4/03/2005

Wake up! Washington's alarming foreign policy

By Chalmers Johnson of "In These Times"...some excerpts from an excellent piece this month:
...I believe that on November 2, 2004, the United States crossed its own Rubicon. Until last year’s presidential election, ordinary citizens could claim that our foreign policy, including the invasion of Iraq, was George Bush’s doing and that we had not voted for him. In 2000, Bush lost the popular vote and was appointed president by the Supreme Court. In 2004, he garnered 3.5 million more votes than John Kerry. The result is that Bush’s war changed into America’s war and his conduct of international relations became our own. This is important because it raises the question of whether restoring sanity and prudence to American foreign policy is still possible...James Weinstein, the founding editor of In These Times, recently posed for me the question “How should U.S. foreign policy be changed so that the United States can play a more positive role on the world stage?” For me, this raises at least three different problems that are interrelated. The first must be solved before we can address the second, and the second has to be corrected before it even makes sense to take up the third.
First, the United States faces the imminent danger of bankruptcy, which, if it occurs, will render all further discussion of foreign policy moot. Within the next few months, the mother of all financial crises could ruin us and turn us into a North American version of Argentina, once the richest country in South America. To avoid this we must bring our massive trade and fiscal deficits under control and signal to the rest of the world that we understand elementary public finance and are not suicidally indifferent to our mounting debts.
Second, our appalling international citizenship must be addressed. We routinely flout well-established norms upon which the reciprocity of other nations in their relations with us depends. This is a matter not so much of reforming our policies as of reforming attitudes. If we ignore this, changes in our actual foreign policies will not even be noticed by other nations of the world. I have in mind things like the Army’s and the CIA’s secret abduction and torture of people; the trigger-happy conduct of our poorly trained and poorly led troops in places like Iraq and Afghanistan; and our ideological bullying of other cultures because of our obsession with abortion and our contempt for international law (particularly the International Criminal Court) as illustrated by Bush’s nomination of John R. “Bonkers” Bolton to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Third, if we can overcome our imminent financial crisis and our penchant for boorish behavior abroad, we might then be able to reform our foreign policies. Among the issues here are the slow-moving evolutionary changes in the global balance of power that demand new approaches. The most important evidence that our life as the “sole” superpower is going to be exceedingly short is the fact that our monopoly of massive military power is being upstaged by other forms of influence. Chief among these is China’s extraordinary growth and our need to adjust to it.
...Only a few years ago the United States enjoyed substantial federal surpluses and was making inroads into its public debt. If we can regain fiscal solvency, the savers of Asia will probably continue to finance our indebtedness. If we do not, we risk a fear-driven flight from the dollar by all our financiers, collapse of our stock exchange and global recession for a couple of years—from which the rest of the world will ultimately emerge. But by then we who no longer produce much of anything valuable will have become a banana republic. Debate over our foreign policy will become irrelevant. We will have become dependent on the kindness of strangers...Meanwhile, the bad manners of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their band of neoconservative fanatics from the American Enterprise Institute dominate the conduct of American foreign policy. It is simply unacceptable that after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal Congress has so far failed to launch an investigation into those in the executive branch who condoned it. It is equally unacceptable that the president’s chief apologist for the official but secret use of torture is now the attorney general, that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld did not resign, and that the seventh investigation of the military by the military (this time headed by Vice Admiral Albert Church III) again whitewashed all officers and blamed only a few unlucky enlisted personnel on the night shift in one cellblock of Abu Ghraib prison...Until this is corrected, a president and secretary of state bloviating about freedom and democracy is received by the rest of the world as mere window-dressing...Foreign policy analysts devote considerable attention to the concept of “credibility”—whether or not a nation is trustworthy. There are several ways to lose one’s credibility. One is to politicize intelligence, as Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney did in preparing for their preventive war against Iraq. Today, only a fool would take at face value something said by the CIA or our other secret intelligence services. China has already informed us that it does not believe our intelligence on North Korea, and our European allies have said the same thing about our apocalyptic estimates on Iran. Similarly, our bloated military establishment routinely makes pronouncements that are untrue...In its arrogance and overconfidence, the Bush administration has managed to convince the rest of the world that our government is incompetent. The administration has not only tried to undercut treaties it finds inconvenient but refuses to engage in normal diplomacy with its allies to make such treaties more acceptable...(And) until the United States readopts the norms of civilized discourse among nations, it can expect other nations—quietly and privately—to do everything in their power to isolate and disengage from us.

Johnson has some very sound suggestions if you want to read the whole article.

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