Thursday, July 06, 2006

More on the Unraveling Bush Foreign Policy

Five years of incompetence on the part on the Bush Administration has weakened America and put us in the position where we're no longer able to lead effectively on world affairs.

A few days ago, I saw a story on Condi Rice and the Russians having a spat at one of their recent meetings. Tom Englehardt of TomDispatch has a section of an excellent post that recounts the story that is becoming symbolic of a drifting American foreign policy:
...Last Thursday, at a private lunch of G-8 foreign ministers in Moscow, an audio link to the media was left on, allowing reporters to listen in on a running series of arguments (or as the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler put it, "several long and testy exchanges") between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over a collective document no one would remember thenceforth.

The whole event was a grim, if minor, comedy of the absurd. According to the Post account, "Reporters traveling with Rice transcribed the tape of the private luncheon but did not tell Rice aides about it until after a senior State Department official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity as usual, assured them that ‘there was absolutely no friction whatsoever' between the two senior diplomats." (What better reminder do we need that so much anonymous sourcing granted by newspapers turns out to be a mix of unreliable spin and outright lies readers would be better off without?) In, as Kessler wrote, "a time of rising tension in U.S.-Russian relations," the recording even caught "the clinking of ice in glasses and the scratch of cutlery on plates," not to speak of the intense irritation of both parties.

"Sometimes the tone smacked of the playground" is the way a British report summed the encounter up, but decide for yourself. Here's a sample of what "lunch" sounded like -- the context of the discussion was Iraq (especially outrage over the kidnapping and murder of four employees of the Russian embassy in Baghdad):

"Rice said she worried [Lavrov] was suggesting greater international involvement in Iraq's affairs.

"'I did not suggest this,' Lavrov said. ‘What I did say was not involvement in the political process but the involvement of the international community in support of the political process.'

"'What does that mean?' Rice asked.

"There was a long pause. ‘I think you understand,' he said.

"'No, I don't,' Rice said.

"Lavrov tried to explain, but Rice said she was disappointed. ‘I just want to register that I think it's a pity that we can't endorse something that's been endorsed by the Iraqis and the U.N.,' she said, adding tartly: ‘But if that's how Russia sees it, that's fine.'"

Behind Rice's irritation certainly lay a bad few Russia weeks for the administration. Not only had the Russians been flexing their energy muscles of late, consorting with the Chinese and various of the Soviet Union's former Soviet Socialist Republics in Central Asia, which the Bush administration covets for their energy resources; but, as the ministers were meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin -- you remember, another one of those world leaders George Bush "looked in the eyes" and found to be "trustworthy" (but that was so long ago) -- made it frustratingly clear that he would not back U.S. moves against neighboring Iran and its putative nuclear program at the UN....
With time, it becomes increasingly obvious that Condi Rice is a second-tier official wearing the clothing of a secretary of state. Having Bush's ear is not enough. And having a Cold War philosophy from twenty years ago that has not evolved over time is not in our nation's interest. She's out of her element.

Englehardt's post is long but well worth reading. I've been pushing the theme for some time now that our foreign policy is not only broken but that we're weaker now than we were five years ago; under Bush, we have lost credibility when it comes to our word (and ability to assess things accurately), and our credibility in terms of getting things done. The only credibility we have left is that we're dangerous and that perception only undermines our foreign policy even further, particularly when we have an administration that favors gambling on the hope that the next policy move will reverse its dwindling fortunes.

There's a few things I disagree with in Englehardt's post. For example, I disagree with the notion that no one anticipated the end of the Soviet Union; I recall a story in the late 1970s that there was a CIA report that the Soviet Union might disintegrate as early as the end of the 1980s because of growing economic and ethnic problems. That story turned out to be reasonably accurate. I suspect the Soviet Union's war in Afghanistan was an attempt to reassert its position in the world; the war simply accelerated the disintegration. Of course, it's not uncommon for American politicians, as we now know, to ignore analysts and trust their own 'instincts' and rewrite a bit of history as I believe happened during the Reagan years.

While I believe Englehardt is right about an administration that was big on 'destabilisation,' I'm not convinced that the Bush Administration was in control of its policy as much as Englehardt suggests but that may just be a matter of emphasis on Englehardt's part. He certainly gets the gambling part of the administration's policy right. Much of Bush's foreign policy has been ad hoc reactions to events, with a strong element of going for broke. Bush is still in that mode and we may still see a war in Iran in the next fourteen months.

Link to Tom Englehardt's essay and save it. There's going to be more on this in coming years as many books begin to analyze Bush's foreign policy disasters.

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