It comes as a shock for those of us who believed the U.S. for decades has suffered mightily from the hubris and otherworldliness of the U.S. professional diplomatic corps to see what is happening now. The Obama Administration, in a fury to change what it perceives to be, particularly, the style and substance of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy, is well on its way to creating virtual chaos in American policy. It makes the restraint and naiveté of the old “cookie pushers” Foreign Service Officers of the State Department look good in comparison.
Washington throws diplomats, politicians, backstairs advisers, past presidents of the U.S., senators and congressmen, and whoever, into a scattershot effort to negotiate for negotiations’ sake. The mantra that the U.S. must talk to all our opponents [not that for the most part dialogues have not been carried on through myriad channels for years, often decades] is leading to virtual bureaucratic chaos.The just completed White House orchestrated mission of Sen. James Webb to Burma [Myanmar for those willing to accept instruction from a bunch of hoods] is a perfect example.
Webb, who has made a fetish [with his wife] of cozzying up to authoritarian regimes in Southeast Asia — not the least that Communist kleptocracy in Hanoi — has been campaigning for lifting the economic sanctions set in place by the Clinton Administration. He has argued, not without some credence, that the sanctions have not crippled the regime in Burma, and they may have punished the Burmese people by further injuring what is a bankrupt economy. He does not, however, publicly acknowledge that the exclusion of the former American UNOCAL oil company, now part of Chevron, one of the principal foreign exchange earners of the regime, has made the sanctions a farce.
But more importantly, as the Obama Administration does with so many foreign policy issues, Webb confuses cause and effect. That Than Swe, the current capo of the regime, spent millions of dollars on a secret wedding party for his daughter but refused international aid for hundreds of thousands of victims of last year’s cyclone for fear of “foreign influence’ illustrates the character of the Burmese military. The landslide victory of the political movement of Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of father of Burmese independence, in 1990 has still not been acknowledged. Instead, ASSK has been under house arrest most of the time prohibited from political activity. It is a regime which has brutally suppressed peaceful demonstrations by its Buddhist monks and students, that “disappears” thousands of political prisoners in jails that would make Nazi and Soviet concentration camps look good.
That Webb would make a formal visit — ostensibly to get the release of a demented American who played a minor role in recent incidents, something that was in the cards in any case — is the kind of staged fiction that the Obama Administration revels in but which will be quickly forgotten in the power plays that guide international relations.
There is absolutely no evidence that opening the taps for American aid and commerce with the present regime in Burma would do more than fill the pockets of the monsters who now govern the country. Nor, as Webb has advertised publicly is his prosposed strategy, would it wean them away from their close association with the Chinese who have, even as allies, put pressure on their northern border. It might, however, line the pockets of a few foreigners, too, including Americans, willing to do business with any enemy of a country’s own people and of U.S. policy for peace, stability and economic progress in the region. It would also feed the coffers of the increasingly threatening Chinese ability to dump its subsidized exports in Southeast Asian markets struggling to industrialize.
Furthermore, it has all been tried before. The admission of Burma to ASEAN, the Association of South East Asian Nations, in 1997 — in no small part because the corrupt Thai police establishment allegedly wanted to consolidate their gas deal with foreign operators — in contravention to American policy was supposed to seduce the Burmese generals into moderating the regime. It has, of course, done just the opposite: opened channels of commerce [especially with Singapore, always willing to exploit the corrupt circle which surrounds it in the region], bolstering a regime which through ignorance as much as willfulness knows nothing about economics or economic development. Only such a regime could bring near starvation to its 60 million people which under British colonial rule before World War II was by far the world’s largest exporter of rice [and long before the green revolution revolutionized agricultural productivity, even in Asia]. The regime continues a civil war which has seen the worst sort of war crimes — including military-organized rape — against the country’s various ethnic minorities and pushed millions of Burmese over the border into Thailand or on to fragile small boats seeking refugee in Southeast Asia and Australia in the past five decades.
What the amateurs directing Obama foreign policy establishment just don’t seem to get is that whether it is Burma, North Korea, Sudan, Honduras, Iran — or for that matter, Vietnam — retrograde regimes are surviving by the skin of their teeth. Their inability to produce a better life for their people, their suppression of dissent, their often vicious cruelty, has them constantly flirting with instability and vulnerable to violent collapse.
But if — as is happening now — American policy is to coddle these leaders, treating them as though they were “normal” members of the family of nations and extend benefits, however small, American policy immediately plays a nefarious role in their internal politics. It bolsters the regime against its internal enemies and is a collaborator in their crimes against their own people. These are not air-fairy arguments for human rights fanatics but the essence of furthering instability in inherently volatile areas of the world, which in the 21st century with globalized communications and transportation risk spreading everything from terrorism to pandemics.
It would be laughable were it not so tragic that New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is as this is written entertaining representatives of the monstrous North Korean regime. Richardson, who could not take a cabinet post in the Obama Administration because he was dogged with charges of criminal use of political funds, was one of the architects of the Clinton Administration’s appeasement of Pyongyang which led for two decades to its successful continuing pursuit of nuclear weapons and its proliferation of missiles and perhaps nuclear technology to pariah states around the world. It is difficult to get into the head of either Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or National Security Adviser Gen. James Jones — or perhaps the President himself. But it takes powerful imagination to conjure up what Richardson, a notorious naïf at both the United Nations and in Washington, could possibly achieve with this little tete-a-tete. His own words are revealing:
“We had productive talks,” Richardson said. “I got a sense that temperatures have really cooled down since President Clinton’s visit.
“The delegation indicated that North Korea is ready for a new dialogue with the United States regarding the nuclear issue,” he said in a statement issued half-way through two days of talks in New Mexico.
“The question is whether to proceed with face-to-face bilateral talks, as the North Koreans prefer, or to utilize the six-party framework that the United States has advocated. The North Koreans clearly want bilateral talks and not the six-party framework.”
Wherever you look, it is very hard to discern who — if anyone — is in charge of each of the long list of foreign policy issues which perforce are on the Administration’s agenda.
A former U.S. Air Force general with no experience in diplomacy or the region is given the assignment to find “a comprehensive” solution to the problems of Sudan. [These are not minor: Darfur where George W. Bush said genocide was being committed against a 2.5 million people, a regime in Khartoum which aids and abets international Islamic terrorists, and the soon to emerge, the problem of South Sudan which wants to secede]. He reports to the White House, outside the line of command of Clinton in Foggy Bottom. He carries on an open public feud with the UN ambassador [and member of the cabinet] who has taken a longtime particular interest in Sudan, and defines the problem in a totally different way.
The issue of Iran and its effort to produce nuclear weapons is, apparently, in the hands of a half dozen different offices; no wonder the media reports internal squabbling over what that strategy and policy ought to be and a different strategy every week. In Baghdad, the totally failed negotiator with North Korea now installed as the U.S. ambassador, orders the U.S. military to release members of the notorious Iranian Al Cuds, state terrorists who had with diplomatic immunity, been directing IUD device attacks on American soldiers. A State Department official charged with the nuclear proliferation issue speechifies in a manner to suggest that an Iranian bomb would be acceptable if everyone — including the Israelis [fat chance!] — in the region would simply place themselves under the non-proliferation treaty and submit to the inspections of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna. That’s the outfit that looked “on the wrong floor” before the Israelis located and knocked out Saddam’s bomb effort in 1981. It is also the inspection agency that did not know that Tehran had been lying for 15 years about enriching uranium [until émigré Persians told Washington]. But the President and other Administration spokesmen have said that Washington would not tolerate an Iranian bomb. Clinton’s Iran specialist is transferred to the White House, apparently to take him off the case, then suddenly turns up on a mission to reassure the Persian Gulf Arabs, frightened by the Tehran mullahs, that all is well in Washington.
The overlapping layers of diplomatic and military command in Afghanistan and Pakistan, often seen initiating new and dramatic changes in policy at the same time as they are advertised to be seeking new longer term strategies, increases by the day. For all Obama’s criticism of the war in Iraq — and his scheduled withdrawal which may be playing into the still active terrorists’ hands — the Administration’s headlong plunge into the Afghanistan conflict without a strategy may result of heavy American casualties. Already polls are showing the American public is skeptical of the possibility of winning a war there. And old nostrums about “winning hearts and minds” is not going to solve problems if detailed, nuanced, knowledgeable and measured responses to a complicated scene are not taken.
The U.S. national interest abroad is a complicated affair. Previous administrations obviously have often shown ambivalence and contradictions in making policy. But Obama’s attempt to reach instant millennial solutions to highly complicated problems overseas — an approach which is being rapidly shown in defeats of domestic problems at home — is leading to chaos and further deterioration of American interest in international peace and stability.