A Report on "A Symposium on Enhancing the U.S. role in the World"
by RW Spisak (r) 2008
"The next president inherits the worst opening situation of any President since Lincoln...."
- former Ambasador Richard Holbrooke
Hosted by Tom Brokaw, featuring former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, former Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Chairman Jessica Matthews, National Endowment for Democracy Chairman Vin Weber, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.
The discussion of International Affairs challenges turned to the broader questions of Africa, Asia, India and South America. Africa has more than a dozen civil conflicts most of which although often tribal are typically also resource based involving petroleum, mineral rights or water access. Unfortunately given the historic relations between the western powers and the current post colonial power structures, contemporary inter-governmental relationships are colored by the lingering colonial shadows and mistrust. These are also muddied by racial tension, land rights and the proxy wars still energized by cold war animosities. Even without the new pressures of the Global Energy Crisis, these post colonial relationships remain complex.
There is the problem of the Chinese impact on Asia and beyond with its growing economic power and expanding resource demands. The sub-continent with it's poverty and resource problems are exacerbated by ethnic, religious and tribal tensions. The nuclear expansion and control problems in the subcontinent were made worse by a (yet to be ratified) recent American nuclear agreement to sell nuclear fuel and equipment to India. The hot/cold relations with an increasingly unstable Pakistan which is in turn, a helpful agent ready and willing to track and harass Al Queda and also at times a refuge and sustainer of a resurgent Taliban. Pakistani Intelligence is also regarded as an off again, on again supporter of the Al Queda leadership. It is also reported that the proliferation of nuclear weapon technology could only occur with tacit international approval. Pakistan had trouble maintaining any control whatsoever over the Tribal Regions under a military dictatorship now with a fractious coalition government any constraints on the Tribal regions maybe impossible.
Central and South America have elected governments but the remaining vestiges of colonial economic systems and US military links often clouds the water preventing a completely productive relationship. The additional compounding dilemma is that there has been no focus whatsoever on the problems of South America except in so far as the expensive, continually failing drug-wars, which we seem to have as a mono-focus and a one-note policy in much of South America. The only other strong US position has been vociferous undiplomatic opposition to the Cuban and Venezuelan governments.
DO WE BASE FOREIGN RELATIONS POLICY ON A GOVERNMENT'S INTERNAL OR EXTERNAL BEHAVIORS?
There has long been a tension between those who view foreign policy through a pragmatic or idealistic lens.
The Carter Administration made Human Rights a focus of foreign policy. We have since turned away and in fact have been shown again and again to have a callous disregard for even the basic guarantees of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. Holding prisoners beyond the reach of the RED CROSS or RED CRESCENT. What has George W. Bush sanctioned? Meetings were held in the White House, where plans were laid for Black sites, systematic prisoner abuse, denials of Habeas Corpus, renditions, ghost prisoners and the calculated murder of prisoners held in American Custody. This is what we have seen the evidence for, and for which, we have heard the excuses.
The arguments and obfuscation on the Issue of PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH's personally sanctioned torture programs. American policy through the GEORGE W. BUSH regime has turned away from any rudimentary Human Rights agenda, and toward a dark period where America has joined the ranks of those nations who have "reasons to justify" human rights abuses.
Unless our actions are seen as consistently in favor of Liberty and Human Rights, America will be misunderstood as just one more post colonial power adrift until the next wave of economic and military power takes over the worlds political and economic levers. Any possibility of America reestablishing its leadership will depend on an agenda that utilizes a variety of abandoned and currently underutilized tools.
We have abandoned diplomacy as an international tool for American foreign policy, which is reflected in the fact that during the catastrophic George W. Bush term hundreds of seats in the diplomatic service have been left vacant. The emphasis on understanding the world via language studies has been de-emphasized to the extent that the CIA and FBI had to place ads in the paper begging for Arab speakers. Madeleine Albright said "in the old days I had overseas pen pals, communication has evolved and is now nearly instantaneous but the exchange of contacts and ideas needs to keep pace". Simple things like "pen-pals" and cultural exchanges can do tremendous good for expanding understanding. The current administration has hampered academic exchanges barred professors and made the VISA applications much more difficult.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright suggested that we develop a new National Service Program similar to the Peace Corps to expand Cultural outreach which can also include Environmental and Energy policy projects. When we limit ourselves to utilizing only military force we present an America that is militaristic. This is not the best of what America has to offer the world. Medical, Agricultural and Cultural Outreach, a "Civilian Reserve" could provide an additional set of tools for American Foreign policy. We need to establish Diplomatic Swat teams, to bring additional non-military power to bear on international problems. Right now our international face is Humvees and Kevlar rolling at high speed through deserted streets.