To: George W. Bush
From: P.J. O'Rourke
Re: Winning at Foreign Policy


version here




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.
So why doesn't everybody, like, obey? It's those foreigners again, and not just the ones who hate our guts but the ones who jump up and down and yip hysterically in greeting and lick our hands and face and hate our guts anyway. Start with the citizens of nineteen nations who host sixty-one major U.S. military bases. They are about as happy with us as we would be with 250,000 highland Scots bivouacked in our midst flicking their kilts at our girls, cranking up the bagpipe music at all hours and filling our shopping-mall food courts with the stink of haggis.
Our foreign-policy situation has become like a sixth-grade classroom. Regular old-fashioned diplomacy is out sick or something. We're the substitute.

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.

The administration's 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 the Chinese.

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 the U.S.A.

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.

"With the full force of American military?" asked Charlie.

"Whatever 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 triumphed.
Foreign policy can't be separated from domestic policy, either. Congressional Democrats are peeved about how expensive the missile shield will be. Democrats want the money spent on a shield that protects American teachers' unions from incoming school vouchers and defends the nation against atomic attacks by nuclear reactors producing cheap, clean electricity. But will the missile shield work? Details of your plan are sketchy, but construction of the project seems to depend on extensive use of materials such as impossibilium and unobtainium.

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.

Foreign policy 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.

Disarmament-loving, 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.

The conservatives, 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 policy.

Libertarians would 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 towels.

Carpenter estimates 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 about foreigners.

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.

Furthermore, there's 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.

Interestingly, 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.
In the 1820s the ten biggest economies in the world were China, India, France, Britain, Russia, Japan, Austria, Spain, the United States and Prussia, in that order. Only two of these countries, Britain and America, were democracies, and very imperfectly so. Every country except Japan was engaged in wars of conquest or internal repression. And in Japan, that was because the shogun had taken away the rickshaw keys and everybody in the country was grounded.

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.

Research assistance by MAX PAPPAS


ROLLING STONE, July 5, 2001: pp. 53-56



Note: Osama Bin Laden 'joke' removed by editor of this page; assumingly in accordance with the author.


This page © 2002 by Frank Schulz