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December 04, 2006

The People Have Spoken, Again
Posted by David Shorr

If you wanted to minimize the significance of the elections, you might insist voters were merely venting their "frustration over Iraq." It's essentially a very narrow critique on the basis of competence: people can't quite understand why, but they know things are going badly over there, and they aren't happy about it.

But in fact, the American people not only have well formed views about the Iraq war, they see the fundamental flaws in the overall policy, with striking clarity. All you have to do is ask them. Which is what the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) did recently in conjunction with the upcoming Stanley Foundation Conference on National and Global Security, hosted by my colleagues and me this Thursday at the Reagan Building. The survey was conducted in late November, and the results will be available at PIPA's World Public Opinion web site later in the week. I can't share the precise findings, but I can give a general outline.

These are issues that our specialist colleagues have started to explore, can't avoid really -- John Ikenberry's recent America Abroad post, "Bush Foreign Policy: How Deep is the Failure" (and the associated Martin Wolf FT piece) being excellent examples. The public's own insights are also quite profound.

The events of recent years have confronted us with some basic questions. How can the United States best use its economic and military strength and political influence to accomplish our aims in the world? With our new sense of vulnerability to terrorists, should thwarting terror attacks be our all-consuming mission? With plummeting international support and approval of the US since the Iraq invasion, should we be concerned about America's image abroad?

If last month's election outcome was merely about competence and the lack of success in Iraq, then the public still supports the overall approach of which the Iraqi invasion was an element. Indeed, Senator Cornyn (R-TX) made just this point in a post-election op-ed in The East Texas Review:

Most Americans realize that Iraq is part of a larger war against Islamic terrorism, what some have called the major struggle of the 21st Century. They realize the conflict will be long, and costly, but they know it is a battle that must be joined to ensure the safety and security of our country.

Senator Cornyn, meet "most Americans." As I say, the specific poll results are embargoed until Thursday afternoon when PIPA Executive Director Steven Kull unveils them at the Stanley Foundation conference, but I can tell you they don't support the Senator's contention. Actually, a sizable majority of Americans wants to keep terrorism from overshadowing other problems, and a distinct minority considers it the defining challenge of the era.

Most Americans also view it as provocative and counterproductive to seek regime change in countries that pose a potential threat. Most Americans think it's bad for our security if leaders of other countries view us as militarily aggressive. (We asked this three different ways.) Conversely, most Americans think international goodwill is important and that our strength does not insulate us from insecurity in other parts of the world.

I have to say, I'm proud of our fellow Americans. They show a lot of self-awareness about the dilemmas of a superpower (what John Ikenberry calls The Security Trap). What a contrast with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's leaked memo. Of the many blind spots in the memo, my favorite is the "old saying" that "if you want more of something, reward it; if you want less of something, penalize it." Haven't the last few years shown that we can't use behavior modification on the rest of the world as if they're our children?

If you want to hear and talk more about these issues, come to the Reagan Building Thursday. See you there.


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Agreed. Our foreign policy efforts need to be reoriented away from an abstract war on Islamic terror, with a shift towards poverty reduction. According to the Borgen Project, the US has the political clout to reduce global poverty and hunger through the achievment of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently said, in effect, that the Global War on Terror is a bunch of hooey. He said that terrorism is a police problem.

"People talk about, 'Are you winning?' First, you have to define: What is winning? And I don't mean to be glib about that. Winning in this war on terrorism is having security in the countries we're trying to help that allows for those governments to function and for their people to function.

"Example. Washington, D.C., has crime, but it has a police force that is able to keep that crime below a level at which the normal citizens can go about their daily jobs and the government can function. That's what you're looking for on the war on terrorism, whether it be Iraq, Afghanistan, or anyplace else."

Link URL ending: TranscriptID=3765

The analogy to Washington, DC, is an interesting one for someone who used to live there.

A big reason people are able to go about their normal lives and government -- the federal government anyway -- is able to function in Washington is most of the people and nearly all of the government aren't located in the areas like Anacostia that have the highest incidence of violent crime. In other words, they aren't insulated from crime just by the DC police, but also by physical distance.

That might be a lesson for American foreign policy. Distance can be a valuable asset. It has often allowed the United States to avoid entanglement in foreign controversies during the last two-plus centuries, and though it is not as valuable in this respect as it once was we'd be foolish to dismiss it completely.

Unfortunately the emphasis of the Bush administration, and of most of its liberal critics as well, on reordering the domestic politics of Middle Eastern countries amounts to doing precisely that. Their implicit, and occasionally explicit, assumption has been that the Middle East is absolutely the most important region on earth as far as American foreign policy is concerned -- and this assumption is absurd.

Is the Arab Middle East more important to the United States than East Asia? South Asia? Europe or Latin America? You could make a case that it is more important than sub-Saharan Africa, only because a geological accident has put such large oil reserves in the Middle East. But that's about it.

Terrorism in the Arab countries and those immediately to their east will not disappear if the United States restores some measure of proportion to its foreign policy. The lesson of the Anfal and of Darfur is that it will be redirected. I'm not arguing for indifference to that. I'm arguing instead for a policy of damage control with respect to what in the context of world politics is a blighted, high-crime neighborhood, a neighborhood that has one thing -- oil -- that we need, and little else we have any reason to value.

Yes, our intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq were planned long before 9/11 and were driven by oil. Why are we so ostensibly fascinated by democracy in Iraq (we're really not) while we try to get favored nation trading status with communist Vietnam, which defeated us? Oil.

We should concentrate on defending the United States and leave other countries alone, as they do with us.

Let's not lose sight of what General Pace said--terrorism is a police problem, not a military one. So a pox on those who seek a military solution.

Now about those Millenium Goals . . . just kidding.

A positive change is that a majority of people have realized that there are bigger threats looming ahead that a war can’t combat.
Threats like AIDS and other diseases, threats like environmental instability and poverty.
We must all come together to make the world peaceful and a better place.
Let’s work towards the Millennium Development Goals and support peace and NOT WAR!!!!

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