How to Lose Allies and Alienate Everyone
By Stan Crock
Judging from President George W. Bush's Sept. 23 speech to the U.N., it seems clear that he never read Dale Carnegie's classic How to Win Friends and Influence People. Carnegie explained how to make people like you, how to win them over to your way of thinking, and how to change them without giving offense or arousing resentment. Bush's unyielding speech, which trumpeted the triumph of liberty and democracy over Saddam Hussein and terrorism, isn't likely to accomplish any of the above with his intended audience.
Nor is it likely to achieve its overriding goal: persuading nations to provide military and financial help to rebuild Iraq. Why? Because "President Bush's plans for Iraq continue to concern Middle Eastern governments and anger Middle Eastern publics," says Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Indeed, Bush's unilateral policies in pursuit of American causes and ideals have already raised concerns around the globe. His call for preventive attacks -- striking an enemy before it starts to mass troops or even develops potentially lethal weapons -- conflicts with the notions of collective security and international law that have governed the U.N. for more than five decades. The stance greatly worries U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who has appointed a eminent committee to address the collision.
Annan said before the speech that Bush's policy is a fundamental challenge to the principles that have produced world peace and stability since World War II and could set a dangerous precedent for the lawless use of force. But Annan added it's also important to address the concerns that would lead a country like the U.S. to contemplate a preventive attack. That's an even-handed approach.
Bush's speech wasn't. For most of the diplomats sitting and listening to the President, it's easy to imagine them thinking of Saddam and saying, "There but for the grace of God, go I." Consider the audience. Of the 191 countries represented at the U.N., no more than two dozen are true democracies. A ghastly number of the nations represented have some version of the torture chambers, rape rooms, and prison cells for innocent children that Bush is rightly proud to have shut down in Iraq.
Gloating over this achievement in front of this crowd wasn't going to win friends. Indeed, espousing the spread of freedom and democracy, the cornerstone of Bush policy, is a direct threat to a lot of these countries' leaders.
And in some ways, it may alarm their citizens, too. In the U.S. -- especially in the Bush White House -- it's a given that liberty and democracy are natural rights, needs, and desires. That's a profoundly American notion, however. What if the Grand Inquisitor, a character in The Brothers Karamazov by the great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky, was right when he said: "Nothing has ever been more insupportable for a man and a human society than freedom."
What if most people would give up their freedom for security, stability, and basic sustenance -- which is precisely what a majority of the world's population does? Depressing, perhaps. But it may help explain why some Iraqis pine for Saddam now that the country is so unstable and security so uncertain.
Bush could have made a quite different argument, one not so threatening to other nations. He could have said Saddam was unique. He was such a blight on the earth and a threat to his own people and to the world community that the action Washington took was necessary. A similar kind of threat, Bush could have argued, is unlikely, and thus another unprovoked attack on a government isn't foreseeable.
Then Bush could have advanced the arguments he did make -- that it's in everyone's interest to clean up Iraq so that it won't be a haven for terrorists to attack other regimes. He should have left it at that, instead of conjuring up the ideal of Iraq as a model of democracy that will wash over the region. That image is sure to make leaders in the Middle East and throughout the General Assembly chamber squirm.
If democracy does flower in Iraq and elsewhere, it will sprout from the bottom up, rather than being imposed from outside. There's no denying that even if people have swapped freedom for basic necessities, their governments aren't living up to their end of the bargain by providing food and shelter. So this trade has proved to be a raw deal for hundreds of millions of people.
Still, unilateralism and self-righteousness about America's way of life isn't the way to win friends and influence people. The White House may get a new U.N. resolution because France has now stated it doesn't want to veto it. That's not the same as getting the troops and cash Washington is seeking, however. Countries remain either unwilling or unable to make the kinds of contributions the U.S. needs. And Bush's speech isn't likely to change that.
Crock covers national security and foreign affairs for BusinessWeek from Washington. Follow his views in Affairs of State twice a month, only on BusinessWeek Online
Edited by Douglas Harbrecht