Madeleine Albright has an interesting piece in the current Foreign Affairs in which she criticizes the Bush team’s diplomatic style. She offers some useful observations, but seems to have bought too much into the Howard Dean version of the party line. She criticizes Bush and Co. for being caught up in a black and white, “with us or against us” mindset but then seems to think that we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

The second Bush administration, believing that its perception of the meaning of September 11 is self-evidently right, has failed to make a sustained effort to persuade the rest of the world to share it. As a result, the world does not in fact subscribe to the same view. Certainly, most of the world does not agree with Bush that September 11 “changed everything.” This is not to say the attacks were met by indifference. On the contrary, NATO, for the first time in its history, declared the crimes to be acts of aggression against the entire alliance. Almost every government in the Muslim world, including Iran and the Palestinian Authority, condemned the strikes. U.S. allies, from Canada to Japan to Australia, rushed to aid or complement the American military campaign against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan, properly confronted by the administration with a stark choice, chose to cooperate as well. Even China and Russia, plagued by Muslim separatists, pledged solidarity. For months after September 11, it seemed the Bush administration would harness these reactions to unite the world in opposition to a common threat.

The president began well, emphasizing the array of nationalities victimized in the Twin Towers attacks and gathering broad support for the military operation he directed at the perpetrators. Al Qaeda’s Taliban protectors were pushed from power, its training camps were destroyed, arms caches were seized, and many of its leaders were captured or killed. But instead of single-mindedly building on these gains, the Bush administration has since steadily enlarged and complicated its own mission.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, for example, President Bush focused not on al Qaeda and the work remaining in Afghanistan, but rather on the so-called axis of evil.

While I was stunned by the “axis of evil” announcement at the time and still am not persuaded it was the right tack, as Albright herself notes earlier in the piece, the fight is with Islamic terrorism, not al Qaeda alone. While expanding the mission beyond our capability is problematical, a consensus built around a too-narrow agenda is dangerous.

She then engages in a What If? scenario:

I remain convinced that had Al Gore been elected president, and had the attacks of September 11 still happened [So, Gore might have forestalled it? How? -ed.], the United States and NATO would have gone to war in Afghanistan together, then deployed forces all around that country and stayed to rebuild it. [Seems like our forces are still there doing precisely this. Check on this. -ed.]Democrats, after all, confess support for nation building, and also believe in finishing the jobs we start. I also believe the United States and NATO together would have remained focused on fighting al Qaeda [Did we stop fighting them? I don’t remember this. Didn’t we just capture an al Qaeda leader a couple days ago? -ed.] and would not have pretended — and certainly would not have been allowed to get away with pretending — that the ongoing failure to capture Osama bin Laden did not matter [Wonder what Gore would have done to find him that isn’t being done now. Note to Bush team: Get Gore’s advice here; he’s obviously a terrorist-finding savant. -ed.]. As for Saddam, I believe the Gore team would have read the intelligence information about his activities differently and concluded that a war against Iraq, although justifiable, was not essential in the short term to protect U.S. security. A policy of containment would have been sufficient while the administration pursued the criminals who had murdered thousands on American soil.

I agree that a Gore administration would have allowed Saddam to remain in power murdering his own people by the thousands and that this policy would have been very popular in the international community. France especially would be pleased. And it’s certainly quite possible that U.S. security would have been unharmed by such a policy.

The Bush administration’s decision to broaden its focus from opposing al Qaeda to invading Iraq and threatening military action against others has had unintended and unwelcome consequences. According to the recent findings of the Pew Global Attitudes Project, which surveyed 16,000 people in 20 countries and the Palestinian territories in May, the percentage of those who have a favorable view of the United States has declined sharply (15 percentage points or more) in nations such as Brazil, France, Germany, Jordan, Nigeria, Russia, and Turkey. In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority state, the view of the United States plunged from 75 percent favorable to 83 percent negative between 2000 and 2003. Support for the U.S.-led war on terror has declined in each of the countries listed above, along with pivotal Pakistan, where it stands at a disheartening 20 percent. The citizens of such NATO allies as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy rated Russia’s Vladimir Putin more highly as a world leader than Bush. Significant majorities of those interviewed in Russia and in 7 of 8 predominantly Muslim countries (Kuwait being the exception) claimed to be somewhat or very worried about the potential threat to their societies posed by the U.S. military. I never thought the day would come when the United States would be feared by those it has neither the intention nor the cause to harm.

She is undeniably correct here. There is no doubt that the United States was beloved by all, especially those in the Muslim world, before Bush started employing his cowboy foreign policy and calling everybody “evil-doers.” Indeed, Bush should strive to be more like Vladimir Putin.

The ouster of Saddam has indeed made the world, or at least Iraq, a better place. [Cool! -ed.] But when the United States commits tens of billions of dollars to any worthwhile project, that is the least it should be able to say. Even more vital is progress toward mobilizing the kind of multinational, multicultural, multifaceted, and multiyear initiative required to discredit, disrupt, and dismantle al Qaeda and whatever splinter factions it may one day spawn. That initiative will require a maximum degree of global coordination and the integration of force, diplomacy, intelligence, and law. It will require strong working relationships in regions where radical ideologies thrive and pro-Western sentiments are scant. And above all, it will require vigorous leadership from Islamic moderates, who must win the struggle for control of their own faith. Unfortunately, the Iraq war and the subsequent U.S. occupation of Baghdad — the capital of Islam during that faith’s golden age — have made more difficult the choices Islamic moderates and others around the world must make.

We shall see, I suppose. But Albright acknowledges that a multi-year initiative is needed. So, the results will be seen in the long term, not the next few months. The Bush team is betting that they can put in place a moderate government in Iraq with a functioning economy and a thriving civil society. If so, if will be the lone such example in the Islamic world. One could argue that this would be helpful to the goals she outlines which, if their rhetoric is to be believed, are identical to those of the administration.

The article goes on to make some very worthwhile suggestions for repairing our relationship with the European allies:

As I suggested above, responsibility for the transatlantic split does not rest on the shoulders of the Bush administration alone. The French certainly have not helped matters, by arguing, for example, that the very purpose of European integration should be to create a counterweight to American power. This constitutes de Villepin’s choice “between two visions of the world,” by which he means a choice between a unipolar world in which Washington acts as an unrestrained hegemon and a multipolar one in which American power is offset and balanced by other forces, most particularly a united Europe. But that argument is ludicrous. The idea that the power of the United States endangers the interests of European democracies, rather than strengthens and helps shield them, is utter nonsense. American power may harm French pride, but it also helped roll back Hitler, save a blockaded Berlin, defeat communism, and rid the Balkans of a rampaging Slobodan Milosevic.

The divisions that have arisen between the United States and many in Europe can and must be narrowed. The challenge for Europe is to reject French hyperventilating about American hyperpower and keep its perspective. The United States has not lost its moorings, and the American people, with an assist from Secretary of State Colin Powell and other voices of reason, will not let the administration go too far.

The challenge for the United States, however, is to frame a choice for Europe that most of Europe can embrace with dignity (if not always with France). To help this mission along, NATO should be used in Afghanistan (where it has finally gained a role, two years after September 11) and in Iraq, where its umbrella might help relieve the pressure on hard-pressed U.S. troops. The Bush administration should enthusiastically welcome European efforts to develop an independent rapid reaction capability, especially to conduct peacekeeping operations and respond to humanitarian emergencies. When Europeans perform important jobs, as the Germans and the Turks have done over the past year in Afghanistan, they deserve congratulations, regardless of differences over less basic issues. Furthermore, the Europeans should be invited, not directed, to work closely with Washington on the toughest challenges, including that posed by Iran’s nuclear program. Perhaps above all, the Europeans should be treated as adults. If they have differences with U.S. policy, those differences should be considered seriously, not dismissed as signs of weakness (or age) or tantamount to treason. Washington needs to recall that “allies” and “satellites” are distinctly different things.

I agree that changes in style and tone might be helpful. But the differences go well beyond that to different worldviews. While it’s perfectly reasonable to get the input of these states and to try to forge consensus–and I think it’s unfair to say the Bush team hasn’t tried to do this, despite the results–there will be times when agreement is not reachable. Sometimes, it will be to our strategic advantage to give in. Other times, especially when our leaders believe our security interests are at stake, the option to go it alone will have to be exercised. We are, after all, adults too.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Barry says:

    Well, can they? They took an overwhelming wave of world sympathy after 9/11, and pissed it away, for what gain?

  2. James Joyner says:

    Can they what Barry?

    I would agree that they pissed away the sympathy, to the extent it was actionable. But I’d say the dickering around on Iraq, rather than the eventual war, was the main culprit. Had we launched in March of 2002 rather than waiting a year, it would have gotten much more support. The memory of 9/11 was cold by then.

  3. Richard P. says:

    All these shots at Al Gore. Gore is raising the question that we all should be asking ourselves: is what the government is doing really the best thing for U.S. security? He’s made the point that we’ve lost focus on al-qaeda, the group who did actually attack this country, in the mad rush to invade a different entity, Iraq, who did not attack the U.S. and really posed no threat to the U.S. In seeing new warnings from experts about the threat of terrorism and that the Taliban seems to be retaking control of Afghanistan, I really have to wonder about the administration’s priorities. I concur with Gore in saying that the administration is guilty of letting ideology override objective analysis of fact in its decision-making and that really hurts, not helps, our security. The administration is big on ideology and attitude but well short on skill and skill is what’s needed above all to deal with terrorism. The administration needed to act with skill so as to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the world for its actions in Iraq and thereby maximize the chances for long-term success in nation-building and I disagree completely that they ever even tried to do so. They could have posed this question to the French and others: how long would you want to have inspections continue before we decide whether or not they’re really serving a useful purpose and whether or not we need to do more than following the containment policy that we’ve been following since 1991?

    U.S. policies and actions toward the many other nations around the world besides Iraq where there are human rights violations would seem to prove that invasion/regime change is not the sole means with which to deal with such issues, thus I have to question criticizing what a Gore administration would have done in Iraq in saying that it would have left a brutal dictator in power in Iraq. The list of brutal dictatorship regimes that the current Bush administration has left in place is a long one. In their defense, the U.S. can’t be going everywhere with troops all the time. However, that’s true in general. Administrations need to use skill, diplomacy, etc. to solve problems and need to have a sensible set of priorities. The priority should have been to have taken what’s the most directly, factually meaningful to U.S. security into consideration and to have completed the task against the folks who actually did attack this country and the regimes who have an actual meaningful connection to them first and to have gotten involved in wars of choice, such as the invasion of Iraq has been in reality, second.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Richard–I’m not Gore bashing. The consequence of not having invaded Iraq would be Saddam’s continued tyranny. It’s arguable that the offset in international consensus would counterbalance that. I don’t think so, but can understand the argument.

    Otherwise, I just counter Albright’s rather strange assertions. I suspect that things would have gone largely the same either way, except that we’d likely not have gone into Iraq. Albright and others seem to imply that Gore would have avoided 9/11, which is absurd. Likewise, the assertion that Gore would have found OBL by now is silly.

  5. Richard P. says:

    My understanding is that during the transition of administrations the Bush folks did not give very much weight to the advice from the holdovers from the Clinton regime as regards warnings about terrorism. Missile defense, IIRC, was the priority item, instead. Of course, no one can know whether a Gore administration would have been able to have prevented the 9/11/2001 attacks but the assertion that they were more disposed to heed the warnings — and there definitely were warnings — is a valid one imho. Also, Gore would have been less constrained by family ties to the Saudi regime.

    To the thought that the consequence of a Gore administration not having invaded Iraq would have been Saddam’s continued tyranny, I detest sounding like I don’t care but isn’t deciding not to invade a despicable North Korean regime, as the Bush administration seems to be content to do, just as reprehensible as deciding not to invade Iraq? Or deciding not to invade and topple the regime of, say, Zimbabwe? Considering the number of tyrannical regimes around the world that the U.S. has supported over the years and continues to support or at least leave alone, I don’t see that the Iraq war hawks are in much of a position to criticize on that basis others who questioned going to war in Iraq. Questioning any war where there’s not a threat to U.S. security is fair as far as I’m concerned and dealing with the real threats has to be first priority at all times. Maybe the whole theory that the Bush people seem to be espousing that toppling the Iraqi regime will cast long-term ripple effects that will eventually enhance our safety and security will turn out to be valid but I still have to see invading Iraq as a sort of luxury, an ‘optional war,’ if you will, and not a war of high-priority pure necessity like Afghanistan was, and that’s what I see as the essence of Gore’s recent statements, along with that the Bush administration has not been honest and straightforward with the American people about this.

    The U.S. can handle and enjoy success in both Afghanistan and Iraq at the same time? Well, are events really bearing that out, with more troops desperately needed in Iraq, the Taliban re-emerging in Afghanistan, terrorism warnings in the news and bin Laden yet to be found?

  6. James Joyner says:


    I think administrations can walk and chew gum simultanously. I agree that missile defense was a high priority and not one I was ever really sold on in the post-Soviet era. I disagree on the 9/11 warnings/attention argument. It really seems silly to me. The personnel are the same at all but the very highest levels and, indeed, Tenet was and remains a holdover.

    North Korea was what actually finally sold me on this war being non-optional. We essentially CAN’T use the military option there now because they are nuclear. I agree that you have to pick and choose your evil dictators to topple (I’m not sure I’d have bothered with Milosevic, for example). I think Saddam was enough of a potential threat to make it in our national interest; the fact that the people were liberated is a huge bonus but, I agree, would be insufficient on its own.

    And, yes, I think we can clearly do Afghanistan and Iraq at the same time. Honestly, manpower per se isn’t the issue.

  7. Richard P. says:

    There was a long article in Newsweek magazine about the Clinton/Bush transition and warnings about terrorism. Unfortunately I don’t have a link to it but that’s my source for my contention that the administration did not make the priority of dealing with domestic terrorism as they did with other items on their agenda although there were indeed warnings from Tenet and others. There was also the tragic irony of the story the director of security for the World Trade Center, John O’Neill, who perished in the 9/11/2001 attacks, being in that post after having resigned from the FBI counterrorism unit out of frustration, according to some stories, with the way that the government as a whole was dealing, or rather, not dealing, with warnings about terrorism of which he was aware.

    It all may well sound like silly conspiracy theories, but there are some serious questions about either the competence of this administration or their willingness to place an agenda based on ideology above what pure objective analysis would seem to guide them to do. For instance, how much thought did they really give to occupying and rebuilding Iraq? If they were/are truly competent then they surely incuded that cost and effort as part of the overall cost/benefit analysis in decision of whether or not to invade. However, all evidence seems to be indicating that they barely considered that at all, and they definitely barely discussed that aspect of the operation with the public at all.

    One would think, on the face it that the entire group of the administration inner circle would be very competent indeed, given their experience and background, but it seems to me that the realities of current events are leaving more and more surprising room for doubt on that. For instance, it seems to me that more and more questions are emerging about the effectiveness of the effort to deal with al-qaeda, as evidenced by the long report on NPR this morning. In view of all of that, I wouldn’t be so quick to casually dismiss the idea that the administration dropped the ball leading up to 9/11/2001.

    We should all be very interested in seeing the final result of the blue-ribbon investigation, now under way, of intelligence/law enforcement failures leading to 9/11/2001 and to see the *complete* report of the recently-finished congressional investigation.

    As to the comparison of North Korea and Iraq, if a another nation can be considered a potential threat, then 1.) that means that that nation is not an actual, imminent threat and 2.) it’s possible and indeed very wise to assign a grade on how much of a potential threat a nation is. There’s no way that Iraq was a serious, imminent threat to the U.S. No long-range bombers, long-range missiles, no ballistic missile subs, no aircraft carriers. Even if they did have all of these weapons, they had no means to deliver them. Thus, even if Iraq is some kind of potential threat, the grade you assign to that threat is not a high one. Saddam might work with some terrorist organization to do something which he doesn’t have the means to do in a more conventional fashion? A possibility, yes, but, really, how much of one? It’s still very hard to say. The assertion that this was something bound to happen is still a rather tenuous one. I think something that was and is more of a serious possibility to be concerned is that of al-qaeda doing something on their own or al-qaeda infiltrating a government to obtain weapons and/or intelligence. I don’t see that al-qaeda is very dependent on a particular government necessarily helping them. I also don’t see that Saddam was necessarily very likely to just out of the blue turn to al-qaeda or someone and pull some stunt. Even though he has made some mistakes in his time his actions seem more to indicate that he’s someone who calculates things as opposed to an utter zealot like bin Laden. He would have had plenty to lose by launching some kind of attack through non-conventional means and there was already the whole business of the containment policy that the U.S. and U.K. were conducting. Thus, it’s really hard to see that the potential threat there was objectively something of a high grade. The truth which I believe history will eventually record on this is that the Iraq threat as of 2002-2003 was hyped up dramatically.

    Al-qaeda OTOH is definitely a high-grade matter.

  8. Scott Harris says:

    There is a new book out – Bush vs. The Beltway – that explores the intellegence linking Iraq and 9/11.

    I haven’t completed the book, but some interesting facts I had forgotten were the initial identification of hijackers included 5 people who were still alive, and whose identities had been stolen.

    So far, the book also discussed the role of deception and diversion in normal intelligence activities and makes a good case that “clearing” Iraq of any complicity in the attack was premature at best. If 5 people were misidentified among the hijackers, it begs the questions, “Just who were the real hijackers?” and even, “Were there really 15 Saudi’s among them?”

    I am not a conspiracy junkie, but so far the book hasn’t made the bold assertion of conspiracy so much as criticized the CIA and State Departments for bureaucratic inertia. It’s an interesting read anyway, and may help explain some of the Administration’s reticence to unload on Saudi Arabia.

  9. Brooks says:

    Ms. Albright needs to watch “High Noon” enough times that she finally gets it.

  10. Jon Brennan says:

    Hey, Barry , who the hell wants ‘world sympathy’?

    given : a) dead Americans and world sympathy
    b) no dead Americans and pissed off Arabs

    give me b) every time!