Go to Original
Going It Alone
America's wooden stance: King is only player on board
By Clyde Prestowitz
Sunday 17 August 2003
With American casualties in Iraq mounting and 0aweapons of mass destruction remaining elusive, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul 0aWolfowitz told Congress recently that he is suspicious of United Nations offers 0aof help because they might entail some constraints on U.S. actions.
About the same time, South Korean students marking 0athe 50th anniversary of the Korean War armistice called America more dangerous 0athan North Korea; production of opium destined for the U.S. heroin market was 0areported to be soaring in Afghanistan; looting and slaughter continued under 0aLiberia's thuggish dictator as Washington declined a UN request for humanitarian 0aintervention; and African cotton farmers faced growing penury as President Bush 0afailed to reduce subsidies to U.S. growers as they flooded world markets with 0aexcess production.
Americans have been wondering why the world has not 0arallied to our side in the last two years, and our leaders have provided 0aconvenient answers. "They hate our freedom" or "they envy our success" or "criticism just goes with the territory of being the top dog," we are told.
Glibness, however, requires 0agullibility.
Take first the very notion of America battling alone 0ain the face of envy and hatred. The outpouring of sympathy and support that 0aoccurred around the world on Sept. 12, when even the French newspaper Le Monde 0aproclaimed "We Are All Americans" should have put that notion to rest. If it 0adidn't, certainly the number of world leaders, from India to Canada, backing UN 0aSecretary General Kofi Annan in his offer of help in Iraq showed a worldwide 0awillingness to help with reconstruction even though most nations had opposed the 0awar.
The real problem here is not so much foreign 0ahostility as America's insistence on going it alone in its own way. Wolfowitz's 0atestimony is the tip-off. The United States would rather be in absolute control 0athan accept any help that might in any way dilute that authority or that might 0aeven slightly complicate U.S. operations.
This was evident in the case of Afghanistan long 0abefore the Iraq question arose. Immediately after Sept. 11, America's longtime 0aallies in NATO voluntarily invoked the treaty's "an attack on one is an attack 0aon all" clause and literally begged Washington to include their troops in the 0ainvasion of Afghanistan, to no avail. It would be easier and faster simply to 0amove alone, the Pentagon said.
The lack of interest in NATO and UN help is the 0anatural result of the adoption by the United States of the radical new doctrine 0aof preventive and pre-emptive war developed by Wolfowitz and a small group of 0aself-styled neo-conservatives after the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 0a1991.
Although the United States won the Cold War with a 0astrategy of deterrence and by building alliances and multilateral institutions 0asuch as NATO, the UN and the World Trade Organization, the new thinking argued 0afor military superiority such that no other power would even consider a 0achallenge and a unilateral approach based on the view that while friends are 0anice to have they are really not necessary for the United States to achieve its 0aobjectives.
`Coalitions of the willing'
Much discussed and partly adopted during the 1990s, 0athis doctrine of pre-emption and "coalitions of the willing" in place of 0adeterrence and alliances became the foundation of U.S. strategy since Sept. ll. 0aIn the world of the 21st Century, it was argued, the threats will be so dire and 0aimmediate that we must be prepared to strike first, and perhaps alone, to avoid 0abeing struck.
Of course, to be credible as something other than an 0aexcuse for permanent war, such a strategy must be based on accurate intelligence 0aabout the immediacy and seriousness of the threat.
In the run-up to the recent Iraq war, the Bush 0aadministration repeatedly emphasized that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had 0alarge numbers of weapons of mass destruction that could be unleashed against the 0aUnited States at any moment. Other countries harbored doubts, but, claiming 0asuperior knowledge as well as virtue, the United States overrode allied requests 0afor further investigation and deterrence and set course for war with a "coalition of the willing."
In the aftermath, we have learned not only that our 0aintelligence was faulty but that, while we can win the military battles by 0aourselves we really need help with what comes afterward. Yet our doctrine and 0aoperating style inhibit us from getting that help.
This problem goes beyond Iraq.
Despite our great power, it is clear that beyond 0athe battlefield there is little that we can accomplish by ourselves in an 0aincreasingly globalized world. We can't fight the wars on terror and drugs by 0aourselves nor can we run the world economy or deal with epidemics such as AIDS 0aand SARS or problems like global warming by ourselves. We need help and friends; 0ayet our inconsistent attitudes and policies are a source of constant 0adisappointment to those who would be our friends--not to mention that they often 0aare destructive to our own society.
Take the problem of soaring opium production in 0aAfghanistan. As part of the effort to knock out Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, 0athe United States overthrew Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and promised a new era 0afor women, democracy, economic development, and security.
Washington's Afghan failure
In fact, however, Washington has put little effort 0ainto providing either development or security and has undermined any hope of 0ademocracy by acquiescing control of large parts of the country by its 0atraditional warlords upon whose help the Pentagon relied to defeat the Taliban. 0aNow the warlords are getting rich by promoting opium production with the tacit 0aconnivance of the same U.S. government that says it is fighting a war on drugs. 0aMeanwhile, faith in America and its promises of development and democracy is 0amuch diminished throughout the region, and the Taliban appear to be making a 0acomeback.
The situation in Korea is another case in point. For 0aAmericans who grew up thinking they had "saved" South Korea from the communists, 0athe newly widespread anti-Americanism of Korean young people has come as a 0ashocking betrayal.
What the U.S. public doesn't understand is that 0awhile America may have prevented a communist takeover of South Korea, Washington 0ainstalled not a democracy but a sometimes brutal dictatorship that was backed by 0aa series of U.S. administrations before the Koreans achieved democracy in the 0a1990s through their own efforts. Indeed, in some cases, U.S. commanders released 0aKorean troops from their command to participate in quelling pro-democracy 0astudent uprisings.
More recently, U.S. hard-line policies toward the 0aNorth are seen not only as having stimulated the North's development of nuclear 0aweapons but also as having been adopted without consultation with the South and 0ain opposition to the South's "sunshine policy" of trying to soften up the 0anorthern regime through trade, investment, family visits and tourism. In short, 0ayoung South Koreans believe America's interest has never been in Korea itself, 0abut only in how Korea fit into America's geopolitical interests.
The case of Liberia again points up the 0ainconsistencies in U.S. policies that give rise to foreign cynicism and 0aalienation from America. Long ruled by a dictator who regularly did business 0awith Al Qaeda and Hezbollah militants and who set up roadblocks made of human 0aintestines from disemboweled victims left by the roadside, it has become the 0aobject of a UN effort to stop the slaughter of a raging civil war. In the 0aabsence of weapons of mass destruction, the United States has been justifying 0aits invasio of Iraq on the basis of having gotten rid of a brutal, inhumane 0adictator.
Yet, in Liberia, a country founded by freed American 0aslaves and whose capital Monrovia is named after James Monroe, the United States 0ahas stoutly deflected the pleas from the UN to intervene on humanitarian 0agrounds. Cynics ask why the United States will intervene on humanitarian grounds 0ain one place and not the other. They answer with one word: oil.
But perhaps the most troubling example of American 0ainconsistency is international trade. During his recent trip to Africa, Bush 0atalked about helping fight AIDS and promoting investment and economic 0adevelopment.
Common error in Africa
But like all of his Republican and Democratic 0apredecessors, he failed even to suggest the one thing that would make all the 0adifference. Despite all of America's rhetoric about the glories of free trade 0aand all its pressure on countries like China and Japan to open up their markets, 0aAmerican leaders never suggest cutting subsidies for U.S. farmers. Consider 0athat, in West Africa, farmers using oxen and hand ploughs can produce a pound of 0acotton for 23 cents while in the Mississippi Delta it costs growers using air 0aconditioned tractors and satellite-guided fertilizer systems 80 cents a pound. 0aLogically, the U.S. farmers ought to be switching to soybeans or something else 0athey can grow more competitively. Instead, they are expanding their planting and 0ataking sales away from the African growers in export markets. How can they do 0athis? Via subsidies to the tune of $5 billion. Not surprisingly, Muslim West 0aAfrica does not see America as a friend and force for good and is increasingly 0alistening to the mullahs who call America the "Great Satan."
Thus does America checkmate itself by eschewing 0aoffers of help and insisting on total control while alienating those who would 0abe friends by talking the talk but not walking the walk. It should be clear by 0anow that the doctrine of pre-emptive war and coalitions of the willing can no 0alonger be maintained. The failure to find those weapons of mass destruction in 0aIraq means that future U.S. warnings of imminent threats will be met with 0adisbelief by the rest of the world and the American public.
Moreover, it is clear that the United States is 0aalready stretched to the limit by the effort in Iraq and could not contemplate 0aany significant additional interventions without real help from the 0ainternational community. But others will not proffer this help without getting 0asome say in the policy-making process.
Thus, the way forward is to return to the 0amultilateralism that won the Cold War and to work on correcting our 0ainconsistencies rather than telling ourselves it doesn't matter what the rest of 0athe world thinks of us. In fact, it makes all the difference because in the 0ashrunken world of the 21st Century we won't be able to achieve our objectives 0awithout friends.
Clyde Prestowitz is president of the Economic 0aStrategy Institute and author of "Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the 0aFailure of Good Intentions."