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05/08/2008

A Different View of American Foreign Policy

Dimitri K. Simes, president of The Nixon Center and publisher
of The National Interest, and Paul J. Saunders, executive director
of The Nixon Center and associate publisher of The National
Interest, wrote an essay for the Mar./Apr. 2008 edition of their
publication. It’s a different take on America and its role in
today’s world.

[Excerpts]

“A new conventional wisdom has emerged after the U.S. victory
in the cold war in which history no longer matters and we no
longer need to understand others’ interests or perspectives so
long as we remain on the side of righteousness – and, of course
so long as we can count on overwhelming military and economic
power. And in this spirit of vain self-congratulation, we have
increasingly lost the ability to look squarely in the mirror before
judging others and taking them to task.

“After all, despite being on the right side of history, American
leaders have taken their own share of ruthless, and even brutal,
decisions. Each had its own logic, and most seem strategically
justified in retrospect, but few continue to play a role in our
public debates. Remember that the United States was the first
and only nation to use atomic weapons – and used them against
cities. Washington used napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam.
American leaders supported known-thug Saddam Hussein at a
time when his regime used chemical weapons not only in its
bloody war with Iran but against its own people.

“Such decisions, while obviously regrettable, were the result of
the types of difficult choices that great powers must often make.
But then it behooves us not to preach too loudly about our own
sense of morality. It also means that, in crafting an effective
foreign policy, we shouldn’t be blinded by our own rhetorical
claims to ethical perfection – or to fail to recognize that many
states see us as a ‘normal country’ – and one that pursues its own
interests by any means necessary and often makes moral
judgments about others that appear influenced by those interests.

“So those people who expressed disgust and outrage over the use
of Russian airpower against civilian targets in the Caucasus were
prepared to overlook Israel’s use of cluster bombs and other
indiscriminate bombardment in southern Lebanon. They loudly
condemn Tehran’s disregard of the United Nations Security
Council one day, but feel it is perfectly appropriate to ignore this
body to secure independence for Kosovo.

“Supporting one’s friends while condemning one’s opponents is
nothing new; but when that is combined with a messianic
predisposition to view the world as divided into the children of
light and the children of darkness – with no need to compromise
with, understand the motives of or address the concerns of those
deemed opponents – this becomes truly dangerous. The refusal
of most politicians to acknowledge the clear connection between
U.S. conduct in the Middle East and the hatred of the United
States among Islamist extremists that motivated the September
11 attacks is a case in point. The United States has had serious
reasons for pursuing the types of policies it has – but it is
foolhardy to ignore the evidence that there are costs. The Arab-
Israeli dispute is clearly a key litmus test of American policy for
many Muslims – but this fact has not been a subject of
discussion, even after being raised in the Republican presidential
debates. And while plenty of experts on the region have made
this argument, it is not reflected where it counts: among political
leaders or even most of the mainstream media.”

Dimitri Simes and Paul Saunders also bring up the issue of China
and Tibet; as in late last year, the Dalai Lama was celebrated in
Washington, at the Capitol, no less, with no one questioning
whether this was good or not for U.S./Chinese relations when
China considers the Dalai Lama a separatist leader.

“None of this would matter much if the United States enjoyed an
absolute preponderance of power and didn’t require the aid of
others. That is, sadly, not the case. The cost of the war in Iraq
alone is estimated at some $500 billion – and it is far from over –
and other countries are not lightening any of Washington’s
burden. There will be no multilateral rescue from America’s
unilateral action .

“Americans may be interested in creating a utopia for the world
but are not prepared to pay for it, and our democratic system is
structurally incapable of building or sustaining a global
imperium. And the responses such a policy generates – from
terrorists and others – predictably drive domestic decisions that
undermine our own precious democracy .

“Some will argue that anyone who makes a case like this – for
understanding our foes and rivals, and admitting our errors, at
least to ourselves – is blaming America first. We do nothing of
the sort. There is a profound difference between identifying with
one’s opponents and engaging in a sober and penetrating analysis
of one’s own conduct in order to be more effective. The latter is
essential to a foreign-policy strategy that will allow America to
come out on top when it matters most.”

---

I will be overseas the weeks of 5/12 and into 5/19, including the
Middle East. Next column 5/22.

Brian Trumbore


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05/08/2008

A Different View of American Foreign Policy

Dimitri K. Simes, president of The Nixon Center and publisher
of The National Interest, and Paul J. Saunders, executive director
of The Nixon Center and associate publisher of The National
Interest, wrote an essay for the Mar./Apr. 2008 edition of their
publication. It’s a different take on America and its role in
today’s world.

[Excerpts]

“A new conventional wisdom has emerged after the U.S. victory
in the cold war in which history no longer matters and we no
longer need to understand others’ interests or perspectives so
long as we remain on the side of righteousness – and, of course
so long as we can count on overwhelming military and economic
power. And in this spirit of vain self-congratulation, we have
increasingly lost the ability to look squarely in the mirror before
judging others and taking them to task.

“After all, despite being on the right side of history, American
leaders have taken their own share of ruthless, and even brutal,
decisions. Each had its own logic, and most seem strategically
justified in retrospect, but few continue to play a role in our
public debates. Remember that the United States was the first
and only nation to use atomic weapons – and used them against
cities. Washington used napalm and Agent Orange in Vietnam.
American leaders supported known-thug Saddam Hussein at a
time when his regime used chemical weapons not only in its
bloody war with Iran but against its own people.

“Such decisions, while obviously regrettable, were the result of
the types of difficult choices that great powers must often make.
But then it behooves us not to preach too loudly about our own
sense of morality. It also means that, in crafting an effective
foreign policy, we shouldn’t be blinded by our own rhetorical
claims to ethical perfection – or to fail to recognize that many
states see us as a ‘normal country’ – and one that pursues its own
interests by any means necessary and often makes moral
judgments about others that appear influenced by those interests.

“So those people who expressed disgust and outrage over the use
of Russian airpower against civilian targets in the Caucasus were
prepared to overlook Israel’s use of cluster bombs and other
indiscriminate bombardment in southern Lebanon. They loudly
condemn Tehran’s disregard of the United Nations Security
Council one day, but feel it is perfectly appropriate to ignore this
body to secure independence for Kosovo.

“Supporting one’s friends while condemning one’s opponents is
nothing new; but when that is combined with a messianic
predisposition to view the world as divided into the children of
light and the children of darkness – with no need to compromise
with, understand the motives of or address the concerns of those
deemed opponents – this becomes truly dangerous. The refusal
of most politicians to acknowledge the clear connection between
U.S. conduct in the Middle East and the hatred of the United
States among Islamist extremists that motivated the September
11 attacks is a case in point. The United States has had serious
reasons for pursuing the types of policies it has – but it is
foolhardy to ignore the evidence that there are costs. The Arab-
Israeli dispute is clearly a key litmus test of American policy for
many Muslims – but this fact has not been a subject of
discussion, even after being raised in the Republican presidential
debates. And while plenty of experts on the region have made
this argument, it is not reflected where it counts: among political
leaders or even most of the mainstream media.”

Dimitri Simes and Paul Saunders also bring up the issue of China
and Tibet; as in late last year, the Dalai Lama was celebrated in
Washington, at the Capitol, no less, with no one questioning
whether this was good or not for U.S./Chinese relations when
China considers the Dalai Lama a separatist leader.

“None of this would matter much if the United States enjoyed an
absolute preponderance of power and didn’t require the aid of
others. That is, sadly, not the case. The cost of the war in Iraq
alone is estimated at some $500 billion – and it is far from over –
and other countries are not lightening any of Washington’s
burden. There will be no multilateral rescue from America’s
unilateral action .

“Americans may be interested in creating a utopia for the world
but are not prepared to pay for it, and our democratic system is
structurally incapable of building or sustaining a global
imperium. And the responses such a policy generates – from
terrorists and others – predictably drive domestic decisions that
undermine our own precious democracy .

“Some will argue that anyone who makes a case like this – for
understanding our foes and rivals, and admitting our errors, at
least to ourselves – is blaming America first. We do nothing of
the sort. There is a profound difference between identifying with
one’s opponents and engaging in a sober and penetrating analysis
of one’s own conduct in order to be more effective. The latter is
essential to a foreign-policy strategy that will allow America to
come out on top when it matters most.”

---

I will be overseas the weeks of 5/12 and into 5/19, including the
Middle East. Next column 5/22.

Brian Trumbore