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Volume 3,  Number 29              August 24 - 30, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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Going It Alone
America's wooden stance: King is only player on board

By Clyde Prestowitz
Chicaho Tribune

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With American casualties in Iraq mounting and weapons of mass destruction remaining elusive, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told Congress recently that he is suspicious of United Nations offers of help because they might entail some constraints on U.S. actions.

About the same time, South Korean students marking the 50th anniversary of the Korean War armistice called America more dangerous than North Korea; production of opium destined for the U.S. heroin market was reported to be soaring in Afghanistan; looting and slaughter continued under Liberia's thuggish dictator as Washington declined a UN request for humanitarian intervention; and African cotton farmers faced growing penury as President Bush failed to reduce subsidies to U.S. growers as they flooded world markets with excess production.

Americans have been wondering why the world has not rallied to our side in the last two years, and our leaders have provided convenient answers. "They hate our freedom" or "they envy our success" or "criticism just goes with the territory of being the top dog," we are told.

Glibness, however, requires gullibility.

Take first the very notion of America battling alone in the face of envy and hatred. The outpouring of sympathy and support that occurred around the world on Sept. 12, when even the French newspaper Le Monde proclaimed "We Are All Americans" should have put that notion to rest. If it didn't, certainly the number of world leaders, from India to Canada, backing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in his offer of help in Iraq showed a worldwide willingness to help with reconstruction even though most nations had opposed the war.

The real problem here is not so much foreign hostility as America's insistence on going it alone in its own way. Wolfowitz's testimony is the tip-off. The United States would rather be in absolute control than accept any help that might in any way dilute that authority or that might even slightly complicate U.S. operations.

This was evident in the case of Afghanistan long before the Iraq question arose. Immediately after Sept. 11, America's longtime allies in NATO voluntarily invoked the treaty's "an attack on one is an attack on all" clause and literally begged Washington to include their troops in the invasion of Afghanistan, to no avail. It would be easier and faster simply to move alone, the Pentagon said.

The lack of interest in NATO and UN help is the natural result of the adoption by the United States of the radical new doctrine of preventive and pre-emptive war developed by Wolfowitz and a small group of self-styled neo-conservatives after the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991.

Although the United States won the Cold War with a strategy of deterrence and by building alliances and multilateral institutions such as NATO, the UN and the World Trade Organization, the new thinking argued for military superiority such that no other power would even consider a challenge and a unilateral approach based on the view that while friends are nice to have they are really not necessary for the United States to achieve its objectives.

`Coalitions of the willing'

Much discussed and partly adopted during the 1990s, this doctrine of pre-emption and "coalitions of the willing" in place of deterrence and alliances became the foundation of U.S. strategy since Sept. ll. In the world of the 21st Century, it was argued, the threats will be so dire and immediate that we must be prepared to strike first, and perhaps alone, to avoid being struck.

Of course, to be credible as something other than an excuse for permanent war, such a strategy must be based on accurate intelligence about the immediacy and seriousness of the threat.

In the run-up to the recent Iraq war, the Bush administration repeatedly emphasized that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had large numbers of weapons of mass destruction that could be unleashed against the United States at any moment. Other countries harbored doubts, but, claiming superior knowledge as well as virtue, the United States overrode allied requests for further investigation and deterrence and set course for war with a "coalition of the willing."

In the aftermath, we have learned not only that our intelligence was faulty but that, while we can win the military battles by ourselves we really need help with what comes afterward. Yet our doctrine and operating style inhibit us from getting that help.

This problem goes beyond Iraq.

Despite our great power, it is clear that beyond the battlefield there is little that we can accomplish by ourselves in an increasingly globalized world. We can't fight the wars on terror and drugs by ourselves nor can we run the world economy or deal with epidemics such as AIDS and SARS or problems like global warming by ourselves. We need help and friends; yet our inconsistent attitudes and policies are a source of constant disappointment to those who would be our friends--not to mention that they often are destructive to our own society.

Take the problem of soaring opium production in Afghanistan. As part of the effort to knock out Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, the United States overthrew Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and promised a new era for women, democracy, economic development, and security.

Washington's Afghan failure

In fact, however, Washington has put little effort into providing either development or security and has undermined any hope of democracy by acquiescing control of large parts of the country by its traditional warlords upon whose help the Pentagon relied to defeat the Taliban. Now the warlords are getting rich by promoting opium production with the tacit connivance of the same U.S. government that says it is fighting a war on drugs. Meanwhile, faith in America and its promises of development and democracy is much diminished throughout the region, and the Taliban appear to be making a comeback.

The situation in Korea is another case in point. For Americans who grew up thinking they had "saved" South Korea from the communists, the newly widespread anti-Americanism of Korean young people has come as a shocking betrayal.

What the U.S. public doesn't understand is that while America may have prevented a communist takeover of South Korea, Washington installed not a democracy but a sometimes brutal dictatorship that was backed by a series of U.S. administrations before the Koreans achieved democracy in the 1990s through their own efforts. Indeed, in some cases, U.S. commanders released Korean troops from their command to participate in quelling pro-democracy student uprisings.

More recently, U.S. hard-line policies toward the North are seen not only as having stimulated the North's development of nuclear weapons but also as having been adopted without consultation with the South and in opposition to the South's "sunshine policy" of trying to soften up the northern regime through trade, investment, family visits and tourism. In short, young South Koreans believe America's interest has never been in Korea itself, but only in how Korea fit into America's geopolitical interests.

The case of Liberia again points up the inconsistencies in U.S. policies that give rise to foreign cynicism and alienation from America. Long ruled by a dictator who regularly did business with Al Qaeda and Hezbollah militants and who set up roadblocks made of human intestines from disemboweled victims left by the roadside, it has become the object of a UN effort to stop the slaughter of a raging civil war. In the absence of weapons of mass destruction, the United States has been justifying its invasio of Iraq on the basis of having gotten rid of a brutal, inhumane dictator.

Yet, in Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves and whose capital Monrovia is named after James Monroe, the United States has stoutly deflected the pleas from the UN to intervene on humanitarian grounds. Cynics ask why the United States will intervene on humanitarian grounds in one place and not the other. They answer with one word: oil.

But perhaps the most troubling example of American inconsistency is international trade. During his recent trip to Africa, Bush talked about helping fight AIDS and promoting investment and economic development.

Common error in Africa

But like all of his Republican and Democratic predecessors, he failed even to suggest the one thing that would make all the difference. Despite all of America's rhetoric about the glories of free trade and all its pressure on countries like China and Japan to open up their markets, American leaders never suggest cutting subsidies for U.S. farmers. Consider that, in West Africa, farmers using oxen and hand ploughs can produce a pound of cotton for 23 cents while in the Mississippi Delta it costs growers using air conditioned tractors and satellite-guided fertilizer systems 80 cents a pound. Logically, the U.S. farmers ought to be switching to soybeans or something else they can grow more competitively. Instead, they are expanding their planting and taking sales away from the African growers in export markets. How can they do this? Via subsidies to the tune of $5 billion. Not surprisingly, Muslim West Africa does not see America as a friend and force for good and is increasingly listening to the mullahs who call America the "Great Satan."

Thus does America checkmate itself by eschewing offers of help and insisting on total control while alienating those who would be friends by talking the talk but not walking the walk. It should be clear by now that the doctrine of pre-emptive war and coalitions of the willing can no longer be maintained. The failure to find those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq means that future U.S. warnings of imminent threats will be met with disbelief by the rest of the world and the American public.

Moreover, it is clear that the United States is already stretched to the limit by the effort in Iraq and could not contemplate any significant additional interventions without real help from the international community. But others will not proffer this help without getting some say in the policy-making process.

Thus, the way forward is to return to the multilateralism that won the Cold War and to work on correcting our inconsistencies rather than telling ourselves it doesn't matter what the rest of the world thinks of us. In fact, it makes all the difference because in the shrunken world of the 21st Century we won't be able to achieve our objectives without friends.

Clyde Prestowitz is president of the Economic Strategy Institute and author of "Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions."

August 17, 2003


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