March 30, 2001

A foreign policy platform for conservatives

In my last column, I presented the first part of a proposed "Platform" for noninterventionist conservatives, a statement of principle and policy broken down along geographical lines. Part I dealt with Europe and Eastasia; what follows are sections covering the Middle East, the Americas, and the status of America's colonial possessions.

A Time for Truth

The Middle East – US foreign policy in the Middle East has been based on two pillars that are fast crumbling: military support for the medieval monarchies of the oil-rich Arabian peninsula and unconditional support for the democratic legitimacy of the Israeli state. Both these certitudes are up for reexamination.

Israel – The US relationship to Israel has distorted our regional policy by subordinating every other factor to Israeli interests. This must end, for two reasons: a) It is unjust, since no people, in this case the Palestinians, should be treated as helots, and ethnically cleansed from their own lands, and b) It is not in our national interest, no matter how one defines it, to earn the undying enmity of the Arab world, in defiance of all reason and morality. The US sends more aid to Israel than to any other country, and yet seems to have almost no leverage; not only that, but Israel regularly spies on the US, as the case of Jonathan Pollard made all too clear – as if we were enemies! Aid to Israel subsidizes Israeli economic inefficiencies, and actually endangers the Israeli economy: it also creates resentment, in Israel and the US, and poisons relations between the two countries. It should be phased out with relative swiftness.

While the tendency of the Bush administration to bow out of the role of Middle East mediator is supposed to represent a new aloofness toward the ongoing crisis, in reality it represents an effusive endorsement of the new hardline Israeli government of Ariel Sharon and the expansionist wing of the Likud party. Just as Albanian fanatics are building a "Greater Albania" in the Balkans, so extremists on the Israeli right envision a "Greater Israel" that stretches from the Nile to the Euphrates. For a long time, no one listened to them as they advocated expulsion of the Arabs from Israel proper, and a war of conquest to "defend" the Israeli state: now they are in power. The danger to the peace of the region has never been greater – and, tragically, the blanket US endorsement of Israeli policy has never been more unequivocal. US aid to Israel must be conditioned on a recognition that Palestinians, after all, are human beings too, and that no government has the right to single out disfavored religious or ethnic groups for dispossession and persecution – especially not with US tax dollars. Instead of withdrawing from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the US needs to re-engage on different terms: that is, it needs to frame the problem in terms of what is in America's national interest, not Israel's.

1001 Arabian Princes

The Arabian peninsula – We went to war to preserve the dynasty of a Kuwaiti emir: the absolute ruler of a country where women cannot vote, and expressions of Christian faith are barely legal. The idea that we are the guarantors of the House of Saud, one of the most brutal and repressive regimes on earth, stands in stark contradiction to the conceits of our global hegemonists, who see the US as the world champion of capital-'D' Democracy. The Saudi monarchy, the mini-monarchies that line the tip of the Arabian peninsula, the Egyptian "democracy" that outlaws the Islamic opposition, the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, and especially the authoritarian Turkish "democracy" ruled by the "Two No's" (no Kurds, and no Muslims) that is the linchpin of US strategic doctrine in the region – all these regimes are faced with a rising spirit of pan-Arabic nationalism such as first swept the region in the wake of decolonization. The religious and nationalist tides that are sweeping the old regimes from power will not be held back no matter how much money we pour into local coffers: the Arab sheiks, emirs, and princelings will all go the way of the Shah of Iran, the late and unlamented Reza Pahlavi, and the new rulers will be in possession of the finest military equipment courtesy of US arms manufacturers. As in other areas of the world, on the Arabian peninsula and throughout the Middle East, US policies are generating a reaction: a virulent anti-Americanism that manifests itself, today, in the form of terrorism – and may take on an even more extensive character in the future. This crumbling pillar of US policy in the region is a danger to all those who are in the vicinity: we need to get out from under it, before it crushes American interests. This means ending aid to any state that engages in cartel-like price-fixing of basic commodities: we are protecting and subsidizing our own blackmailers. The next time Saddam threatens Kuwait, and the Emir comes knocking at our door, demanding protection, perhaps the best answer would be a brief note reminding him of his country's vote to keep OPEC prices higher.

War and Big Oil

Iraq – US policy toward Iraq is a shameful and difficult issue for any American to face: no one wants to believe that their own government is guilty of war crimes. But the death of 5,000 children per month as a direct result of UN-imposed sanctions is a war crime if ever there was one. The daily bombing of Iraq continues, a full decade after George Herbert Walker Bush announced that he was not just going to war against Iraq for invading Kuwait, but because we had to fight for something he called "a new world order." The policy of internationalism has rarely been so baldly stated. This was a war clearly fought to preserve the overseas assets of American and British corporate interests: the oil companies that benefited from skyrocketing oil prices due to war and the constant threat of war in the region. For a solid decade, US government policy was to keep Iraqi oil off the market – after having started the war ostensibly because Saddam was going to conquer not only Kuwait but also Saudi Arabia, and cut off the West from a major source of oil. Instead of establishing a "new world order," the Gulf war in retrospect seems to have been fought for a new world oil price – one significantly higher than it would have been had the US not intervened.

Clinton-Bush policy a failure

The present administration is firmly committed to the same policies: Bill Clinton pummeled Iraq with bombs, and even appropriated money to finance dubious "revolutionary" groups to overthrow the Baghdad regime: The Bush-Rumsfeld policy is merely a continuation of the same policy, in spite of secretary of state Colin Powell's attempt to moderate US hostility. Ironically, the real potential danger to US interests in the region is being generated by US policy – a widespread resentment, even hatred, of the US translates into dire consequences for the future if present trends escalate.

The Iranian Factor

The focus on Iraq has neglected the very real danger posed by Iraq's arch-enemy, Iran, a country whose official ideology (unlike Saddam's secular Baathist socialism) really does have widespread regional appeal. As a consequence of our Iraqi-phobic policy, it was only natural for the US to promote a rapprochement with our old enemy, Iran. The Clinton administration pursued this policy relentlessly, going so far as to openly back Iranian "moderates" – you know, the ones who only want to stone heretics and other impure elements to death, instead of holding televised beheadings. Now the Iranians have turned on us, and sought an alliance with the Russians, while the US is left high and dry. As long as the Bush administration carries out the failed policies of the past eight years – in Iraq, a policy that might be termed "demonize and pulverize; alternately demonizing Saddam and pulverizing his suffering subjects – the judgment of history, when it comes to our policy in the region, is likely to be harsh.

The Americas

The natural economic and political interests of the US are hemispheric, and the peoples of the Americas have certain values and concerns in common. One is an aversion to foreign intervention and colonial domination, and another is a common heritage of revolutionary struggle against a European occupier. But history also reveals an ambiguous relationship between north and south, with the former often intervening in the affairs of the latter much as the Spaniards once dominated and plundered the region. This history of commonality and conflict colors our relations with nations south of the border, and nothing really exemplifies this better than our sorely troubled relationship with Mexico.

The bleeding border – The biggest threat to US national security is not to be found in the Middle East, or Russia, or China, but along our extensive and volatile border with Mexico. A condition of low-level warfare has existed all along the Rio Grande for years, and the flow of illegal immigration pouring over that porous border is greatly facilitated by the Mexican government, which is more than happy to be rid of its excess population. The border states have been literally overrun with illegal immigrants, and the boundary between the two countries is, today, essentially a fiction – one which newly-elected President Vicente Fox would like to erase. This represents a threat to the sovereignty of the US – especially now that Mexico is offering American residents the option of exercising dual citizenship.

Colombia: The Next Vietnam? – The "drug war" now being conducted in Colombia, and first presented by the Clinton administration under the rubric of "Plan Colombia," has been renamed (the 'Andean Initiative') and relaunched – with no more prospect of success than the original. What we are faced with in Colombia is a three-sided civil war that is much more than a simple black-and-white struggle between the Colombian government and the "drug lords." No amount of aid, either economic or military, can win a war against a hundred years of ignorance, grinding poverty, and the kind of desperation Americans cannot even imagine. The Colombian civil war has been going on virtually since that nation's inception, long before the drug culture infected Colombian society: the drug business has merely exacerbated it, and drawn the attention of the regional hegemon. A "drug war" in Colombia is a futile crusade, one that will eventually drag in US troops as "advisors," and then combatants, and, finally, as casualties. Here's another quagmire that we ought to be out of.

Cuba after Castro – The survival of Cuban communism is due almost entirely to the policies that harden the hearts of the people against the obvious advantages of liberty. Castro's legitimacy and that of his regime is derived almost entirely from his successful standoff against the Americans, who have been trying to kill him for what seems like the past hundred years. If Communist party rule survives Fidel's death, it will be because the US refuses to let Cuba itself weave the bonds that would otherwise bind the tiny island to the mainland with countless threads of economic, familial, and emotional ties. Here, once again, we see the boomerang effect of US foreign policy in full operation: the seeming anomaly of US policy achieving the exact opposite of its ostensible objective.

Puerto Rico Libre – The American empire has never been about outright conquest or so we are told, and that is true in the modern version, where the procedure is to set up protectorates, usually under some properly internationalized rubric, such as NATO or the UN. But we still retain the remnants of the colonial empire we began to acquire around the turn of the century, and while Cuba escaped colonial status, along with the Philippines (although not without a long and bloody struggle in the case of the latter), Puerto Rico was diverted into America's imperial orbit. Neither a state, nor exactly a colonial possession, Puerto Rico is in a legal and political limbo. It is high time to resolve its status, and either admit it as a state, or else wish Puerto Rico godspeed and grant the island its independence. Most of the opposition to this solution to Puerto Rico's continuing status as a political and economic dependency comes from within Puerto Rico itself, and from the Democratic Party in the US, which hopes to herd Puerto Rican voters to the polls in defense of generous welfare benefits and other subsidies. But why limit the choice of a colonial overlord to a single country, namely the US? If it's dependency they want, then why not apply for admission to once again become a province of Spain? They, after all, have a socialist government, one that will no doubt be more than glad to extend the benefits of their system to their former subjects. As for American Samoa, and all the rest of our island territories in the Pacific: as our "forward stance" in the Pacific becomes a thing of the past, the dismantling of a network of military bases that has turned the Pacific into an American lake will put an end to the dangerous overextension of American power.

Foreign policy and the Constitution

The Legacy of Empire – The words of the conservative writer Garet Garrett ring down through the years, prescient and more relevant than when they were published in 1950: "Between government in the republican meaning, that is, Constitutional, representative, limited government, on the one hand, and Empire on the other hand, there is mortal enmity. Either one must forbid the other or one will destroy the other. That we know. Yet never has the choice been put to a vote of the people." This is the essential insight that stands at the heart of conservative opposition to interventionism and globalism: that we cannot station our centurions from Okinawa to Oman, subsidize our satraps and satisfy the transnational corporate entities that build the physical infrastructure of Empire, and yet still remain faithful to the conservative idea that government power must be severely limited. A power that girdles the globe, and polices the planet – one that wages war on a perpetual basis, all in the name of "peace" – must necessarily burst forth from its constitutional constraints. Indeed, such a power can know no constraints, and is inherently dangerous – especially to those who wield it. They will, in the end, find themselves transformed: once the citizens of a relatively young and eternally vital republic, Americans will wake up one day to find themselves the subjects of a worldwide imperium, hailing the next Caesar as he returns home in triumph at the head of his centurions, and forgetting that their forefathers rose in rebellion against a British king. The temptation of Empire is fatal to any republic that falls for its lure.

Peace versus the two-party system

Reformulating US foreign policy – The foreign policy issue never came to the fore in the last presidential campaign, because the two "major" candidates agreed in principle, if not in every particular, all rhetoric aside. What is clear is that the Republicans found it necessary to reassure the growing numbers of their noninterventionist wing that Bush, if elected, would ratchet down American hyperactivity on the foreign policy front. Instead, what has happened is that most of the same old policies – endless meddling, mostly on behalf of US corporate and domestic political interests – remain in place. US foreign policy in the post-cold war era requires a bottom-up, top-down, all-around review, from basic premises to specific policy objectives – and what is clear, even at this early stage of the Bush administration, is that the Republicans are no more capable of this than were the Democrats. This task awaits the emergence of new leadership – one that is more than likely to arise completely outside the old politics, as part of a more general reform movement that topples the two-party monopoly.

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