The simplest approach to history is the one that reduces all analysis to theory of Bad King John or Good Queen Bess. Such a theory would read current events through the filters of either Bad Boy Bush or Good Boy Bush. This can only be an alibi for the poverty of analysis. There are deeper and not-so-obvious currents that can be discerned in the decision of Mr George W. Bush to push on towards an attack on Iraq with the explicit aim of overthrowing a tyrant. This very goal, backed by strong action, marks a departure from the isolationism upheld by dyed-in-the-wool conservatives within the ranks of the Republicans. It is this spirit of isolationism that explains the late entry of the United States of America into World War II. The US wanted to keep away from active participation in what it saw as a European conflict, till Pearl Harbour was bombed on December 7, 1941. From isolationism Mr Bush has moved directly into unilateralism. He has decided that the US should intervene on its own terms in Iraq to dislodge Mr Saddam Hussein. This is a decision that the US has taken on its own and it expects world opinion to follow it or to actively support it. This shift in perspective in US foreign policy is obviously related to its unchallenged supremacy in the military and economic landscapes of the world.
It would appear that at least in Europe, among the USís North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies, the unilateralism of the US has not been accepted. Some of the major European powers do not approve of the USís inflexible hostility towards Mr Hussein. But the extent of the difference between the US and the European nations should not be exaggerated. The latter, even as vocal a critic of US intentions as France, agree that Mr Hussein should be removed and, if necessary, through some coercion. The difference arises from the interpretation of the fallout. Europe believes that too severe an action against Mr Hussein will result in the radicalization of Islam and a compounding of the danger emanating from Islamic fundamentalism. US policy-makers, on the other hand, argue that the removal of the tyrant will have a liberating impact and strengthen the forces of liberalism and democracy within Islam.
Beyond the differences that US policy has generated with some European powers, looms the damage caused to the institutions of multilateralism, especially the United Nations, by the intransigence of US policy. This could have been avoided if the US had carried unilateralism to its logical conclusion and not sought the sanction of the UN for its intervention in Iraq. By defying the UN and by putting its own imprimatur on world affairs, the US has made the world order unstable. It needs to be recalled that when Mr George Bush senior went to war over Kuwait in 1990, he carried with him the support of more nations than his son has been able to muster in 2003. To that extent, the US cannot measure its current policy towards Iraq as a diplomatic triumph. Mr Bushís foray into unilateralism has long-term and imponderable consequences that could outweigh immediate considerations.