MEMO FROM THE NATIONAL AFFAIRS DESK
George W. Bush
The trouble with foreign policy is, as you may have noticed, foreigners - with all sorts of foreign notions; wearing funny hats and coats; eating snips, snails and puppy-dog tails; jabbering away in ish kabibble talk; and otherwise acting like they aren't from around here. They're a problem. But, then, so are we.
The goal of tax
policy is taxes. The goal of health policy is health. The goal of environmental
policy is clear away scruffy caribou and seals so that America's drillers
for arctic oil don't get trampled or slapped with a flipper. But the goal
of foreign policy is to play the subatomic particle in the quantum physics
of the world, doing whosit and whatchamajigger while being everywhere
at once. American foreign policy is supposed to protect Americans abroad,
provide security for Americans at home, promote world peace, eliminate
global human-rights abuses, improve America's international business opportunities,
expand trade, foster treaties of mutual cooperation and, P.S., stop global
warming, which we were going to do by signing the Kyoto treaty regulating
carbon-dioxide emissions until we suddenly unsigned on the grounds that
the Kyoto treaty was ridiculous and unenforceable and nobody who had signed
it was even trying to meet the emissions requirements, except for the
countries of the former Soviet Union who accidentally quit emitting carbon
dioxide because their economies collapsed.
But if we start
backing out of treaties because the treaties are bogus, that screws fostering
treaties of mutual cooperation, all of which are bogus. And if we do foster
treaties of mutual cooperation, that screws expanding trade because the
thing nations like to mutually cooperate about most is making sure nothing
cheaper and better gets sold in their countries. Which screws improving
America's international business opportunities, because everybody makes
cheaper and better stuff than we do. And America's international business
opportunities screw eliminating global human-rights abuses due to people
around the globe being chained to American gym-shoe-making machines, dying
of gym-shoe lung and getting paid in shoelaces. Meanwhile, eliminating
human-rights abuses screws promoting world peace, since we'd have to go
to places like Chechnya and fight the Russians, who still have a lot of
atomic bombs even if they don't have carbon dioxide anymore. And atomic
bombs screw security at home, never mind protection of Americans abroad
who are screwed already because we screwed up all the treaties of mutual
cooperation when we fucked everyone at Kyoto.
Let's just conquer
the world. Except we pretty much already have. Russia is borscht. China
may be trouble down the road but so far it can't get conquering armies
to Taipei, let alone Topeka. Western Europe looks awesome on paper - they've
got more people and a bigger economy than we have. But Britain, France,
Germany and Italy combined don't spend a third as much on defense as the
U.S. Indeed, U.S. defense spending is equal to those guys plus Russia
plus China plus the next six countries atop the defense-spender list.
Furthermore, we straddle the earth with our imperial outposts - sixty-one
major military bases in nineteen countries and more than 250,000 American
troops deployed overseas.
Not that we meant
to conquer the world. The U.S. Empire Planet No. 3 just sort of followed
us home after World War II. But we did promise to feed it and clean up
after it, and the fact is, we rule.
Everybody has to
go to the bathroom, see the school nurse, or wants to get his dad to come
in for a parent-teacher meeting and punch us in the nose.
You have, of course,
modified U.S. foreign policy. We elected an administration with grown-ups
in it: your dad's friends Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld.
Gone is the harumscarum Clinton policymaking apparatus with the frenzied
bakeheads piling up midnight pizza boxes in the Old Executive Office Building,
the clinically insane confidants - vein-popping James Carville, toe-sucking
Dick Morris, the loose haircuts like George Stephanopoulos and the screaming
bitch on the White House third floor. The tone of America's discourse
to the world has altered. The squeaking and stammering are gone; our voice
has changed. I listened to what you said last March when you faced your
first major foreign-policy crisis: "I was presented with the facts.
I made the decision. It was the right thing to do." Those are three
sentences that Bill Clinton has never spoken in his life. And you were
talking about Russian espionage, not land scams, campaign-contribution
finagles or plump, flaky interns.
foreign-policy stance is "disciplined and consistent," claims
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. "Blunt," says the
Washington Post. "More confrontational, in-your-face,"
opines a maven at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Hey,
quit bitch-slapping our fighter jets with your spy planes!" shout
Russia had doubled
the number of its intelligence agents in the U.S., resumed shipping arms
to Iran, and gone back to trading muzzle licks with fellow curs of oppression
in China, Cuba and North Korea. So you had Chechen rebels over to the
State Department for cookies, threatened to take a mop and a sponge to
Russia's IMF slush fund, and snubbed Putin by putting off a summit meeting
until June and then holding it in fashionable Slovenia.
China is making
hungry, slurping noises about Taiwan, selling bad things to Iraq and has
raised its military spending by almost eighteen percent. And China issued
a defense white paper declaring that the principal threat to itself is
You bet we are,
you said on Good Morning America, where you told Charlie Gibson
that if China attacked Taiwan, we had an obligation to defend it.
full force of American military?" asked Charlie.
it took," you said. So we'll all keep an eye out for toadstoolshaped
clouds in thevicinity
of Quemoy and Matsu.
Then there's your
missile-defense shield, which is an example of the baffling quantum mechanics
of foreign policy, no matter how "disciplined" Condoleezza says
that policy is. (And how many Washington policy wonks dream of being tied
up and disciplined by Condoleezza is a matter best left to the Washington
Post Style section.) The missile shield is supposed to protect us from
enemies, but it turns out to upset our friends, the European allies. They
prefer the balance-of-terror strategy because that worked so well in Munich
in 1939. This shows that foreign policy can't be separated from defense
policy. Unless we're going to use our defense forces only to suppress
internal enemies, and we aren't. Once the XFL was canceled for not being
stupid enough, it was clear that America's internal enemies had already
That said, the
missile shield has been a brilliant ploy to get inside information about
Russian and Chinese intentions. When the town drunk and the town bully
tell us not to get a new home-security system, we know where we stand.
Elsewhere on the
diplomatic front, you're letting Israelis and Palestinians go at it until
David runs out of pebbles and Goliath pulls a Jim Jeffords and starts
voting with Likud. The same for the Mick and Limey head-butters in Northern
Ireland. Some American soldiers are coming home from the Balkans - former
Yugoslavia will have to make do with former peacekeepers.
And cooling negotiations
with North Korea about its missiles makes sense, for the same reason that
you'd decide to quit jawing with a crazy person about the gun he's waving
and call 911.
This is not how
the previous administration acted. Clinton kept International Monetary
Fund cash flowing into Russia's ever-criminalizing economy. He ignored
Kremlin misbehavior, from Yeltsin's shelling of elected representatives
in the Duma to Putin's sticking uninvited Russian troops in Kosovo. Clinton
compared the Chechnya fighting to the American Civil War (murdered Chechens
being on the Mississippi statehouse Confederate flag-flying side). Clinton
called China America's "strategic partner" and paid a nine-day
visit to that country, not bothering himself with courtesy calls to our
real strategic partners in the area, Japan and South Korea. Clinton announced,
"We don't support independence for Taiwan," and said of Jiang
Zemin, that sweetheart of Falun Gong, "He has vision."
Anything for peace,
that was Clinton's policy. Clinton had special peace-mongering envoys
in Cyprus, Congo, the Middle East, the Balkans and flying off to attend
secret talks with Marxist guerrillas in Colombia. Clinton made frantic
eleventh-hour attempts to close an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. What
if the Jews control Temple Mount and the Arabs control the movie industry?
Jennifer Love Hewitt will continue to do love scenes, but she'll get stoned
to death in the theater parking lot.
Clinton was everybody's
best friend. Except when he wasn't. He used the military more often than
any other peacetime president. Clinton deployed American forces into combat
zones an average of once every nine weeks, conducted undeclared air wars
against Serbia and Iraq, and launched missiles at Sudan and Afghanistan.
We've seen the
results of Clinton's ad hoc, higgledy-piggledy foreign policy. It led
to steadily worsening relations with Russia and China; increased violence
in the Middle East; continued fighting in Africa and Asia; and a bunch
of Serbs killing Albanians. And, now ... let's see where we are with a
tough, focused foreign policy - steadily worsening relations with Russia
and China; increased violence in the Middle East; continued fighting in
Africa and Asia; and a bunch of Albanians killing Serbs.
is like the US Airways New York-Washington shuttle. Make a 180-degree
turn and you're still going to hell.
Even going to hell
doesn't work. Foreign policy is no longer the linear equation that it
was during the Cold War, with the bucket-of-boohoos peace pukes at one
end and the earth as a dough ball in the deep-fat fryer of Mutually Assured
Destruction at the other end and all sensible people lined up in the middle.
Now foreign policy is a plane-geometry pop quiz where policy positions
must be plotted using the x-axis and y-axis of the Cartesian coordinate
system. And don't worry about this metaphor going much further because
I flunked that course in high school, too.
probuttinsky Democratic Sen. Delaware says, "Although we are at peace,
we still have major obligations around the world." Major obligations
require American security and leadership. Security and leadership require
American ability to unilaterally defend itself. But, says Sen. Biden,
"The illusory goal of unilateral defense would put American security
and leadership at risk." So what are we supposed to do, Joe? Call
the U.N.? The United States got kicked off the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
I guess we weren't honoring our major obligations - weren't fighting for
human rights hard enough to meet standards of the other countries on the
U.N. Human Rights Commission such as Libya, Syria, Sierra Leone, China,
Cuba and, for Pete's sake, Sudan. "Payment of U.N. arrears top of
our foreign-policy agenda," says Biden. You can shut up now, Joe.
like Biden, are fond of poking America's nose into other people's affairs.
"Chaos in Africa cannot be ignored," says the Heritage Foundation,
although everybody except Africa has been managing to do so.
Unlike Biden, however,
conservatives want to increase the U.S. defense budget. And Heritage argues
that American troops should be left in foreign countries forever. "Any
substantial cuts," says the think tank, "could signal weakness
or lack of commitment to regional allies ... and invite aggression."
This as opposed to our current tactic of having our shooters right in
the world's face as if America had gone into the Global Nightclub at three
in the morning, slapped its Glock down on the bar and shouted, "Hope
nobody here wants to fuck with me!" Call it the Puff Daddy foreign
like to cut the military budget and give the problems of foreigners a
good leaving alone. Spend less money and get in less trouble is an appealing
idea (and also what my wife has been telling me to do for ages). America
needs to get out of the "armed social worker" business, says
Cato Institute's vice president for defense and foreign-policy studies,
Ted Carpenter. And we've got to quit assuming every war is a fight between
good and evil: "Snidely Whiplash vs. innocent Nell." Carpenter
thinks American defense spending is too high. "But given the policies
we're pursing," he says, "it isn't as high as it needs to be."
A depressing thought since, in a rational universe, America's $325 billion
a year out-of-pocket would be enough to simply buy all the weapons in
the world and let nations settle their quarrels with rolled-up wet locker-room
that, with wiser security policies, America's defense budget could be
cut by a third. That's convincing until he says America has "stop
fighting the idea of growth of other powers." The last time we stopped
fighting that idea, other powers grew. And the powers were Mussolini's
Italy, Hitler's Germany, Tojo's Japan and Stalin's Soviet Union.
This leaves us
with one remaining foreign-policy option, which is to have an overwhelmingly
powerful America that its on its duff. The problem with this is that it's
what Pat Buchanan thinks we should do, and - I don't know about you, George,
but whenever I catch myself thinking like Pat Buchanan, I start to worry
that the wicked witch of the GOP has put a spell on me and I've been turned
into a grumpy, pudgy, middle-aged white male who has three beers and starts
yelling about foreigners. Then - when I ask around and find out that that's
exactly who I am - I get remorseful and try to summon the better angels
of my nature, per good Republican Abe Lincoln. If America hadn't been
there to intervene, what would have happened to the Jews of Europe, the
Armenians of Turkey, South Africa's blacks, Tibetans, Cambodians, Tutsis,
Kurds, Bosnian Muslims, Albanians in Yugoslavia, Serbs in Kosovo ... Then
I think what did happen to them, and I have another beer and start yelling
There is, however,
some good news about foreign policy. It turns out that the end of the
Cold War, even though it's got us all confused, wasn't actually a bad
thing. The PBS/NPR types are giving the dreary nuclear-winter scenarios
a rest. Now they're hepped on global warming, with it's more cheerful
prospects of balmy weather, vacations at the shore in Greenland, and rising
sea levels that will rid us forever of such annoyances as Manhattan, Miami
Beach and, with luck, Silicon Valley. Plus, world arms spending has declined.
The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that global
expenditure on guns, bombs and so forth dropped by one third between the
late 1980s and the late 1990s. Armed conflicts are also on the wane. (Never
mind how things look on the front page of today's newspaper. "No
bodies, no byline" has been a journalistic dictum since Herodotus
covered the Persian Wars, and notice how little ink Herodotus gave to
the efforts of Persian relief agencies to feed, house and provide medical
care to refugee families at Thermopylae.) Anyway, without Cold War bad-guy
troublemakers and Cold War good-guy troubleshooters, the number of wars
that aren't cold at all has decreased by nearly half since the Soviet
Union broke up.
The great powers
of the world are, for once in human history, on a honeymoon, albeit a
dog honeymoon where the various presidents, premiers and high plenipotentiaries
sniff each other's butts, growl, nip and get stuck together. But the worst
marriage is better than divorce court - when H-bombs are the lawyers.
news that's even better than hearing that our folks are going to stay
together and not kill us in our sleep. The news is that the earth has
become immensely richer over the last two centuries (thanks to inventors,
investors and hard work, and no thanks to treaties, alliances, spheres
of influence, balance of power or conflicts in the Great Game). Annual
global production of wealth per person (adjusted for inflation) has grown
from something like $650 in the 1820s to more than $5,000 in the 1990s.
the wealth has grown most in places where people treat their fellow humans
with some measure of dignity and respect. And that is foreign policy news
of the very best kind.
Today the biggest
economies are the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy,
China, Brazil, Canada and Spain. All but China are democracies and only
China indulges in military repression. If we measure according to which
countries have the richest citizens rather than which have the grossest
gross domestic products, the news is truly splendid. Here, the top ten
are Luxembourg, the United States, Bermuda, Switzerland, Singapore, Hong
Kong, Monaco, Norway, Cayman Islands and Belgium. All of these places
are marvelously well-behaved (except for the United States, sometimes).
The rich countries
are good and the good countries are rich. Democracies don't fight each
other very often anymore. Well, this isn't exactly true. Germany was more
or less a democracy rich before World War I, and Germany fought practically
everybody and went on to richly, democratically elect Adolf Hitler. So
it's not a perfect system. But wealthy democracies don't fight other very
often anymore. The closest they've come in the last fifty or sixty years
is the 1975 Cod War between Iceland and Britain. Casualties: Some cod.
In fact, forget democracy. Once countries get rich, they don't like to
fight too much. There's an occasional Argentine attack on an out-of-the-way
place like the Falklands. Lots of rich countries have soldiers in the
Balkans, but those soldiers are forbidden to get real fighting. The French
send troops to former colonies now and then, but that's because the French
like weird food, world music and exotic babes. OK, there was the Gulf
War - but your dad knew we had to fuel up the Beemer. And even when the
United States went to war in Vietnam, most rich people dodged the draft.
(Nothing personal: I did too.) Rich people don't like to be in the Army.
The shoes are ugly and the uniforms itch.
Who needs a foreign
policy? All we need is for everybody in the world to be as happy, fat,
self-indulged and overscheduled as we are. But how can we make everyone
on earth rich? Let's sell them shares of hot dot-com stocks. It worked
during the Clinton administration.
assistance by MAX PAPPAS
ROLLING STONE, July 5, 2001: pp. 53-56
This page © 2002 by Frank Schulz