Accessibility links

Breaking News

U.S.: Former Diplomats, Military Leaders Speak Out Against Bush

U.S. President George W. Bush's "unilateral" foreign policy has damaged U.S. interests and prestige abroad. That's the opinion of a group of 26 former U.S. diplomats and military leaders. The group plans to issue a formal statement tomorrow. RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully takes a look at the group and why they might be making this statement now.

Washington, 15 June 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Twenty-six former U.S. diplomats and military leaders plan to issue a joint statement tomorrow accusing President George W. Bush of hurting American foreign policy.

The group, "Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change," includes former ambassadors appointed by presidents from both major U.S. political parties and retired career military leaders.

Some members are quoted in newspapers as saying Bush's policies have undone the diplomatic results they and their colleagues have worked hard to achieve during their careers.

Specifically, they cite the U.S.-led war in Iraq, which they call unilateral, and the now-strained alliances with countries like France and Germany. The Iraq war put the United States at odds with many of its closest allies.

The statement comes two months after a similar criticism was issued by former British diplomats. They criticized their prime minister, Tony Blair, for his close alignment with Bush's foreign policy.

The U.S. group says it was not formed to provide support for Democratic Senator John Kerry, who is expected to challenge Bush for the presidency in November. It says its members simply want to alert voters to what they believe is the damage Bush's policies have done to America's long-standing alliances and hard-won prestige.
"Just because these people are not working on a daily basis for Kerry or formally advising him doesn't mean they're not for him. It's a very partisan thing, and it's perfectly all right. It's a partisan election year." -- Larry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia

Bush's re-election campaign says it is not responding to the group's statement until it is released, but an anonymous strategist for Bush's Republican Party, in an interview with the "Los Angeles Times," expressed bewilderment at the charge of unilateralism.

The strategist cited the unanimous vote by the UN Security Council on 8 June in favor of a U.S.-drafted resolution on the transfer of sovereignty to Iraqis at the end of the June. He expressed doubt that the group's statement would influence voting in the upcoming 2 November election.

Larry Sabato agrees. Sabato is a political analyst at the University of Virginia. He tells RFE/RL the group may appear to be bipartisan, but it is heavily weighted toward the Democratic Party. Many, he says, are known to be Democratic partisans, despite their previous affiliation with the Republican Party.

Sabato singled out Admiral William Crowe, who was chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff under both President Ronald Reagan and the President George H.W. Bush, both Republicans. He later supported President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and has endorsed Kerry's challenge of Bush in the coming election.

Sabato says, "I looked carefully at that list. It's heavily laden with Democrats or Republicans who defected some time ago. For example, [one of them is] Admiral Crowe, who turned on [the first President Bush] back in 1992 and endorsed Clinton over the man he had served -- President Bush -- and was awarded with the ambassadorship to Great Britain."

Sabato dismisses the group's assertion that it does not endorse Kerry.

"Just because these people are not working on a daily basis for Kerry or formally advising him doesn't mean they're not for him. It's a very partisan thing, and it's perfectly all right. It's a partisan election year. But to present it as being non-partisan or some kind of trend is, I think, taking it way too far," Sabato says.

But Alan Lichtman, a professor of political history at American University in Washington, says he believes there is such a trend.

Lichtman tells RFE/RL he sees evidence of a global movement -- both among voters and political elites -- against ruling parties, particularly those that supported the war in Iraq. He says he thinks that sentiment is shared by a growing number of Americans.

He says groups like Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change are speaking out because they see Bush ignoring old alliances and relying on U.S. military power to back up unilateralist policies. Lichtman says, in his opinion, these retired diplomats and military leaders are right in believing Bush is squandering the hard work to which they have devoted their careers.

"Bush has fundamentally changed American foreign policy. The pre-emptive doctrine is radically new in the way Bush is applying it. And obviously, when you change policy this radically, it is going to have enormous repercussions around the world and of course in the United States, because you challenge presumptions held by policy-makers and public officials for some time," Lichtman says.

Lichtman rejects the Republican strategist's argument that the way the U.S. acted in Iraq had the support of other countries, and that it is building even broader support for its occupation of Iraq through the United Nations.

"The fact that now, during this very difficult period, the United States has been able to get a UN resolution on the transfer of power to Iraqis does not in any way undermine the essentially unilateral thrust of American policy in Iraq and the broader unilateralism followed by this administration, which has rejected a number of international treaties," Lichtman says.

He cites the rejection of the Kyoto treaty on the environment, the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and his 18-month imposition of tariffs on imported steel, which punished many U.S. trading partners, including the European Union.