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Foreign Policy and National Security Are Not the Same Thing

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By Dave Lindorff

One of the sorrier legacies of eight years of Bush and Cheney in
the White House has been the conflation of the terms “National
Security” and “Foreign Policy” by both Republicans and Democrats.

Granted that the history of US foreign policy in the world has been
heavily larded with wars, many of them at America’s instigation. It is
nonetheless true that foreign policy is much bigger and more far
reaching than just what has come to be known as “national security”
issues.

In Bush-speak, national security come to mean having big guns, lots
of heavily armed troops, cruise missiles, nuclear weapons, naval
armadas and a bully’s willingness to use these weapons on a whim, with
no thought of consequences.

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The term is kind of oxymoronic, since it is clear that by resorting
to war and to threats of war, and by squandering unprecedented sums of
money on the military, eight years of bellicosity has not made the
nation more secure. Quite the opposite: The military has been run into
the ground, the economy has been bankrupted, education, healthcare and
other critical national services have been shortchanged, and the
country has become a pariah state, viewed around the world as a loose
cannon and a terror nation—hardly a comforting position to be in.

Foreign policy, meanwhile, has ceased to have any meaning at all,
beyond the making of war or threats of war, making it virtually
synonymous with the term national security.

When I was a Fulbright professor in China, back in 1991, at a
mid-year conference in the southern Chinese city of Kunming, we
grantees were addressed by the head of the Fulbright Program in China,
a cultural affairs director from the US embassy in Beijing. He informed
us that as teachers (I was teaching journalism at Fudan University in
Shanghai), we Fulbrighters were the frontline of American foreign
policy in China. Most of us were kind of repulsed by his semi-military
allusion to a battle line and by implication to us as soldiers, and we
chose instead to see our role as something different: emissaries from
the American people to the Chinese people. In fact, given that most of
the 21 of us were hardly superpatriots or cold warriors (the academics,
journalists, lawyers and other professionals who serve in the Fulbright
Program tend demographically to be among the most liberal and
left-leaning group in the American workforce), we would have made a
pretty bad defense line. Rather, what we were doing in China, by
teaching and building relationships with young Chinese college
students, was the essence of real foreign policy—building bridges at
the grass roots level between the people of China and the people of the
US.

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Foreign policy can be reduced to a strategic chess game—the kind of
“real politik” practiced by Klemens von Metternich in the 19th Century,
or espoused by Henry Kissinger in the Nixon years—but it is actually,
or at least ought to be, much broader than that kind of cold and
calculating manipulation and pursuit of narrow self-interest.

Real foreign policy should be about winning friends, building
trust, establishing relationships between countries and peoples,
negotiating treaties designed to achieve mutual advantage and to deter
aggression. It is about aiding countries that are in need of
assistance, and at its best, should also be about making the world a
safer, better place for all, which in the end is the best way to guard
against war and the threats of war.

Now it would be naïve to imagine a foreign policy that ignored
national self-interest. Much as I or others might wish for a world
without borders and a common humanity, in a world of nation states, it
is inevitable that foreign policy as practiced by any nation, including
the United States, will be focused on achieving the maximum benefit for
that nation, and US foreign policy has always been about just that, and
unfortunately probably always will be. But even granted this selfish
parochialism, it is incredibly shortsighted and ignorant to treat
foreign policy as simply an America-first process of bullying others
into submission to our dictates. Thousands of American teachers and
Peace Corps volunteers and aid workers do much more to advance
America’s position in the world and to enhance the nation’s security
than do hundreds of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of thousands of
tons of bombs and missiles.

For Republicans, there is no difference between national security,
which is defined as a powerful and assertive military, and foreign
policy. But Democrats, who at times have had a more nuanced view, have
more recently bought into this too. At the current Democratic
Convention, anxious to look as tough as Republicans, Democratic
speakers have used the terms national security and foreign policy
interchangeably.

Afghanistan and Iraq provide excellent cases in point. Clearly, the
US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, ostensibly aimed initially at
hunting down Al Qaeda fighters and leaders, quickly devolved into an
all-out assault on that nation, which has been reduced to the same
rubble and state of chaos and civil war as has Iraq. Now, Democratic
presidential nominee Barack Obama is talking about expanding the war
there, and increasing the killing and destruction in that country. In
Iraq, where the US has been involved in an orgy of killing and
destruction now for over five years, Obama and fellow Democrats are
calling for a “responsible exit” from that conflict over the course of
another 16 months. A truly responsible exit would be an immediate
withdrawal, a national apology to Iraqis and to the world community,
and a massive program of reparations to help rebuild that nation.

What Obama and the Democrats are touting is not foreign policy. It is a continuation of national security run amok.

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No amount of American force, no level of mayhem and slaughter, will
bring about a secure and tranquil Afghanistan. In fact, every time
Americans kill Afghanis, as American bombers recently did, slaughtering
60 children and 30 other adults, women and men, in an aerial
bombardment reminiscent of the German Luftwaffe’s attack on the Basque
village of Guernica, they produce not peace and submission, but rather
hatred and a desire for vengeance.

It will take perhaps a generation of good works for the US to undo
the evil done to American foreign relations by eight years of
Bush/Cheney obsession with national security, but it doesn’t even look
like the Democrats “get it.” In Congress, they have vied with
Republicans to look tough, supporting both the invasion of Afghanistan
and the invasion of Iraq, they have supported the continued funding of
those wars and increased funding for the already bloated US war
machine, and they are now backing Obama’s call for more combat troops
in Afghanistan.

Real foreign policy would be looking at ways to work with other nations to bring down the level of combat, and to bring peace to Afghanistan and to other war-torn regions of the world.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper www.thiscantbehappening.net. He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the (more...)
 

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