Saturday, February 03, 2007

William Pfaff: A foreign policy realist

Who is therefore my kind of guy. Read his GREAT piece in the New York Review of Books. Here is one section which reads as though it was authored by someone working in a libertarian think tank:
The noninterventionist alternative to the policies followed in the United States since the 1950s is to minimize interference in other societies and accept the existence of an international system of plural and legitimate powers and interests. One would think the idea that nations are responsible for themselves, and that American military interference in their affairs is more likely to turn small problems into big ones than to solve them, would appeal to an American public that believes in individual responsibility and the autonomy of markets, considers itself hostile to political ideology (largely unaware of its own), and professes to be governed by constitutional order, pragmatism, and compromise.

A noninterventionist policy would shun ideology and emphasize pragmatic and empirical judgment of the interests and needs of this nation and of others, with reliance on diplomacy and analytical intelligence, giving particular attention to history, since nearly all serious problems between nations are recurrent or have important recurrent elements in them. The current crises in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine-Israel, and Iran are all colonial or postcolonial in nature, which is generally ignored in American political and press discussion.

Such a noninterventionist policy would rely primarily on trade and the market, rather than territorial control or military intimidation, to provide the resources and energy the United States needs. Political and diplomatic action would be the primary and essential instruments of international relations and persuasion; military action the last and worst one, evidence of political failure. Military deployments abroad would be reexamined with particular attention to whether they might actually be impediments to solutions of the conflicts of clients, or reinforce intransigence in the complex dynamics of relations among nations such as the two Koreas, China, Taiwan, and Japan, where lasting solutions can only be found in political settlements between principals.

Had a noninterventionist policy been followed in the 1960s, there would have been no American war in Indochina. The struggle there would have been recognized as nationalist in motivation, unsusceptible to solution by foreigners, and inherently limited in its international consequences, whatever they might be—as has proved to be the case. The United States would never have been defeated, its army demoralized, or its students radicalized. There would have been no American invasion of Cambodia, which precipitated the Khmer Rouge genocide. The tribal peoples of Laos would probably have been spared their ordeal.

The United States would not have suffered its catastrophic implication in what was essentially a domestic crisis in Iran in 1979, which still poisons Near and Middle Eastern affairs, since there would never have been the huge and provocative American investment in the Shah's regime as American "gendarme" in the region, compromising the Shah and contributing to the fundamentalist backlash against his secularizing modernization.

Without entering further into what rapidly would become an otiose discussion of the "mights" or "might nots" of the last half-century, one can certainly argue that a noninterventionist United States would not be at war in Iraq today. While obviously concerned about the free flow of Middle Eastern oil, Washington would have assumed that the oil-using states bought their oil on the market and that oil producers had to sell, having nothing else they can do with their oil, and that politically motivated interference in the market by the oil producers would in the mid- and long term fail, as happened after the OPEC oil price rise of 1973.

Israel, with its conventional and unconventional arms, is capable of assuring its own defense against external aggression, if newly aware of the limits of its ability to combat irregular forces. It cannot expect total security without political resolution of the Palestinian question, a problem only it can solve, by withdrawing from the territories to some negotiated approximation of the 1967 border. International engagement would undoubtedly be necessary to a solution, and would willingly be supplied. Forty years of American involvement have unfortunately served mainly to allow the Israelis to avoid facing facts, contributing to radicalization in Islamic society.

Washington might reasonably have considered people who are victims of domestic despots, such as the Iraqis before 2003, as responsible for their own solutions, and usually capable of their own revolutions—if they really wanted revolution. No foreign power occupied Iraq, imposing Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. The current Iraqi insurgencies against military occupation and an American-imposed government, accompanied by mounting sectarian conflict, now tie down the quasi totality of available American ground forces. "Regime change" is better left to the people whose regime it is, who know what they want, and who will benefit from or suffer the consequences of change.