Diplomatic Dissent

Last Wednesday, a group of 26 former senior diplomats and military
commanders spoke out against the foreign policy of the Bush
administration. Their statement did not explicitly endorse Senator John
Kerry's presidential campaign, but it called for Bush's ouster in
November. The group, which calls itself Diplomats and Military
Commanders for Change, made headlines more than anything for its
bipartisan composition and for its inclusion of career military and
diplomatic officials who specialize in regions of particular strategic
sensitivity. Among the signatories are Charles Freeman, ambassador to
Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush; Stansfield Turner, head of
the CIA under President Carter; Joseph P. Hoar, commander of forces in
the Middle East under Bush Sr.; William J. Crowe,
ambassador to Britain under Clinton and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff under President Reagan; and Jack F. Matlock, ambassador to the Soviet Union
under Reagan and Bush Sr. TAP caught up with the group's
principal organizer, William C. Harrop, last Friday. Harrop was the U.S.
ambassador to Israel under Bush Sr.; he has also served as ambassador
to Zaire and as deputy assistant secretary of state for Africa, among
other posts in his 39 years in the foreign service.

TAP: How did this group and this statement come to be?

WH: We're all former senior career diplomats and four-star generals
who've served a whole number of administrations for many, many years. Our
way of working is to keep very quiet if we have a disagreement with
what's going on. We keep our problems to ourselves and serve the
administration, unless we get so upset we want to resign. Just a few
months ago, in late March or early April, since most of us know one
another from years of working together, we realized that we were all
badly disillusioned with the government and felt we just had to stand up
and be heard, even though that was a little against our usual behavior.

TAP: Was there a precipitating event?

WH: I don't think so, particularly. Most of us had just been talking
about these things for some while. For me personally the precipitating
events were the Pew opinion poll, which I think is very reliable, from
countries all around the world showing this huge drop in respect and
admiration for the United States. So we felt this was a very serious
situation.

TAP: What do you think a new administration could do to repair some of
the damage?

WH: Although we're not part of the Kerry campaign -- some of us are quite
pro-Kerry, others are not particularly so -- we all feel that George W. Bush should be replaced. We think that another president, and we think
specifically John Kerry, because of his style and his experience, would
want to work in a more multilateral way. He would want to be more open
to discussion with our traditional friends and allies, as well as to
working with the United Nations to solve problems. We think that over
time he could restore the respect the United States has enjoyed for many
years, and we think that we could again exert the kind of leadership
that we really must exert if the world's problems are going to be
resolved.

TAP: Since you served as ambassador to Israel, I'm particularly curious
what you think could be done to address the situation there.

WH: The United States government and people are always going to be
pro-Israel, if you will. It's something that is very deep in this
country. But the United States also is the only outside power that can
broker a solution there, the only power that can mediate between the two
parties and bring about peace. And I think George W. Bush has gone so far in supporting the policies and the actions of the Sharon government
that he's almost eliminated his ability to act as a broker -- something
most presidents preceding him have been able to do. You can't just
entirely accept the negotiating position of one of the two adversaries
and then expect the other one to be willing to go along with you as a
broker. Although everyone knows that the United States is highly
sympathetic to Israel, other presidents have been able to maintain a credibility, and the confidence of the Palestinians -- the best example
probably is Bill Clinton -- so that they could work with both sides. But
James Baker did that too, and George Bush Sr.

TAP: One of this administration's proclaimed projects has been promoting
democracy in the Arab world. I'm curious what you think of that
effort so far. Is it misguided in its concept or in its execution? Or is
it something a new administration should continue to pursue?

WH: I think it's an admirable vision, an admirable objective to have,
and I respect the administration's efforts to go in that direction. But
I think that there's an air of unreality about it. We're talking about
basic shifts in the whole tradition and history and culture of these
civilizations, and you just can't bring these things about suddenly. You
certainly can't do it by force of arms, as we almost seem to have been
trying to do in Iraq. It takes patient work and a long time to do. I
certainly wish the president well in the effort, and I think he had
pretty good support from the Group of Eight in the meetings in Georgia
[June 8-10]. But I think it's a little bit Pollyannaish to suppose that over
any short term a major change can take place, though it's worth keeping at it.

TAP: And is that something that can be pursued diplomatically?

WH: I think it has to be pursued diplomatically. I think that many
things have to be done diplomatically, and that this administration has
seemed a little reluctant to do them that way. One of my colleagues in
this effort that we're engaged in, Chas Freeman, who was assistant
secretary of defense and also ambassador to Saudi Arabia, says he thinks
this is the first time we've had an American administration that tries
to conduct foreign policy without diplomacy. That's a funny way to sum
it up, but it's somewhat what we have in mind.

TAP: Is that the crux of the objection this group of 26 is lodging?

WH: Not in those words. I think in some ways you could sum up our
concerns in the title of the recent book by Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was
of course national security advisor to President Carter. And his book is
called The Choice: Global Domination or Global Leadership. I think
we should be focusing on leadership, not domination.

TAP: So that's a pretty fundamental difference in worldview.

WH: It really is. It's the worldview that we're speaking of. It becomes
more pointed when you look at Iraq because that's the terrible,
difficult thing that we must contend with now, but the issue is really a
matter of worldview. There's the worldview that the United States is
the only superpower remaining, and we are by all measures the dominant
economic and particularly military power in the world, and that we can
perhaps obtain our objectives by simply setting forth on our own and
dictating the results. That's a little bit the style of this
administration. And we think that's not going to be functional or
durable because other countries really have to feel they have a role in
things, they have to be persuaded to go along. There must be a sense of
American credibility and respect for our moral standards and so forth.
That's what enables us to lead other countries instead of trying to tell
them what to do.

TAP: Is there concern that by assuming this unilateralist posture, the
United States will provoke balancing coalitions?

WH: The most powerful country, which we are, is always going to incur
some jealousies. I think the French government has for years and years
shown a little bit of pique or jealousy toward the United States because
it's so big and powerful. But this goes beyond that and I believe that
we have to get back into the kind of approach that in a sense won the
Cold War, by collaboration with other people. The big contrast is
between the way George W. Bush mounted the war against Iraq and the way
his father did a similar thing in 1990.

TAP: You're talking about multilateralism and consensus-building.

WH: Yes indeed, I think that's very important. We're also concerned that
the administration was really a little disingenuous in leading up to the
Iraq War. We feel that the quick move against the Taliban and al-Qaeda
in Afghanistan was a necessary and superbly managed operation by the
present Bush administration. We attracted support from around the world;
there are NATO forces there; all of our friends and allies are concerned
and are trying to help there. And then for ideological reasons we just
announced that Iraq was the center of terrorism and that we were going
to continue our war against terrorism by invading Iraq. Our allies in
Europe were very reluctant to do that, and didn't quite see the
rationale for it. So the administration set out to establish that Iraq
had weapons of mass destruction and had the ability to attack the United
States on very short notice, and further, something which proves to have
been quite inaccurate: that Iraq and Saddam Hussein had been involved in
the September 11 attacks on the United States. The American public was persuaded that in
order to attack terrorism we had to attack Iraq, which I don't think was
true at all. In my view the invasion in fact diverted resources which we
should have had to focus directly on al-Qaeda and on Afghanistan. It
didn't destroy terrorism; rather, it created a groundswell of hatred and
opposition among all of the Muslim peoples and was a great recruiting
device for al-Qaeda. Now we're faced with terrible losses of American
troops in Iraq, and it's not exactly clear how soon we'll be able to get
out of there.

TAP: And then too we have this transatlantic rift. In the lead-up to
the war there were people, most prominently Robert Kagan, who argued
that the transatlantic rift was in some sense structurally inevitable.

WH: Well I think there's some truth to what Kagan said. I think there's
some divergence in thinking, in concept, in point of view between us and
our European allies, even apart from Iraq and apart from the behavior of
the Bush administration. But we think that those differences can be
bridged. I think that it wasn't really necessary for the United States
to backhand the Europeans. I think, for instance, that cutting off the
inspections in Iraq so peremptorily and so early, before they had a
chance to complete the job, was probably a big mistake. I think that's
one of the things that turned the French and the Germans away from us so
decisively. They felt that we were moving before there was a clear
need to do so and certainly before there was any establishment of an
imminent danger from Iraq toward the United States or any of its allies.

TAP: Do you think that there is any damage that's been done in the last
four years that can't be undone?

WH: Oh no, I think we can undo it, but I think that it's going to
require some patient work. Our feeling is that the present
administration is not likely to be able to change course. Bush is a
strong, self-confident president. He knows exactly where he wants to go
and where he wants to lead the country, and he's doing that. I don't
think he could easily be persuaded to change direction, which has to be
done. That's why we feel that it's necessary to see that he does not
have four more years in office, because we think that he's going to keep
going in the same direction and that's going to do more damage to the
United States' interests.

TAP: The stakes must be pretty high for a group of diplomats to be
speaking out in this way.

WH: They are. It's uncomfortable. There are two or three people who feel
very strongly the way we do who declined to join the group because they
just didn't feel comfortable getting into domestic partisan politics.
They didn't feel comfortable criticizing our commander-in-chief in time
of war. That was a sentiment that many have but most of us decided that
there was too much damage being done to long-term American interests in
the world for us to be quiet and stay on the sidelines.

Laura Secor is the Prospect's foreign-policy editor.

You need to be logged in to comment.
(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)

Connect
, after login or registration your account will be connected.
Advertisement