By committing American forces in concert with those of other nations, and by launching a massive diplomatic initiative to muster international support, President Bush has established an important doctrine for post-Cold War U.S. policy -- protect American interests with maximum possible international participation.
For three decades American presidents have mainly paid lip service to enlisting foreign support for U.S. military actions overseas. President Bush has made this an operating principle.
This is both wise and necessary. The Soviet threat can no longer justify new U.S. engagement overseas. Expensive or extensive U.S. military initiatives will come under heavy public scrutiny, especially in light of pressing domestic needs.
Americans will insist that U.S. defense commitments to a region not exceed U.S. interests there and that the commitment of U.S. allies not fall short of their interests. Convincing Americans that the United States should continue to play a global leadership role -- much less send troops to protect Western or other interests -- will be difficult if other nations who benefit from U.S. actions do not contribute proportionally.
Making the Bush Doctrine work will require complicated diplomacy and coalition building.
U.S. officials will need to define the issues at stake -- and American interests -- in terms broad enough to command support from close allies as well as from nations that are not traditional followers of the United States. In the case of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, some nations responded to U.S. diplomacy because they abhorred the precedent of territorial conquest; some feared Saddam Hussein gaining a stranglehold on world oil; some recognized the profound geopolitical consequences of a collapse of the balance of power in the area.
In addition, the United States will need increasingly to enlist the Soviet Union as part of the solution rather than, as during the Cold War, see it as part of the problem. Moscow participated as a responsible member of the international community by condemning Iraq. In so doing it strengthened American diplomacy vis-a`-vis Baghdad and enabled several of its Third World friends to support the United States in the U.N.
Washington also will need to engage the U.N. Security Council, now unblocked by the end of the superpower impasse, in practical and forceful actions to prevent and resolve disputes. By mobilizing the U.S.S.R., China and many developing nations to vote sanctions against Iraq, and basing its troop commitment to the region solidly on the U.N. Charter, the United States bolstered the legitimacy of its military presence in the Gulf and facilitated the decision of Arab League members to support Saudi Arabia. U.N.-bestowed legitimacy should help Americans normally uncomfortable with sending troops abroad to see this action as consistent with larger international principles.
Making the doctrine work now and in the future will require the president to articulate a convincing rationale for U.S. military involvement. U.S. policy will lose domestic support if the rationale for it becomes confused in the public mind. That in turn would cause allies to question U.S. resolve, distance themselves from U.S. leadership and seek their own deals.
To hold together a military and diplomatic coalition of nations with conflicting interests and priorities, U.S. officials will need to conduct intimate consultations and intelligence sharing with a wider range of governments than ever before. It will also need to launch public affairs programs to explain its position to citizens of countries where public views are not as supportive of the United States as their governments.
These measures will be necessary to prevent other nations from negotiating arrangements that undermine the U.S. position as well as to convince them that the United States will not undermine theirs. American forces will need to coordinate with myriad foreign armies, navies and air forces. U.S. commanders had difficulty doing this with the British and French in World War II. It will be much more difficult for U.S. officers in the Gulf or other hot spots to do so with a multitude of non-U.S. and non-NATO counterparts, yet they must if this doctrine is to work.
Finally, the doctrine will require the United States to balance its desire to act quickly and forcefully with its desire to maintain international support. On occasion, acting boldly will encourage other nations to follow -- as in the U.S. troop commitment to Saudi Arabia. But at times Washington might decide to refrain from, modify or delay certain actions on grounds that they jeopardize the coalition it has assembled or the international legitimacy of its policy. This issue has been raised by the U.S. blockade of Iraq. Similarly, the United States might be called on to take positions in behalf of certain principles -- such as nonintervention -- in circumstances where its immediate interests are not directly at stake in order to be in a stronger position to obtain international support when American interests are at stake.
Complications notwithstanding, the Bush Doctrine, effectively implemented, will strengthen domestic support for U.S. leadership in the 1990s by encouraging other nations to stand with it in promoting common interests.
The writer is vice chairman of Goldman Sachs International.