Current United States Foreign Policy
As seen by our best friends overseas

New additions, February 2003, April 2003, June 2003

The Eagle has landed, Financial Times, February 2, 2002. By permission
"The Eagle has landed"
Financial Times, February 2, 2002
(By permission)

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Reporting a diplomatic – or rather undiplomatic – exchange of letters between the United States and Spain in April 1898, Financial Times of London wrote : “We are not surprised…to find that the Spanish Cabinet has replied with a proper spirit of haughtiness to the blusterous demands of what is, after all, a raw and untutored republic in the West

Judging by the image above we have come a long way!  Or have we?

There is a discrepancy between the image we have of ourselves in the world and the image the world has of us.  Our image of ourselves can be encapsulated in the statement made by our delegate to the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Children reported in New York Times on May 10, 2002:  "We are trying to lead the world." On that occasion we were siding with Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to take abortion off the list of the reproductive health services. On the opposing side were delegations from the European Union, Latin America, Africa and Asia. Needless to say, we did not succeed.

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As an “expert” on “international relations” I am asked these days to explain why we are preparing for war with Saddam Hussein, but pussy footing around Kim Jong Il.

Sad to say, but there is a cartoonish yet plausible answer which has to be put to rest first. It has to do with George W. Bush’s fixation. By his own admission, he is not endowed with high intellect. According to his speechwriter, David Frum: “He is impatient and quick to anger; sometimes glib, even dogmatic; often uncurious and as a result ill informed; more conventional in his thinking than a leader should be.” Add to that his virtues listed by Frum: “decency, honesty, rectitude, courage and tenacity.”  These are indeed characteristics generally attributed to George W. Bush. We could add strong faith in God and, because of that, a propensity to gamble – because he believes that because of his strong belief, God is on his side.  The combination of some of these faults and virtues can produce lethal concoctions. A courageous, ill informed, tenacious, quick to anger and dogmatic man can cause a lot of damage. A ruthless, mean, cruel and vicious dictator in the Middle East has allegedly tried to kill this man’s “daddy” and has painted his daddy’s picture on the threshold of an international hotel in Baghdad for all to trample on.[*]  Now, this man, G. W. Bush, is the commander-in-chief of the most powerful army on earth, and despite the fact that he really doesn’t fully grasp the half-baked theory of “primacy,” “nation-building” and “regime change,” embraced by his foreign policy advisors, he likes the sound of it.  And some of the more influential of his advisors are veterans of the Gulf War who miscalculated the resilience of Saddam Hussein’s police state and are anxious to settle the old score. Under the circumstances it is understandable that George W. Bush has set his mind to just go and get the s.o.b. who has snubbed his nose at his daddy, whatever the cost.

Read history. Wars are often started by men with grudges, settling accounts. The history of modern Great Britain is written, to a large extent, by William of Orange accepting “to save England from the Catholics” in order to fight Louis XIV of France. Etc, etc.

The problem, of course, is that the burden falls on the shoulder of the nation submitting to the whims of its ruler. The American taxpayer has to foot the bill. And if you wonder why the media and most of the politicians have jumped on this absurd bandwagon, I refer you to William Lederer’s book, A Nation of Sheep (1961). It is the same symptom that caused the Red Scare, the Prohibition, or the McCarthy witch-hunt. It is our national character.

And, of course, there is the oil lobby – lobby is really too weak a term. The White House is the oil interests’ headquarters.[**] On a recent show, Jay Leno, the late night comedian, enumerated the five reasons for going to war with Iraq. He listed five big oil companies.

As for North Korea, despite the fact that he “loathes Kim Jong Il and has a visceral reaction to him,” George W. Bush has no personal vendetta agenda. Besides, our options are limited. Donald Rumsfeld, reflecting the aspirations of the foreign policy cabal, did instigate the military to claim the capacity to conduct war on two fronts. But realistically, our military did advise Rumsfeld to pass the hot potato to Colin Powell.

In the Desert Storm war against Iraq, despite the fact that we did not finish the job, we could declare victory. For our next adventure in the Middle East we have had recent familiarity with the terrain and we think we know, more or less, the psyche of the army we will face – although not the disposition of the tribal warlords we have to deal with if we occupy the country.  In contrast, our last war experience on the Korean peninsula was not conclusive. The terrain, the adversary and the environment are all together more formidable. After all, Kim Jong Il has thirty-seven thousand of our G.I.s within striking distance of his nuclear missiles. It is all together a different ball game. Semper fides does not imply stupidity. Although, it does dictate vigilance and preparation for contingencies to eventually deal with North Korea in a situation far more complex than Iraq.

We have the strongest army and the most extensive intelligence operations in the world and the purse to bribe warlords and heads of states. We have the instruments of coercion, information gathering and buying loyalties. It is not sure, however, that our policy makers who are presently manipulating these instruments are up to the mark. If we go it alone, the quagmire of an Iraq occupation would squander America’s power.

Besides G. W. Bush’s grudge against Saddam Hussein which he underscored as soon as he took office by deliberate bombings, there are good reasons for our invasion and occupation of Iraq. There is no doubt that the deceitful Saddam regime is better equipped than Al Qaeda was in Afghanistan to produce and deliver biological and chemical weapons and even dirty nuclear bombs. The rationale for occupying Iraq goes beyond our primacy cabal’s naïve design to intimidate Iraq’s neighbors into awe and submission. It could be argued that after the 911 events the occupation of Iraq would establish a presence of Western culture in the midst of a region which has been the breeding ground for Islamic fundamentalism. But then, to be effective, the occupying force should be truly an international impartial agent for the transformation of Iraq into a secular federal regime reducing the role of religion in politics (that is not how our present administration is going about dealing with our own domestic politics.)  We should develop but not exploit the oil resources of the country and beyond oil make it a hub for regional cooperation, notably for the development of water supply and distribution.

It is doubtful that we would be able to pull off the task without the participation of other major powers. The costs will be beyond our means. We are projecting a budget deficit of over $300 billion for the coming fiscal year. If we go to war with Iraq and occupy the country our deficit will climb to somewhere around $450 billion. If we manage to have our oil companies control a big chunk of Iraq’s oil, it will take years before they will make a profit. And if and when they do, the way the Bush administration is writing the tax laws, their profits will not pour into the federal coffers. It is even doubtful that they will invest their gains in the United States. We have a chronic current account deficit which has ballooned to over $300 billion, and foreign investment in the United States is diminishing. Our taxpayers will not be able to foot the bill.

We are already bogged down in Afghanistan. Our military forces stationed with the warlords are engaged in development projects to please the warlords. Karzai controls Kabul – with the help of general Fahim. And Fahim is keeping his own men armed. Not because he cannot find them other jobs, as he told Paul Wolfowitz, but because Dostum and Ismail Khan are keeping theirs. And, let’s not forget that we still haven’t ascertained the fate of Osama Ben Laden and we know that Zawahiri, the brain behind Al Qaeda, Hekmatyar, who received our stinger missiles to shoot down Soviet helicopters and is now against us, and Mullah Omar, the supreme Taliban leader, are still at large. We are keeping Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Sudan, Yemen, Turkey and others on our side by paying them billions of dollars. The “new Europe,” as Donald Rumsfeld would call the Eastern European countries, are expressing support for our Iraq adventure tantalized by development carrots and membership in NATO.

What is more crucial is that we don’t have the talents to fulfill the delicate task of wooing, cajoling, and diplomatically controlling the more complex traditional societies we get involved with. Our armed forces and intelligence agencies have difficulty recruiting U.S. citizens conversant in foreign languages and dialects and often depend on nationals of other countries who know English. Foreigners know us and our culture better than we know theirs. You cannot lead the people you do not understand. Of Teddy Roosevelt’s “speak softly and carry a big stick” our present foreign policy-makers have retained and practice the crude version of “carrot and stick.” We’ll eventually run out of carrots. And, we don’t have the patience to hang in there and finish the job (remember, we have a short attention span and we want returns and results, now!)

There is yet another danger in Bush’s ambition of nation-building and regime change. It carries the potentials for corrupting our society. Transforming others may have negative impact on our own culture. A culture which believes that every thing has a price and can be bought will also sell anything, at a price. As we buy governments and warlords, chieftains and warlords will also attempt to buy our men. We may have the best trained military but we have to watch for corruption among our expeditionary forces. If getting rich is good, the G.I. can be persuaded by the chieftains in the Middle East to accept a present or get involved in deals with them. Through the ages corruption has been the curse of empires as they spread out. It is a catch 22. If we don’t get involved with the people of the areas we occupy we’ll not have the desired lasting effect and will botch our leadership mission, as we did in Vietnam or Somalia. If we do get involved and mix, we’ll rot. More at: A Brief Review of U. S. Foreign Policy.

© Anoush Khoshkish
February 2003

[*]  For corroboration see:
The New York Times, April 12, 2003, front page:
"In Baghdad, Free of Hussein, a Day of Mayhem"
. . . .
"At the Rashid Hotel, where many foreign journalists visiting Mr. Hussein's Iraq were required to stay, American troops were sent to break up a tile mosaic of the first President Bush on the floor of the lobby. Until the mosaic was destroyed today, the likeness of Mr. Bush was stepped on dozens of times a day."
. . . .
(This took place two days after the occupation of Baghdad by U.S. troops and at about the same time that the Iraq National Museum was being looted a few blocks away.)

[**] For corroboration see: 
The New York Times, June 19, 2003:
“The E.P.A. Leaves Out Data on Climate Change"
. . . .
"White House officials also deleted a reference to a 1999 study showing that global temperatures had risen sharply in the previous decade compared with the last 1,000 years. In its place, administration officials added a reference to a new study, partly financed by the American Petroleum Institute, questioning that conclusion.”

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