In the last of the articles
from the Economist dealing with US foreign policy the article
discusses an overview of US foreign policy.
It begins, “Long before anyone had heard of an “ethical foreign policy”, before the revolution even, America saw itself as a New Jerusalem that would be a model for a better world. Over the course of a century or two, the monarchies and dictatorships gradually caught up. Influence abroad increasingly stemmed not just from hard power but also from legitimacy”.
The writer controversially notes, “After the devastating attacks of September 11th 2001, American foreign policy lost its compass. It was right to try to foster liberty and security, by attacking al-Qaeda and seeking to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Yet that effort somehow ended up looking to much of the world as if America was bent on imposing violent change by means of raw power. The country is still paying the price today”.
Much of this is simply incorrect. American foreign policy did not loose “its compass” but lanced a boil that should have been lanced years before by President Clinton who did nothing but let it fester. Instead the reaction, perhaps was overwrought but such a reaction was certainly understandable given not only what had happened but also the scale of the threat that wass encountered by America. As was stated by President Bush on 20 September 2001 the War on Terror is narrowly defined in that its aim is to stop terrorists getting hold of weapons of mass destuction, or stopping states from using them, or spreading them to terrorists. The charge that “America was bent on imposing violent change by means of raw power” is a gross mischactarisation on what is a complex and complicated set of impulses set forth both by the United States and al-Qaeda.
The writer does add fairly “As the world’s most powerful nation, America is bound to attract some criticism. When he spoke to the UN General Assembly about the Middle East in September, Barack Obama observed wryly that America is “chastised for meddling in the region…at the same time, the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems.” Likewise, America is criticised by Russia and others who argue that today’s anarchic militia violence in Libya proves that it was wrong to remove Muammar Qaddafi from power. Yet America would have been condemned just as roundly from other quarters if it had stood by while Qaddafi carried out his threat to slaughter thousands in Benghazi”.
He goes on to discuss the NSA controversy but omits the fact that both France, Brazil and a host of other nations have had similar spying programmes on America, therefore to single out America is grossly unfair.
He goes on to notes, “George Bush’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 was altogether different from the decisions to bomb Libya and to spy, because there was never a question of a trade-off. The removal of Saddam Hussein was meant to eradicate weapons of mass destruction, create a model democracy in the Middle East and demonstrate to rogue states that they could not defy the world’s only superpower. And yet this grand exercise in geopolitical engineering spectacularly failed to achieve its aims. Instead, Iraq was thrown into turmoil and America was weakened both militarily and morally. No other single foreign-policy decision in recent times has so harmed its standing in the world. One flaw, says Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was to mistake the connections between interests and values. The people around Mr Bush reasoned that, as the only superpower in a unipolar world, the United States was able to impose its values and that this would necessarily serve its interests. In the real world, however, the use of force can create regional instability. That often harms American interests”.
The problem with this statement however is that interests and values are connected. Not only that but the author also oversimplifies those around President Bush. The reasons for going to war with Iraq are multifacated and should not be boiled down to a simple eqaution.
Again the writer oversimplifies when he notes, “Mr Bush’s fundamental error, though, was to misunderstand the significance of the “unipolar moment”. After the traumatic attacks of September 11th, Mr Bush’s vice-president, Dick Cheney, thought that America had to use its strength to re-establish deterrence and preserve its unrivalled power. If not, it would be asking for further attacks from terrorists, rogue states and even, some time in the future, China. That is not how it seemed to much of the rest of world. Horrified by al-Qaeda’s assault, many countries stood behind America. But as time went on, Mr Bush’s behaviour began to look more like aggression than protection. When Mr Bush tried to impose American values through the invasion of Iraq, other countries wondered if they were safe. When he and his officials belittled international institutions like the UN and argued that the harsh treatment of prisoners was just, they feared that America would not be bound even by its own norms”.
There has been much written about the link
between “aggression” and “protection” – indeed they are far closer than the author would care to admit, especially in this globalised world in which we live today.
He does mention correctly that “In his speeches Mr Obama has made a stab at setting a new balance. He starts by affirming democracy, human rights and open markets, insisting that they are not Western exports but fundamental values. He goes on to accept that these ideas cannot be imposed by force, which means that America will sometimes be accused of hypocrisy for working with undemocratic governments. But he also gives warning that some governments’ crimes will be so egregious that other nations must act. If they fail, they will be undermining the very norms and institutions that they claim to cherish. For this approach to succeed, Mr Obama must also oversee a second reversal of Bush-era policies. Contrast Mr Bush’s unilateralism with an earlier period when the United States had enjoyed extraordinary power, between 1945 and 1950. It realised then that its hegemony over the non-Soviet world would be enhanced if it bound itself into international bodies like the UN, the IMF and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the precursor to the WTO. This sent a signal that America was committed to living by its own norms”.
Yet this “reversal” has not occured. It has been noted
here a number
, to wait for a sudden change in US foreign policy would be a huge mistake for a policy that will not change. Again the author oversimplifies President Bush’s foreign policy as unilateral when there is little real evidence for this when any proper meaning of the term is taken into account.
He closes, “America has enjoyed plenty of co-operation and there is scope for even more. In 2012 China suggested a quiet dialogue with America over the chronic instability in Pakistan. Middling countries, such as Denmark and Norway, have helped broker agreements on the use of the Arctic. In Yemen, Somalia, Mali and Uganda, America or one of its closest allies have dispatched forces with the unanimous backing of the UN Security Council. Rising powers, Mr [Bruce] Jones argues, have growing interests in every region and subregion of the world. To maintain this network, they have to co-operate with others. Will it work? John Podesta, Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, has observed that in a world which imposes restraints on power, America will also be obliged to restrain its own power. Presidents Truman and Roosevelt saw that this makes sense. But, as Mr Podesta argues, ‘you have to believe it’s a strength and sell it as a strength.’ The worry is that an America convinced of its own decline
is not yet capable of that”.