Saturday, August 16, 2008

South Ossetia- When Foreign Policy Fails

(Aside: Donald Rayfield wrote a good piece (HT: Sean's Russia Blog) about how the stories of Abkhazia and S. Ossetia have been completely lost/ignored in this battle, as is the wider context of the people groups of the Caucasus. If you're interested in reading about the many ancient peoples of the land, I recommend The Highlanders by Yo'av Karny.)

We need to ask ourselves: are we (the U.S.) in better shape now in terms of foreign policy than we were 4 or 8 years ago?

It's a worthwhile question since one of John McCain's chief foreign policy advisors is a famous neocon, architect of the Iraq war, paid lobbyist for Georgia, and an outspoken Russophobe. Much of the blame for the S. Ossetian conflict is being laid at the feet of the Neoconservatives--Bush and company.

I think that's giving them too much credit. But, here are some distinct foreign policy failures that come to mind under the Bush administration:

1. The war in Afghanistan. I've harped on this again and again. We have given over $10 billion to (the now embattled) Musharraf and Pakistan to fight terrorists. They've done little, their intelligence services have cast their lot with the Islamists, Bin Laden & Co. are living happily and growing strong, and all Pakistan has done is beef up their military to keep up with India and tried to assassinate Afghanistan's president. We simply swat at Taliban flies with our troops in Afghanistan, a prospect that appears to be growing more bleak every day.
What's more is that Hamid Karzai is on the take with druglords. Thomas Friedman reports that most Afghans are feeling like the Iraqis-- that Americans should just leave.
What's the strategy here? PLEASE, someone tell me (I've been asking that for 2 years now).

(Note: Richard Clarke and others have blamed the Bush team for not paying enough attention to Al Qaeda, and therefore bearing responsibility for 9/11. You make the call.)

2. Continued dependence on oil. President Bush made a good speech about how Americans were "addicted to oil." But being a good oil man and enabler, he didn't mind begging the Saudis for more. He (and Congress) didn't mind trying to find ways to bypass Russia rather than passing more tax credits to develop alternative fuels. Now, the #1 way to avoid Russia--through the Caucasus-- is essentially "in play." Instead, we're mainly concerned with drilling for more here and subsidizing corn ethanol--both of which are stupid in the long run.
In fairness, Europe is no better in its energy policies--save for a much higher gasoline tax. For example, Germany gets over 60% of its natural gas from Russia, and that's not changing anytime soon. That's why the Germans have been so quiet this week.

3. Containing Iran. We've done a great job emboldening Ahmadinejad instead of emboldening pro-democracy students in Iran. If we assist Israel in their planned attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities (probably after November elections) then we can reassess the magnitude of this point.

4. Darfur, The Sudan. What exactly have we led on here? Oh, Bush was of the firsts to call it a genocide. But, something about us being busy with a couple other wars...

5. The Doha Round. World trade talks collapsed last month (finally... or anticlimactically). Bush and the U.S. didn't do a very good job leading. Part of that was Democrat-led backlash that led to a narrow vote on CAFTA. Part of it was Bush's hypocrisy in policies such as installing steel quotas in a Congressional election year in '02 to help endangered Republicans.

6. Iraq. Need we hash on this more? We unilaterally opted for regime change and went about it very messily. In the end we freed a country at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, over 1,000,000 lives, and most of the educated Iraqis fled the country to elsewhere rather than be assassinated. Now other countries (ie: Russia) feel they can unilaterally opt for regime change and we should just shut up.

7. The war in S. Ossetia. By all accounts, the State Department gave--at best-- mixed signals to Saakashvili. We didn't know what was happening until it was too late-- either because our satellites were focused on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, or because Saakashvili didn't tell us, or we were just stupid. The response to the escalation was to have Bush make some remarks from Beijing rather than send an envoy immediately. When an envoy was sent, she went to Tbilisi and avoided Moscow. Now, Bush is boldly botching the aid effort. We've lost the moral imperative due to Iraq and Kosovo and we are toothless because we're tied down elsewhere (and supposedly because we want Russia's help with #3).
Looking back to how it relates to #2, someone wisely pointed out:
"(If the defense of Georgia) is about the oil pipeline, then the best response is to spend 1 billion dollars on alternative energy and doing everything possible to build more oil rigs, because it would go a lot further towards a strategic response that helps Europe than flooding military capabilities into Georgia."

8. Missile Defense. Did you hear that Russia's Deputy Chief-of-Staff threatened to nuke Poland and the U.S. yesterday because we've agreed to the installation of a defensive missile base there? That's pretty bad timing.
I guess we should consider it a "success" since Bush pledged to build the system while running for his first election. We're now building a radar station in Czech Republic that can see all the way to the Urals, which is why Russia is really not happy--even though we've offered to let them share all the base's information. But, is this really making the world safer for democracy? If you build a weapon in the name of peace & defense that makes your enemies MORE likely to attack you (and the rest of the world via NATO), then where's the rationale for building?

9. Middle East Peace. Well, no administration can claim this as a victory. But, Bush's Road Map to Peace didn't work very well. Whatever happened to that, anyway?

Some potential foreign policy successes(?):

1. North Korea comes clean. This was after multilateral talks with other countries, and after the State Department convinced Bush/Cheney to let go of their hard stance. Clinton also did a peace deal with the N. Koreans that they reneged on, so assuming everything holds, Bush can claim a victory on this one.

2. Democratic "revolutions" spreading in Ukraine and Georgia, almost to Kyrgyzstan. Would this have been different if Democrats had been in power? Do we really believe that invading Iraq encouraged these revolutions? Who should get the credit, Bush or George Soros (who hates Bush but has done more to fund democracy-building in those countries than anyone else). My vote is for Soros.

3. Independence for Kosovo? Would that have been different under a Democrat? I doubt it. And it's really hacked Russia off. As I saw an anonymous State Department official quoted last week saying essentially (can't find the article) "If we could go back and say to the Russians 'Okay, Kosovo for Georgia', we'd do it."


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