For you, Eye Tie.
I think this article points out one of the key distinctions we will need from future presidents if we wish to win the war on terror. You want to act on your own policy and expertise, and ultimately, you need to do what's in the best interest of the Americans who put you in office. I'll grant that. But if you can't at least pretend
to be more diplomatic, and try to make it look like this war on terrorism is a multi-lateral job, then I think you're going to end up spinning your wheels in a lot of places.
An Imperial Presidency
Bush's travel schedule seems to involve as little contact as possible with the country he is in.
By Fareed Zakaria
Dec. 19, 2005 issue - President Bush's most recent foreign trips, to Latin America and Asia, went off as expected. He was accompanied by 2,000 people, several airplanes, two helicopters and a tightly scripted schedule. He met few locals and saw little except palaces and conference rooms. When the program changed, it was to cut out dinners and meetings. Bush's travel schedule seems calculated to involve as little contact as possible with the country he is in. Perhaps the White House should look into the new teleconferencing technologies. If set up right, the president could soon conduct foreign policy without ever having to actually meet foreigners.
It's not that President Bush doesn't like foreigners. He does, some of them anyway. He admires Tony Blair, Junichiro Koizumi and Ariel Sharon, as well as a few others. But even with them—the "good men"—he doesn't really have a genuine give-and-take. Most conversations are brief, scripted and perfunctory. The president rarely talks to any foreign leader to get his opinions or assessment of events. Churchill lived in the White House for days while he and Franklin Roosevelt jointly planned allied strategy. Such collaboration with a foreign leader is unthinkable today. Insider accounts of Tony Blair's involvement with the Iraq war suggest that Blair was, at best, informed of policy before it took effect.
It is conventional wisdom that this lack of genuine communication with the world is a unique characteristic of George W. Bush. After all, Bill Clinton forged genuinely deep relations with his counterparts abroad. Though he traveled in equal grandeur, he showed much greater interest in the countries he visited. (In India he became a hero even though he had slapped sanctions on the country, an extraordinary case of personal diplomacy trumping policy.) George Bush Sr. had his famous Rolodex and dialed foreign leaders regularly to ask their views on things. Bush Jr. has set a new standard.
Bush's tendencies seem to reflect a broader trend. America has developed an imperial style of diplomacy. There is much communication with foreign leaders, but it's a one-way street. Most leaders who are consulted are simply informed of U.S. policy. Senior American officials live in their own bubbles, rarely having any genuine interaction with their overseas counterparts, let alone other foreigners. "When we meet with American officials, they talk and we listen—we rarely disagree or speak frankly because they simply can't take it in," explained one senior foreign official who requested anonymity for fear of angering his U.S. counterparts.
It is worth quoting at length from the recently published—and extremely well-written—memoirs of Chris Patten (who is ardently pro-American), recounting his experiences as Europe's commissioner for external affairs. "Even for a senior official dealing with the U.S. administration," he writes, "you are aware of your role as a tributary; however courteous your hosts you come as a subordinate bearing goodwill and hoping to depart with a blessing on your endeavours ... In the interests of the humble leadership to which President Bush rightly aspires, it would be useful for some of his aides to try to get into their own offices for a meeting with themselves some time!
"Attending any conference abroad," Patten continues, "American cabinet officers arrive with the sort of entourage that would have done Darius proud. Hotels are commandeered; cities brought to a halt; innocent bystanders are barged into corners by thick-necked men with bits of plastic hanging out of their ears. It is not a spectacle that wins hearts and minds."
Apart from the resentment that the imperial style produces, the aloof attitude means that American officials don't benefit from the experience and expertise of foreigners. The U.N. inspectors in Iraq were puzzled at how uninterested American officials were in talking to them—even though they had spent weeks combing through Iraq. Instead, U.S. officials, comfortably ensconced in Washington, gave them lectures on the evidence of weapons of mass destruction. "I thought they would be interested in our firsthand reports on what those supposedly dual-use factories looked like," one of then told me (again remaining anonymous for fear of angering the administration). "But no, they explained to me what those factories were being used for."
In handling postwar Iraq, senior American officials in Washington avoided any real conversations with U.N. officials who had been involved in Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Mozambique and other such places.
To foreigners, American officials increasingly seem clueless about the world they are supposed to be running. "There are two sets of conversations, one with Americans in the room and one without," says Kishore Mahbubani, formerly a senior diplomat for Singapore and now dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Because Americans live in a "cocoon," Mahbubani fears that they don't see the "sea change in attitudes towards America throughout the world."
The imperial style has its virtues. It intimidates, allows for decisive action and can force countries to follow the lead. But it racks up costs. And it is particularly ill suited for the world we are entering. As other countries come into their own, economically and politically, they want to be listened to, not simply tolerated. They resent being lectured to by the United States. They are willing to be led, but in a very different style.
When Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House, he certainly didn't have a reputation for being weak-kneed or soft. But he knew the value of reaching out to others who had different opinions. He would borrow from management jargon and speak of the need to "listen, learn, help and lead." In that order.
Write the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2005 Newsweek, Inc.