Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Foreign Policy changes are in store

Republican Politics, American Style
Published June 7th 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

Today I will attempt to predict what changes in American foreign policy are likely to occur after President Bush leaves office in January 2009. Given the President’s intent to stay the course in Iraq, obviously resolving the situation there will be a major component of the next President’s foreign policy, but I will deal with that issue later in a separate column.
To begin with, some significant changes in US foreign policy are already underway within the current Bush administration. John Bolton’s departure from the United Nations has been followed by the departure of other neo-conservative hawks like Robert Joseph, the architect of much of the Bush administration’s strategy for countering nuclear proliferation. These men, along with their neo-conservative allies like Vice President Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, shared an agenda of remaking the world according to their neo-conservative vision. It is now apparent that their “blurred vision” needed corrective lenses.
During their foreign policy reign over the past 6 years the ‘neo-cons’ have succeeded in undermining most of the US legitimacy and credibility that President’s Nixon, Ford, Carter, Regan, Bush Sr. and Clinton had spent 32 years building. These neo-conservative theorists will now slink away to write books and memoirs defending their use of (ahem) intelligence and the decision to invade Iraq as part of the ‘war on terror’. Don’t expect any of them to admit their vision was flawed from the outset.
Joseph and Bolton were among the chief proponents of pressuring Iran and North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons programs rather than negotiating with them. With the help of the new Defence Secretary Gates, Condoleezza Rice has now regained her footing as a foreign policy realist and is gaining influence at the expense of the remaining neo-conservative hawks like Vice President Cheney and Elliott Abrams. The recent negotiations with North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program are just one example of this new US foreign policy realism.
Unbeknownst to many however, is the fact that Secretary Gates and Ms. Rice have also been arguing forcefully, albeit unsuccessfully, to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention facilities, put an end to rendition flights and move the trials of terrorism suspects to the United States. They argue that the world’s view of Guantanamo Bay has been tainted by stories of prisoner abuses so legal proceedings held there would be viewed as illegitimate by the international community.
For the time being, President Bush has sided with embattled US Attorney General Gonzales and Vice President Cheney and decided to stay the course on Guantanamo Bay just as he is doing in Iraq. But should Attorney General Gonzales be forced to step down due to the controversy surrounding his firing of 8 US Attorneys, (as many observers expect) I think Ms. Rice and Secretary Gates will again try to press their case against Guantanamo Bay and rendition flights.
What is most important here is that a new dynamic is now emerging within the Bush administration involving foreign policy realists Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Gates. This is good news for whoever succeeds George Bush as President, be they Republican or Democrat, because rebuilding the US image and legitimacy abroad will take many years of consistent effort. Hopefully, tthe next President will be able to pick up where they have left off in this process, instead of having to wait until President Bush finishes his term in January of 2009 to begin it.
Neither Fred Thompson nor the other frontrunners for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations are advocates of the neo-conservative vision of remaking the world. Their foreign policy advisors are also realists who will advocate abandoning the foreign policy model that the Bush administration has been following for the past 6 years.
I foresee the next President rejecting the Bush administration’s policy of exercising its power unilaterally based on its own self-serving definitions of what represents an “eminent threat” to US security. I believe multilateralism will become the dominant foreign policy strategy instead of Bush’s neo-conservative policy of taking unilateral action whenever the US sees its interests threatened.
As regards Bush’s global ‘war on terror’, I hope that our next President will avoid stoking America’s fears about terror attacks and begin to focus on the more realistic and cost effective security measures which need to be implemented to counter the threat of terrorism.
The initial US military response involved the use of a small number of Special Forces soldiers in Afghanistan in recognition of the fact that you can’t attack a network (like al Qaeda) with a field army. Special Forces teams totalling 200 soldiers destabilized the Taliban regime and put al Qaeda on the run only later to be replaced by large conventional war troop units who are now hopelessly bogged down in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
Bush’s attempt to use conventional US military power to thwart the al Qaeda terror threat was precisely the reaction bin Laden was hoping for. The decision to turn what was essentially a Special Forces counter-terrorism guerrilla operation with little or no media publicity into a headline grabbing conventional war helped Bush win political re-election but at a huge cost in terms of thousands of Iraqi lives and America’s economic and military power. Over 3,333 dead and 25,000 wounded American soldiers at a cost of 600 billion dollars since Bush declared an end to combat operations over four years ago, standing beneath a banner that read “Mission Accomplished”. Where is that banner today I wonder?
In an increasing globalised world, the US must become much more judicious in the exercise of its military and economic power, or else it will become an increasingly isolated and irrelevant player on the world stage. Even though the US is the only remaining global superpower, there exist many constraints, both internal and external on the use of that power. President Bush has learned about these limits the hard way. I hope and believe that his successors will learn from his mistakes.

Update to several previous columns

Republican Politics, American Style
Published May31st 2007 in Metro Eireann By Charles Laffiteau

This week’s column will serve as a postscript to a few of my previous columns dealing with the Bush administration’s public positions regarding the Iraq war and global warming.
May 1st was the 4 year anniversary of President Bush’s proclamation on the decks of a US aircraft carrier that combat operations in Iraq were at an end. He did so while standing under a large banner which simply said “Mission Accomplished”.
The United States now has over 3,333 dead American soldiers in Iraq and a Commander in Chief who claims he didn’t know that former football star Pat Tillman had actually been killed (on April 22nd 2004) by his fellow soldiers, until he saw news reports about it more than a month later. Bush made a speech in which he cited Tillman’s heroism 2 days after one of Bush’s top general’s had written a memo warning that President Bush should be told that it was “highly possible” Tillman’s death was the result of friendly fire, instead of his reported acts of valour for which Tillman had been awarded a Silver Star.
I guess this is not surprising considering the fact that it wasn’t until December 19th 2006 that this same Commander in Chief acknowledged for the first time that the United States was not winning the war in Iraq. On that day, in a 2006 post-election interview with the Washington Post, Bush said; "We're not winning, we're not losing," This statement was noteworthy because up until as recently as November 3rd of last year, President Bush had always responded to questions about whether the US was winning the war in Iraq by stating “Absolutely, we’re winning.”
This past month the President claimed that the Democratic majority in Congress was trying to usurp his authority as America’s Commander in Chief, by refusing to give him the money he wanted to continue the Iraq war. Bush complained that Democrats were putting US forces in Iraq at risk, because he would veto spending bills with strings attached regarding progress in the war.
Imagine that; it was the Democrats in Congress putting US forces at risk in Iraq, not the President’s decision to increase the number of soldiers deployed there. Given the fact that President Bush had spent 4 years demonstrating how capable he was in prosecuting the Iraq war, he couldn’t understand why the Democrats were trying to exceed their constitutional authority and micromanage the war.
Hmmm. It sounds like “the kettle calling the pot black” if you ask me. Democratic Majority leader Harry Reid’s retort to Bush was; “No more will Congress turn a blind eye to the Bush administration’s incompetence and dishonesty,” like Republican legislators did.
The first book written by a member of the Bush administration’s inner circle has just been published and it provides some valuable insights regarding how the decision to invade Iraq was made. In it, Bush’s former CIA Director George Tenet writes that; “There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat” nor “was there ever a significant discussion” about alternatives to invading Iraq as way to contain the possible threat Saddam Hussein might pose to the US.
Tenet says that VP Cheney and others wanted to attack Iraq from the moment Bush first took office, long before the 9/11 attacks. To that end Cheney and Defence Secretary Rumsfeld ignored his pre 9/11 warnings about al Qaeda and asked for briefings about Iraq instead. Tenet claims aides to Cheney and Rumsfeld repeatedly “stretched intelligence” reports and tried to “insert crap” into the Bush administration’s public justifications about why the US had to invade Iraq.
Tenet goes on to accuse Cheney, Rumsfeld and other members of the Bush administration, including embattled World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz, of being focused solely on Iraq as a threat to the US in 2001 and after 9/11 in 2002, while the CIA was instead focusing on al Qaeda. Tenet also claims to have tried to muffle VP Cheney’s assertions that al Qaeda was in Iraq before the US invaded, a patently false claim Cheney is still making today.
As regards Bush’s current strategy of throwing more money and troops at the problems in Iraq, Tenet shares my own concerns; “It may have worked more than three years ago,” but “My fear is that sectarian violence in Iraq has taken on a life of its own and that U.S. forces are becoming more and more irrelevant to the management of that violence.”
Tenet’s comments are supported by statements from President Bush’s former head of counterterrorism, Richard Clarke that; “prior to 9/11, Tenet was vociferous about al Qaeda and bin Laden They (Bush, Cheney et al) wouldn’t listen to him. And he was their Director of CIA for Christ’s sake.” Clarke also points to the real reason behind the invasion of Iraq saying that; “This was not about replacing Saddam Hussein. This was about some insane plot to rebuild Iraq in our (America’s) image. (That’s when) I knew the war on terrorism was lost. Because if you’re occupying an Arab country, you can’t possibly gain Arab support (against the terrorists).”
As for climate change, recent polls show that a majority of Democrats, independents and (yes) Republicans have little confidence in President Bush’s proposals dealing with global warming. The latest polls show that 90% of Democrats, 80% of independents and 60% of Republicans said immediate action was required to curb the warming of the atmosphere and deal with its effects on the global climate. Even many Republicans believe that the Democrats will do a better job of protecting the environment than Bush or Republicans have or will do in the future.
I believe after the Iraq war, the two most pressing concerns of most Americans are health care and measures to combat global warming. Unfortunately for Republicans, voters currently have more faith in Democrats addressing these 3 issues than in Bush or the Republicans doing so.