While Washington Slept
Posted by Suzanne Nossel
I could not bring myself to weigh in this week either on Plamegate or on the latest "plans" for Iraq. Yet writing about virtually anything else seems to sidestep what's uppermost on all of our minds. But as important as the areas in which the Administration has botched US policy, are the ancillary effects of its missteps on neglected and overlooked issues. We all know that domestic preparedness has been buried under the bureaucratic avalanche of the Department of Homeland Security, and that our military is dangerously overstretched. But a host of other issues crawl across our minds - flickering in and out as we absorb ourselves in more immediate problems like Plamegate and Iraq. But if we don't start paying attention soon, they'll catch up with us. Here are 10 of them.
Middle East Peace Process – The Bush Administration's failure to engage deeply and consistently in the Mideast peace process has left the most contentious conflict in the Middle East in a dangerous limbo. Ariel Sharon's historic decision to pull out of Gaza left a host of questions unanswered, and the Administration has done little to try to ensure that the Gaza withdrawal be followed by further steps to implement the road map. Bush's own wise decision to reject Arafat's leadership, followed by Arafat's death, could have allowed this Administration to make history a very different kind of history in the Middle East.
Doha Round- The Doha Round of trade talks, aimed at reducing the agricultural subsidies that result in cows in France enjoying higher per capita income that millions of people in Africa, are in danger of collapse. The worst culprits are the French, who refuse to support even modest EU proposals to trim welfare for farmers. But while USTR Rob Portman has made important conditional commitments to reduce US subsidies, the Senate Ag Committee has voted to extend benefits for rice, cotton and other agribusinesses til 2011. The demise of Doha will perpetuate global poverty, (fairly or not) deepen resentment toward the US, and set back economic growth at home and abroad. The Administration should redouble its efforts to prevent that from happening.
Galloping Anti-Americanism – Karen Hughes' ear-muffed listening tours of the Middle East and Indonesia make great comic relief, but do nothing to allay the march of anti-Americanism. While I objected to Hughes' 8-month long voluntary hiatus before taking office, now that she's on the job Hughes' tone-deafness may well be making things worse. Apart from the serious political consequences of anti-US attitudes, businesses are increasingly worried that the friction may hurt the bottom line. Despite years of Administration talk on the need to win hearts and minds, we aren't.
China's Growing Political Influence - China's economic and diplomatic influence in Southeast Asia, Africa and elsewhere has grown tremendously since Bush took office. Whether or not we consider China a likely military threat, for a country that shares so few of our political values to enjoy a level of global influence that rivals our own will complicate our foreign policy for decades to come. We could have a long debate about the best strategy to deal with this, but looking the other way while our own sway wanes is not it.
Russia - As James Goldgeier and Michael McFaul point out in a new piece in Policy Review, Russia has made no meaningful contribution to any of the Bush Administration's three chief policy objectives: fighting terror, controlling the spread of nukes, and promoting liberty. In many respects, the US-Russian relationship seems to be slipping backward into Cold War era antagonisms. Despite Condi Rice's expertise in the region, Russia has not been a focus for this Administration, and it shows.
Shoring Up American Influence in Our Own Backyard - US ties to Mexico are strained, and perceptions of the US in Canada are worse than at any point in the last 25 years, with the latest tension over what the Canadians are dubbing flagrant US violations of NAFTA. The upcoming Summit of the Americas is expected to be an anti-Bush fest and a planned POTUS visit to Brazil afterward is already attracting protests. Meanwhile outspoken anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is consolidating his influence.
Global Warming - Remember when the Administration's repudiation of the Kyoto Protocol on emissions and its failure to propose alternatives ranked among Bush's chief foreign policy failings? Well, that day may come again. Since then the Administration has continued to deny the link between greenhouse gasses and global warming, impeding efforts to control pollution and prevent climate change. The result has left countries like India and China free to continue polluting without the pressure of emerging global standards.
The Balkans - The US military intervention in Kosovo in 1999 seems to get mentioned these days only as a reminder that Democrats are unafraid to use force. There's little talk about the fact that Kosovo's political future remains unresolved (though Charlie Kupchan has a great recent Foreign Affairs article on the subject), and that peace in the territory is contingent on continued international presence. More than 10 years after the Dayton Accord Bosnia is likewise heavily dependent on an international administration to avoid political disintegration. Eventually the US will have to reengage to help these territories shift toward permanent status.
Bird Flu - The Administration has finally gotten off the dime in response to the threat of bird flu, now that new cases of the disease seem to be surfacing daily. Bush will give a major speech on the topic this week at the NIH. But make no mistake, in terms of real preparations for an outbreak, we are near nowhere.
Pakistani Attitudes Toward the US - I wrote about this last week, but the reports now are that the second wave of post-earthquake deaths from disease and exposure are already beginning. UN agencies will have to scale back their aid this week unless more donor money flows fast. If tens of thousands of Pakistanis die this winter because not enough help reached them, Pakistan's number one international "partner" - the US - is the most likely target for blame. If that happens, the failure to deal more adequately with Pakistan's October 8 earthquake could go down as one of the greatest lapses of Bush's fight against terror.