What’s wrong with American foreign policy is actually a lot more complicated than the subhead of this piece would have it, but I just couldn’t resist the temptation: besides which, our president is a major cause albeit not the only cause of the dysfunction that afflicts us. A grand example of this is his recent speech to the United Nations General Assembly, in which he trotted out every neocon fantasy and then some in his effort to promote what he termed, on another occasion, his "global democratic revolution."
The remnants of the president’s conservative fan club over at National Review, in the person of one Mario Loyola, hail Bush’s oration as a triumph of "public diplomacy," but this kind of diplomacy is straight out of Bizarro World: it is designed, seemingly, to alienate the world’s peoples, instead of drawing to them our banner and cause.
Off-putting right from the beginning, the president immediately launched into a reiteration of the 9/11 terrorist attacks as if the rest of the world hadn’t suffered equally, and then some, in the interim. How many have died in Iraq? They’ve suffered the equivalent of at least a dozen 9/11s, and probably far more. As if to add insult to injury, the president just had to drag in Lebanon:
"Since then, the enemies of humanity have continued their campaign of murder. Al-Qaeda and those inspired by its extremist ideology have attacked more than two dozen nations. And recently a different group of extremists deliberately provoked a terrible conflict in Lebanon. At the start of the 21st century, it is clear that the world is engaged in a great ideological struggle, between extremists who use terror as a weapon to create fear, and moderate people who work for peace."
Al-Qaeda may indeed have attacked more than two dozen nations, as the president avers, but these attacks pale, in terms of ferocity and casualties, in comparison to those launched by the U.S. We invaded a country Iraq that had never attacked us and represented no credible military threat either to us or to our allies. We also invaded Afghanistan, and that’s another war we are losing in part because, as even President Karzai, our ally, points out, we keep brutalizing those we have supposedly come to "liberate."
As for the president’s remarks on Lebanon, he doesn’t say who or what made the Lebanese conflict so "terrible," but the merciless cruelty of an Israeli assault that left thousands of unexploded cluster bombs in its wake was condemned by nearly every nation on earth except, naturally, for the United States of America. That he dares even mention the word "extremism," while simultaneously sanctioning the virtual destruction of the Middle East’s only Arab democracy on account of the kidnapping of a few Israeli soldiers, is another Bizarro World antic from the clown in chief.
Odder still is the president’s conception of the "great ideological struggle" supposedly taking place between advocates of 9th century medievalism hiding in caves and the most powerful, the richest, and arguably still the freest country on earth, one with a combined "defense" budget that equals the budgets of the world’s top 10 spenders on military items. Yes, it’s true, the psychopathic cult of al-Qaeda and its allies "use terror as a weapon to create fear" but so, in at least one important sense, does the Bush administration. This, after all, is the same administration that conjured visions of an Iraqi nuclear attack if we didn’t invade and occupy that country with dispatch: "we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun, that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." The same people bullied Congress into passing the "PATRIOT" Act unread, and now maintain that unless we torture people halfway to death we’ll live in the shadow of terror forever. If this isn’t using terror as a weapon to create fear, then one wonders what would qualify.
The real howler, however, is the president’s description of the other side of the ideological divide in this grand world-historical struggle: the "moderate people who work for peace." That’s him and his friends in the War Party, in case you missed it. You know: those famous "moderates" in the White House and the upper civilian reaches of the Pentagon who want to effect a radical transformation of the Middle East, exporting "democracy" at gunpoint to a region that has no liberal tradition. Moderation is precisely what the makers of our foreign policy lack, and this is especially true, it seems, when it comes to the president, who, as I have said before, is more neoconish than the most radical neocons. Here, after all, is a man who once proclaimed
"It is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."
This self-designation of Bush and his fellow global revolutionaries as exemplars of moderation is a new tack, and the president tries it on for size with limited success:
"Algeria has held its first competitive presidential election, and the military remained neutral. The United Arab Emirates recently announced that half of the seats in its Federal National Council will be chosen by elections. Kuwait held elections in which women were allowed to vote and run for office for the first time. Citizens have voted in municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, in parliamentary elections in Jordan and Bahrain, and in multiparty presidential elections in Yemen and Egypt."
Let’s take at least some of these presidential talking points one-by-one:
Which brings me to the utter disconnect between what Bush says and what his actions accomplish in the real world. He claims to champion the forces of "moderation," while launching a "global revolution" that rivals the dreams of Alexander, Napoleon, and Lenin all rolled into one. He claims to be fighting terrorism, even as his foreign policy indeed, his every pronouncement on the subject does more to recruit for the terrorist cause than all the propaganda put out by al-Qaeda since its founding. Without the invasion of Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan, the blind support for Israel’s rape of Lebanon, and the posturing, threats, and swaggering declarations of unremitting hostility aimed at Iran and Syria, al-Qaeda would be a small worldwide network of sociopathic ideologues, isolated from and largely hated by their Muslim brethren. Instead, bin Laden is a hero to millions of misguided people, due largely to George W. Bush’s foreign policy of unrelenting aggression.
I won’t go into the presidential hectoring of the various peoples of the region, mostly rhetorical boilerplate of the sort we’ve come to expect from White House speechwriters, except for this:
"To the people of Lebanon: Last year, you inspired the world when you came out into the streets to demand your independence from Syrian dominance. You drove Syrian forces from your country and you reestablished democracy. Since then, you have been tested by the fighting that began with Hezbollah’s unprovoked attacks on Israel. Many of you have seen your homes and communities caught in crossfire. We see your suffering, and the world is helping you to rebuild your country, and helping you deal with the armed extremists who are undermining your democracy by acting as a state within a state. The United Nations has passed a good resolution that has authorized an international force, led by France and Italy, to help you restore Lebanese sovereignty over Lebanese soil. For many years, Lebanon was a model of democracy and pluralism and openness in the region and it will be again."
Yes, some of the Lebanese people with some very numerous exceptions insisted Syrian troops exit, leaving the door wide open for the Israelis to re-invade, as they did about a year and a half later. Bush’s blithering about Hezbollah’s "unprovoked attack" must have had quite an impact on the Lebanese delegation, which was no doubt wondering about all those unprovoked Israeli attacks on civilian targets in Lebanon, including fuel tanks, electrical and water facilities, and residential areas (including Christian towns and villages). They weren’t "caught in crossfire," but were deliberately targeted by the Israelis, who sought to make their point to all the peoples of the region by means of terror. And as for that "state within a state" the president denounces it is Hezbollah, and not the UN or the U.S., that is rebuilding the ruined cities and villages of Lebanon. Finally, if the president is so eager to champion "Lebanese sovereignty over Lebanese soil," then why did he give the green light to Israeli aggression and even rush military aid to the aggressors? If Lebanon becomes, once again, a model of democracy and pluralism in the region, it will be no thanks to this president and his foreign policy.
There is a distinctly Soviet i.e., unconsciously comic, albeit sinister tone to this presidential peroration. It has all the charm and grace of a Stalinist ode to the collective farm’s new tractor, and the same respect for facts. Let the president warble on all he likes about the "progress" toward "democracy" being made in, say, Egypt but anyone who follows these things knows perfectly well that the "elections" held there were a farce. The main rival to President Hosni Mubarak was jailed, and his followers beaten in the streets. Some "democracy"!
In this same spirit, Bush regales us with tales of the great "progress" being made in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as those two countries are ripped apart by rising anti-American insurgencies. It is, frankly, embarrassing to have to listen to an American president utter such nonsense aloud on the world stage, all the while preening and lecturing the assembled delegates as if he were some sort of Universal Hegemon, the Emperor of the Earth. If you’re an American, the overweening arrogance of Bush’s act is breathtakingly painful to watch. One dares not imagine how the rest of the world takes it.