Bush’s Foreign Policy: The Unfolding Disaster

Encouraged by campaign talk about the virtues of “humility” on the world stage, many hoped that the incoming administration would turn over a new leaf when it comes to foreign policy – or, at least, rake away some of the moldy old leaves left on the White House lawn by the Clintonistas. But the prospects for a clean sweep grow dimmer as we get closer to the 100th day of the Bush Restoration, and in the past few days there have been a number of indications that, from a foreign policy perspective, we may well be worse off for at least the next four years. SILENT COUP?

A particularly nausea-inducing example is the news that the administration has delivered an ultimatum to the government of Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica: either issue a statement recognizing the ultimate authority of the International Tribunal for war crimes in the former Yugoslavia by March 31, or else face a complete cutoff of badly-need US aid. Has Madeleine Albright somehow sneaked in the back door of the State Department and pulled off a silent coup? Particularly disgusting is an ancillary demand that Yugoslav legislators must take their marching orders straight from Washington: as Steve Erlanger puts it in the New York Times, “Belgrade is also being asked to pass a law that would allow transfer of indicted people to The Hague without making any prior determination of guilt or innocence…” Sitting in their bombed-out homes, suffering through a cold winter without adequate heat, and besieged by US-sponsored guerrillas who have launched attacks to “liberate” southern Serbia as well as Macedonia, the Serbs are being forced to do what they never did after the Kosovo war: cry “uncle!” Yugoslavia never surrendered: Clinton merely stopped bombing, but kept on the offensive – and not only with cruel and economically destructive sanctions.


The American-backed insurgency in south Serbia’s Presevo valley, we learn from the [London] Observer, was the creation of at least one Western intelligence agency, but the question is: why is this CIA sock puppet expanding its operations during the first hundred days of the Bush administration? It is a clear signal: the Balkan policy of this Republican president is going to be worse than Clinton’s. Clinton, you’ll recall, was reluctant to get involved, in spite of his campaign rhetoric: it took nearly seven years of relentless pressure from the War Party (and God knows how many payoffs) before the bombs fell on Belgrade. But it looks like Bush is starting on the same path early on, and with very little prompting The Observer piece notes that, after consulting with Team Bush last week, ambassador William D. Montgomery “delivered the demands in a three-page list” to Kostunica. The sinister confluence of these events – the issuing of a US ultimatum and the escalation of the US-created Albanian insurgency – speaks for itself.


I oppose all “foreign aid,” which generally falls into two categories: corporate subsidies for US exporters, and subsidies for our satraps and hit men abroad, such as the Albanian “liberation fronts” of Presevo and Macedonia. But the US tax dollars that would go toward reconstructing Yugoslavia are neither – they are just reparations for the damage inflicted by our illegal and immoral assault on a sovereign country that had never attacked us. Indeed, the paltry sum voted by our usually spendthrift legislators would hardly cover the cost of rebuilding a few blocks in bombed-out Belgrade. All the money in the world, of course, cannot right the wrong done to the Serbian people by the criminal gang in the Clinton White House: the death of over 5,000 Serbs during the war is a tragedy without a price tag. But the idea that we, therefore, owe them nothing is one that could only be accepted in this, our Clintonian era. The First Felon may be gone, and even disgraced, but his legacy lives on in the foreign policy of a new president seemingly intent on exacerbating the crimes of his predecessor.


Another example of the same ominous phenomenon is occurring on the other side of the world: in Korea, where the US has put the kibosh on President Kim Dae-jung’s effort to speed up the reunification process begun last June. When secretary of state Colin Powell remarked that he saw “promising elements” in the prospect of continued negotiations with the North Koreans and unequivocally announced that the Bush administration would “pick up where President Clinton left off,” the War Party went into cardiac arrest – and Powell was subsequently reined in by the dominant hawks in the administration. A [London] Telegraph article about the growing foreign policy split in Team Bush notes that “Gen. Powell took the unusual step of leaving the talks between Mr. Bush and the South Korean leader halfway through to brief White House reporters on the administration’s unexpectedly tougher approach.” North Korea, he hastened to reassure them, is still a threat – and you can forget about talks with North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il. While the White House is insisting that Powell’s initial remarks were “misinterpreted,” the Telegraph tells us that “Republican officials accused him of trying to dictate policy over the heads of other members of Mr. Bush’s team.” The battle for the foreign policy of the Bush administration has begun in earnest – and the good guys are not winning.


The forces at work here are, in one sense, easy to identify. The “Star Wars” crowd has long held up North Korea as one of its prime examples of precisely the sort of “rogue” regime that might launch a missile attack on the US or its allies, and this was fueled when Pyongyang launched a rocket that flew over Japanese airspace: the US has ever since been trying to dragoon the reluctant Japanese into financing the missile defense program. But the internal crisis of North Korean society has rained on that particular parade: the prospect of the regime’s collapse would certainly be a blow to the paid propagandists of the arms industry, who hope to reap billions from this particular sale. However, it isn’t only the merchants of death and their amen corner who are cheering this latest development: the pro-China wing of the Republican party is also doing handstands. As Chalmers Johnson pointed out in his indispensable book, Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire:

“China today actually seems more interested in a perpetuation of the status quo on the Korean peninsula. Its policy is one of ‘no unification, no war.’ Not unlike the eighth- and ninth-century Tang dynasty’s relations with the three Korean kingdoms of Koguryo, Silla, and Paekche, China presently enjoys diplomatic relations with both Koreas and may prefer a structurally divided peninsula. A Korea unable to play its obvious role as a buffer between China, Russia, and Japan would give China a determining influence there.”


A Korea unified and free – and possibly armed with nuclear weapons – is “not a development the Chinese would necessarily welcome,” writes Johnson. In that Beijing has much in common with the so-called “hardliners” in the Bush administration – whose “hardness” masks a less obvious softness for China’s present rulers. The reign of Bush II is marked by the same caution that drove his father to try to rein in the liberation movements in the Baltics and throughout Eastern Europe. As the Warsaw Pact disintegrated, and with it any rationale for the continuation of the cold war, Bush I and his advisors were horrified, and tried to forestall the reunification of Germany until it was no longer possible to hold back the tides of history. Events in Korea may overtake Bush II and his courtiers in a similar fashion – once again underscoring the general ineffectiveness of our shortsighted, crisis-driven foreign policy. Without preparing their South Korea allies for what may be inevitable – the shock of absorbing millions of economic refugees from the rapidly collapsing North – Seoul may face an ultimately destabilizing crisis.


This same facade of “caution” is being used to give a neutral coloration to the US posture toward stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations: the US, we are told, is “withdrawing” from this arena, as if this is evidence of a “humble” or even “isolationist” foreign policy. No so! Withdrawal, in this context, means a gesture of support to the hardline regime of Ariel Sharon, which opposes real negotiations in any case. You can also be sure that the US will look the other way as the Likudniks unleash their campaign to ethnically cleanse the land of Palestine. By failing to follow through on its promise to be an honest broker in the Middle East, the US once again provokes the kind of anger among Arabs that can only have unfortunate consequences for the tens of thousands of US troops stationed in the region. As the US distances itself from the expansionist drive that animates Sharon and his supporters – in Israel and the US – the silence of our policymakers is rightly seen by the Arabs as complicity with and support for the activities of a US client state. We are, after all, financing the Israeli military, and keeping the socialist Israeli economy afloat, with billions in subsidies – although, in view of the Marc Rich affair (and the subsequent cover-up) just whom is whose client appears to be an open question.


All around the world, the changing of the guard in Washington is having its effect – and it is not, contrary to hopes and expectations, one that will lead to peace. Far from it: war clouds gather on every horizon, from the Balkans to Eastasia to the Middle East. We were told that Colin Powell might prove to be a restraining influence, and that the natural “humility” of George W. would ensure that, somehow, US foreign policy would reverse course. It isn’t happening – and, one can confidently predict, it won’t happen. From a noninterventionist perspective – that is, from the perspective of those conservative Republicans “realists” who question our ability to intervene globally – things are worse, much worse, than ever: and this, I hasten to remind you, is just the beginning.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of Antiwar.com, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].