Continent strikes fear into most. The Czech Republic's Former President Vaclav Havel decided to join the "coalition of the willing" to counter such imperialist dreams of Old Europe. The protests, more a coalition of Anti-Bush rather than Anti-America or Anti-War, are a function of the Left's tradition of bypassing the democratic process and have no moral ground.

As Nobel peace prize winner Eli Weisel has noted, if the same amount of pressure were applied to Saddam Hussein to disarm as is being currently applied to the U.S., this would all be over.

Christopher Callendar

San Marcos, Calif.

Nussbaum assumes an essentially static balance of power in the future, with the U.S. remaining the "world's only superpower." Superpower status is a very fragile thing, and we might easily lose it. The other powers of the world -- super or not -- keep a strategic, geopolitical eye on us. It should not astonish anyone to imagine that others are quietly examining possible combinations and alliances and strategies to oppose us, and rearming themselves against us. Could it be that strategists for major world powers are now putting together scenarios in which the U.S. might be drawn into one nagging, complex, bloody engagement after another, all over the world?

The idea that we're invulnerable because we're more than a military match for any one power is so much poppycock. We could find ourselves back in a Cold War dynamic literally overnight, should Russia and China choose to confront us on that level -- but this time with terrorism added to the mix.

Robert Crawford

Halfway, Ore. As I said in the piece, I personally believe that the war is justified. But the inability and, at times, unwillingness, to forge an international coalition to fight this war and pay for an expensive occupation of Iraq will place an unnecessary burden on America. More important, the poor diplomacy could put new strains on the global economy and the multilateral institutions that make it run. Perhaps the U.S. could not have avoided a French veto in the Security Council. But with better diplomacy, it could have gained a majority, giving a multinational blessing to the war. Even such friends as Canada and Mexico did not support the U.S. position. Finally, many letters pointed out that France and the U.N. itself bear major responsibility for the failure of diplomacy. I fully agree.

Editor's note: BusinessWeek's position on the U.N. debate is explained in detail in "Time to modernize the U.N. and NATO" and "France's dangerous hypocrisy," which appeared on the Editorials pages of our Feb. 24 and Mar. 10 issues, respectively.


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