The Foreign Policy Debate

Tikkun, May/June 2006 | Go to article overview

The Foreign Policy Debate


WITH THE POSSIBLE EXCEPTIONS OF GEORGE Bush, Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Senators Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden, Joe lieberman and Dianne Feinstein, and journalists Thomas Friedman and William Kristol, just about everyone in America has come to realize that the war in Iraq has been a disaster. Not only for the Iraqi people, for whom it has unleashed a civil war between Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims, but also for our own men and women in uniform. Well... not really everyone-one third of all Americans remain loyal to the Bush administration's wars of empire, and there are plenty of Democrats who still lack the backbone to proclaim that the emperor has no clothes.

But, in the absence of any coherent alternative thinking from the Democrats, many of the conservatives who dominate America's foreign policy debate have moved on and are now debating the failure of this war. The media conveniently divides them into two groups: the "realists" who are said to oppose future ideology-driven interventions and the "neo-con idealists" who remain committed to the role of the United States as a force to spread democracy and human rights in the world.

In this formulation, President Bush and his followers may appear to be losing the war because of their own incompetence. Yet it's hard not to see them as idealistic if one accepts the terms in which the media presents the debate. In a national security document released in March 2006, the Bush administration, despite its growing legion of critics, doggedly stuck to its agenda. "It is the policy of the United States," the report begins, "to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

The so-called "realists" respond by challenging the ability of the United States to be effective in extending democracy. The New York Times quotes the Republican chair of the U.S. House of Representatives' International Relations Committee as questioning whether America has "the unbounded power" to undertake an open-ended commitment to achieve this lofty goal of a world filled with democracy. Moreover, as some conservatives (notably former neo-con cheerleader Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History) are asserting, it is naïve and contrary to the tenets of conservatism for America to think it can act as a midwife for democratic regimes in societies about which it knows very little.

In response, the neo-con "idealists" say that they should not give up their commitment to democracy just because it's hard, or, as the Bush administration's March report makes clear, the task of democratization of the planet will remain "the work of generations." Unfortunately, this debate continues to mystify and deny the reality of the policies actually being pursued by both sides.

At least Fukuyama has the honesty to point out that when President Bush ran for election in 2000, he and his soon-to-be chief foreign policy advisor Condoleeza Rice were outspoken in their criticisms of the Clinton administration's attempts to promote democracy in Somalia, Haiti, and the Balkans during the 1990s. It was only after the administration failed to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that they suddenly discovered an interest in promoting democracy. As the Iraq intervention became increasingly problematic, the rhetoric of democracy-building suddenly began to trump the less plausible discourse of fighting terrorism (particularly since the Iraq war was actually increasing the numbers of terrorists).

The truth is that the Bush administration is as interested in promoting democracy in the world as this magazine is in increasing the number of people eating pork.

What the Bush administration has always meant by "democracy" is a society that encourages the freedom of corporations to invest without constraints imposed by governments or labor unions. For that reason, the Bush administration cannot recognize the freely elected regime of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela as a democracy and instead portrays him as a dictator, and they are likely to do the same thing if Michelle Bachelet in Chile and Evo Morales in Bolivia follow Chavez's policy of promoting the interests of working people and restricting the abilities of corporations to pollute and destroy the environment.

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