Monday, June 19, 2006

Monday with McKenna: War, History, Reality

Before we begin today, I'd like to make an earth-shattering announcement. Sometime in 2008, that's two years from now, I'll be quitting daily operational work here at Daily Rev to devote more time to my foundation. I hope this shocking news doesn't throw the mass media into a total tizzy; nor should it displace coverage of the important news of the day—soccer games, golf tournaments, or the hockey and basketball championships. I just thought you ought to know.


Now if you'd like to know what's really happening in Iraq, put down your Foreign Affairs Magazine, close that window with the Stratfor Intelligence report, and for god's sake never mind what the American mass media have to tell you. Try this instead: Baghdad Burning, a blog written by a woman in Iraq who sees the reality and expresses it with clarity. Bookmark it, check it regularly, and pass the link around. What you find there will help to make sense of what Terry McKenna has for us this week. Because what you'll hear in Congress won't—except for this, our quote of the week, from Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Republican from Maryland:

To me, the administration does not act like there's a war going on. The Congress certainly doesn't act like there's a war going on. If you're raising money to keep the majority, if you're thinking about gay marriage, if you're doing all this other peripheral stuff, what does that say to the guy who's about ready to drive over a land mine?

And now, on to Monday with McKenna...

This week, the country was entertained by the spectacle of a debate in the House of Representatives on the War on Terror. The Republicans focused on the simple (simplistic?) message that real Americans don’t cut and run. The Democrats stayed their course by reminding us that the Bush war program is a failure – though they were less clear about what to do beyond complaining.

It is time for Democrats to take foreign policy seriously and to be prepared to confront Republicans not only for failure of execution, but for the outright foolishness of their program.

Of course US foreign policy has long been riddled with bad ideas. We looked for short term fixes over long term success. Some failures were inevitable. After WW2, we should never have expected to have much influence in Eastern Europe which was, after all, the Soviet Union’s backyard. We also should have anticipated the anti-colonialism of both Africa and Southeast Asia.

In the 1950’s, US policy mixed open support with covert action. Thus we supported and armed a series of right wing dictators around the world, but most particularly in Africa and Latin America. After the Viet Nam war collapsed, we started to arm surrogate armies (militias). Most specialists now believe that we did more harm than good. The current instability in Africa is thought to be a direct consequence of our shortsighted policy. And in the Middle East, Al-Qaeda is essentially our creation; when we armed the Mujahidin, we sowed the seeds of the current crisis.

All the while, the foreign policy establishment remained eastern, upper crust, and moderately left leaning – whether working for a Republican or Democratic president. Conservatives thought that if they ever assumed power, they could do better.

Even after conservative Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, foreign policy remained the province of moderates in the State Department. So when Bush II was elected, conservatives vowed to push aside the professionals in favor of appointed ideologues who supported the Bush agenda. The central tenets of Bush II were:

1. The US has the right to take unilateral action in defense of its interests, up to and including pre-emptive war
2. The Middle East needs to be revamped in favor of democratic and west-leaning free market states
3. Free trade and not foreign aid will create prosperity
4. The UN is a platform for tyrants to lecture the West (and especially the US) about human rights

If you look at these positions in a vacuum, they sound at least half right. For example, who among us would not admit that the UN is a failure. And who would challege the right of any nation to defend itself. The problem is that when you take action on half-truths, you get weak results based on half-baked, immature policy.

Pre-emptive war: a genuine threat deserves a response – but you must be really sure of yourself before your embark on such an endeavor. Sadly, Bush II picked Iraq for its gamble. Based upon the utter failure of the enterprise, it will no doubt be the last time anyone tries this foolishness.

Democracy in the Middle East: specialists who understood the Middle East always warned that Democracy was not a simple answer to all of our concerns. Iran’s elections are troubled, but they are more genuine than most, and look what happened; they elected an anti-Israel extremist who wants the bomb. And look at the Palestinians; they also voted for an extremist, in this case the extremist party, Hamas.

Free trade: a spate of free trade measures over the recent past has pushed more and more nations into the global economy. The problem with globalization is that, while prosperous citizens and prosperous nations gain access to more cheap goods, for the rest, change destroys economic relationships that have gone on for ages. So the indigenous ways collapse, and the gap between the rich and poor gets wider. In China, the children of poor peasant farmers come to the cities to find work (usually in factories where they work for a pittance). In Mexico, peasant agriculture has also collapsed, forcing small farmers to turn into illegal laborers in the US. China and India now compete with the West for oil – and in doing so, have gained a voice in foreign policy matters like how to force Iran to stop its nuclear program – both nations oppose the use of a boycott.

The United Nations: we installed a bully (John Bolton) as our UN ambassador. While it is fun to hear the UN denounced for corruption, it is hard to imagine how he will rebuild a consensus in favor of whatever the US still may want to accomplish through the UN. And that’s the rub. We still need the UN as a vehicle for matters that don’t merit a full-fledged US military effort – such as Darfur or East Timor.

The Democratic program for foreign policy change should be a simple correction to the Bush nonsense:

The US foreign policy should return to a combination of realism and humility before the world.

• The US recognizes that war ALWAYS has unintended consequences and ALWAYS ruins the lives of innocent non-combatants. While reserving the right to combat any genuine threat, the US renounces pre-emptive war.
• The US encourages the efforts to achieve democracy in the Middle East. Middle eastern democracy may take forms that are troubling for US interests (and a threat to Israel). Nonetheless, while supporting Israel’s right to exist, the US pledges not to use it’s intelligence services to subvert local political developments.
• The US encourages the growth of the private sector throughout the developed world, but economic development must be accompanied by social programs that protect those who lose their livelihood in the course of modernization
• The UN remains the only respected international institution that can muster resources for the common good.

And that’s it. It’s not a sound byte, but it’s a sincere and solid idea.

—T. McKenna

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