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     Oct 29, 2008
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Making America safe for the world
By Yu Bin

A specter is haunting the world, a specter of a dangerously growing gap between the United States presidential candidates' promises to make America safer on one hand, and an increasingly poorer, more unstable and more dangerous world on the other.

Six years after the Bush Doctrine of pre-emption made its debut, America's "war on terror" remains open-ended (now in three separate theaters of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan). As the financial tsunami - made in the US - is leaving no nation behind, both America and the world are far less secure than before.


Meanwhile, America is losing influence both among its friends and foes.

In a globalized world, it is almost impossible, certainly inconceivable, and perhaps even dangerous for the United States to achieve its own security while much of the rest of the world is in chaos. The next president of the United States, therefore, will have to narrow, if not close, this security-insecurity gap, not just for the sake of others, but for the US's own interests.

9/11 and American protracted war
Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, French president Jacques Chirac declared, "Today, we are all Americans." Russian president Vladimir Putin was the first to call President George W Bush to promise his support. This was followed by the call from Chinese president Jiang Zemin.

For a while, America had a great chance to turn the world’s sympathy and cooperation into real political and strategic assets. This, however, quickly evaporated in early 2003 when the Bush administration rushed to war with Iraq, even if Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. A few months after the Iraq invasion, even Bush reluctantly admitted that there was no evidence showing Saddam’s "connection" with al-Qaeda. In retrospect, a combination of missionary zeal, intelligence manipulation and solipsism - the inability to even conceive of another way of looking at the world - produced the fateful combination of preemptive and missionary impulses that propelled the US into Iraq in 2003.

While American politicians are competing to support troops, there has been a remarkable absence of any discussion of the Iraqi casualties. Outside the US, the Iraqi government counted 100,000-150,000 Iraqi deaths by November 2006. Their finding was supported by the New England Journal of Medicine in January 2008. A 2006 survey of Iraqi households in the British medical journal Lancet, however, suggested the war had led to 655,000 Iraqis deaths by July 2006. In September 2007, a survey published by United Kingdom-based polling agency Opinion Research Business suggested up to 1.2 million people might have died because of the conflict. [1] Iraq, as a result, has become the bloodiest democratizing enterprise ever in world history.

While Iraq is in ruins, Afghanistan is devastated beyond recognition. By the time the American military was shock-and-awing the Iraqis, Afghanistan had already suffered 1.8 million casualties, 2.6 million refugees, and 10 million unexploded land mines. [2] Seven years after the Taliban were removed from power, the nation produces only two products: heroin and terrorists. Now the Taliban are making a comeback and are able to stage complex and effective offensive operations, even near the capital city of Kabul. In August, 10 French paratroopers were killed by a 100-strong Taliban force near Kabul. Two months later, 300 French paratroopers hastily retreated from the same place where 10 of their comrades died for fear of being trapped by a much bigger Taliban force. In early October, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, the senior British commander in Afghanistan, declared that the war in Afghanistan is unwinnable. Meanwhile, the British government is looking for a political settlement. [3]

Both Afghanistan and Iraq are now devastated by years of warfare. The mighty American military, too, is dangerously overstretched. Financially, the price tag for the Iraqi and Afghan wars is fast approaching US$1 trillion, while victory is still out of sight. Without a comprehensive approach, including political reconciliation, diplomatic compromise and economic reconstruction, military means alone are of limited utility. At a minimum, the continuous presence of foreign troops in those nations is likely to breed more grievances and anti-Western and anti-American sentiments, which are the best recruiting tools for terrorist groups.

A war still to be won ...
This grim and deteriorating prospect of the Bush "war on terror", however, does not seem to factor into the current presidential race in America. While the Bush administration is bargaining hard with the Iraqi government to perpetuate the US military presence in Iraq, Republican Senator John McCain is still talking about an elusive and ill-defined "victory". Democratic Senator Obama, though showing sounder judgment and preferring a faster drawdown of American forces in Iraq, has yet to offer a blueprint for the Iraqis. His preoccupation is to divert American forces from Iraq to Afghanistan, where the Taliban and al-Qaeda are making a real surge.

Despite the obvious differences between McCain and Obama regarding the tactics for the "war on terror", both prefer to expand the war in the Afghanistan-Pakistani border area, a place even the British stayed away from during colonial times. The difference between them is whether to take unilateralist military actions into the tribal areas (Obama's position) or to work with the Pakistani government for joint military action (McCain). For better or worse, the Bush administration is taking the Obama approach by dispatching special units and unmanned Predator drones to this area. The mounting civilian casualties are now dangerously destabilizing Pakistan.

On his campaign trail, Obama has repeatedly claimed credit for Bush’s new strategy in Pakistan. He insists that his strategy aims to kill Osama bin Laden, who is believed to be hiding in this mountainous area. In so doing, Obama is paradoxically getting very close to Bush’s "one-bullet" solution in the early days of the Afghan war, when Bush wanted to get the super terrorist, "live or dead".

There is no question that Bin Laden is both the symbol and mastermind of the anti-American terrorism. His capture remains a worthy goal for Washington. The sources of terrorism, however, are far more complicated and extensive than the one-bullet solution can cope with. Eliminating this super terrorist may even unleash those various and widely scattered terror "cells" that are still loosely and spiritually connected with him.

For both candidates, the "war on terror" will have to be won or significant gains must be achieved. Neither for the moment seems willing to accept that the US may have to live with a certain level of terrorism, as the rest of the world does. That option is tantamount to defeat, which is simply unacceptable.

Forty-four years ago, the same fateful "all-or-nothing" approach took America to Vietnam where 60,000 Americans and about 2 million Vietnamese perished. Obama’s unilateralist recipe for Pakistan, therefore, is naive, if not dangerous, for a volatile region of South and Central Asia where all of the world's civilizations - Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Confucianism - converge and became nuclearized by the end of the past century. America's "war on terror", with all of its good intentions, allows very little margin for error in the age of weapons of mass destruction.

'Good old days' ahead?
If the current race and voting run their own course, the Democrats will get the next four years. Their approaching victory will have at least been contributed to by the huge mistakes made by the Bush administration, whose approval rate is now down to the 20s. The rest of the world has already cast its vote to the more liberal, intellectual, multilateral and cosmopolitan Obama, according to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof in his October 23 piece.

Such an expectation may be premature.

A few years ago, a long-time realist in American policy and academia lamented that American foreign policy is always "in quest of the magic, all-purpose formula" at the expense of "ideological subtlety and long-range strategy ... That drives American foreign policy toward unilateral and occasionally bullying conduct" with "a take-it-or-leave-it prescription, the operational equivalent of an ultimatum."

It would certainly not be surprising to hear such words about the Bush administration after 9/11 outside America, particularly from Europe. Even McCain is now desperately distancing himself from Bush. Yet, strange though it might seem to some, this assessment of American foreign policy is about president Bill Clinton's time. The author is Henry Kissinger, whose book, Does America Need a Foreign Policy? was published 95 days before 9/11. The book targets the liberal internationalist/interventionist policies of Clinton, many of whose foreign and defense team are now advising Obama.

Kissinger argues that both the left and right of the American foreign policy spectrum are heavily influenced by the Jacksonist black-white and "all-or-nothing" approach to foreign policy (pp 245-8). While the liberalist left treats foreign policy as a "social policy" with America as the ultimate arbitrator of domestic evolutions all over the world; the conservative right believes that the solution to the world's ills is American hegemony. Result: both the attitude of missionary rectitude of the left and the overplay of power of the right lead to a strange outcome. That is, the world's most powerful state does not have a working foreign policy (pp 19-20, 30).

Kissinger traced the sources of such a phenomenon to America's prevailing moralistic worldview, ubiquitous American exceptionalism (p 27), an educational system that puts little emphasis on history (p 30), the almost religious belief of the "manifest destiny" (p 240), and average Americans' indifference to foreign policy and international affairs (p 18). Kissinger is particularly critical about the poor quality of the American media, which are transforming foreign policy into a subdivision of public entertainment:
The intense competition for ratings produces an obsession with the crisis of the moment, generally presented as a morality play between good and evil having a specific outcome and rarely in terms of the long-range challenges of history. As soon as the flurry of excitement has subsided, the media move on to new sensations. (p 27)
Kissinger's call for a genuine foreign policy was not out of nowhere. A 2002 study by the US Congressional Research Service shows that the average US overt use of military force under the Clinton administration increased more than five times to eight instances per year, as compared to 1.15 per year during the Cold War (1945-91), [4] or the "long peace" according to John Gaddis (1989). This longest stability of the century was not only relative to the first half of the 20th century, but also to the post-Cold War decades when US power is unchallenged, unbalanced and without self-restraint.

The disturbingly ignorant, arrogant and reckless foreign policy under Clinton was perhaps not the first instance in US history. In this regard, George Kennan, America’s prominent scholar-diplomat, had this to say in 1950 about America:
… I sometimes wonder whether in this respect a democracy is not uncomfortably similar to one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: he lies there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment; he is slow to wrath - in fact, you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat. You wonder whether it would not have been wiser for him to have taken a little more interest in what was going on at an earlier date and to have seen whether he could not have prevented some of these situations from arising instead of proceeding from an undiscriminating indifference to a holy wrath equally undiscriminating. [5]
Kennan's pessimism about the possibility of America's mismanaging world affairs came at a time when the US emerged from World War II as the world's most powerful nation and when he was increasingly dismayed by the more ideologically driven policies of the United States.

Back to the "good old" Clinton times, "A nation reaps what it sows," stated Chalmers Johnson in his remarkable book, Blowback, published a year before 9/11. 2600 years ago, Confucius told his disciples not to do things to others if they did 

Continued 1 2  

US worldviews worlds apart
(Oct 25,'08)

Wrecked Iraq
(Oct 25,'08)

The Bush doctrine in ruins (Oct 24,'08)

The world isn't flat, it's flattened

2. US raid in Syria spooks Iran

3. The rise (and fall?) of petro-states

4. Pakistan wary of IMF demands

5. China falls for Obama's 'US dream'

6. Widespread fallout from India-US pact

7. China gets a jump on US in space

8. History's biggest margin call

9. The velocity of worthless money

10. Spread the wealth

(24 hours to 11:59pm ET, Oct 27, 2008)


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