Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Magazine article Foreign Policy in Focus

Problems with Current U.S. Policy

Article excerpt

Having a new quasi-ideological theme to justify most security assistance is extremely convenient for the Bush administration. Policy objectives that could not have been pursued in the pre-September 11 security environment can now be repackaged and sold as part of the counterterrorism effort. In addition, wrapping new security assistance programs in a counterterrorism cloak allows the administration to provide support for repressive regimes and aid to states verging on, or currently involved in, armed conflict.

Although its emphasis on military aid is problematic, it is at least clear why the U.S. government felt the need to renew ties to Pakistan immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, given the role that Islamabad was to play in the Afghanistan operation. The same might be said about Washington's desire to reward Central Asian states for allowing U.S. forces to use their land and airspace.

But the connection with counterterrorism is less clear regarding many of the other new recipients of security assistance. For instance, the administration first tried to justify military aid to Azerbaijan by citing that country's offer of overflight rights, air bases, and intelligence. The Pentagon later admitted that the security assistance is largely designed to help Azerbaijan protect its maritime borders--that is, to protect U.S. access to oil in the Caspian Sea from possible Iranian threats.

Oil interests may also explain why the U.S. is sending Georgia hundreds of soldiers and millions of dollars worth of arms to chase out a couple dozen Arab fighters. The U.S. government wants a new oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to go through Georgia and Turkey, and propping up the Shevardnadze regime with military aid and training is an effort to boost security around the planned pipeline. This aid, along with U.S. bases springing up around Central Asia, may also help Washington gain an advantage in the U.S.-Russian-Chinese-Iranian competition for regional influence. Likewise, sending U.S. soldiers to the Philippines could help establish a U.S. presence in the strategically vital and resource-rich South China Sea.

Closer to home, both oil and old-fashioned anti-Marxism are playing their roles in the U.S. relationship with Colombia. The State Department's foreign aid request for FY2003 includes $98 million to train local troops to protect the Carlo Limon oil pipeline, which has been regularly attacked by rebels, especially the left-wing National Liberation Army (ELN). As noted above, the administration also wants permission from Congress to provide U.S. training and arms in military action against the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The official rationale is that the aid supports counterterrorism, since the FARC is on the U.S. list of terrorist organizations. But if this were truly its principal concern, Washington would focus its efforts on the right-wing paramilitaries, which are closely tied to the Colombian military but are responsible for the vast majority of political assassinations in Colombia.

These new policies show the Bush administration's intention to pursue wide-ranging goals during a time of relatively weak foreign policy oversight. Using U.S. soldiers and tax dollars to protect access to oil is not likely to have the same popular support as fighting terrorism. …

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