Not Just Iraq

Posted January 2, 2006

Categories: Articles

The Bush administration is getting a drubbing from domestic allies and adversaries alike for its policy in Iraq. Yesterday, The Washington Post declared October 2006 to be the likely tipping point as the public, the politicos, and the punditry have all concluded that U.S. military presence in Iraq is part of the problem, not part of the solution. When the election results are in next week, growing pessimism over the war’s course will likely be the least surprising October surprise of them all.

But the tipping point story has missed the point. Having concluded more than two years ago that the Iraq War was a mistake, the American public is way ahead of the politicos and the pundits. More importantly, according to a recent Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) poll, Americans are critical of the entire foreign policy of the Bush administration. Iraq is not even the half of it.

The most dramatic finding of the poll, as FPIF’s peace and security editor Miriam Pemberton discusses in the debut article of FPIF’s new War and Peace department, is the complete reversal of attitudes about the U.S. position in the world. Back in May 2003, 67% of those polled expressed satisfaction with the global standing of the United States. In October 2006, 68% were dissatisfied. This dissatisfaction extends from budget priorities to the Bush administration’s atrophied diplomatic skills.

It’s not just a partisan thing. True, Republicans tend to be rosier about the administration’s policies and purported accomplishments. But a majority of Republicans also believe that current foreign policy has decreased goodwill toward the United States and that Washington should work in concert with other countries and through international institutions to solve international problems. When asked about the upcoming congressional election, a robust 43% of Republicans said they are looking for candidates who will pursue a new approach to U.S. foreign policy (along with 77% of Independents and 91% of Democrats).

According to 76% of Republicans and 85% of Democrats in the poll, the United States should act as a global good neighbor. This seems to be how Americans intuitively look at the world. Over the last five years, Washington has been a consummate bad neighbor, blaring loud music, dumping garbage on lawns both near and far, and firing off guns in the middle of the night. It’s no surprise that chagrined Americans want a change.

Fingers are pointing at the executive branch. But Congress was also asleep in the passenger seat. As Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann write in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs, “Congressional oversight of the executive branch across a range of policies, but especially on foreign and national security policy, has virtually collapsed.” If Congress had done its job of sponsoring hard-hitting hearings on the key issues of the day—the conduct of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, homeland security, the treatment of detainees—prominent politicians wouldn’t suddenly be discovering what they should have known some time ago: American foreign policy has gone off the deep end.

Dada and Beer

Disgust with the Iraq War has run deep in the artistic community. The recent Dada exhibition—at the National Museum of Modern Art in Paris, the National Gallery in Washington, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York—started not with nonsense poetry or the mischievous creations of Marcel Duchamp. In the exhibition’s first room, museum-goers immediately confronted documentary footage of the horrors of World War I. The insanity of this war propelled artists to fight “against the agony of the times and against inebriation with death,” as Dadaist Tristan Tzara put it.

The spirit of Dada lives on, writes FPIF contributor Valery Oisteanu in his Fiesta department essay Support Peace or I’ll Kill You. After tracing the anti-war history of Dada to the present, he describes the performance art of the Living Theater in front of a military recruitment center at Times Square in New York City: “Actors dance-march in place reciting choruses ironically paraphrasing the recruitment military video projected endlessly on the Jumbotron screen above. Their chants are even more effective while the news-crawl above announces the casualty count of 2,790 American soldiers and 650,000 Iraqi civilians. At that point the actors fall to the ground in an apocalyptic finale.”

Our second essay in Fiesta this week looks at how drinking beer can save the world. FPIF contributor Chris O’Brien’s The Perils of Globeerization makes the case that local brewing plays a critical role in sustainable development throughout the world. This tradition of microbrewing launched civilizations, fueled the American war of independence, and now represents a sustainable alternative to the global march of Bud Lite.

Global brews have the same effect as Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola in stamping out local enterprise. “Women stand to suffer the most,” O’Brien writes, “since they will lose control over drinking when industrial products owned by foreign corporations replace their homebrews. If traditional drinks disappear around the world, the societies that produce them will lose a part of their identity as well as the intellectual property that can serve as a wellspring for future economic growth.”

Production and Consumption

Speaking of Wal-Mart, it’s the seventh largest destination for China’s exports, just above Singapore and gaining on the United Kingdom. Wal-Mart is only the most visible of U.S.-Chinese economic ties. China and the United States are bound together, writes FPIF columnist Walden Bello, like convicts on a chain gang. Chinese factories are producing a gazillion products. American consumers are gobbling them up. And the Chinese government is keeping the American economy afloat by using a portion of its trade surplus to buy U.S. debt.

The problem, Bello points out in Chain-Gang Economics, is that China is producing too much and the world’s consumers can’t take any more. Since there’s not much point for other countries to invest in expanding their own production, growth has stagnated around the world. “Global demand has not kept up with global productive capacity,” he writes. “And if countries are not investing in their economic futures, then growth will continue to stagnate and possibly lead to a global recession.”

At the other end of the global spectrum, the poorest country in the world, Niger, has been hit hard by a food crisis. The reason for persistent hunger in the country, write FPIF contributors Frederic Mousseau and Anuradha Mittal, lies not so much in natural disasters as in the implementation of free-market economic reforms. “Relying on the market to solve food shortages has only left the poorest people hungrier and driven more of the population into chronic poverty,” they write in Free Market Famine. “Development policies that promoted economic liberalization and encouraged regional integration along with specialization, commercialization of agriculture, and the withdrawal of the state from regulating the market have left Niger less able to meet its own needs than ever.”

Finally, in The Horrors of “Extraordinary Rendition,” Canadian citizen Maher Arar describes the nightmarish rabbit hole into which he disappeared in September 2002. Seized by U.S. officials as he transited at JFK airport in New York, Arrar was interrogated and then sent to Syria to be tortured. Winner of the 2006 Letelier-Moffit Human Rights Award, Arar eventually made it out of Syria, with the help of the Center for Constitutional Rights and many committed human rights advocates. Though Canadian courts have cleared him of all imagined wrongdoing, Arar was still not permitted into the United States to accept the award. Talk about unneighborly …

FPIF, October 30, 2006

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