Take the Plunge

Posted January 4, 2007

Categories: Articles

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This last week alone, FPIF published a three-part critique of Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy, three reports from the climate conference in Bali, a terrifying look at the lack of nuclear security, a report from the grassroots on efforts to prevent war with Iran, and a peak into the prospects for peace in northeast Asia.

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The Candidates

The problem with the presidential candidates is that they’re not willing to take the plunge. With the exception of the voices at the edge of the debate (Kucinich, Paul), the candidates are not offering a new foreign policy. This seems to defy common sense. Seven years of one foreign policy failure after another from the Bush administration has created a golden opportunity for Democrats and Republicans alike to put forward something new. And yet the candidates can only talk about terrorism and spending more money on the military.

There seems to be one exception to this lack of boldness. At least the Democrats are talking about withdrawing from Iraq.

But as FPIF Middle East editor Stephen Zunes argues, the Democratic frontrunner has staked out a position that is not all that different from the president’s. “She would withdraw some troops, just as President Bush has been promising to do eventually, but insists that the United States should maintain its ‘military as well as political mission’ in Iraq for the indefinite future for such purposes as countering Iranian influence, protecting the Kurdish minority, preventing a failed state, and supporting the Iraqi military,” Zunes writes in Hillary Clinton on Iraq. “On ABC’s “This Week” in September, she insisted that ‘withdrawing is dangerous. It has to be done responsibly, prudently, carefully, but we have said that there will be a likely continuing mission against al-Qaeda in Iraq. We have to protect our civilian employees, our embassy that will be there.'”

While Clinton has expressed her skepticism about “free” trade–see, for instance, this German take on the growing U.S. skepticism toward unmitigated globalization–she has been all-too-conventional in her other views on foreign policy. As Zunes notes in Hillary Clinton on Military Policy, “Despite efforts by some conservative Republicans to portray her as being on the left wing of the Democratic Party, in reality her foreign policy positions bear a far closer resemblance to those of Ronald Reagan than they do of George McGovern.” And in Hillary Clinton on International Law, he adds, “Though an overwhelming majority of Americans, according to public opinion polls, believe that human rights should be a cornerstone of American foreign policy, Senator Clinton has repeatedly prioritized the profits of American arms manufacturers and the extension of Washington’s hegemonic reach in parts of the world.”

FPIF will be rolling out more foreign policy profiles of the candidates as the primary season heats up.

Heat’s On in Bali

The latest round of discussions to devise a post-Kyoto roadmap took place last week in Bali, Indonesia. At the table were 10,000 delegates from 190 countries. Environmental ministers were at the forefront, but there were trade and finance officials as well. As FPIF contributor Victor Menotti writes in Trade, Climate, and Bali, “Trade and finance officials are getting involved because cutting emissions in time to avoid catastrophe will inevitably have an impact on the global economy. It also means that global economic institutions must adapt to today’s ecological realities. If climate change is indeed the global emergency we believe it to be, then climate protection must become a new lens through which we view the rules of trade and finance.”

The debate on climate change is not just between government elites. As FPIF contributor Walden Bello reports from the scene, civil society was at Bali in force. The event “marked the entry of the global justice movement into the climate change negotiations. The meeting was attended not only by civil society organizations working on trade and development like Oxfam and the World Development Movement but also by mass movement networks like Via Campesina and Jubilee South,” Bello writes in Players and Plays in Bali. “This eruption of trade justice and development activists brought a contentious, World Trade Organization ministerial-like atmosphere to the negotiations, which had formerly been marked by a civil if not chummy relationship between government negotiators and climate lobbyists.”

In the end, the United States and other skeptics were able to water down the final agreement and remove any emission targets. “Would it have been better to have simply let the United States walk out, allowing the rest of the world to forge a strong agreement containing deep mandatory cuts in greenhouse gas emissions on the part of the developed countries?” Walden Bello asks in his final report from the conference entitled The Day After. “With a new U.S. president and a new policy on climate change expected at the beginning of 2009, the United States would have rejoined a process that would already be moving along with strong binding targets.”

Feeling Safe Yet?

With the world focused on global warming, let’s not forget that the apocalyptic threats of yesterday are still with us. FPIF columnist Zia Mian writes that the United States is spending millions to secure Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. And yet nuclear security here at home remains dismal. “In August this year,” Mian writes in How Not to Handle Nuclear Security, “six U.S. nuclear-armed cruise missiles were inadvertently loaded onto a bomber at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota and flown across the country to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. The cruise missiles remained fitted to the bomber for 24 hours before it took off and for hours after it landed without anyone realizing that it was carrying nuclear warheads.”

Then there are the insufficiently secure nuclear facilities, the leak of nuclear information, the unreliable personnel. The U.S. government talks at great length about the dangers of nuclear weapons falling into the wrong hands. But what if some of those hands are actually our own?

Meanwhile, there’s the ongoing threat of war with Iran. Although the U.S. intelligence community has declared that Iran gave up its nuclear weapons program in 2003, the Bush administration remains determined to push the country to the wall.

At least one community is pushing back. As FPIF’s policy outreach director Erik Leaver writes in Midwest City Fights Back, the city council of Gary, Indiana passed a resolution opposing any preemptive attack on Iran. “With the facts from the NIE, the success of the IAEA inspections and the majority of the international community favoring continued diplomacy, it may seem like the threat of war with Iran has been avoided,” Leaver writes in AlterNet. “But as Bush and the hard-liners push back, Gary, Ind., cannot stand alone. It’s time to offer a clear alternative to war. With hundreds of other towns standing shoulder to shoulder with those from Gary, we have that opportunity.”

Loose nukes, the continued threat of a war with Iran–isn’t there any good news? In East Asia, for instance, the Six Party Talks are finally leading to some progress toward ending the nuclear stalemate with North Korea. Pyongyang has begun to dismantle its nuclear program and the United States has taken some tentative steps toward diplomatic rapprochement. There is talk of a peace treaty to replace the Korean War armistice and even a regional peace and security mechanism for Northeast Asia.

But as I argue in The Paradox of East Asia Peace, “Between 2002 and 2007, the military budgets of five of the six countries in the Six-Party Talks increased by 50% or more.” Moreover, the six countries account for over 60% of world military expenditures. So, even if they are talking peace, they are still spending for war.

On this last question of spending priorities, let me put in one last plug for Foreign Policy In Focus. If you can help us reach our goal of $5,000, please click here to contribute.

Have a great holiday season and we’ll see you again with World Beat after a two-week hiatus on Monday, January 7.

FPIF, December 17, 2007

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