Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The failure of diplomacy

The failure of diplomacy is one of the hallmarks of the Bush administration. It was a failure of diplomacy to convince most of our allies to join the U.S. in the fight in Iraq (in contrast to the NATO led effort in Afghanistan) and the failure of diplomacy to accomplish the necessary political work establishing a solid foundation for governance during the formal occupation under the Coalition Provisional Authority that leaves our armed forces bogged down in that country. Of course, diplomacy requires listening and understanding. Sidney Blumenthal has a piece in today’s Guardian regarding Bush diplomacy. He writes,

… on Iraq, Bush has returned to mouthing inane platitudes about
"victory". He promises to "defeat" the enemy while ignoring his generals'
admonition that a political solution is critical as Iraq descends into civil

What the president doesn't know and when he didn't know it remain
pertinent. In January 2003 Bush met three prominent Iraqi dissidents who, in
discussing scenarios of post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, "talked about Sunnis and
Shi'ites. It became apparent to them that the president was unfamiliar with
these terms." Peter Galbraith, who was involved in Iraqi diplomacy as a Senate
aide for decades, carefully sources this anecdote in his new book, The End of
Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End.

The Bush administration has been critical of efforts by the Clinton administration to negotiate with North Korea yet the North Koreans were not signaling belligerence with long range missile tests in the 1990’s as they were a few weeks ago. With our armed forces already overcommitted in Iraq the military threat we could have used as leverage has been compromised. As a result we are now placing our interests in the hands of China to try and talk sense to North Korea (as if our interests and China’s are the same). Contrary to all the tough guy talk this is very much a sign of weakness. According to Blumenthal,

Bush's policy toward North Korea is paralysed, reduced to kowtowing to
China in the forlorn hope that it would implore the hermit kingdom to forswear
developing nuclear weapons and firing test missiles. But the Chinese have
declared they will veto any US-initiated sanctions in the UN security council.

When Bush was president-elect, Bill Clinton's national security
team had a treaty with North Korea essentially wrapped up. The incoming
secretary of state, Colin Powell, was enthusiastic. As president, Bush cut off
diplomacy and humiliated Powell and the South Korean president, Kim Dae-Jung,
for seeking to continue the process associated with Clinton. In Bush's vacuum -
a series of empty threats - North Korea predictably reacted with outrageous
violations intended to capture US attention. The US negotiator, Charles "Jack"
Pritchard, was constantly subverted by the then undersecretary of state, John

After Pritchard quit in 2003, Bush sent a new negotiator to the
six-party talks in 2004 but prohibited him from meaningful negotiation. The
North Koreans responded with extreme gestures, and Bush has answered that he
will not speak to them directly. "By not talking with North Korea," Pritchard
wrote last month in the Washington Post, "we are failing to address missiles,
human rights, illegal activities, conventional forces, weapons of mass
destruction, terrorism and anything else that matters to the American people.
Isn't it about time we actually tried to solve the problem rather than let it
fester until we blow it up?"

The failure of diplomacy with Iran is the most tragic because there were some very real opportunities to develop a working relationship that were missed. (And a working relationship is not the same as approving of their government’s actions – just see our relationship with Russia as an example.) We have had common enemies with Iran – al Qaida, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein. There were overtures from Iran of possible assistance but they were ignored and Iran was named as part of an “Axis of Evil.” (See a previous post about one of those overtures here.) With our military tied down in Iraq the Iranian government is now flexing its muscles with a nuclear program and egging on Hizballah in its attacks on Israel.

This failure of diplomacy has resulted in failure to make our nation more secure.

Diplomacy is, if anything, talking to your enemies. Yet this administration is convinced talking to your enemies somehow legitimizes their ideas or status. Talking to your enemies is an acknowledgement of power they may hold but then again why would you want to talk to enemies if they didn’t hold power? Last week there was buzz that perhaps President Bush was coming around to seeing the positive side of actually trying to negotiate with other nations over differences. (I’m not convinced of any change.) Sidney Blumenthal wrote,

President Bush was against diplomacy before he was for it. But with the
collapse of US foreign policy from the Middle East to North Korea he has claimed
to have become a born-again realist. "And it's, kind of ... painful ... for some
to watch, because it takes a while to get people on the same page," he said at
his July 7 press conference, adding, in an astonished tone, "Not everybody
thinks the exact same way we think. Different words mean different things to
different people."

Well, he can say that again (and again). Read Blumenthal’s piece here.

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