Foreign Policy Could Depend On Us
his surprisingly effective inaugural address George W. Bush spent
only a nominal amount of time on foreign policy (as distinguished
from military policy insofar as they can be distinguished) and filled
it mostly with "we’re still engaged; terrorists don’t get any
cute ideas" boilerplate. But it seems to me that a Bush administration
foreign policy is still a work in progress, and a work that antiwar
activists and critics of imperial interventionism can influence.
We should do so.
we’re already seeing a certain amount of preliminary panic from
some of the keepers of the globalist tablets at places like the
Weekly Standard and The New Republic. For these armchair
warriors it isn’t enough that Secretary of State Colin Powell spent
35 years in the military, has a fair amount of experience in the
world at large and has not questioned the overall framework of American
foreign policy. He has shown alarming tendencies toward deviationism
on certain standing commitments like Bosnia and Kosovo, and he is
on record as being somewhat skeptical of "nation-building"
and "humanitarian" military interventions. So he must
be warned, taken down a few pegs or even excoriated, as Lawrence
Kaplan recently did in The New Republic.
just wouldn’t do to have a skeptic or even a hard-nosed realist
as Secretary of State or at least not one who parlays doubts into
inaction. It was better to have a Madeleine Albright, with zero
military experience and almost no diplomatic experience trotting
the troublespots and capable of shocking the bejabbers out of Colin
Powell with her notorious offhand comment about what good it was
to have a strong military if we didn’t use it a little more often.
uppity former general, however, sometimes shows alarming signs of
thinking independently and even more alarming viewing the military
as made up of actual human beings called upon to face danger and
possible death rather than pawns at the disposal of global big thinkers.
The most recent evidence comes from his discussion of economic sanctions
during his Senate confirmation hearings.
pervasive use of trade embargoes and other forms of economic restrictions,
Secretary Powell averred, "shows a degree of American hubris
and arrogance that may not, at the end of the day, serve our interests
all that well .… I would like to participate with you [the Senate
Foreign Relations Committee] in discussing how to get rid of most
of them." Powell also urged Congress not to impose any new
economic sanctions before he had a chance to review prior sanctions
and study new proposals:
look and listen before you impose a sanction," he told the
Senate committee. "Count to 10, then call me."
attitudes should be encouraged, and we will have influential allies
in doing so. Monday’s Los Angeles Times ran an extensive
story on Powell’s attitude toward sanctions, noting that Republican
Sen. Richard Lugar and Democratic Sen. Christopher Dodd, both of
whom have been around long enough and made enough allies to qualify
as Old Bulls, have been vocal critics of sanctions. "In most
cases, the issue is rushed to the Senate or House floor so that
Congress can express its outrage at some perceived misdeed,"
Sen. Dodd said last week. "But there has never been any systematic
effort by Congress to review sanctions once imposed, to consider
whether they have achieved their objectives or have turned out to
United States imposes economic sanctions on about 75 of the world’s
200-odd countries, for misdeeds ranging from mislabeling tuna to
violating human rights on a massive scale. By contrast the United
Nations, which is hardly shy about sanctions as a gesture, enforces
sanctions against fewer than a dozen countries.
of sanctions have natural allies outside the State Department and
Congress. There’s a coalition of about 600 American businesses called
USA Engage, which devotes its full lobbying efforts to trying to
ease economic embargoes and sanctions imposed by the United States.
The organization estimates that the United States loses as much
as $19 billion a year in lost exports and deprives itself of about
200,000 high-wage jobs as a result of economic sanctions.
illustrates the too-seldom-mentioned point that while sanctions
proponents generally speak of imposing sanctions against Saddam
or whatever international bully is the flavor of the day villain,
the limits are actually imposed on American businesspeople who might
want to trade with people in the country being "punished."
Sanctions are a way of one government saying to another government,
"We don’t approve of the nasty way you treat your people, so
until you stop we’re going to beat up on our people and deprive
them of freedom to trade." Wouldn’t that persuade you?
we’re encouraging Colin Powell to continue and to become more active
in his questioning of past and present sanctions, it is prudent
to remember that he has so far not been a model of consistency on
the matter. Shortly after being nominated, he sent strong signals
that he would favor stronger action against Iraq, which would almost
certainly include tighter economic sanctions as well as diplomatic
pressure and at least consideration of military force.
whatever reasons, then and the possibility of feeling a certain
emotional commitment to continued pressure/hostility toward Iraq.
He was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the elder Bush’s
splendid little war in the Persian Gulf, after all, and most historians
believe his advice was crucial to the then-president’s decision
to declare victory after 100 hours, rather than marching toward
Baghdad or even undertaking systematic destruction of Iraq’s military
infrastructure. He may feel that he has unfinished business in Iraq
so long as Saddam is still in power and acting out.
the other hand, it is just possible that he could be persuaded,
as part of a systematic review of existing sanctions, to rethink
sanctions against Iraq. So he should be encouraged to sponsor and
encourage such a comprehensive review, by both State Department
and congressional committees and staffers. If such a review produces
a conclusion that sanctions have been ineffective against Iraq,
foreign policy gurus might just consider relinquishing them. Starving
Iraqi children don’t seem to have moved too many hearts, but an
image of bumbling U.S. ineffectiveness might do the trick.
pressing foreign-policy issues will demand attention not only from
the new administration but from the antiwar community as well. American
commitments in Bosnia and Kosovo, which look to be semipermanent
in the absence of a serious review and thoroughgoing critique, drain
American resources. The Clinton administration, largely at the behest
of "drug czar" and former General Barry McCaffrey, has
made a large-scale commitment to fighting narcotraffickers in Colombia,
a battle that is virtually certain to impact the ongoing civil war
in that country. The recent assassination of Laurent Kabila in Congo,
combined with the fact that some American businesspeople are engaged
there, could lead to more US government concentration on Congo and
(since the conflict Kabila tried ineffectually to manage involved
six other countries) on Africa in general.
President Clinton’s last-minute legacy-building efforts to impose
a made-in-America peace between Israelis and Palestinians seem to
have failed, but they have left a legacy of heightened tension and
increased bitterness on all sides. The Bush administration, whether
through the president or through Secretary Powell or through back
channels, would do well to inform all interested parties that while
the United States remains concerned, it will refrain from the kind
of manic peace processing that characterized the last days of the
Clinton administration. The parties should be informed that they
bear responsibility for settling disputes among themselves, that
the United States will be available if and when a peace agreement
is imminent and needs a little push from an ostensibly neutral power
but the US won’t push and has no intention of buying an agreement
through promises of subsidies or foreign aid.
a Bush administration considering new foreign adventures or the
expansion of existing ones can almost certainly count on more opposition
from what might loosely be called the "left" the academic-media-interest
axis than a Clinton administration did. For various reasons, in
part because he knew how to manipulate language and rhetoric skillfully,
President Clinton managed to get something of a pass on his foreign
adventures from groups and individuals who, in a previous era, had
been inclined to be suspicious of imperialistic activities overseas.
such opposition is likely to be more for reasons of cultural affinity
(or lack thereof) than bedrock principle, it is likely to emerge
if a President Bush decides to expand US involvement in the war
in Colombia, for example. Some of these elements might even be ready
to reassess the ongoing Balkan intervention. We should welcome and
encourage these doubts, eager to make alliances and form coalitions
around specific issues. It might seem megalomaniacal, given the
relatively small numbers of people in the United States truly committed
to nonintervention and war-avoidance (unless you count the American
people, most of whom have no desire to run an empire but don’t see
reining it in as a top priority). But we should start to consider
ourselves as the hub of a network of alliances encouraging anyone
who opposes or even doubts almost any US intervention overseas.
have sympathy on certain issues from prominent elected politicians
and even from top appointed officials, from certain businesspeople,
and from the semi-permanent floating coalition of quasi-leftist
groups, and on certain issues from some in the mainstream media.
With that kind of aggregation it is possible just possible to let
the Bushies know that if they expand interventions or propose new
interventions they are likely to pay a political price. Combine
that with a somewhat more modest approach to intervention on the
part of most of Bush’s foreign policy team coming in, and there’s
just a chance we can reduce foreign intervention during the coming
think we should make at least that much a goal. Then we’ll have
time to introduce more theoretical and philosophical arguments to
shape the debate for the future.
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