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Home > English > Website archives > Globalization, resistance, immigration > Crisis and Confusion in Foreign Policy?


Crisis and Confusion in Foreign Policy?

Wednesday 10 October 2007, by Donald Cuccioletta

Iraq is quickly ebbing itself towards a fifth year of perpetual war and chaos, with no end in sight, despite a new White House discourse of a possible withdrall of 30,000 troops by the summer of 2008. These troops were already scheduled to return home after their tour of duty, leaving the number of troops at 135,000 which was the figure prior to the surge. Afghanistan, despite the feel good propaganda and the olive branch for peace talks with the Taliban launched by Karzi, remains a US lead NATO adventure to prop up and to defend the corrupt regime of Armed Karzi, who is a mouth piece for US policy in the region. At every opportunity, the White House and the State Department, projects an aggressive discourse targeting Syria and Iran, as the instigators of the unruly situation in the Middle-East. Meanwhile discussions have been ongoing within the inner circle of the Whitehouse, with the Vice President Cheney leading the charge for a pre-emptive strike against the nuclear facilities in Iran.

A US supported futile and disastrous Israeli invasion of Lebanon in July of 2006, coupled with an isolationist policy instituted toward the democratically elected Hamas government, has fostered the collapse of any legitimate attempt to bring some semblance of peace to the region. Lebanon since the 37 day war is in total chaos and on the brink of civil war. Even a hastily assembled peace plan, supported by the traditional US allies of Egypt and Jordan, with the presence of Mahmud Abbas, has not gotten off the ground. The region, from the Mediterranean to the border of China is a time bomb and has become the prime contentious issue in the 2008 presidential election.

The continued persistence, despite protests from Russia, to place an anti- ballistic missile system in Poland, the advancement of NATO to former Soviet Eastern block nations, and the total evacuation of Russian diplomacy in the Middle East has led to Russia’s withdrawal from the Strategic Treaty on Convention Weapons in Europe and Putin’s discourse of a renewed cold war isolationism of Russia. Meanwhile the US has sold strategic nuclear weapons technology to India, who has become the new economic and strategic ally in the Asian sub-continent. Because of the weak leadership of George W. Bush, we seem to perceive that American foreign policy at beginning of the 21st century as one of confusion and crisis. But nothing could be more further from the truth. There is method in this perceived madness.

End of the Post World II International System

The mechanisms put in place by the international community of nations after World War II, led to a construct that came to be know as the international system. Set up primarily to oversee and administer (which it did with relative success) the emerging Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, this international system was based on a mutual responsibility and interests of the world community of nations. Hence the pivotal role played by the United Nations, NATO, International Peace Treaties, interactive diplomacy and even the Warsaw Pact. This consensus building system served us well, as did the concept of mutual deterrence, which led to Salt I and Salt II and other important treaties, within the last 50 years.

The United States abided, though reluctantly, to certain decisions, taken by the International community. It understood that its imperial economic and political interests could best be served by being an active player. A case in point was its love hate relationship, with the UN. Not necessarily in armoured with the direction taken by certain policies of the UN, the US while always threatening to withdraw from the International body, nevertheless remained and utilized the organization to promote its own interests with qualified success.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the unexpected and sudden demise of the Soviet Union ushered in with great speed the new conditions of the 21st century and with it a scramble in international political circles to fathom what had happen in such a short period of time. The ideological vacuum created by the collapse of the Soviet Union was quickly filled by the triumphant message of capitalism and its synonyms of globalization, free market and free trade, based on economic liberalism and social conservatism.

The conservative movement in post war United States had at its outset, with people like Barry Goldwater and William F. Buckley, targeted the communist movement and the destruction of the Soviet Union. By the time Ronald Reagan, a staunch anti-communist since the 50’s as president of the Screen Actors Guild of America, had reached the White House in 1980, a new strain of conservatism had taken up the torch against the Soviet Union. The neo-conservatives who came onto the political scene, under the ideological mentorship of Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, and Norman Podahoretz, were now welcomed members of the new political class under the Reagan administration.

The neo-conservatives quickly became the leading ideologues in the Washington circle of foreign policy. Targeting the Soviet Union, in a return to the Goldwater and Buckley days, they coined the term “Evil Empire”, made famous by Ronald Reagan. The foreign policy of the United States henceforth, refocused itself on the destruction of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was now seen as the principle obstacle to the spread of democracy, American style. Supported by the “refusnik” movement of Andrei Sakharov and Natan Sharansky, the idea of peaceful co-existence gave way to the neo-con analysis, of the “Evil Empire”. According to Walter Russell Mead, in Special Providence: American Foreign policy and How it Changed the World American foreign policy had now let go of the Wilsonian approach of appeasement, which had been prominent since President Woodrow Wilson and now returned to a more secured national interest approach of the Jacksonian controlled aggression.

The sudden demise of the Soviet Union, gave instant credibility to the neo-cons and their new disciples. One of whom was Francis Fukuyama, who seized the opportunity, with his widely read post Soviet Union thesis, of the The End Of History and the Last Man to inject the notion that American style democracy based on the rule of the liberal free market system, had trumped the collectivist approach to democracy and put an end to a century of ideological confrontation. The future was clearly in the hands of the free market system, supported by conservative social values, compounded by American liberal democracy. Now came the time to fulfill America’s god given mission and preach the good word throughout the world.

The neo-con analysis, though not central in the Bush (father) and Clinton foreign policy approach, nevertheless continued to influence the State Department under James Baker and Madeline Albright, both Cold War warriors and staunch defenders of the American democratic model abroad. The Gulf War, under George H Bush was heavily influenced by the neo-cons, who lobbied for the incursion into Iraq to get the job done and depose Saddam Hussein. Having been a disciple of the Wilsonian internationalist approach to foreign policy, Bush (father) refused, not wanting to alienate the international coalition he had constituted to “liberate” Kuwait.

Similarly, under Clinton, the neo-con thesis, continued to make head way. The attack against Mommar Kaddafi, the numerous covert actions taken by Special Forces in the name of anti-terrorism, the augmentation of CIA operations around the world (i.e. navy spy plane over China), the re-enforcement of strategic allies, such as Israel and South Korea, mixed with an internationalist discourse, marked the ambivalence of the Clinton administration in the foreign policy field. The neo-cons, though having found a welcomed home with the republicans were now making in roads with the democrats. Senator Lieberman of Connecticut, Senator Sam Backus of Montana, Rep. Tom Lantos of California, all influential democrats in foreign policy, became purveyors of the Jacksonian approach within the Democratic Party. We must never forget the original neo-cons, Bell, Podahoretz, Kristal, were once staunch supporters of the Democratic Party, as FDR democrats.

The George W. Bush Presidency and September 11th

The victory of George W. Bush as President heralded the complete victory for the neo-conservatives. Already growing in numbers and influence, they were, with the nomination of Dick Cheney as Vice President, Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defence, and Paul Wolfewitz as Deputy Secretary of Defence and a host of others in key positions of the administration, in full control of US foreign policy for the 21st century. This is what they had been working for since their presence in the Reagan administration. They now had the full levers of power, plus the undivided attention of the President, to implement their plan for the spread of American democracy, as the key element in their strategic goals to foster a new international system subservient to American interests.

Very early on in the administration, prior to September 11, the neo-cons pushed for a renewed aggressive policy on Iraq and the removal of Saddam Hussein. Knowing full well of the menace of terrorism, due to the memo’s and reports of Dick Clarke, the director of the anti-terrorism staff, they quickly pointed to Saddam Hussein and the menace he posed to peace in the Middle East and the so-called source of the terrorist threats.

Then came the attacks on September 11th, 2001. This was all the neo-cons needed to press their case against Saddam Hussein. Regardless of reports from the CIA and from the State Department, which had fingered Osama Ben Laden and Al Qaeda as the perpetrators of the Pear Harbour of the 21st century, the neo-cons and their circle of influence pushed for Iraq. Powell argued for an action in Afghanistan, with an international coalition. He won out. The neo-cons had to wait another day for Iraq. Yet the President did take heed of their discourse and told the planners to prepare for an eventual invasion of Iraq.

Weapons of mass destruction became the order of the day. The capture and execution of Saddam Hussein, the emplacement of an elected Iraqi government (friendly to the United States) would serve as a spark for the spreading of democracy in the area, with Syria and Iran as prime targets. As a secondary consequence of such a strategy the constant threats targeting the destruction of Israel would cease, as would the disappearance of terror groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. This would lead eventually, according to the neo-cons to a two state solution of the Palestinian question. All this would solidify the presence of America in the region, protect and secure American interests, create a vital geo-strategic position from which to survey the surrounding region and implicate an isolationist policy toward China to squash any attempt to play a hegemonic role in a growing Asian continent, loaded with natural resources and cheap labour.

The Democrats, no longer hostile to the neo-conservative strategy and also fearful of any political backlash after September 11th voted unanimously, minus one (Rep. Barbara Boxer-California), for the Iraqi invasion.

Why Asia?

Asia home to 2/3 of the world’s population is the continent of the 21s century The rise of China and India as the new icons of investment, the new breakaway republics along the Russian border, the massive natural resources across the region, the movement of peoples, the emergence of regional powers such as Iran, and Indonesia, the unstable Korean peninsula, the return of a militarist Japan, signalled for foreign policy observers and in particular the neo-cons, that to maintain a US world hegemony, American presence in the form of an American style democracy was the order of the day.

The race for control of natural resources, especially oil and natural gas, placed Iraq, because of its central geographic position, at the center of the major shift in American foreign policy towards Asia. The United States, as far back as the Reagan administration had untaken studies done by the State Department, the Pentagon, the Joint Chief s of Staff and selected Think Tanks around the country and the world, to foresee economic and strategic changes on the Asian continent and to recommend adjustments to American foreign policy. These studies were upgraded and increasingly financed with the fall of the Soviet Union. Asian was now the new frontier for the American empire.

Iraq, even under Saddam Hussein, was for 15 years an important instrument for American power in the region. It served as a buttress against the Iran, once a close ally under the Shah, but now an enemy after the Khomeini theocratic revolution. Saddam Hussein was given the American blessing and arms to wage war against Iran. This war would destroy millions of lives on both sides and eventually end in a stalemate.

Over the years Saddam Hussein became an embarrassment to American foreign policy in the region, as his rule became more erratic and oppressive against the different communities in Iraq. He was now counterproductive and with his invasion of Kuwait his fate was sealed. The neo-cons saw an opportunity, to apply their strategy against this so-called new Hitler. The invasion of Iraq would be envisaged as a new war of liberation, akin to World War II. Saddam Hussein was an enemy of democracy and he had weapons of mass destruction. We know the end of the short story.

By setting up a friendly regime, based on American style democracy of free market capitalism, would give American corporations a direct line to the natural resource reserves in the region and the US government would have an excellent listen post from which to oversee the events and movements in the new emerging Asian continent.

With the US in Bagdad aligned with Saudi Arabia and Israel, India as a new ally, a sympathetic regime in Afghanistan, US military bases in the Kazakhstan, a new emerging Japan fearful of China, and South Korea as a US protectorate, a wall of isolationism a new virtual Berlin Wall could be constructed around China. The secondary effect would be to implant free market capitalist style democracy sympathetic to the US. In Natan Sharansky’s essay, The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, which became a must read for the neo-conservatives and the George W. Bush administration the author, states, “that the struggle for freedom is one of moral clarity, based on the spread of American democracy”. This was the ultimate goal of the neo-conservative strategic philosophy.

What about the democrats and 2008?

Yes what about the democrats? The neo-cons had, under President Clinton, continued to manoeuvre their way into the State Department and the Pentagon. They also had convinced certain influential democrats such as Joe Lieberman and Tom Lantos, of their over all plan for American democratic hegemony. We have already mentioned that the Democrats had overwhelmingly voted for the invasion of Iraq. One of whom was Senator Hillary Clinton the leading Democratic candidate for President. She has since recanted her position, claiming that she was misinformed. Similarly for most that are running for the presidency, such as Joseph Biden, Senator Dodd, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, voted or supported the War. Even Ms. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the democratically controlled House of Representatives, was for the War. Only Barak Obama, then a State Senator of Illinois, had voted (a symbolic vote) against the War in the State Senate.

But where does that leave the democrats today? They have become staunch opponents of the war, since of Francis Fukuyama recanted his neo-conservative stance, with his publication of America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neo-Conservative Legacy . In his latest work, Fukuyama, once a supported of the neo-con policy now warns that the United States must return to a Wilsonnian approach of international and multilateral cooperation or risk isolationism from the international community. However they have not yet rescinded the war budget, while continuing to make only incremental changes here and there. Their withdrawal proposals change according to the latest Polls. In other words the Democrats have come around on the Iraqi War, but are still unclear on how to end it and any perspective for the future. Why?

The answer is very simple. The Democrats do not at this conjuncture have a foreign policy adapted to the 21st century. Their approach is haphazard. End the War in Iraq, because it has become unpopular with the people, but what about the middle east, Asia, China, American economic interests abroad, World international organisations, Isolationism, Latin America, Cuba etc.. If there is one thing we cannot reproach the Republicans, especially the neo-cons, is their lack of a plan. The Democrats still seem to be at odds with the new reality of the 21st century.

We must never forget that to be president of the United States is to defend above all the interests of the United States that is why he or she is the Commander in Chief. The Democrats seem hesitant to respond to the criticism of E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post, who claims that the Democrats can now be comfortable with a critical approach but very soon must convert to a constructive one. The world community is waiting.

When Barak Obama in a televised debate of democratic candidates, stated that as president he would not hesitate to unilaterally bombard Pakistan by a pre-emptive strike, if it was not consequential in the fight against terrorism and Osama Ben Laden, he was severely criticized by his fellow Democrats, for his lack of experience in foreign policy. The criticisms curiously were not directed towards his unilateral approach, but to his lack of foreign policy experience. In other words the Democrats, by answering in this manner pointed out that contrary to the Republicans the only difference is to better prepare the territory and the discourse in order to set up any foreign policy initiative. This was exemplified by President Bill Clinton when he had prepared the diplomatic discourse in order to pave the way for a pre-emptive strike against Kaddafi.

We must not confuse a foreign policy critique with a foreign policy. As we have seen under the Republicans and the neo-conservatives, American foreign policy is neither confused nor misdirected. However we still have to see a coherent foreign policy initiative from the Democrats. This will be their challenge throughout the primaries and in particular, once they have chosen their presidential candidate. If they win the presidency in 2008, there will face the reality of the office that will fall upon them.

Donald Cuccioletta is an historian at University of Quebec in the Outaouais and Director of Research; Center for the Study of the United States, Raoul-Dandurand Chair in Strategic and Diplomatic Studies
University of Quebec in Montreal.