Aug 27 2008

The Bush Foreign Policy Legacy

Published by under Thoughts

So here it comes…we’re down to the last 150-some-odd days of the Bush presidency. Let’s take a moment and review the foreign policy legacy this man will leave behind: our military in Iraq, European allies pissed off at us, China ignores any human rights criticism from us, and Russia has decided to remake it’s “near abroad” into a more palatable form that it controls. Whatever moral and military might we had is gone…just like the fabled “political capital” that President Bush claimed the day after the 2004 elections. His administration’s mismanagement of U.S. foreign policy has left us in a more dangerous world than the one he inherited on January 21st 2001.

Let’s start from the top…our military in Iraq. Back in 2003 the Bush administration did a major PR campaign to drum up support for going in and getting rid of Saddam Hussein’s arsenal of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). However, as we discovered once we went it, ol’ Saddam didn’t have any WMD in hand. In fact it became quite clear that whatever WMDs he did have were long since destroyed after the first Gulf war. Well…then our message changed (of course there’s the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner in the background as President Bush declared major offensive operations in Iraq complete) to “bringing Democracy to the Middle East…one country at a time.” This became an embarassment as we managed to make one mistake after another in trying to restore a working government in Iraq. Nevertheless, we broke it, we bought it and we’re going to be paying for it for a long time.

As for our European allies…well…let’s just say that at one point back in 2001 we held the moral high ground. After September 11th 2001 our response to the attacks by Al Qaeda was viewed as justified and valid. Yes, the Afghani population really wasn’t responsible, but the Taliban government in power at the time was aiding and abetting Osama bin Laden. Now, fast forward to 2003. We go into Iraq under, at best, dubious pretenses and manage to make a bad situation possibly even worse. The issue was not just that we went into Iraq with questionable evidence which turned out to be wrong but that we went in ostensibly by ourselves. Yes, we had the British and some others on our side but the fact is we really didn’t have much of a coalition. Bush, Cheney and their neo-con buddies figured we could do this like the old west…we’re the sherriff on this planet and we’re going to take this outlaw Hussein fellow — dead or alive. Our European allies watched and cringed as this administration disregarded all the evidence and moved forward single-handedly. Our moral authority went up in smoke and any credibility we had with it.

Now we fast forward a few years to the Summer of 2008 — a mere two weeks ago in fact. China is preparing to show off it’s showpiece effort of the Beijing Olympics. As the President travels to China he criticized the Chinese for their Human Rights record

“America stands in firm opposition to China’s detention of political dissidents and human rights advocates and religious activists,” Bush said.

“We press for openness and justice not to impose our beliefs, but to allow the Chinese people to express theirs.”

(Associated Press,”Bush Criticizes China’s Human Rights Record on Eve of Games“, FOX News, August 7, 2008 )

This immediately prompted a reply from the Chinese telling President Bush to effectively keep his nose out of their internal business. How much influence can America really have with the Chinese when we are indebted to them to such a great extent that they feel quite comfortable in blowing off any criticism so easily. On top of that, our operation of the Guantanamo prison camp for “unlawful combatants” reduces our moral voice dramatically.

Finally, there’s the latest issue with Russia. In the past two weeks we have seen a resurgent Russia with Vladimir Putin pulling the strings on his marionet President Medvedev. Russia has just finished “rearranging” Georgia’s nose and has finally agreed to a cease-fire. However, even though it has agreed to a cease-fire and a pull-back of troops Putin is taking his sweet time getting his troops back, at least, into South Ossetia. Seems like Mr. Putin has decided that even though Russia has signed the cease-fire it can do whatever it pleases — from occupying Gori to destroying Georgia’s infrastructure at will even though the fighting has stopped. It’s clear that Mr. Putin intends to demonstrate to the Georgians and the rest of the world that he is not a man to be messed with. And what can the world do? Nothing really. The only player in the game that theoretically could do something, the United States, is simply overstretched and unable to responsd. As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates put it: “I don’t see any prospect for the use of military force by the United States in this situation.” (Dowd, Maureen, “Russia is not Jamaica“, The New York Times, August 17, 2008 ).

So, here we are…Russia and Vladimir Putin are bullying their close neighbors and threatening even those that are not so close (think Poland), the Chinese blow off our criticism of their human rights record like we were some third world country, and our military is committed and overextended in Iraq and Afghanistan where our dollars are being used to rebuild those countries — even though Iraq’s projected surplus is some 78 billion (that’s billion — with a ‘b’) dollars strong. We have no way of countering these developments effectively and our economy is currently wheezing like a patient with pneumonia. Our foreign policy is a shambles and our standing in the world is at an all time low. Of course, don’t bother the President with these minor details…he’s off on another vacation.

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Aug 01 2008

Oil Drilling or Afghanistan

Published by under Energy Policy,Thoughts

The latest Tom Friedman op-ed points out an interesting fact. Both Republicans and Democrats are fixated on two primary, though different, issues. The Republicans are fixated on offshore oil-drilling and the Democrats are fixated on the war in Afghanistan. For the Republicans, and for President Bush, the only solution they can come up with for the current energy crisis is the idea that we need to open up the nation’s shorelines to the oil companies for exploration and development. Never mind the fact that it would take years for any new field discovered to be developed to the point that the oil extracted would be available at the pump. Never mind the fact that this could potentially lead to an environmental disaster. Never mind the fact that the oil that would be found would be sold on the open market for the going market rate. No…those are merely minor issues. The Republican motto seems to be — “When in doubt…drill offshore!”

But wait, the Democrats, while not supporting the idea of offshore oil drilling, have their own issue that they’re fixated on. Troop levels in Afghanistan. See the Republicans have managed to shape the view of Democrats, and Senator McCain is trying extremely hard to make this view stick to Senator Obama, as being soft on defense and on terrorism. So, in knee jerk fashion, the Democrats feel that they must focus on sending more troops to Afghanistan since, as Tom Friedman remarks, it’s considered “‘the good war’, as opposed to Iraq.” (Friedman, Tom, “Drilling in Afghanistan“, The New York Times, July 30, 2008 )

The problem that the Democrats need to ask themselves (and especially Mr. Obama) “Can we really win the war on terrorism by sending more troops to Afghanistan or am I (or we) doing it just to make ourselves look tough enough?” As Friedman points out sending more troops to Afghanistan is not going to really do anything as the problem is not the terrorists — they’re the symptom — the problem is the failure of the Arab-Muslim world to join the rest of the world in the 21st century. The Arabs still have this vision of a global (or regional) caliphate where Islam is the dominant religion and all others are either ejected, eliminated, or reduced to “dhwimmi” status (basically less than second-class citizens). The fact is that the Arab regimes use authoritarian rule, religion and a shift of blame to the “West” for all of the ills of their population as a way to maintain control. Until there is serious and concerted political reform in the Arab world that takes these factors off the table we will always have a serious problem with Arab-Muslim terrorism. The only way to do that is to ensure, as Tom Friedman notes, that there is “decent and consensual government in Baghdad or Kabul or Islamabad” (Friedman, Tom, “Drilling in Afghanistan“, The New York Times, July 30, 2008 ).

However, we are faced with a quandry here. We need to help stabilize these governments and that takes a military presence for now. But by having a military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan we inflame the indiginous population. In Iraq, the Iraqis have gotten the message and are willing to stand up and fight for their new government; in Afghanistan — well, we’re not doing so well there. Our presence inflames the Afghans and is used for political reasons by the President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai. Tom Friedman, in his opinion piece “Drilling in Afghanistan” quotes Thomas Schweich, a former Bush administration counternarcotics official focused on Afghanistan, and his article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine:

Karzai was playing us like a fiddle: The U.S. would spend billions of dollars on infrastructure improvement; the U.S. and its allies would fight the Taliban; Karzai’s friends could get rich off the drug trade; he could blame the West for his problems; and in 2009, he would be elected to a new term.

(Friedman, Tom, “Drilling in Afghanistan“, The New York Times, July 30, 2008 )

In addition Friedman quotes Afghan expert Rory Stewart’s July 17 Time magazine cover story from Kabul:

A troop increase is likely to inflame Afghan nationalism because Afghans are more anti-foreign than we acknowledge, and the support for our presence in the insurgency areas is declining … The more responsibility we take in Afghanistan, the more we undermine the credibility and responsibility of the Afghan government and encourage it to act irresponsibly. Our claims that Afghanistan is the ‘front line in the war on terror’ and that ‘failure is not an option’ have convinced the Afghan government that we need it more than it needs us. The worse things become, the more assistance it seems to receive. This is not an incentive to reform.

(Friedman, Tom, “Drilling in Afghanistan“, The New York Times, July 30, 2008 )

Before the Democrats and Mr. Obama go off and commit more troops to Afghanistan, they need to determine whether this is really going to be beneficial in the overall picture. The Democrats need to find a more comprehensive picture to winning the war on terrorism — they need to be more inventive than the Republicans. Commiting more troops to Afghanistan has become a political ploy to counter the Republican assertion that the Democrats are “soft on terrorism and defense.”

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