Tuesday, September 18, 2018

U.S. Foreign Policy Faces Grave Danger, Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts explaining why.

Before laying out the argument, let’s backtrack to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria.  How many politicians, generals, diplomats, and prominent experts in universities and think tanks, some serving in the Bush and Obama administrations, would claim in late 2018 that these military operations were successful? 

That they justified 4,423 deaths (3,490 killed in action) and 31,958 wounded in action U.S. casualties in Iraq? 

That they justified 2,351 deaths (1,846 KIA) and 20,094 WIA U.S. casualties in Afghanistan? 

That they justified some 200,000 civilian deaths in Iraq and thousands more in Afghanistan and Syria?

That U.S. involvement in Syria and overthrowing Colonel Muammar Gadaffi, who had abandoned his nuclear program in Libya, justified the displacement of several million civilians?

That these wars justified $4.8 trillion spent in direct military operations and subsequent hundreds of billions that will be spent on lifetime medical care for severely disabled and traumatized veterans?

How many would say that the Middle East and North Africa are more peaceful, stable and better off than in 2000?

Proponents and supporters of military operations can explain why things went wrong.  We, the U.S., did not spend enough stabilizing the post-Saddam government of Iraq.  We pulled out of Iraq too soon. We did not invest enough in economic development in Afghanistan and Iraq.  President Obama failed to follow through on his red line warning to Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad?  And so on.  Even the late Senator John McCain said the war in Iraq was a mistake.

Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and their military, diplomatic and political advisers viewed the Middle East and North Africa through the same prism, that the Middle East and North Africa were ripe for democratic change.

On November 6, 2003, not quite eight months after the invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush laid out his vision for democracy in the Middle East at an event celebrating the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy.  Here are some excerpts from his speech.

“The United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East….”   “The advance of freedom is the calling of our time; it is the calling of our country.”  In the absence of freedom, the Middle East “will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export.”

Liberty, Bush said, depends on the willingness to sacrifice, pointing to U.S.  sacrifice for liberty made in World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam.  “Freedom is worth fighting for, dying for, and standing for…”

Bush highlighted the postwar establishment of democracy in Germany and Japan and the compatibility of democracy with Islam in Turkey, Indonesia, Senegal, Albania, Niger, and Sierra Leone.  He pointed to sprouts of democracy in Morocco, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Yemen, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the yearnings of Iranians, Palestinians and Egyptians for democracy.  Fifteen years later, many of these sprouts have withered.

Bush praised the leadership of President Karzai to build a modern, peaceful democratic government in Afghanistan and the efforts of the Iraqi Governing Council, in cooperation with the Coalition Provisional Authority, to build democracy in Iraq.  “Iraqi democracy will succeed--and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus to Teheran—that freedom can be the future of every nation.  The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global revolution.”

Bluntly put, President Bush’s forward strategy of freedom and democracy in the Middle East, exemplified by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, was a new kind of just war of national liberation to free oppressed peoples.  From his new democracies of Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush envisaged that liberty and democracy would spread throughout the Middle East, ending the likelihood that terrorist regimes could export weapons of mass destruction to threaten Americans.

How did President Bush come to this point of view?  Given the emphasis on democracy in the academy that dominates American political culture, he could hardly adopt any other way of thinking.  World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam were American responses to German, Japanese and North Korean aggression.  U.S. involvement in Vietnam was deemed necessary to halt the global expansion of Soviet and Chinese communism.  Bush turned from a history of U.S. wars in defense of liberty and democracy to invasions in the cause of liberty and democracy.

President Obama followed suit, participating with France and the U.K in the overthrow of Colonel Gadaffi in Libya and expanding involvement in Syria with the goal of regime change to replace Bashar al-Assad.

Presidents Bush and Obama, the U.S. Representative to the United Nations, and the State Department all had and have high-level personnel and programs to advance democracy around the globe.  Most of their office holders came from democracy programs in U.S. universities and think tanks.

The commitment to democracy, especially in countries with marked racial/ethnic divisions, rests on a more fundamental change that has gripped the United States.  That change is the focus of the next few posts.

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