The more things change, the more they stay the same. Sometimes this is a good thing. Sometimes it is not.
Let’s start with the bad news. World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz woke up the other day and discovered that he’d turned into an unpresident. Instead of appointing a worthy successor, President Bush chose Robert Zoellick, former head U.S. trade negotiator. And thus a free trade hardliner replaces a military hardliner, and not much will change at the World Bank. As FPIF contributor Sarah Anderson points out in Mr. Hardball Goes to the World Bank, Zoellick was not only tone-deaf in his approach, he was spectacularly ineffective as well. He did trade about as poorly as Wolfowitz did war. Under Zoellick’s watch, for instance, the World Trade Organization stalled and the Free Trade Area of the Americas was stillborn.
“Critics of corporate-driven trade agendas celebrated Zoellick’s failures as a trade negotiator. Since he was deaf not only to the concerns of many developing country governments, but also to those of civil society groups in the United States and abroad, it was certainly preferable to have no deals than bad ones,” Anderson writes. “But is a tone-deaf, name-calling steely opportunist a good choice to lead the World Bank?”
If there were any justice in the world, someone who really knows about poverty—such as microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus—would head up the Bank. And if justice prevailed, we would hear nothing more from Wolfowitz for he would be doubly disgraced, first by his role in the Iraq War and now by his World Bank record (not to mention all the embarrassments of his earlier career). But the United States is the land of second and third chances. The Chinese apply the death penalty to top officials accused of corruption. Here, the corrupt sit in the time-out corner for an ever-diminishing length of time. Then, like Richard Nixon or Oliver North, they have the chutzpah to return to public life. There is rarely contrition, and they are about as “new and improved” as repackaged laundry detergent. Metamorphosis indeed.
New Developments at FPIF
Here at Foreign Policy In Focus, meanwhile, we are going through an important change, and yet we will remain the same. For 10 years, we were a joint project of the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) and the International Relations Center (IRC) in New Mexico. As of June 1, we became solely an IPS project. To streamline its work in policy analysis and communication, the IRC Board recently made a decision to consolidate its work on two of its four programs, while spinning off its other programs to like-minded organizations. The Americas Program and Global Good Neighbor work of the IRC will be moving to the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC.
These changes will not disrupt our doing what we do best, producing serious policy analysis and alternatives. Through the transition, FPIF will maintain regular web publication and this weekly e-zine without interruption. In addition to our core work, the project has taken on a great new initiative, that of formulating a new “Just Security” policy for the United States. We will launch this document at the Take Back America conference in June. Also, on the policy front, FPIF will be producing a “wiki” that will allow citizens to participate in drafting an alternative foreign policy. Be on the lookout for these two initiatives in just a few short weeks.
FPIF will continue a busy summer by attending the U.S. Social Forum and United for Peace and Justice’s annual conference. We will also continue the youth-oriented summer film festival we hold in DC. And we’ll cap off the summer by rolling out a new version of the FPIF website. Our vintage 1990s site will finally enter the 21st century.
More of the Same in Iraq
The “surge” has generated its own counter-surge. According to the front page of Sunday’s Washington Post, insurgents in Iraq are using bigger bombs against U.S. troops, which is increasing the casualty rates among soldiers. What the article doesn’t mention, but which Nick Turse covers in The Nation, is that the U.S. military is also using bigger bombs in Iraq. The air war against Iraq didn’t end with the initial combat phase. Since April 2003, coalition forces have dropped nearly 60,000 pounds of cluster bombs—a munition that many countries in the world support banning—and at least 111,000 pounds of other types of bombs.
The Bush administration has promised all along that things would change in Iraq—as a result of the initial invasion, then after the Coalition Provisional Authority got off the ground, then when the Iraqi army came together, now with the surge in U.S. troops on the ground. As FPIF contributor Adil Shamoo points out, nothing has changed in terms of the everyday health of Iraqis.
“Before Iraq suffered through an embargo and two wars with the United States starting in 1990, its healthcare system was considered one of the best in the Middle East. Iraq had well-trained physicians and modern facilities,” Shamoo writes in The Destruction of Iraqi Healthcare Infrastructure. “Today, the healthcare system barely exists at all, with few healthcare workers and hospitals that are battlegrounds.”
And the metamorphosis in U.S. politics that so many citizens expected after the November elections, at least on Iraq War policy, has also not materialized. As FPIF’s Middle East editor Stephen Zunes explains in The Democrats’ Support for Bush’s War, congressional Democrats accepted the president’s request for nearly $100 billion of supplemental spending, mostly for the Iraq War.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “claimed that they had to provide unconditional funding for President Bush’s war in Iraq because they could not get enough Republican support to achieve the two-thirds majority necessary to override a presidential veto,” Zunes writes. “However, they did not need a two-thirds majority to stop funding the war. All they needed to do was to refuse to pass any unconditional funding for the war and instead pass a funding measure that allocated money for the sole purpose of facilitating a safe and orderly withdrawal from Iraq, or, at the very least, a funding measure that set a strict deadline for the withdrawal of troops.”
New Threat on the Horizon?
“Containment is dead. Long live containment!”
The euphoria at the Cold War’s end lasted but a blink of the eye. The object of containment policy has changed—it is now China, not the Soviet Union. And the mode of operation has changed—it is now more naval than land-based. But otherwise, containment is alive and well and living in the Pacific.
As FPIF columnist Conn Hallinan writes in The New Pacific Wall, Australia is the key U.S. ally in the region. Australia “has troops in Iraq as well as the Solomon Islands, East Timor, and Tonga. Last August, Prime Minister Howard told the parliament that Australia needs to prepare for an even greater role in monitoring and assisting troubled nations in the Pacific region. Howard has also adopted some of the rhetoric of the Bush administration, calling for ‘preemptive’ strikes against ‘terrorist groups’ in the region.”
China is the ultimate target, and the United States is enlisting the services of Australia, Japan, and India in a connect-the-dots strategy of encirclement. But containing a country is not so easy when it’s one of your major trading partners. China is Australia’s third-largest trading partner. Indeed, it’s become a top trading partner with pretty much everyone. This is part of what FPIF contributor Joshua Kurlantzick calls “China’s charm offensive.” Beijing has learned how to use its soft power of diplomacy and economic trade. But how long can this soft power work?
“Greater familiarity with China will expose many countries to the People’s Republic’s flaws,” Kurlantzick writes in an FPIF excerpt from his new book. “China’s promises of aid and investment could take years to materialize, yet Beijing has created heightened expectations about its potential as a donor and investor in many countries. China’s exportation of labor, environmental, and governance problems alienates average people in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. China’s support for autocratic rulers in countries like Zimbabwe and Sudan angers civil society leaders and opposition politicians. If Beijing seems to be dropping its preference for noninterference and “win-win” relations, it will spark fears in countries like Vietnam already suspicious of China. It also could reinforce the idea that despite Beijing’s rhetoric of cooperation, when it comes to core interests, China, like any great power, will think of itself first.”
One of the autocratic countries that China has been supporting is Burma. As FPIF contributor Jeremy Woodrum writes in his Postcard from Burma, China has not supported calls for the Burmese military regime to release opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, “stating that the matter was Burma’s ‘internal affair.’ In January, China also vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that called on the Burmese junta to stop political repression. In a sign of changing politics in Southeast Asia, newspapers and parliamentarians have begun to criticize China’s unilateral position on Burma and its undermining of ASEAN.”
China is changing, no one denies that. But when it comes to its support for military dictators for reasons of political expediency, the Chinese leaders are no different than Paul Wolfowitz, who gladhanded Indonesia’s Suharto among other satraps. Plus ca change …
FPIF, June 4, 2007