stephen_kinzer.jpg (3531 bytes)Egypt protests show folly of American foreign policy
While popular uprisings erupt across the Middle East, the U.S. stands on the sidelines.

Stephen Kinzer

One afternoon a couple of weeks ago, I walked into the British Foreign Office for a meeting with Middle East policy planners. “Tunisia is melting down and the Lebanese government has just fallen,” my host said as he welcomed me. “Interesting times.” During our meeting, one veteran British diplomat observed that since United States policy toward the Middle East is frozen into immobility, change there comes only when there is a crisis. I asked where he thought the next crisis might erupt. “Egypt,” he replied.

Events have moved quickly since then. President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia has been overthrown, Hezbollah has chosen the new prime minister of Lebanon, and thousands have taken to the streets in Egypt to demand an end to Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship. The Middle East is erupting—and the U.S. is watching from the sidelines. Unable to guide the course of events, it can do little more than cheer for its sclerotic allies and hope that popular anger does not sweep them aside.

Washington sees the various local and national conflicts in the Middle East as part of a battle for regional hegemony between the U.S. and Iran. If this is true, the U.S. is losing. That is because it has stubbornly held onto Middle East policies that were shaped for the Cold War. The security environment in the region has changed dramatically since then. Iran has shown itself agile enough to align itself with rising new forces that enjoy the support of millions. The U.S., meanwhile, remains allied with countries and forces that looked strong 30 or 40 years ago but no longer are.

Iran is betting on Hezbollah, Hamas, and Shiite parties in Iraq. These are popular forces that win elections. Hezbollah emerged as the heroic champion of resistance to Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon, winning the admiration of Arabs, not only for itself but also for its Iranian backers. Many Arabs also admire Hamas for its refusal to bow to Israeli power in Gaza.

Pro-Iran forces have also scored major gains in Iraq. They effectively control the Iraqi government, and their most incendiary leader, Moqtada al-Sadr, recently returned to a hero’s welcome after an extended stay in Iran. By invading Iraq in 2003 and removing Saddam Hussein from power, the U.S. handed Iraq to Iran on a platter. Now Iran is completing the consolidation of its position in Baghdad.

Whom does America bet on to counter these rising forces? The same friends it has been betting on for decades: Mubarak’s pharaonic regime in Egypt, Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, the Saudi monarchy, and increasingly radical politicians in Israel. It is no wonder that Iran’s power is rising as the American-imposed order begins to crumble.

The U.S. keeps Mubarak in power—it gave his regime $1.5 billion in aid last year—mainly because he supports America’s pro-Israel policies, especially by helping Israel maintain its stranglehold on Gaza. It supports Abbas for the same reason: he is seen as willing to compromise with Israel, and therefore a desirable negotiating partner. This was confirmed by WikiLeaks cables that show how eager he has been to meet Israeli demands, even collaborating with Israeli security forces to arrest Palestinians he dislikes. American support for Mubarak and Abbas continues, although neither man is in power with any figment of legality; Mubarak brazenly stage-manages elections, and Abbas has ruled by decree since his term of office expired in 2009.

Intimacy with the Saudi royal family is another old habit the U.S. cannot seem to kick—even though American leaders know full well, as one of the WikiLeaks cables confirms, that “Saudi donors remain the chief financiers of Sunni militant groups like al-Qaeda.” The fact that the Tunisian leader fled to Saudi Arabia after being overthrown shows how fully the Saudis support the old, eroding Middle East order.

As for Israel itself, it will lose much if new Arab leaders emerge who refuse to be their silent partners. Yet Israel clings to the belief that it will be able to guarantee its long-term security with weapons alone. The U.S. encourages it in this view, sending Israelis the message that no matter how militant their rejectionist policies become, they can count on Washington’s endless support.

The U.S. has long sought to block democracy in the Arab world, fearing that it would lead to the emergence of Islamist regimes. Remarkably, however, the Tunisian revolution does not seem to be heading that way, nor have Islamist leaders tried to guide protests in Egypt. Perhaps watching the intensifying repression imposed by mullahs in Iran has led many Muslims to rethink the value of propelling clerics to power.

Even if democratic regimes in the Middle East are not fundamentalist, however, they will firmly oppose U.S. policy toward Israel. The intimate U.S.-Israel relationship guarantees that many Muslims around the world will continue to see the U.S. as an enabler of evil. Despite America’s sins in the Middle East, however, many Muslims still admire the U.S. They see its leaders as profoundly mistaken in their unconditional support of Israel, but envy what the U.S. has accomplished and want some version of American freedom and prosperity for themselves. This suggests that it is not too late for the U.S. to reset its policy toward the region in ways that would take new realities into account.

Accepting that Arabs have the right to elect their own leaders means accepting the rise of governments that do not share America’s pro-Israel militancy. This is the dilemma Washington now faces. Never has it been clearer that the U.S. needs to reassess its long-term Middle East strategy. It needs new approaches and new partners. Listening more closely to Turkey, the closest U.S. ally in the Muslim Middle East, would be a good start. A wise second step would be a reversal of policy toward Iran, from confrontation to a genuine search for compromise. Yet pathologies in American politics, fed by emotions that prevent cool assessment of national interest, continue to paralyze the U.S. diplomatic imagination. Even this month’s eruptions may not be enough to rouse Washington from its self-defeating slumber.

Stephen Kinzer is an award-winning foreign correspondent who has covered more than 50 countries on five continents. His books include “Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq” (2006), recounting the 14 times the United States has overthrown foreign governments, and “All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror” (2003). His article is edited from Newsweek, January 28, 2011.

– PeaceMeal,Jan/February 2011

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Obama lays out security strategy based in diplomacy

President Barack Obama, speaking to a graduating class at the United States Military Academy, West Point NY, outlined a new national security strategy on May 22, one based in diplomatic engagement and international alliances, as he repudiated his predecessor's emphasis on unilateral American power and the claimed right to wage pre-emptive war. Eight years after President George W. Bush came to West Point to change course in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Mr. Obama used the same setting to offer a different doctrine, one that vowed no retreat against enemies while seeking "national renewal and global leadership."

Most of the 1,000 graduating cadets were 12 years old when hijacked passenger jets destroyed the World Trade Center and smashed into the Pentagon and the Pennsylvania countryside. President Obama told them, "America has not succeeded by stepping outside the currents of international cooperation. We have succeeded by steering those currents in the direction of liberty and justice, so nations thrive by meeting their responsibilities, and face consequences when they don't." Mr. Obama said the United States "will be steadfast in strengthening those old alliances that have served us so well" while also trying to "build new partnerships and shape stronger international standards and institutions."

The president's address was intended not just for the young men and women who could soon face combat in Afghanistan or Iraq as second lieutenants in the Army, but also for an international audience that in some quarters grew alienated from the United States during the Bush era. The contrasts between Mr. Bush's address in 2002 and Mr. Obama's in 2010 underscored the ways a wartime U.S. has changed.

When Mr. Bush spoke, he had succeeded in toppling the Taliban government in Afghanistan and a victory of sorts appeared at hand, even as he was turning his attention to a new front in Iraq. As Mr. Obama took the stage, the American war in Iraq was finally beginning to wind down after seven years, as combat forces prepare to withdraw by August. Mr. Obama all but declared victory in Iraq, crediting the military but not Mr. Bush, who sent more troops in 2007.

But Afghanistan has flared out of control and tens of thousands of reinforcements are flowing there. And terrorists have made a fresh effort to strike on American soil, as the new president reformulates the approach to countering them.

In the face of sharp criticism that he is weakening America's defenses, he defended his efforts to bring counterterrorism policies in line with the Constitution and international law: "We should not discard our freedoms because extremists try to exploit them," he said. "We cannot succumb to division because others try to drive us apart."

– edited from The New York Times, May 22, 2010
PeaceMeal, May/June 2010

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Top ex-diplomats slam militarization of U.S. foreign policy

U.S. diplomatic and foreign aid assets have largely atrophied and must be quickly rebuilt by the new administration that takes office in January, according to a report released in Washington DC in October by former senior foreign service officers. While the Pentagon’s budget has risen to heights not seen since World War II, the State Department has seen its human and financial resources reduced 30-50 percent since the end of the Cold War. The report by the American Academy of Diplomacy (AAD) and the Henry L. Stimson Center calls for a nearly 50 percent increase in the number of diplomats and aid and development specialists recruited into the foreign service over the next five years. This would cost about $3 billion — approximately what the Pentagon spends every ten days on military operations in Iraq — over current budget estimates.

The vacuum created by the lack of diplomatic resources has translated into the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, warns the 26-page report, A Foreign Affairs Budget for the Future. “Today, significant portions of the nation’s foreign affairs business simply are not accomplished,” it says. “The work migrates by default to the military that does have the necessary people and funding but neither sufficient experience nor knowledge. The ‘militarization’ of diplomacy exists and is accelerating.” The report asserts: “The status quo cannot continue without serious damage to our vital interests.”

As part of the fix, the report calls for the State Department to take over control from the Defense Department of nearly $800 million a year budgeted for several security assistance programs, including humanitarian aid, created in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to help friendly militaries prosecute the global war on terrorism.

“Our view is that the Secretary of State has and should have responsibility for assuring that all foreign and security assistance is carried out in accord with U.S. foreign policy, including setting overall policy, approving countries to receive assistance, and setting the budget for such assistance,” the report says. “It is important for the U.S. to ensure that its non-military international presence and engagement be carried out primarily by civilians, not by the military.”

The new report echoes the views of a growing number of non-governmental organizations and foreign policy experts that the Pentagon, simply by virtue of its enormous budget and its worldwide presence with nearly 800 overseas bases, has become far too dominant in policy making. Even Pentagon chief Robert Gates, a former senior intelligence officer, has complained about the imbalance between U.S. military and diplomatic resources. “Funding for non-military foreign affairs programs...remains disproportionately small relative to what we spend on the military,” he declared in a much-discussed speech a year ago. “What is clear for me is that there is a need for a dramatic increase in spending on the civilian instruments of national security.”

Gates has also noted ruefully that there are more people serving in military bands than in the entire State Department.

Despite his support, however, Gates’ views have not yet substantially altered the political equation in Congress, which has routinely approved or even increased the Bush administration’s budgetary requests for the Pentagon over the last eight years while casting a far more skeptical eye on requests for the State Department, which lacks a comparably broad-based constituency in the electorate and industry.

The Defense Department is slated to receive well over $527 billion for 2009 — not including at least $170 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — roughly 13 times more than the State Department’s budget of less than $40 billion. And in October, the Pentagon submitted a new projection for defense spending that is $450 billion more over the next five years than it had previously announced, according to Congressional Quarterly, beginning with an almost 10-percent increase in its 2010 budget to nearly $600 billion — again, not including war costs.

– edited from Inter Press Service, Oct. 15, 2008
PeaceMeal, Nov/December 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Terrorism is ‘blowback’ from U.S. foreign policy

Michael Scheuer, former chief of the Osama bin Laden unit of the CIA

In CIA jargon, the term “blowback” refers to the unintended negative consequences of U.S. covert operations against foreign nations and governments. The term was first used in a 1954 report on the CIA’s 1953 operation that overthrew Mohammed Mossadegh, the elected head of state in Iran, and installed the Shah as dictator. The suicidal hijacker attacks of September 11, 2001 on the United States were instances of blowback from American clandestine operations in Afghanistan. Following is a statement by Michael Scheuer, a 22-year veteran of the CIA who resigned in 2004, given at the National Press Club in Washington DC, May 24, 2007, addressing this issue:

The only indispensable ally that Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and their allies have [is] U.S. foreign policy.

It is a patent absurdity on the part of the governing establishment of the United States to believe that the war we are engaged in at the moment has anything to do with our freedoms, our democracies, gender equality, or myself having a Budweiser after work in the evening. There’s nothing more absurd than that that you could imagine.

This war [in Iraq] has to do with our foreign policy and its impact in the Muslim world. Al Qaeda and its like ... have focused on U.S. foreign policy and they have found it a glue of cohesion, a glue of unity across the Islamic world, which is, as every other civilization on Earth, as diverse, as fractious as can be imagined — ethnically, linguistically, divisions between sects and within sects of religion.

There is no Islam; there is [sic] no Muslims; there is just the Muslim world. And the cohesion that bin Laden has given it stems from the impact of our policies, simply six in number:

1. Our ability, until recently at least, to control the price of oil and make it acceptable to Western consumers;

2. Our unqualified support for Israel;

3. Our presence on the Arabian Peninsula;

4. Our military presence in Muslim countries [in] places like Yemen and Saudi Arabia, but now including Iraq and Afghanistan;

5. Our support for governments that are viewed across the Islamic world as oppressing Muslims — Russia and Chechnya in the North Caucasus, India in Kashmir, the genocide by inundation of the Chinese in western China;

6. And perhaps most painfully of all for America is our 50 years of support for Arab police states and tyrannies.

There is within the movement of Al Qaeda and the Islamists a large measure of liberation sentiment. And Muslims, especially in the Arab world, have been governed by dictators who installed generals and absolute monarchs since World War II. And we have supported, nurtured and protected them.

In response to a question on the situation in Afghanistan, Mr. Scheuer stated the following:

The President was sold a bill of goods by George Tenet and the CIA — that a few dozen intel guys, a few hundred Special Forces, and truckloads of money could win the day. What happened is what’s happened ever since Alexander the Great, three centuries before Christ: the cities fell quickly, which we mistook for victory. Three years later, the Taliban has regrouped, and there’s a strong insurgency. We paid a great price for demonizing the Taliban. We saw them as evil because they didn’t let women work, but that’s largely irrelevant in Afghanistan. They provided nationwide law and order for the first time in 25 years; we destroyed that and haven’t replaced it. They’re remembered in Afghanistan for their harsh, theocratic rule, but remembered more for the security they provided. In the end, we’ll lose and leave. The idea that we can control Afghanistan with 22,000 soldiers, most of whom are indifferent to the task, is far-fetched. The Soviets couldn’t do it with 150,000 soldiers and utter brutality.

~ Michael Scheuer is the author of “Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror.”

– PeaceMeal, May/June 2008

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

dan_sisk.jpg (1452 bytes)Friendship formula for world peace

by Dan Sisk

Having a birthday during Lent is bad enough, but growing up in a family of five brothers and four sisters is like answering to a whole team of junior executives. Eventually, even my baby sister rose above me in the management chain, leaving me with the post of family irritant, which I pursued with ardor. As I grew, the words of my big brothers and sisters seemed dry and tedious, and they passed like tumbleweeds on the wind seeking some other fence to roll against.Maturity has given me more respect for the wisdom of my siblings. Fatherhood tends to force that. And empathy, too: My sons have trampled many perfectly good suggestions under foot, often with glee.

It occurs to me that my family’s dynamics aren’t all that different from the way nations interact. I often think of countries that have spent their modern lives in the shadow of big brother America. Constantly gazing across the oceans for approval, they’ve longed to win our acceptance. The same dream often burned in their hearts as they stood in awe, a dream of equality and friendship. But it can be a pitiful dream.

Lately, the dream seems to have decayed to rivalry and anger. Possibly miffed by our muscle-flexing, our unwanted advice or our self-interest, the membership of Uncle Sam’s fan club dwindles while detractors run out of name tags. But why should we care?

Behind our pride, we try to understand what went wrong. Like anyone losing the trust and respect of admirers, we secretly dig for a root cause, but the answer towers overhead.

Though the attack on Pearl Harbor seized and rattled us, we endured and overcame. The universal ideals and principles handed down to us prevailed again, fortifying us even more.

Now, fear has a dogged grip and we can’t shake it off. As a result, we’ve lost our self-respect and confidence. Glued to the threat level, we bounce from panic to panic like pinballs, then escape to TVs where others navigate realities that conveniently avoid our own. Meanwhile, our former admirers scoff at our disarray and see little value in a superpower afraid of its own shadow.

When waylaid by stress and uncertainty, two choices remain: curl up into a ball or reclaim the rock you once stood upon and build again. For us, the rock embodies the timeless principles so astutely compiled by our forefathers years ago. Today, the message still has relevance; the champion just got a bit flabby.

Unfortunately, a successful approach eludes us. Do we force it with guns and bombs and house-to-house searches? Or do we bribe our way in by funding nations where religious tolerance means freedom to attend state-run services?

Our founders must have forgotten to jot down the specifics. Either that or they’re all too obvious.

All this brings me back to the family business, or what’s left of it. Oh, the team’s still there, for the most part, but at some point along the line, the firm reorganized. While life distracted us, we were re-engineered, refocused, and reassigned. Now we’re, well, just a bunch of people who share adventure, happiness, sadness and power tools. In a word, friends.

Together, in our own way, we grope our way forward, sitting down together from to time to encourage, compare notes or just take a load off.

The answers I’ve gathered along my own meandering path serve well. Though many questions remain, one thing is clear to all of us: We don’t need big brothers anymore, but we’ll always need friends.

Maybe that’s what the world needs, too.

Dan Sisk, Richland, is a manager in the Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. His article was published in the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald on 25 March 2007.

– PeaceMeal, March/April 2007

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)