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A Brave New American Foreign Policy?
by William Holzer, HourEleven.com
28 March 2003 

Equating the spread of democracy with national security is risky, but it makes a lot of sense.  A democratic Turkey may not help us attack Iraq, but if every Middle Eastern country were like Turkey, we would not have to do any attacking in the first place.


As the war continues in Iraq, and rumors and misinformation merge with the tragedy and horror of war, it may seem premature to step back from the battlefield to examine the big picture. But the big picture led us into this war, and it will lead us out… but to where?

In his 1996 book Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger wrote that there has been a great dichotomy in American foreign policy throughout history, between idealists dreaming of spreading democracy throughout the world, and isolationists safely ensconced between two mighty oceans and fearing the dawn of an American empire. But the invention of intercontinental missile delivery systems, nuclear submarines, long range bombers, and now terrorism, have broken down the barriers of the Pacific and the Atlantic.

Now many policy makers believe that the spread of democracy into rogue regimes -- once the hope of democratic idealists -- will improve national security. Totalitarian and repressive states breed conditions of poverty, disenchantment, and terrorism among their people. They also may sell WMD to terrorist cells in order to keep afloat stagnant economies. Equating the spread of democracy with national security is risky, but it also makes a lot of sense. A democratic Turkey may not help us attack Iraq, but if every Middle Eastern country were like Turkey, we would not need to be doing any attacking in the first place.

Another reason for this proposed policy of intervention to keep WMD out of the hands of rogue regimes concerns the deterrence factor. Rogue regimes are not necessarily deterred from selling WMD to terrorist groups, but countries like America are deterred from attacking rogue regimes possessing WMD. North Korea posses a great threat to America, but the president chose to attack Iraq. This was done because in addition to preventing another North Korea from forming in Iraq, attacking Saddam entailed fewer risks. The lesson is clear, a country with a nuke is a country indeed.

It is not yet clear if the War on Iraq signals a new American foreign policy, or is simply a show of force in order to improve diplomacy with other regimes, or is an isolated case, or is a combination of the first two. But if President Bush -- far from a proponent of intervention before 9/11 -- does intend to radically change American foreign policy, by dealing with these repressive regimes, some serious reality checks are in order.

The left in America and abroad have long pointed to America’s history of aiding and supporting questionable regimes in Latin America, the Middle East, and elsewhere. America finds itself in the shoes of the ancient Pharisees, who were admonished by Jesus for burdening the people with laws and restrictions that they themselves could not keep. America is the self-appointed evangelist of democracy; it does not look good when we are caught colluding with dictators.

The Iraq case is a perfect illustration of this policy in action. Years ago American diplomats decided that Iran was more dangerous than Iraq, and that unless Iraq was supported, Iran would become too dangerous. So we gave our man Saddam WMD. Iraq is also an excellent example of how complicated foreign policy is, because we will never be sure that giving Saddam WMD was unwise, since we do not know what Iran would have done unchecked. But it is also worthwhile to note that there is a huge difference between the words ‘wise’ and ‘right.’ Most Americans fall somewhere on the side of interventionism, as opposed to isolationism. But there is another dichotomy in American foreign policy. In going about the work of democracy, do we align ourselves with brutal or less than perfect regimes in order to further the cause of freedom elsewhere, or do we only align ourselves with free democracies? Do we do what is wise or right?

Rhetorically speaking, Bush came down on the side of the purists, with his ‘Axis of Evil’ speech. It may be that the former Texas governor was unprepared for the intelligence briefings he received after becoming President, detailing the gulag camps of North Korea and elsewhere, or it may be that 9/11 radically changed the president’s understanding of the world. But whatever the case, he clearly stated his displeasure with the Axis of Evil. The moral clarity was a breath of fresh air, but it also demonstrated the drawbacks of broadly stated foreign policy based on morality. Iran, North Korea, and every other reputable regime on the planet are now on notice. President Bush damaged relations with many states, well before he would be in a position to deal with them. This hampered other policies that may have needed the cooperation of questionable regimes. Even Pakistanis are worried about future American designs on their country, although American ties with Pakistan have proved fruitful in the War on Terrorism.

But the flip side is that Pakistan is also a breeding ground for terrorism, and is an enlightened but nonetheless despotic country. We do prefer a secular General, rather than an Islamic extremist, in control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. But our policy has soured our relations with India. And in the long run, it is far better to be friends with a democratic India, rather than an authoritarian Pakistan. To put it another way, it does not take a genius to figure out that giving Saddam WMD, when he was known to be a sadistic psychopath, would backfire eventually. Additionally, colluding with dictators, especially of the non-Pakistan verity, makes America look hypocritical to the average person. Perhaps what is wise is also right. Obviously the decision is not easy; many of the fascist dictators we have supported were opposed by even more detestable communists. And many other democratic countries have dealt with shady dictators; France and Russia made deals with Saddam in the 1990s. But what is clear, is that America holds itself up as a beacon of light to the rest of the world, and by doing so we will be held to higher standards. Now would be a good time to regain the trust of the rest of the world; it is both wise and right.

This policy may play out in the Middle East if the Iraq War is successful. The Muslim world has long had a major problem with American support of Saudi Arabia… and American troops in the Holy Land. We need their oil, but the majority of the infamous hijackers were Saudis, and their repressive regime is far from democratic. The double standard of American ideals and support of the regime is not lost on any Arabs living in the Middle East. But by democratizing Iraq, we may be able to kill two birds with one stone, by taking out Saddam, and reducing our support of Saudi Arabia (oil from Iraq will make up for Saudi Arabia). The country may take a turn for the worst -- radical Muslims dislike the regime because it is not repressive enough -- but events in Iraq could spur a revolution toward democracy. It is worth a shot.

One problem American foreign policy must take into account is the growing sense that the world is afraid of America and any unilateral action it may attempt. Governments in general and nationalistic minded peoples, for instance the French and their desire for ‘greatness,’ are expected to think in balance of power terms… and thus dislike American unilateralism, even if it is not a true threat. Countries like Russia and China are another matter, and must be treated with all of the tact and sagacity that can be mustered. But the fear of American unilateralism among the average citizen in democratic countries is intriguing.

When President Clinton saw that the UN would not sanction an intervention in Kosovo, he rightly understood that the UN has no binding control over American sovereignty, and he went ahead without the UN. There were many of the same arguments against ‘American unilateralism -- in publications like Mother Jones -- as there are today. Despite dire warnings, America was not isolated in world affairs as a result of unilateral action.

But this time the world has reacted far more strongly against America. This may in part be due to the world’s dislike of Bush’s Christian faith, compared to Clinton’s secularism. It may be that the failure to slow down American unilateralism in the 1990s contributed to a more concerted effort to stop America this time. But even if this is true among the leadership of Germany or France, it is probably not the case for everyday citizens in free countries. It is hard for many Americans to fathom that many citizens in free countries have drawn the same conclusion about America that America concluded about Iran, "Stop them, even if it means siding with Saddam Hussein." Many Americans are left speechless because it is so hard to believe.

When it comes to public opinion in countries like Canada or Germany or New Zealand, etc., part of this may be attributed to what is now dubbed ‘Bush’s failed diplomacy.’ According to this line of thinking, American unilateralism would have been easier to swallow if the rhetoric had not been so heavy handed. This is probably the case, although the situation is more complicated than a simple ‘failure.’ It has been well documented that the first Gulf War was largely the result of a misunderstanding between Saddam and Bush I. The first Bush administration appears to have led Saddam to believe that America would not intervene if Kuwait was invaded, which was all the prodding Saddam needed. But it now seems clear that Saddam would have never invaded Kuwait if he had known that America would intervene. In this light, Bush’s strident unilateralism was in the hope of disarming Saddam peacefully. However, the unilateral rhetoric has been extremely damaging to America’s standing in the world, without allowing Bush to come out smelling like roses and being hailed as a man of peace, for disarming Saddam without bloodshed.

In reality, America can act unilaterally against rogue regimes in military operations, pretending that this is not true will not heal the wounded pride of weak countries, or sooth the fears of strong countries like Russia or China. Yet we must proceed carefully, unless a successful invasion of Iraq puts us in a position where we can persuade other regimes to halt WMD development, by threatening unilateral action. America cannot unilaterally take on the combined military might of China, Russia, India, the UK and every other country on the planet. Nor can America withstand a world embargo without heavy repercussions. And just as importantly, America does not want to handle the costs and headaches of setting up a democratic and prosperous Iraq, not to mention any future nation building attempts, without the support of other countries. America’s need for strong alliances and friendships with foreign countries remain as important as ever, what does need to change is the perception that only action through the UN can be considered multilateral. But this will be easily rectified if America actively seeks out foreign countries in the work of freedom, expressing real need and desire for renewed friendships.

In conclusion, it may seem that there are more quandaries than solutions. But there are always signs to show us the way down the roads we are meant to walk. The footage coming out of Basra shows that America - with her brave and faithful allies -- can still encourage the downtrodden to rise up for freedom. It is not easy. There have been many dangers along the way, and there will be more dangers in the future. Yet freedom is always worth the risk.


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