One Less Friend
If George W. Bush wants to look at his legacy in the present tense, he might start with observing how his policies have changed the governments of our allies. This past weekend, yet another nation tossed out its leaders, partly as a result of their hewing the Bush line.
Staunch Bush ally John Howard and his Liberal Party suffered their most ignominious defeat in the entire 63 years of the party's existence in Australia's national elections, and the icing on the cake was something that hadn't happened in more than 70 years: Howard himself, the sitting prime minister, lost his seat in Parliament as well.
Reports coming from Australia are pointing to two of Howard's stances that were the biggest contributors to his electoral defeat, and not so coincidentally, both of them are positions the Bush administration has espoused. Under Howard, Australia has been one of the few remaining members of Bush's "Coalition of the Willing," and more importantly, Howard had been an opponent of the Kyoto Protocol and backed Bush's refusal to sign them.
Kevin Rudd, the country's next prime minister, has already stated that he will pull Australia's 550 combat troops out of Iraq. This deals an ugly blow to the Bush administration's dwindling public relations effort to make Iraq appear to be the supposed beneficiary of a group of nations rather than America's unilateral no-carrot-and-plenty-of-stick policy implemented by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld via the machinations of Vice President Dick Cheney.
If there's one thing that Republican presidential candidates might want to take note of, it's how the climate-change debate arrived in Australia at the same time the country experienced what Australian news services are calling the "worst drought in a thousand years." Under Howard and Bush, the United States and Australia were the only two major industrialized countries not to sign onto the Kyoto Protocol, leading Al Gore to call the two countries the "Bonnie and Clyde" of global warming in a recent visit to Sydney.
Howard's rejection is just the latest in a string of political upsets of leaders perceived to be sympathetic to the Bush agenda. With the sole exception of France's Nicholas Sarkozy, nearly every major head of state of an American ally has been deposed in favor of someone who would stand up to Bush's person-to-person style of international diplomacy. Britain forced out "Bush's poodle," Tony Blair, in favor of the far more muted Gordon Brown. Leftist Romano Prodi ousted Bush ally Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, even though Berlusconi tried at the last minute to salvage his chances by announcing before the April 2006 elections that Italy would withdraw all its troops from Iraq by the end of the year. Before that, in 2004, Jose Maria Aznar of Spain was ousted, right after his government tried to politically manipulate the blame for the Madrid train bombings, whose link to Islamic radicals might have been seen as a result of Spain's involvement in Iraq (a 2003 poll showed 92 percent of Spain's population opposed the invasion).
At almost every turn, Bush's foreign policy is being rejected by the voting population of nearly every major ally in the world-something that likely will have no effect whatsoever on the attitudes held inside the vice president's office, where, for all we know, plans are still under way for a campaign to attack Iran. If the vice president gets his way, don't be surprised if we see even more upheaval in the coming months before the U.S. elections in November 2008, as more allies take cautious steps away from us until they see who comes out the winner and takes office in 2009.
Right now in Annapolis, representatives are gathered for a meeting to try and restart the so-called road map to peace that the Bush administration weakly touted as its effort to calm the Israeli-Palestinian turbulence. Except for the fact that it's being held in Annapolis, the whole thing is yet another sign of how flaccid the president's efforts at diplomacy are to the rest of the world. Even Israeli wags are joking how Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's first name has produced a Hebrew verb, lecondel, meaning "to come and go for meetings that produce few results."
With the exception of the 2000 elections, when Al Gore faced then-Texas Gov. Bush, foreign policy has been seen as a strong point for the Republican Party for the last quarter century or more. But with the "grownups" of Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Colin Powell leading to the biggest foreign-policy disaster of the last century, the Republican brand has been permanently soiled for a long time, and the people trying to claim its mantle don't appear to be much better at it.
Until Jan. 20, 2009, don't be too surprised if just about any of our efforts at multilateral peace are taken with a grain of salt by the leaders of most of the world's more important countries. Just because Bush doesn't see himself as a lame duck doesn't mean that the rest of the world hasn't written him off. The voters of Australia said that loud and clear this past weekend. ★
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