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October 30, 2005

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.

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Comments

Those are all worthy causes.

What actions should we as private citizens do now, for the time in January 2009 that the US government might actually be ready to begin preparing to do something about them?

Suzanne:

I'm going to take these in the order you did. You make good points, but seem to miss the details that make everything more difficult than anybody likes to admit in the rhetoric.

1. The MEPP - The ball is in the Palestinians' court now. I doubt that anybody in Israel has the political capital to do any further followup on Gaza for now. Meanwhile, Abbas has done little to nothing to actually take control of Gaza, or deal with the various armed factions like Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

No outsider can really force Abbas into it, not even the White House.

2. Doha - Uh, the French are scuttling this one. The Senate Ag Committee may have been less than helpful (do you really expect anything else from em?), but if the French keep restricting Mandelson from putting forth an offer that at least matches the US, Doha is going to fail. C'mon, be fair, and give the Admin some credit here. The Europeans have yet to really make a decent response to Portman's last offer.

3. I have to agree. My impulse to be kind leads me to ponder whether *anybody*, given the fact that Congress is supremely unlikely to let policy change in response to foreign concerns (which makes sense from a face-saving perspective, even if it is boneheaded), could actually do the job well. (She is doing it horribly, laughably horribly, I agree. But could anybody do that job with any degree of success? I don't think so.)

4. You can't blame Bush here, as you seem to be aiming for in this post (maybe I'm misreading and you're being bipartisan, though). Well, you can, and I do, but not entirely. It's a very bipartisan screwup. Let's face it: Since Tienamen Square (I know I misspelled that...how do you spell it, anyway?), America hasn't had a coherent China policy....from either party. Not a good policy, or a bad policy...Not a policy that makes any sense at all.

5. This is sad. Russia has been basically one huge screwup of American policy since the USSR collapsed. I dunno what to say here. You have my total agreement.

6. US-Mexican relations, so long as America has a schizophrenic thought process re immigration and so long as illegal immigration remains the massive problem it is for the border states, will probably never be all that great. There's also a Mexican, well...inferiority complex that will never fail to make things difficult.

US-Canadian relations....Wow, everybody's screwed that up. In the US, the Admin hasn't slapped down the states, the interest groups like the cattlemen, etc., and said "Foreign policy's OUR job, go away!".

In Canada, the Grits haven't been much better; They gave into a lot of dumber anti-American impulses during the last few elections, and the prospect of the government falling once the Gomery Report hits means that they're not likely to stop doing that soon; Anti-American rants win votes, sadly.

Now, re Chavez...We've had a policy? News to me.

7. Meanwhile, everybody else has been fleeing from Kyoto like rats from a sinking ship, lately.

Which doesn't really excuse us, just that misery loves company.

I'm not entirely sure how much the Admin could do here, given that Kyoto got rejected 97-3 or something. Whether one could possibly negotiate a treaty that: A. Means anything; B. Includes China, India, and other developing countries; C. Can get 67 votes in the Senate, is a very open question.

8. OK, I can ring off all the reasons why the US should get involved in the Balkans. And I agree, we should.

But where is the EU on this? Isn't this their backyard?

We should be involved, I agree...But the Europeans should be the ones carrying the load.

9. Agreed. We're not ready yet.

Nobody, anywhere on the planet, is ready yet, and I don't think anybody will be able to be ready for another 6-12 months.

Which scares me.

10. Two words: Donor fatigue. Pakistan got supremely unlucky in terms of timing, coming after the Gulf Coast got flattened. And, necessarily, until that situation is fixed, nobody is going to really have any appetite for putting US resources towards relief in Pakistan, I think.

It'll be Bush's lapse if it keeps going like it is, yes. But it will also be the lapse of everyone else on the planet.

You may not be intending this, Suzanne, but you seemed to suggest here that the Pakistani relief is of necessity merely a US problem, without much note of the lacking contributions from, say, the rest of the planet.

That makes me uncomfortable, firstly because I'm not sure we have much more we can give in this case, secondly because I'm not sure we *want* to give too much, lest we wind up taking the dignity of self-reliance away from the victims (I know, it hardly matters in this case. But it nags my conscience. Residual disabled-rights activism, I guess.), and finally...Because I'm not sure we should do much on our own here. We can't afford to create the expectation that whenever a disaster comes, wherever and no matter how much we're hurting, the US will send in massive responses, that even if nobody else cares, the US will make everything better.

It's not a realistic expectation to create; It's making promises we could never possibly keep in every case...And I'm not sure we want to play Atlas, carrying the world on our shoulders...At least, not by our lonesome.

If we respond to a disaster like this, we should have a reasonable expectation, at least, that Europe and our other allies will at least try to match our contributions....And hold them to actually doing so.

John, I think you're missing the point on Pakistan aid.

Aside from avoiding a grievous PR failure for Muslim hearts and minds globally, we need to keep Musharraf strong. It's not hard to see this event undermining the Musharraf gov't much more than Katrina did Bush's. That would be very bad for us.

When you put it that way, Owen, I agree. It just didn't sound like Suzanne was doing that. Then again, I was reading and responding between classes, never a smart idea.

Genocide, including widespread raping of women and girls, continues daily in Darfur. The world needs to ACT NOW, and this has certainly been ignored lately in the news. If the UN won't act, the US should send in 20,000 paratroopers, as Wesley Clark urged Tuesday 11/1, and the genocide would stop immediately. The perpetrators would definitely not fight against US troops. If an African combat force was prepared and transported by the US, that would be an alternative to US troops. But that takes a couple of years.

Darfur -

I wonder how long it would take Al Queda to turn a US troop deployment to Darfur into another Somalia. Days, weeks at the most, I'd wager.

Could we call it Clark's war?

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