America is on its way to war. President Bush has told Saddam Hussein to depart or face attack. For Mr. Hussein, getting rid of weapons of mass
destruction is no longer an option. Diplomacy has been dismissed. Arms inspectors, journalists and other civilians have been advised to leave Iraq.
The country now stands at a decisive turning point, not just in regard to the Iraq crisis, but in how it means to define its role in the post-cold-war
world. President Bush's father and then Bill Clinton worked hard to infuse that role with America's traditions of idealism, internationalism and
multilateralism. Under George W. Bush, however, Washington has charted a very different course. Allies have been devalued and military force
Now that logic is playing out in a war waged without the compulsion of necessity
, the endorsement of the United Nations or the company of
traditional allies. This page has never wavered in the belief that Mr. Hussein must be disarmed. Our problem is with the wrongheaded way
administration has gone about it.
Once the fighting begins, every American will be thinking primarily of the safety of our troops, the success of their mission and the minimization of
Iraqi civilian casualties. It will not feel like the right time for complaints about how America got to this point.
Today is the right time. This war crowns a period of terrible diplomatic failure, Washington's worst in at least a generation. The Bush
administration now presides over unprecedented American military might. What it risks squandering is not America's power, but an essential part of
When this administration took office just over two years ago, expectations were different. President Bush was a novice in international affairs, while
his father had been a master practitioner. But the new president looked to have assembled an experienced national security team. It included Colin
Powell and Dick Cheney, who had helped build the multinational coalition that fought the first Persian Gulf war. Condoleezza Rice had helped manage a
peaceful end for Europe's cold war divisions. Donald Rumsfeld brought government and international experience stretching back to the Ford
administration. This seasoned team was led by a man who had spoken forcefully as a presidential candidate about the need for the United States to wear
its power with humility, to reach out to its allies and not be perceived as a bully.
But this did not turn out to be a team of steady veterans. The hubris and mistakes
that contributed to America's current isolation began long
before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. From the administration's first days, it turned away from internationalism and the concerns of its European
allies by abandoning the Kyoto Protocol on global warming and withdrawing America's signature from the treaty establishing the International Criminal
Court. Russia was bluntly told to accept America's withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty and the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization into the territory of the former Soviet Union. In the Middle East, Washington shortsightedly stepped backed from the worsening spiral of
violence between Israel and the Palestinians, ignoring the pleas of Arab, Muslim and European countries. If other nations resist American leadership
today, part of the reason lies in this unhappy history.