FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Bush’s “New World Order” Became Trump’s “No World Order”

George H.W. Bush made a bold pronouncement on September 11, 1990.

Even though Iraq had recently invaded Kuwait and the collapse of the Soviet Union was still more than a year away, Bush proclaimed the imminent dawn of a “new world order” that would be “freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace.”

Despite the lofty sentiments, Bush’s “new world order” has dead-ended in the “no world order” of 2017.

What went wrong? For starters, it’s worth looking back at the term’s origins.

In early September 1990, the United States was pulling together a coalition of the willing, with the tacit approval of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to repel Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Confident that he could face down Saddam Hussein, Bush anticipated not only military victory but a different kind of international community. To describe it, Bush borrowed the “new world order” concept from Gorbachev, who two years earlier had used it to support a stronger role for the United Nations and a reduced role for violence in the international arena.

Yet Bush was less interested in the United Nations and more focused on insisting that “there is no substitute for American leadership.”

Indeed, Bush devoted nearly half his 1990 speech to strengthening U.S. power by setting “America’s economic house in order” — cutting taxes, debt, energy dependency and even (prudently) Pentagon spending. In this way, Bush aimed to provide a stronger underpinning for American leadership in the emerging post-Cold War era.

Bush may have talked of “a world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle,” but the thrust of U.S. policy in the wake of Bush’s speech suggested a different world order altogether.

Bush’s decision to go to war against Iraq in early 1991 demonstrated the cold geopolitical calculations behind the “new world order.” The administration, despite considerable congressional and popular opposition, decided to pursue the military option against Saddam rather than wait to see if diplomacy or economic sanctions would achieve the same result.

America’s overwhelming use of force turned the first Gulf War into a “turkey shoot” that killed more than 20,000 Iraqi soldiers and 3,000 civilians. Rather than herald a new order for the Middle East, the war aggravated the existing Arab/Israeli, Saudi/Iranian, Shia/Sunni, and nationalist/Islamist divides.

Bush’s new world order turned out to be the Cold War warmed over. Instead of just containing the Soviet Union, the United States shouldered the burdens of the sole superpower — responsible for countering threats to peace everywhere, primarily by military means.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in December 1991, Washington set about consolidating its unipolar status. The cooperative vision of Gorbachev and (to a lesser extent) Bush Sr. hardened into a post-Cold War U.S. triumphalism that would eventually expand NATO to the borders of Russia.

The prospect of a stronger United Nations became instead the a la carte multilateralism of the Bill Clinton years, when the U.S. acted with others only on a selective basis — and on Washington’s terms. U.S. meddling in the Middle East, particularly the U.S. support for (and military presence in) Saudi Arabia, helped grow radical Sunni groups like al-Qaeda, which would later attack the “new world order” on the anniversary of Bush’s speech in 2001.

A bipartisan fear of global anarchy pushed a succession of U.S. leaders to attempt to maintain American dominance. While that might have been possible for a brief moment in the early 1990s, it was inherently unsustainable. The failed efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and elsewhere testify to the impossibility of imposing a new world order by force.

Donald Trump, despite his calls as presidential candidate to focus on rebuilding the U.S. economy, is just the latest adherent to the U.S. unipolarism that the “new world order” ultimately fostered. He sends more troops to Afghanistan, threatens North Korea with “fire and fury,” and continues the worldwide war without end against terrorism.

The United States could have helped build a truly cooperative world order in 1990. Because it didn’t, the world now faces the twin challenges to the international rule of law: the Islamic State and Donald Trump. The anarchy that many feared is now just around the corner.

More articles by:

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus, where this article originally appeared.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail