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Reach Out and Crush Someone: The Bush Administration’s Diplomatic Malpractice

By David Lytel

The single most laudable thing about the Bush regime is that Colin Powell and Condoleza Rice have such prominent positions in the marketing of the Bush foreign policy. It continues to be amazing that an African American man and woman participate at such a high level, especially considering the contempt with which their political party treats the interests of African American citizens and any concerted effort to reverse the effects of 400 years of the most virulent and abhorent discrimination against them.

Yet, one has to wonder if they actually have the authority that one might expect of the Secretary of State and the President’s National Security Advisor. If they had influence over America’s policy abroad they might be able to moderate the bellicose and belligerent forces that actually control the American government, or at least exercise some control over the words that come out of the President’s mouth. But it certainly does not look as if they have much control over either of these things.

Instead of being able to claim to have made to make the world a safer place, the regrettable but observable fact is that the Bush Administration’s foreign policy has been a disaster of unprecedented proportions, making the world far more dangerous than it was just two years ago.

From the earliest days of the Bush Administration the diplomatic corps and the U.S. military were turned into not much more than branches of the Foreign Commercial Service, the part of the State Department charged with helping American businesses secure opportunities overseas. In a cynical twist on the immortal words of John F. Kennedy, the word went out to friend and foe alike that the United States would bear any burden to ensure that the the interests of American multinationals were aggressively protected. International agreements to limit weapons or pollution were for Democratic weaklings. Real Republican men went out and won business for Enron, Unocal and other companies.

That was the theory. How did it work in practice? The single greatest disaster (so far) of the Bush foreign policy was its reversal of the Clinton Administration’s refusal to negotiate with the Taliban. In a series of secret meetings led by U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Tom Simons, the U.S. made it clear to the Taliban that it would be tacitly recognized by the U.S. if it would betray Osama Bin Laden and permit California-based Unocal to build a natural gas pipeline across Afghanistan. Failure to agree to these terms, as detailed in newly-translated edition of Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie’s book "Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth" (due out next month), would bring an all-out American assault on Afghanistan on a scale not seen since the Gulf War.

Not surprisingly, the Taliban didn’t go for the deal. Those talks broke down in July 2001 and soon after Al Qaeda launched its first strike against U.S. forces, using tactics that were widely known within the intelligence community. Somehow we are being asked to believe this came as a complete surprise to the people overseeing America’s diplomatic and intelligence agencies.

Rather than facing the consequences of diplomacy so disasterous that it provoked the single greatest one day loss of life in U.S. history, the Bush administration has now generalized its policy of making threats.

The emerging Bush doctrine is to use the U.S. armed forces to wage aggressive war against foreign adversaries, in anticipation of actions they may take in the future against U.S. interests. In pursuing this strategic posture, the Bush government mimics the Israeli foreign and military policy of using its sophisticated intelligence-gathering and weaponry to reach out and crush Palestinians and others who may be able to do it harm. But has this ever been shown to work? And does this kind of an aggressive posture for a tiny nation, as paranoid and as diplomatically isolated as the Israelis, make any sense for the world’s dominant commercial, cultural and military power?

First of all, it plainly doesn’t work to protect Israel. The pursuit of peace by making war -- the foreign policy of the far right government of Ariel Sharon in Israel -- is both immoral and totally, hopelessly ineffective. The only good thing to come from the murderous policies of the Sharon government is that they ought to prove to America and to the world that in modern warfare there is no way to bomb your way to peace. The violence only begets more violence. So it is both morally abhorent and tactically futile -- the Israelis are never going to be able to kill so many Palestinians that their ability to wage war against Israel will be compromised. Each attack just creates more rage and more hopeless people willing to die to strike back at Israel.

But instead of trying to calm the wretched excess of both sides in the Middle East, Bush parrots Sharon’s line that the "conditions are not yet right" for negotations to bring an end to the violence. Colin Powell and everyone else who gets paid to formulate and implement American foreign policy then have to somehow convince a skeptical press that the policy of the U.S. government is the precise opposite of what the President said, that in fact the U.S. does want both parties to participate in a face to face conference in the coming weeks to try to begin to end the violence.

Bush’s inability to articulate the interests of the United States abroad are an embarrassment, of course, but there are effects of greater consequence. The most recent suicide bombers who are now carrying their attacks into Tel Aviv might not have set out on their murderous final voyages if they had any hope that an end to the war was in sight. To continue to sit by waiting for the Israelis to complete their devastation of the Palestinian authority, saying that the "conditions are not yet right" to work for peace is nothing less than Presidentially-assisted suicide.

To Bush and Sharon the conditions may never be right, because they mistakenly believe they can win on the battlefield. They can’t. Neither Israel nor the U.S. can achieve peace except by engagement and understanding of their adversaries, and the elimination of the conditions that lead more people to be willing to give up their lives to kill Americans and Israelis. For both Bush and for Sharon, the "fire at will" policy of aggressive war-making has less to do with bringing peace than it has to do with securing their continued tenure in office. At least until the day, looming on the horizon, when the people of both Israel and the U.S. realize how horribly wrong their nation’s foreign policy has been.

Of course with only a moment’s reflection it is clear that we have better tools at our disposal to effect the future course of the world than by using things that blow up. With Bush in office the future of American foreign policy is that we will continue to aspire to be the world’s policeman, promising to rain down even more mechanized terror and destruction around the globe on populations containing suspects. If you want the U.S. to actually take on the burdensome task of understanding we either need to start listening to the diplomats or get ourselves a new government.