Thursday, December 07, 2006

Pearl Harbor Day  
when we knew what we were fighting for

Time US revisited its real values
Martin Wolf - Financial Times

US VOTERS have now repudiated those who sought to impose democracy by force abroad.    George Bush is still president but he is damaged political goods.    Change is desperately needed.    The signal feature of this administration has not been merely its incompetence, but its rejection of the principles on which US foreign policy was built after the Second World War.    The administration’s strategy has been based, instead, on four ideas:   the primacy of force; the preservation of a unipolar order; the unbridled exercise of US power; and the right to initiate preventive war in the absence of immediate threats.    The response to the terrorist outrage of September 11 2001 reinforced the hold of all these principles.    The notion of an indefinite and unlimited “war on terror” became the fulcrum of US foreign policy.

It led to the idea of an “axis of evil” connecting Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to theocratic Iran and Kim Jong-il’s North Korea.    It brought about the justified invasion of Afghanistan, but also the diversion into Iraq.    The idea of the war on terror led to the indefinite imprisonment of alleged enemy combatants without judicial oversight, toleration of torture, the extraterritorial prison at Guantanamo Bay and, by indirect means, the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

All this has been bad enough.    It is made worse by what John Ikenberry of Princeton University and Charles Kupchan of Georgetown aptly describe as the “sloppy intelligence, faulty judgment and ideological zealotry” that marked implementation, above all in Iraq.

The poor implementation is not an accident.    A belief in the primacy of the military led to the transfer of responsibility to the department of defence; a belief in the efficacy of force created the conviction that victory meant peace and a swift transition to democracy; and disdain for allies created the absence of co-operation in postwar occupation.

The US must now start again.    It must design a foreign policy for the current age. In doing so, it should discard almost everything the Bush administration has proclaimed.

First, the aims of foreign policy go far beyond the “war on terror”.    Equally important are maintenance of a prosperous world economy, management of the rise of great powers and economic development, not least in the Islamic world.

Second, military power is far less effective than its supporters suppose.    The threat of force cannot change the policies of other great powers, except to make them more suspicious of US intentions.    It must make potential enemies more determined to obtain nuclear weapons.    As Iraq has shown, vast power cannot even impose stability on a country of 21-million.

Third, the legitimacy of the US as a global power rests on its ability to command the respect of other countries and peoples.    Gerhard Schröder could not have won an election in 2002 on an anti-American platform if the German people’s confidence in the US had not been undermined.    Yet more important, the war against jihadi terrorists is a war of ideas.    It will be won not by fear, but by making the west’s values more attractive to hundreds of millions of Muslims than those of its fanatical opponents.    The willingness of this administration to treat the rule of law as an optional extra has made it far more difficult to defeat the terrorist ideology in the long run.

Fourth, multilateral institutions matter.    They turn what would otherwise be clashes of prestige and power into acceptance of shared rules of good behaviour.     Above all, only the willing co-operation of at least the world’s leading powers can address many of the global challenges.    Shared institutions make such co-operation more credible and more sustained.

Fifth, solid alliances matter.    The coalition of the willing has proved a slender reed.    Even the UK is unlikely to let itself be dragged into a venture similar to Iraq again, in which it is fully committed but has no influence on how policy is executed.    Yet the US has proved unable to achieve what it seeks unaided.    Fixed alliances are indeed constraints, but they are also means of securing commitments.

The foreign policy of Bush, arguably the worst president since the US became a world power, has come to a dead end.    The big question is what happens now.    For disastrous though it has been, alternatives could be as bad.    A “realism” entirely indifferent to western values would be one blunder.    Still worse would be a retreat from the war in Iraq into isolationism and from openness into protectionism.

The world will not accept an American master.    But it will still welcome American leadership, provided that leadership takes due account of the interests of others and rests on the values that the US has itself spread to the world.


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