U.S. Public Diplomacy: An Impossible Dream?

Posted November 29, 2007 on 6:26 pm | In the category Public Diplomacy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

There has been a surge of interest in public diplomacy in the aftermath of Karen Hughes’ resigning her position as Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy. While she received some positive attention for having received increased funding for her program, the overwhelming consensus is that she had failed to make even a small dent in the United States’ negative image around the world. While this is seen as especially the case in the Moslem world, it is clear that the problem also exists among our former friends in W. Europe. Why and how this has happened turns out to be a fairly simple question – we achieved our current reputation the old-fashioned way; we earned it.

Hughes made the fundamental mistake of believing that she could sell America on the basis of empty slogans that flew in the face of the reality of the unnecessary, disastrous Iraq War, the ongoing use of torture, the public display of despicable behavior at Abu Ghraib, the ignoring of the Geneva conventions, holding hundreds of uncharged prisoners for years at Guantanamo, kidnapping suspects to countries like Syria where they could be tortured for months before determining whether they are guilty – or even whether they were who the U.S. thought they were; hiring mercenaries to shoot innocent civilians in Iraq with complete immunity; our blind support of Israel’s disastrous attack on Lebanon; and ad infinitum. The U.S. has not been an easy sell since 2003 and the international support and goodwill that flowed to the U.S. after 9/11 has been totally lost.

While it is clear that the U.S. deserves credit for much of its foreign aid programs it is equally clear that the country will not get that credit as long as it sullies itself by wallowing in the muck of the current administration’s fear-driven foreign policy. Responsible Republicans like Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel understand this – very few other Republican politicians do, including the current group campaigning for president (other than splinter candidate Ron Paul). The current weakness of the United States allows Bush soul mate Vladimir Putin to run roughshod over civil liberties and human rights with no credible response available to the U.S. It allows terrorist organizations to promote support by pointing at the behavior of the U.S. It allows Hamas to win democratic elections by providing social, educational and health support to Palestinians while the U.S. continues to arm Israel.

The “moral edge” that the U.S. historically deserved is gone; for any public diplomacy program to succeed the country needs to regain that edge and that does not seem to be possible in the immediate or foreseeable future.

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The Romney Watch

Posted November 27, 2007 on 2:14 pm | In the category Election 2008, Press | by Jeff

Mitt Romney’s money has so far kept him in the first tier of the Republicans running to be the next George W. Bush. But as the campaign goes on – and especially the general election campaign if he should win the nomination – Romney will be faced with serious questions about his religious beliefs and his history of driving companies into bankruptcy for his own benefit. Once he defeated a weak candidate for governor in Massachusetts it did not take long to recognize him as “All Suit, No Man” – a governor with shifting views on just about everything as long as it moved his career along the right path. I refer readers to the two pieces below which take him apart quite nicely. It has become common for the press to refuse to push any candidate on his or her religious beliefs in the mistaken view that such beliefs are too “personal” and irrelevant to an election. George W. Bush told us that God was his mentor and chief advisor. Seems to me to be relevant in making a judgment on his capacity to govern and lead in a complex world. The same should be true for Romney.

Mitt the Mormon: Why Romney Needs to Talk About His Faith
By Christopher Hitchens, Slate

And

Mitt Romney: Will Republicans Elect a Bloodsucking CEO?
By Matt Taibbi, RollingStone.com

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America Takes on Mother Nature

Posted November 13, 2007 on 6:14 pm | In the category Environment, Global Warming, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

Bob and Doug Mackenzie have reported on the successful – but huge – investment of the Dutch in controlling Mother Nature – or at least adapting to Her powers. But in doing so they cast aspersions on the United States’ ability to do the same, unpleasantly referring to Katrina.

Well, as it turns out Bob and Doug have missed the big story developing in the Southeastern United States.  After a year long drought that has led to dangerous lows in drinking water supplies in Georgia and Alabama as well as major, long-burning fires, the governors of those two states have taken action. And you better believe that they are not going to waste a whole baggage car full of taxpayers’ money to do so.

An AP story in today’s NY Times reported that:

“…Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue stepped up to a podium outside the state Capitol on Tuesday and led a solemn crowd of several hundred people in a prayer for rain on his drought-stricken state.

”We’ve come together here simply for one reason and one reason only: To very reverently and respectfully pray up a storm,” Perdue said after a choir provided a hymn. …”It’s time to appeal to Him who can and will make a difference,” Perdue told the crowd….

Alas the AP report continued:

Meteorologists said earlier this week there was a slight possibility of rain Tuesday, but less of a chance of precipitation was predicted for the rest of the week.

That Governor Perdue persisted in his prayer strategy showed special faith since Alabama Gov. Bob Riley had issued a proclamation declaring a week in July as ”Days of Prayer for Rain” to ”humbly ask for His blessings and to hold us steady in times of difficulty.”  Alas, those prayers remain unanswered.

In a related story, President Bush announced that special presidential advisor Pat Robertson would be leading the nation in a day of prayer aimed at reducing the price of oil.

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The Dutch Gamble Pays Off

Posted November 10, 2007 on 3:01 am | In the category Europe, Global Warming, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

A good percentage of the inhabitants of the Netherlands live below sea level and in the past catastrophes occurred regularly as the North Sea overwhelmed dykes and rushed in on human settlements. Margriet de Moor’s thrilling and frightening novel, Flood Tide, recalls the killer floods of 1953 when thousands of people were killed as the sea reclaimed the lands that had been taken from it when dykes set up to protect new settlements were overwhelmed and whole towns disappeared from the face of the earth. In February 1962 neighbouring Hamburg was the victim of a surging flood that killed hundreds and a decade ago the Dutch concluded that their big urban centres, Rotterdam and Amsterdam, were increasingly threatened by great calamity. They concluded that the rapidly growing urban population was never going to be safe from the sea unless something serious was done, a decision that unfortunately was never even remotely considered for New Orleans. No doubt too expensive.
And so exactly ten years ago the spectacular engineering project known as the Maeslant flood tide defence was declared operational. Two 220 meter long gigantic horizontal towers, each heavier than the Eifel Tower that they resemble, have been waiting since then for the moment when they could show that they could indeed be swung into place and close off the Nieuwe Waterweg, the 20 kilometer long and 360 meter wide channel leading from the North Sea to Europe’s biggest harbour in Rotterdam. Yesterday the moment came as the storm called Thilo smashed into the Dutch coast and the towers were closed for the first time under storm conditions since they were built. It was a moment that in many ways would determine whether the city of Rotterdam and its great harbour had a secure future, particularly in the face of global warming.
And so far it has held. When the morning of the flood tide came, the flood was still being held back and Dutch engineers seem convinced that even the higher floods expected in the day would not breech their engineering marvel. This project cost the Dutch a tremendous fortune, but you won’t find any Dutch people today who would say it wasn’t worth it, despite the ten years it stood idle. It’s something the residence of New Orleans were not given the chance to decide.

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A Trip to Bush’s Fantasy Land

Posted November 9, 2007 on 5:13 pm | In the category Afghanistan, Iraq, The Bush Watch | by Jeff

Here is a kind of scary excerpt from a George Bush interview with German TV:

Q Do you think there’s a point where you’d say only a military option is a possibility for us?

THE PRESIDENT: I would never say that. I would say that we would always try to try diplomacy first. In other words, I — I’ve committed our troops into harm’s way twice, and it’s not a pleasant experience because I understand the consequences firsthand.

Firsthand???? When and where was that? Cheerleading for Yale at Harvard?

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Bush’s Foreign Policy: The Perfect Storm

Posted November 8, 2007 on 11:41 am | In the category Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Pakistan, Turkey, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

President Bush continues to wallow in the consequences of his own arrogant miscalculations. The situation America finds itself in can be traced to his and Cheney’s so-called tough guy approach to the world, as evidenced in the insane war in Iraq. Among what “Shock and Awe” and “Mission Accomplished” missed were the ripple effect consequences that followed and that continue to arrive.

Turkey asked that the U.S. avoid invading Iraq for reasons of its own security and their recognition of the likely bloodbath to follow, but agreed to work with the U.S. in providing staging areas for U.S. troops. At the same time it warned of the potential difficulties with the Kurds, a warning of which the U.S. apparently took no note. So having considerable responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis AND the increased power and influence of Iran in the region (incl. Iraq) the U.S. now has the problem of a possible micro war between two of its allies – the Iraqi Kurds and the Turks. Bush is saying that he will help Turkey flush out the PKK (Kurdish rebels) but that is clearly an empty promise given our incompetence and unwillingness to put the thumbs to the Iraqi Kurds, who will at least passively support the PKK. It is a dog’s breakfast.

Pakistan has been presented as the bulwark of our “war on terrorism” which is beginning to sound a bit like the help that our friends in Saudi Arabia have given us leading up to and following 9/11. Pakistan is a nuclear power led by a dictator who views himself as the country’s savior while the majority of his citizens seek the democracy that Bush has presented as his foreign policy’s grandest wish. We continue to provide massive defense aid to Pakistan while it allows al Quada to operate more or less unfettered within its borders, the Taliban to operate out of its borders into Afghanistan and its peoples’ dream for democracy to wither and die. It is impossible to know what would happen in Pakistan without Musharraf but the best long-term hope is for a true democracy to develop while finding a way to ensure that Pakistan’s nuclear arms remain out of the hands of extremists. So, does the U.S. continue to support Musharaf or pull the plug and risk democracy? There are echoes of what the U.S. did in Iran by shoring up the Shah, providing massive military aid, turning our eyes from the Shah’s human rights abuses and getting pretty much what we deserved – a belligerent Iran with whom we continue to squander diplomatic possibilities to a point where it might be too late. Another dog’s breakfast cooked up by this administration.

Afghanistan is the place that might have been a success for the administration but that too is being pissed away largely because of our Iraq folly. Pakistan passively provides cover for the Taliban which continues to operate at considerable strength in the South and increased strength elsewhere in Afghanistan while most of the U.S.’s troops are spinning their wheels helping to build a stronger Iraq which will probably eventually ally politically with Iran. Were it not for the Canadians, the British and the Dutch, Afghanistan might very well be lost already (no thanks to the Germans, French, Spaniards and Italians who hide their troops in the relative safety of the North). Defense Secretary Gates commented on this as recently as 25 October speaking to a group of unimpressed European generals:

”A handful of allies are paying the price and bearing the burdens,” he said in remarks that were notably critical of European governments. He spoke hours after leaving a two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers in the Netherlands, where he pressed for more troops for Afghanistan. There were no promises. ”If an alliance of the world’s greatest democracies cannot summon the will to get the job done in a mission that we agree is morally just and vital to our security,” he told the European generals, ”then our citizens may begin to question both the worth of the mission and the utility of the 60-year-old trans-Atlantic security project itself,” meaning NATO, which was created in 1949. His remarks drew little reaction from the generals, who applauded politely when he finished.” – AP

Clearly the U.S. will need to step up its commitment to Afghanistan but cannot do so as long as it is mired in an endless war in Iraq – that is, as long as G. Bush is president and no one with Rudy Giuliani’s views is elected in his place.

That leaves every president’s greatest challenge – the Middle East. Bush has all but ignored the Middle East for seven years – barring the talk of a “roadmap to peace” (remember that one?), his refusal to accept that the democratic election in Palestine was valid because the people elected the wrong guys, and of course his support for Israel’s disastrous bombing of Lebanon. Secretary Rice is now spending more time in the Middle East than in Washington and according to David Brooks in the NY Times – not exactly an objective observer – she is putting together an anti-Iran alliance, which would include Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinians and the U.S. He goes on to say that:

“It’s slightly unfortunate that the peace process itself is hollow. …But that void can be filled in later. The main point is to organize the anti-Iranians around some vehicle and then reshape the strategic correlation of forces in the region.”

This alliance will then face off against the alliance that will include Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, and – in all probability – Iraq. This is a hope and a wish but certainly not a foreign policy based on reality.

1/20/09 – that is the key date – the time when sophisticated, intelligent people can begin to dig us out of Bush’s Perfect Storm created from a rare combination of American incompetence, arrogance, ignorance, and naiveté.

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