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Commentary

America Needs a Foreign Policy sans Manichaeism


     
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In early 2001, as President George W. Bush and his aides were assembling their foreign policy team and drawing the outlines of a global strategy, an Israeli diplomat was dispatched to Washington to meet with one of the top officials in the Pentagon and get a sense of how the new U.S. administration would be approaching the Middle East. According to the now retired Israeli foreign ministry official, the U.S. Defense Department aide explained that Washington’s policy would “not be very complicated.” On one side would be the “good guys,” including Israel, Turkey, and India. On the other side were the “baddies,” led by Saddam’s Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Since the Israeli diplomat had many contacts among members of the Turkish political establishment, the Pentagon aide proposed that he travel to Ankara to try selling the new American “strategy.”

“The Turks were quite astonished to learn that the Americans were expecting them to join a strategic alliance with India,” recalled the former Israeli diplomat during a recent off-the-record conversation. “Don’t the Americans know that we’ve always had close diplomatic and military ties with India’s traditional rival, Pakistan?” said one Turkish official. Turkish officials certainly were interested in continuing to cooperate with Israel as well with India on a variety of policy issues. But they rejected the Bush administration’s Manichean worldview in which they were part of an U.S.-led coalition confronting what would later be known as the Axis of Evil.

The fact that such a conceptual framework explaining U.S. global strategy was evolving before the terrorist attack of 9/11 suggests that the disastrous foreign policy approach of the Bush Administration reflects basic, flawed, intellectual assumptions. The dualistic foreign policy doctrine of the Cold War during which the “good guys,” led by Washington, confronted the “Evil Empire” was recreated in the form of a new struggle between forces of “light” and those representing the “dark” universe.

Indeed, if the Indians, Turks, and the Israelis were expected to play on “our team” in the broader Middle East, Japan, South Korea, the ASEAN and Taiwan were supposed to assume in East Asia that same role in “containing” rising (and “baddie”) China, while Poland, Ukraine, and Georgia as well as the traditional allies in western Europe were designated as part of a pro-American coalition that would stand up to resurgent (and “dark”) Russia.

But like all dogmas, the foreign policy doctrine concocted by the Bush Administration ended up being overrun by events in the real—as opposed to the make-believe—world. Hence, Washington needed the support of Pakistan, China, and Russia in the war against terrorism, while Turkey and “Old Europe” opposed the American war against Iraq. There were clear political divisions in South Korea and Ukraine over U.S. policies toward their respective neighbors, North Korea and Russia, while no China-is-a-threat consensus has emerged in East Asia. Similarly, reality in the shape of ethnic, religious, and national rivalries has bitten the Bush administration’s attempt to impose a simplistic bipolar ideological construction—proponents of “freedom” vs. the Islamo-Fascists—to explain the divisions in post-Saddam Iraq and the Middle East.

The internal contradictions in the Bush administration’s foreign policy doctrine have been exposed more recently, as Washington expressed its displeasure with the agreement Ankara signed with Tehran, to carry Iranian natural gas via Turkey to Europe. Ironically, one of the aims of the deal with the “evil” Iran is to lessen Europe’s dependence on energy supplies from the “baddie” Russia....

And the U.S. administration seems to be trying to perpetuate the disorder that its doctrine helped create in the Middle East, by convening a “peace conference” to which all the alleged “goodies”—Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Fatah, and the Saudis—have been invited, while the “baddies,” including Syria and Hamas, have been excluded. That Syria, headed by a secular regime which has been persecuting Islamic fundamentalists for several decades, has been depicted as a member of the Islamo-Fascist grouping is bizarre. That the Bush administration, despite concrete signals from Damascus that it wants to negotiate peace with Israel, has been pressing Jerusalem not to open a dialogue with Syria, harms both Israeli and U.S. interests. It demonstrates the triumph of ideological dogma over Realpolitik.

While no one denies that geo-political and geo-economic competition will continue to exist, as great powers compete for influence, and as small and medium players try to maneuver, this is a reflection of competing national interests and does not consist of a direct confrontation between Good and Evil. One hopes that post-Bush foreign policy would recognize that, and would exhibit more realism and less dogma.


Leon T. Hadar specializes in foreign policy, international trade, the Middle East, and South and East Asia.






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