Monday, June 02, 2003

The author is noted historian Eric Bergerud who posted this on the H-Diplo Listserv in response to criticism from a Japanese historian regarding Bush administration foreign policy.

" I think Sashi Akuniyo expresses the perception of many in the industrial
world that distrust American foreign policy. I also think that the ideas
proposed by Akuniyo are based on some dubious assumptions and actually
illustrate why the U.S. and much of the industrial world are so widely
divided and are likely to remain so.

Akuniyo describes American policy as "paranoia-based." Perhaps the future
will validate this description. Most Americans, however, to one degree or
another agree with Bush's assumption that the U.S. is engaged in a war with
clandestine groups and a small number of "rogue states." The major fear is
that these two might get together and deliver a devestating strike on the
United States.

Is this paranoia? In the past twenty years hundreds of American servicemen,
diplomats, agents, businessmen, tourists and bystanders have been killed or
maimed by the forces of what Christopher Hitchins so accurately calls
"theocratic fascism." In the past decade there has been a serious attempt to
bring this violence directly to U.S. The attacks of 9/11 were preceeded by
an earlier bombing of the World Trade Center. American agents confinscated a
van filled with explosives crossing the Canadian border prior to New Years
2000. And to sweeten the mood in the U.S., North Korea has recently
suggested that it might export atomic weapons.

Other nations in the industrial world can hope that conventional
deterrence and better police work can prevent or greatly limit further
terrorist catastrophes. Washington must look at the situation differently
because American leaders believe that if deterrence fails it will be the
citizens of an American city that will pay the price. This perception
makes "risk assessment" a much more complex enterprise in Washington than
in, say, Brussels.

Akuniyo also argues that Americans should have "an intelligent loyalty to
the same moral code that states expect their own citizens to live by." With
all due respect this exactly what American citizens do not want. In the
pursuit of terrorist groups, most Americans fully support the Bush
administration's policy of "gloves off." In practice this means a massive
and expensive clandestine operation headed by CIA in collaboration (often
through bribes) with any government that wants to help out. We have
assassinated small numbers of bin Laden's group and no doubt would kill more
given the chance. The police powers of the FBI and others have been
increased in the U.S., and American police agencies previously discouraged
from working abroad now do so very openly. Civil libertarians in America may
complain bitterly about all of this (perhaps with reason), but these actions
appear to be broadly supported by the American population. The blows
seemingly given to bin Laden's operations in the past year are viewed as a
vindication of this approach. Now, if one views the U.S. as in a war, the
government's response is understandable, even laudable. If the struggle
against terror is viewed as an exercise in normal diplomacy then America,
not bin Laden (or Kim Jong Il) is the threat to world peace.

We must also consider the wars fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. The first
received more governmental support than the second, but was fiercely
opposed by "progressives" throughout the West. (This fact has been
conveniently forgotten by many when the Taliban fell with so little
effort.) Recent hostilities in Iraq found the U.S. nearly isolated in the
world public. I have recently argued that it is far too early to judge the
impact of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. However, although the violence
of that war was far less than many of its opponents predicted, and the
fall of Saddam appears to be little mourned in Iraq (regardless of how
Iraqis view the U.S.), the moral ambiguities inherent in war were well
illustrated. Akuniyo notes that "It is understandable and obvious why the
leader/ general/ soldier/ industrialist don't want to live by any code -
particularly ones that could hang them tomorrow for what they do today."
In general I suppose this is true. It certainly explains why no American
Senate is going to ratify the ICC. There are already attempts in Belgium
to indict Rumsfeld, Franks and others. The Pentagon believes that the
"higher moral standards that are naturally emerging in a connected world",
observed by Akuniyo, and embraced by many in the industrial world, cannot
be made to suit a fierce world.

It seems to me that many citizens of the industrial world would like the
U.S. to be the friendly cop on the block that will do nothing unless called
upon to redress some obvious wrong that the remainder of the industrial
world is too weak to deal with. Have trouble with "ethnic cleansing" in the
middle of Europe? Call Washington. If North Korea begins to act the thug,
nations in the region know that American forces are there to keep things
from getting out of hand. In other words, American power is useful if it
accords with the interests of other nations. If Washington dares to employ
its power in what it perceives to be self-defense, and by doing so raises
risks to other countries, then the U.S. is viewed as "power-drunk."

I do hope that America's opponents in the democratic world have no illusions
about some great change of perception taking place inside the U.S. Even
Bush's opponents on Iraq fully support the "war" against terrorism. The
prestige of U.S. military is sky high and will stay there. The sense of
threat against the American homeland will remain for a very long time.
Another major attack within America will cause a furious reaction.

There are obvious ways to deal with this problem. If the world is genuinely
evolving toward a golden age of universal morality, I would strongly urge
nations now affiliated with America to end their security associations with
Washington. If the peoples of Belgium, or France, genuinely think the U.S.
is a threat to world peace, then NATO should be abolished. If North Korea
(or China) is no threat to Japan, then end the defense treaty with the U.S.
Or, if countries are not so sure that military power has lost all utility,
and if these same nations view America as "immature and selfish" in its
exercise of power, then perhaps these nations should create an independent
ability to project military power. The industrial world outside the U.S.
certainly has the wealth and technology to match fully the Pentagon's
arsenal in a very short time. All that is lacking is the will. Then perhaps
other, more enlightened governments, can determine how to fit liberal values
and an increasingly expansive interpretation of international law with the
brutal reality of modern war. "

Eric Bergerud

Hear ! Hear ! I could not have said it better.
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