Eye on the Empire
by Alan Bock
May 3, 2000
Vice President Gore, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has outlined in some detail his views on foreign policy in a speech Sunday before the International Press Institute in Boston. Not surprisingly, his views differ little from the administration in which he serves. If anything, however, he has a more expansive view of the "global responsibilities" of the United States that could lead if only because of his very earnestness and almost complete lack of subtlety to more expansive commitments by a country already dangerously overcommitted. If he is elected, perhaps the best hope is that he wonít be as effective a salesman for global adventurism as President Clinton has been.
The vice president endorsed what he called the "classic security agenda" that has kept U.S. troops stationed (apparently forever) in Europe, Korea and elsewhere and gotten this country involved in sending military forces to Haiti, the Balkans and Somalia and bombs to Iraq and Kosovo. "America must always maintain a strong defense, and unrivaled national security," he says, "to protect our own interests, and to advance the ideals that are leading the world toward freedom."
He does not seem to imagine that there could be any conceivable conflict between having a "sole superpower" as the arbiter of what is right and proper in the rest of the world (and more than willing to use military force to advance its agenda) and the ongoing advance of freedom.
He also calls for a New Security Agenda based on "forward engagement" with what he called "threats that affect us all and that transcend political borders." "We need a new approach for a new century," he insists, "addressing problems early in their development before they become crises; addressing them as close to the source of the problem as possible; and having the forces and resources to deal with those threats as soon after their emergence as possible."
What kind of problems? In a nutshell, he would define the spread of AIDS in Africa, "disruption of the worldís ecological systems," new pandemics and mutations of disease, the international drug trade, ethnic or religious conflicts, the lack of education, health care, Internet access and other social welfare "entitlements" in any country of the world as a "national security" concern of the United States.
Not surprisingly, this means spending lots of money, as he spells out later in the speech: "It starts with the rule of law [tell Janet Reno], and with fiscal discipline and sound economic policy but it does not end there. We must also invest in people, giving them the education they need to seize the jobs of the future and in the developing world that especially applies to women and girls; the health security they require to raise a family; the confidence that when they become old, they will not be abandoned."
It isnít exactly clear who the "we" that will do all this is. He might be talking about the "international community," whatever that is. But itís more likely heís talking about American taxpayers not that the taxpayers themselves would have much say in how the money is spent; enlightened experts with more experience at spending other peoplesí money than the mere peasants who are forced to provide it are readily available.
The needs out there in the rest of the world are virtually limitless, and Mr. Gore canít wait to conscript American taxpayers into the task of meeting them, in the fashion prescribed by international elites. "We need not only open trading systems," declares the Veep, "but systems that work for people around the world taking into account not only the bottom line, but the well-being of working men and women, the protection of children against sweatshop labor, and the protection of the environment. We have to ratify the Kyoto Agreement while making sure that all nations developed and developing do their part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, we should take steps to boost the export of environmentally-clean technologies, an area where we have a decisive trade advantage. It is not only good for the environment. It is also good for economic growth."
As is common with people who have never spent more than a few moments in the private sector his brief and overrated career as a journalist hardly counts in a life spent almost entirely on the public dole Mr. Gore shows little or no discrimination between the contributions made by real investment and those that involve the mere spending of money seized from productive people. Any money spent, even if it has been seized in a way that prevents voluntary economic development or alternative investments, is seen as a contribution to "economic growth."
The Kyoto treaty can serve as an example. Before it was formulated, the US Senate voted 99-0 to advise the administration that it wouldnít be ratified if it didnít include equal economic punishment for "developing" countries that spew pollution. Everybody knows especially people in developing countries that if it were really implemented it would slow down economic growth. It has never been submitted to the Senate because it would never be approved. Yet the Clinton administration has unilaterally taken steps, including serious regulations and heavy-handed supervision, to implement it.
Presumably a Gore administration would be even more active in promulgating punitive regulations justified by the need to save or restore the natural environment. It might not kill the Golden Goose of economic growth that makes it possible for those whose job is to loot the successful to dream their utopian dreams, but it would hardly contribute to its health.
One of the more disturbing aspects of the Gore approach is that he actually seems to believe that US and international influence have made things much better in Russia, and heís eager to take credit as something of an administration point-man on Russian policies.
"We have worked hard these past seven years to help Russia make a transition to a market-based democracy," he declares. "We have helped Russia privatize its economy and build a civil society marked by free elections and an active press. We have brought Russia into a working relationship with NATO through the Permanent Joint Council and Partnership for Peace program. We have been able to work with Russian forces successfully inside a NATO framework in the Balkans."
Well. Does anybody really believe much of that? The US and international institutions like the International Monetary Fund have certainly been busy in Russia, but itís difficult to see that they have created more progress than resentment. Wedded to rigid polices and willing to accept the takeover of formerly state-owned enterprises by criminals with connections as "privatization," the IMF has created dangerous levels of distrust and resentment among Russian leaders and ordinary people. And it takes willful ignorance to imagine that Russia is pleased as punch with the way NATO has gone about its bloody business in the Balkans.
As a lifelong politician, Algore canít seem to get away from the politics of division and polarization that letís admit it so often work reasonably well for the politically ambitious. On the evidence of this speech, he is incapable of handling disagreement or questions by any other method than demonization and spouting empty slogans.
He canít just argue that the United States must be "engaged" with China hardly a bad idea so long as we donít imagine we can dictate outcomes but he has to revert to to old slogans absorbed in college years ago. Criticizing "those in Congress who are pushing the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act," he declares:
"It is wrong to isolate and demonize China to build a wall when we need to build a bridge. Can we really abandon the kind of frank and open exchange that allows us to raise our differences in the first place? Can we really isolate a nation with 1.2 billion people and a nuclear arsenal? Can we really turn our backs on one of the most dynamic economies on the planet?"
Itís hardly difficult to imagine valid criticisms of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act. But these tired slogans from the days before Nixon played the China card are utterly irrelevant to the issue. If promising to send troops halfway across the Pacific is isolationism, words have little or no meaning.
Later Gore refers to "the right-wing, partisan isolationism of the Republican Congressional leadership." Now many criticisms could be made of the Republican leadership, but "isolationist" is probably the least valid and least relevant piece of rhetoric that could be thrown at them. Mr. Gore seems to be living in a time warp.
Ivan Eland, Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, characterized Mr. Goreís attitude as "the new domino theory of instability. Every conflict or social problem that comes to the attention of policymakers is conflated into a grand threat to stability that could spiral into World War III unless the United States sends money and/or troops immediately," he told me.
The problem with defining social problems, poverty and ancient hatreds as "national security" issues is that it leads to approaching them in a militaristic way a bit like our domestic (well, not entirely domestic) War on Drugs, perhaps, or the unlamented War on Poverty. Send money and lots of monitors to keep order, as heavily armed as need be. Then classify and keep secret as much information about tactics and results as possible, arguing that politics should stop at the waterís edge and dissent is tantamount to treason.
This doesnít sound like a formula for a freer and more peaceful world.
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