= updated report in this issue
THE NEXT PRESIDENT
Within days, the next president of the USA will be known, the campaigns over. The last public TV debate between the candidates on October 23rd was on the topic of US foreign relations, therefore of great interest to newnations.
Reviewing foreign policy at such a time-limited event is a matter of prioritising. The most immediate ‘high news value’ issues get priority, so it should be no surprise that global warming, refugee crises, the Euro problem, the ‘reset’ with Russia, Israel and the ‘two state solution’ for Palestine, the war against terror, were only briefly mentioned in passing, or not at all.
Instead, the common ground between the candidates was the continuation of the now traditional US approach, of ‘exerting global influence through military and economic power’, amid the assumption they shared of the continuing 'US leadership in the world'.
Had it not been between two ambitious Americans looking at world problems through the prism of American nationalism and addressing an American audience, someone might have been so impolite as to suggest that this approach was surely running out of credibility, which no candidate would dare to admit. It is that 12 years in, the 21st Century is unlikely to become ‘the American century,’ as it is fashionable to suggest in US foreign policy discussions. Just as it would be right to acknowledge that the last century, the 20th, could certainly be described as ‘the American century’.
The USA unquestionably gave leadership in the latter part of WWII, and then during the near half century of titanic confrontation with communism, that followed. That outcome, the collapse of the USSR in 1991 apparently determined that capitalism, together with liberal democracy, would likely be the model for the future. That changed even before the century was out, with the phenomenal rise of China, which only accepted the capitalist part. But at this point in history, although it has eased up in several ways on its former all-round harshness, it has not gone down the democratic road. That struggle remains to be won within China itself.
It was at the end of WWII that key nations of the world got together in founding the United Nations to be the global arbiter, and the forum for world politics – in order so the mantra went, that world war should never happen again. The UN was then really to do the job of world policeman, which role the US has now substantially claimed for itself, and which passes in the western world - amongst its allies at least - without much comment. How many people, for example in the case of the highly organised and widespread international sanctions now levied against Iran, understand that this is not a United Nations edict but a US initiative?
How many realise that it is the US, not the UN that decides who shall even have nuclear weapons? The Iraq invasion was supposedly to interdict Saddam Hussein’s possession and development of nuclear weapons – which as the professional UN arms inspectors there had already reported, did not exist. It did not take a paranoid critic of this dubious event to conclude that the US government firmly intended to invade anyway, for ‘reasons of their own’.
No word, meantime, was ever publicly uttered through US official lips, about Israel’s clandestine development and possession of a nuclear arsenal. Everybody in the formal diplomatic world, even now, has to pretend they don’t know about it. North Korea ‘the hermit nation’ however was closely scrutinised, yet despite sanctions went its own way, as it does to this day. India was ‘allowed’ by the US to develop a nuclear force, and so, although by clandestine means, was Pakistan (the ‘Sunni’ bomb - in terms of a potential ‘Shia’ bomb in Iran). Iran of course is not allowed to have the bomb and the US has vowed to enforce that.
This is not to complain about the serial hypocrisy involved, or the rights or wrongs in each case, these after all are weighty matters, but at the fact that the US takes it upon themselves to be the world’s policeman, whilst having had some less than admirable ‘adventures’ of their own. Invasions no less, which an independent authority like the UN, if given the responsibility, could not have allowed, but had no means to prevent.
It leaves open the question of who in a democratic society polices the policeman?
The invasion of Vietnam, for example: It is well known that 58,000 young American servicemen’s lives were lost and 300,000 wounded in the 10 years of war, which ostensibly was fought to stop a threatened communist takeover, ‘like falling dominos,’ of the other states of SE Asia. But over those years, the so-called ‘enemy’ deaths amounted to 3 million Vietnamese, so Hanoi claims– soldiers of course but mainly collateral casualties - peasants, men, women and children. In 1975 the US had finally to withdraw its surviving forces, so the Vietnamese succeeded after all in maintaining their independence.
Yet the casus belli, that predicted a follow-up invasion of the rest of SE Asia, didn’t happen.
Indeed within 4 years of the US withdrawal, Vietnam was invaded yet again, this time by China, who were no more successful than the US.
There was a ‘small’ invasion in 1989 by the US of the sovereign state of Panama. This was in order to arrest the then president, who was of little importance, (he was on the CIA payroll), except that he was one of those profiting from the sale of narcotics into the USA.
When under Bush/Cheney, the US decided to invade Iraq, together with Blair’s UK and a ‘coalition of the willing,’ the UN had been asked to agree to this and would not! But the ‘shock and awe’ invasion and occupation, nevertheless took place. This egregious manifestation of the post 9/11 ‘Bush doctrine’ (which defied the UN’s authority) finally unleashed, in the occupation of Iraq, those forces of religious hatred that even now continue, which the previous Saddam regime had always kept in check. Perhaps a million collateral deaths – there is no agreement yet - resulted from the Iraq invasion and events related to the chaos of the subsequent occupation.
invasion of Afghanistan was approved by
the NATO allies and the UN, in direct response to the 9/11 horror in
the US, but at this distance in time, the invasion and occupation of
that country turned out to have been the wrong target. The al Qaeda
perpetrators quickly moved out of Afghanistan
into the lawless tribal areas of neighbouring
Pakistan, leaving allied forces in
Afghanistan fighting a different war that is, against the
Taleban, who had nothing to do with 9/11 in the US or the terror
bombings in Africa, in Spain or the UK. But they objected, as Afghans
have always done to foreign troops on their soil. Meanwhile, it is
noteworthy that it wasn’t the large western armies occupying chunks of
Afghanistan, but small groups of allied
special forces with state of the art equipment (who were operating
there even before the invasion), that scored most of the successes
inside Pakistan, against the al Qaeda
There is no real argument that the UN is not capable of taking on this gendarme role. The UN has always been whatever its members allow/want it to be, no more no less – the Korean war was the first example of that.
The two presidential candidates in the US agree with each other in seeing the role of the US as the world leader, whereas a number of other nations to some degree, resent this assumption. Member states of NATO welcome the military leadership given by the US when it is subject to the NATO Council’s democratic decisions - the Yugoslav/Kosovo fighting was a good example - but politically the US has in the last half-century, not been the most adroit of leaders. “Speak softly –and carry a big stick” was emblematic of an earlier time. Consider the invasions: Vietnam; Panama; ‘shock and awe’ in Iraq, Afghanistan; then the continuing partiality of support for Israel against the founding of the Palestinian state, a key part of the UN compromise that enabled the creation of the State of Israel.
If any single nation could be that leader, outside of the world authority, then many, like ourselves, would agree that as of now, none better than the USA would emerge, but we have passed that time.
With nearly 200 nation states it is no way to plan for the future that at any point in time, the most economically/militarily powerful state (currently the US), should be that leader. That scenario would be a sure-fire invitation for future wars, if history has anything to teach us, as other nations succeeded and prospered, and finally prepared to challenge for the role.
It is not at present possible, to see any situation where say Russia or China, would seek US ‘leadership’. By contrast the UN is not a rival in any way. Since the current general enemy is not another nation state, but a pervasive poisonous cult of one of the world religions, it surely makes sense that the US president ‘resets’ by offering Russia an active alliance against Islamic terrorism, where the US remains a primary target, and where Russia’s international problem has become much the same. Not so much urban terrorists disguised as citizens proceeding by stealth, but with encroaching jihadists moving on from Afghanistan/Pakistan, through former soviet (‘soft’ Islamic) central asia, to link up with southern Russia’s homegrown variety. It is already happening even though the war in Afghanistan is not yet over.
It is true that democracy is far from having triumphed globally, as readers of our ‘World Audit’ can see (we publish the new democracy tables in early January). But we have always held the view that democracy, by which we mean honest elections, trustworthy courts, free speech and the elimination of corruption – these desirable outcomes do not come through the barrel of a gun. It is up to the world that does enjoy, indeed insists on such for themselves, to erect such institutions through established world authorities that can promote democracy, just as they should interdict war fighting between nations on the same basis.
The concept of real supranational power is not yet fully accepted, particularly by the big players, but it is surely the way forward.
November’s issue has got some fascinating content: apart from earth-shaking situations such as the Arab awakening – fully covered here in fresh reports on each of Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Iran all summarised in this issue’s Overview. We are delighted to report, since the health of democracy is our leitmotif, that in the far-off Philippines, for so long a corrupt, near-fascist dump, which we hail for its determined turn-around under an enlightened new president, has now achieved something quite extraordinary. They have managed to bring about peace with the southern Islamist rebels in Mindinao, a power struggle about as old as the Spanish arrival in the archipelago, 400 years ago (see Philippines).
To offset that, we refer to Bangladesh. Seldom do we have to report such an utterly dismal and dire situation. The problem basically is a corrupt prime minister in a country where corruption has long been the norm. She is waging war against Bangladesh’s most distinguished citizen, Mohammed Yunis, the founder of successful micro-banking, for which he earned the Nobel Peace prize. But that’s not all. One of the nation’s military forces, the Bangladeshi Rifles mutinied a year ago, and murdered many of their officers. Now with 6000 arrests and mass trials, the butcher’s bill is in and hundreds of soldiers must pay the price. (see Bangladesh).
Afghanistan continues to be troubled and its future uncertain. We are reminded of Gorbachev’s helpful warning, inspired by ten years of Russian occupation in his time, the “don’t do it,” on the eve of the US invasion - and how right he was!
India seems rather pleased to have become an accepted player in what will soon be post-war Afghanistan, as our report clarifies. Of course Pakistan finds that hard to accept, but Pakistan itself is too close to disaster for comfort, as it can hardly run itself, let alone its deeply troubled neighbour. Fortunately, there are signs of rapprochement between India and Pakistan who have yet to learn that there is nothing to gained by hostility and yet a great deal through friendship.
Taiwan, currently ruled by the KMT (who never forget that they were the last rulers of China before the communists took over), have trouble remembering that they are supposed to be a democracy –all their instincts are otherwise. The opposition and alternative government the DPP, are primarily pro-Taiwanese, rather than historic refugees from the mainland. Quite a breakthrough when a former leader of the DPP visited China, and was well received by the authorities there. Our contributor believes that unforeseen benefits may emerge in cross-straits relations, as a result.
North Korea had a fairly incident-free month but is as interesting as always, behind its bamboo curtain (nowadays far more appropriate to them than to mainland China which inspired the phrase).
Vietnam is struggling economically and since it remains one of only five communist nations still left, it is still a police state, that means that life for many is depressing with communist cadres exclusively holding power, and so always making the decisions- and, if there’s any corruption going on………!
Amongst the FSU republics this month we review Russia itself, Belarus, Turkmenistan; and the FYR republics Croatia and Serbia. Russia’s recent elections do not fill one with hope. Putin quite clearly has got his domestic politics buttoned up. Since he cares little for the opinions of the rest of the world, that’s the way it’s going to be. It is pointless (and it was a distinct minus for Mitt Romney relying on innate prejudice to talk about Russia as the US’s number one geopolitical enemy, which it is not). Undoubtedly his team put him right on that ‘coldwar-ism,’ long past its sell-by date. History will say that Putin has done an excellent job in his nation’s interests, wrestling with Russia’s infamously sluggish economy, and is turning in some fine results. He has made Russia a giant in the field of oil and gas exports, in both east and west. He has kept effective control on his ‘near abroad’ – those FSU elements of it for sure, excluding only the Balts. Whereas Belarus is labelled ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’, Ukraine is coming up fast as a similar throwback –and both of them have nowhere to go but to Russia, which will very likely fully control them both in real terms. This notwithstanding their theoretical independence, which as a cosmetic, might not change (in the days of the USSR, Belarus Byelorussia - no more than a colony, even had a separate delegation/vote, at the United Nations).
It is time to accept that Russia, that has never known democracy, is unlikely to achieve it any time soon. (You can take the man out of the KGB –but you can’t take the KGB out of the man). However the Cold War is over!
Russia is not really competing
Clive Lindley - Publisher