In recent years, Washington has excelled in talking the talk but failed when it came to walking the walk. As far as I can remember I’ve admired the US for being a strong and just nation, operating on fine democratic principles. And I’ve been blessed with loyal American friends and business associates. But good friends should tell each other the truth as they see it.
The fact is American foreign policy is flawed. It just doesn’t deliver promised and in some cases actually makes the prevailing situation 10 times worse.
Take Iraq, for instance. March 19 marks the fifth anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq, which we were promised would quickly be turned into an envied free and democratic nation. Five years on and the reality belies the seductive rhetoric of the war merchants.
Turkey is carrying out military operations in the Kurdish north; the south is under the ideological sway of Iran, while Baghdad and its surrounding regions are still suffering insurgent attacks. Yet, despite all evidence to the contrary, the US goes to great lengths to convince us that Iraq is on the brink of peace and an economic renaissance. The surge has worked say the American officials in Baghdad from behind the walls of the secure Green Zone.
In this case I can’t help wondering why the US President’s visits to Iraq are still cloaked in secrecy, while Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced his arrival in advance, was driven under American protection from Baghdad Airport to the city and was welcomed by President Jalal Talabani as though he was a long lost brother.
The Iraq war and subsequent invasion has cost up to one million Iraqi lives and over 4,000 Coalition military personnel have been sacrificed, while US$3 trillion has been expended, as mentioned in the book by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmez – The Three Trillion Dollar War. In addition, it has harmed America’s credibility. How could Washington’s foreign policy strategists and think tanks have got it so wrong when the country arguably boasts the finest minds on the planet? So much has been sacrificed and for what?
They’ve got it wrong in Palestine too. Two months after the death of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, in 2004, Mahmoud Abbas was elected President of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas was considered someone with whom the US, Europe and Israel could do business.
But instead of strengthening the position of Abbas, the Bush administration banged its ‘New Middle East’ drum and insisted Palestine held free and fair elections. After congratulating the Palestinian people, as we now know from leaked US State Department documents, Washington plotted to overthrow the people’s choice of political organisation – Hamas.
In the April 2008 issue of Vanity Fair, David Rose writes “After failing to anticipate Hamas’s victory over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian election, the White House cooked up yet another scandalously covert and self-defeating Middle East debacle…touching off a bloody civil war in Gaza and leaving Hamas stronger than ever”.
Now that it’s been confirmed that a foreign power deliberately engineered their split, Hamas and Fatah should find a way to put aside their differences.
The Gaza Strip is in lock-down and under Israeli military siege, Israeli settler colonies are expanding and Palestinians are divided. But all this doesn’t deter Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from smiling sweetly and promising a two-state solution by the end of this year.
Foreign powers are also the cause of disunity in Lebanon, which has been unable to elect a president since former Lebanese President Emile Lahoud stepped down last November.
As the country bleeds politically and economically, the Lebanese people are split between the Hezbollah-led pro-Syrian/Iranian March 8 alliance and the pro-Arab and Western March 14 coalition.
The White House has loudly and repeatedly verbalised its backing of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. Ms Rice and State Department officials frequently fly into Beirut with a fistful of promises. But talk is cheap. During the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war Siniora pleaded with the US to push for a ceasefire and was rebuffed in favour of Israel’s demand for more time to do its worst.
Washington further promised the government substantial financial aid, but much of this was contingent on Siniora being able to push through economic reforms, which he has been unable to do because the government is in disarray.
Conversely, Iran has reportedly bolstered Hezbollah to the tune of US$ 1 billion enabling Hezbollah to begin post-war reconstruction even as the government was flying around in search of cash. Every home rebuilt by Hezbollah served to consolidate its power base.
Currently, most of the Bush administration’s threats target Iran. The more they threaten, the more popular Mr Ahmadinejad becomes. The more UN sanctions, Washington contrives to put in place, the more the moderates in Iran are undercut. In the end, the only ones hurt by such sanctions are ordinary people struggling to do business and make a living.
It’s unbelievable that the White House has learned nothing from its mistakes. What’s even more unbelievable is that many nations in this region still believe in the power of America to deliver peace, prosperity, democracy and freedom, even as American warships head for the coast off Lebanon.
Hopefully, the next administration will reject false promises and empty threats in favour of brokering genuine dialogue, which, in the end, is the only route to the long-term security we all crave. If not, we can only trust that our leaders have learned to be less gullible.
After all, as former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is quoted as saying, “America has no friends, only interests”. Perhaps it’s time the Arab world heeded his words and adopted a similar approach.