WELL, JOHN KERRY doesn’t have it, either!
I was curious to see if the new secretary of state’s “major speech” at the University of Virginia might finally signal a “change” in foreign policy, which President Obama had promised Americans during his first presidential run. Sadly, it didn’t.
John Kerry’s recipe to meet U.S. foreign policy challenges appeared to have been copied from the neoconservatives’ play book: trade, aid and democracy. All these have been tried. They didn’t work.
On international trade, the U.S. trade deficit has ballooned under Bush and Obama. With China, America’s most important trading partner, it has reached an historic high of $315 billion.
The United States has poured tens of billions of dollars in foreign aid, promoting secular education and bolstering security and military forces in countries that are breeding terrorists. The idea, floated by fertile neoconservative minds, is that young Muslim men are turning to terrorism because of poverty and joblessness and anti-Western hatred engendered by madrasah education. Despite America’s prodigious aid programs during the past decade, terror is winning America’s “war on terror.” Al Qaeda used to be holed up in Afghanistan’s Hindukush Mountains. It’s now spreading dramatically — so are other terrorist groups — in South Asia, the Middle East, North and West Africa, and elsewhere. After fighting its longest war in history, the United States is getting ready to flee Afghanistan without realizing Obama’s repeatedly proclaimed vow to “disrupt, dismantle and defeat” the Taliban.
Kerry’s other proposition, i.e. helping build democracy abroad, is based on another pie-in-the-sky neoconservative mantra, namely that democracies are peaceable and buddy-buddy with one another. I wonder how the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee could have failed to notice that democracy is transforming secular, and – with the exception of Iraq – pro-American regimes into Islamist ones that care less about American democracy or American interests? Egypt, Tunisia and Turkey are among the examples.
Nobody would, of course, doubt Kerry’s sanity, but he apparently plans to defy Albert Einstein’s caveat against “doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.” But why?
The main source of the secretary of state’s predicament is not himself, but his boss. For all his soaring rhetoric, Obama came into the White House as a clean slate in international affairs. He didn’t – and still doesn’t – have a vision of his own about America’s relations with the world. Most naive and perilous has been the president’s lurch toward the right-wing foreign and defense policy aficionados who had helped create the mess abroad and whom he now expected to clean it up.
I was aghast to see him fill his key defense, intelligence and foreign policy posts with such right-wing diehards from the Bush administration as Robert Gates, Tom Donilon, John Brennan, James Jones, Dennis Ross, and others. Hillary Clinton also is a dyed-in-wool establishment figure. Her traditionalist worldview was highlighted in, among other issues, her unwavering support for the disastrous Iraq war, which she has persistently refused to call a mistake. I was hoping, in vain, that the president would bring over to his administration such progressive and resourceful minds as Zbigniew Brzezinski, Aaron David Miller, Joseph S. Nye Jr., Ann Marie Slaughter and Robert Unger. His nomination of Chuck Hagel for the defense secretary post seems to have been an aberration. I would be surprised if the forward-looking and (still) morally inspired former senator from Nebraska can withstand the pressure of jingoism permeating in the administration.
No wonder the Obama administration, in international affairs, looked like a third, and now probably a fourth, Bush-Cheney administration. Noam Chomsky aptly described the Democratic president as a “moderate Republican” who is a “reactionary” on civil liberties issues. It’s because Obama lacked, not only a grounding in foreign affairs, but the moral courage and commitment to break out of America’s outmoded foreign policy establishment.
◆ Mustafa Malik, an international affairs commentator in Washington, hosts the blog ‘Islam and the West.’.