Yes, We Can! Pragmatism Finally Trounces Senseless Ideology

When George W. Bush finally boarded the 'Special Air Mission 28000' for Texas on January 20th, 2009 along side Karl Rove and a crippled Dick Cheney finally wheeled himself out of White House with all his boxes of secret documents, so too thankfully marked the end of the most botched foreign policy of any U.S. administration. How long I have waited for the day that research and dialogue, insight and cooperation would once again trump ideology.

The Bush Administration was the least traveled, least intellectually curious administration in U.S. history. Really, that comes as no surprise. Any administration that can proudly unveil the regressive concept of the "Axis of Evil" and the utterly un-winnable "War on Terror" as the core principal behind their foreign policies has to be detached from reality, mercilessly and blindly driven by ideology and/or incomprehensibly ignorant.

The entire concept of declaring war on anything so nebulous and amorphous as terror is obviously self defeating. The 'War on Terror' much like the 'War on Drugs' could have never resulted in a successful conclusion. The War on Drugs failed because it was never clear who or what the target was. A more successful strategy would have been to focus on drug addiction treatment. Likewise, the strategy behind the War on Terror would have never successfully countered terrorism, because the efforts needed to counter terrorism should never have been defined as a war at all. After studying 648 terrorist groups between 1968 and 2006, the conservative think tank the Rand Corporation concluded in a report titled "How Terrorist Groups End," that war is the least effective means of achieving success. Instead war gives the local population, as in the case of Afghanistan, greater impetus to turn against the government and aid terrorist recruitment. The War on Terror completely ignored the root cause of the problem and instead focused on perpetuating a cycle of butchery.

Now enter Smart Power, the Obama administration's new catch phrase for their foreign policy strategy. A modification of Joseph Nye's soft power, smart power stands for defence, diplomacy and development. Hallelujah! It seems so obvious, so sensible but has been overlooked and ignored for so long. Obama's new foreign policy team is not only extremely educated, globally conscious but also uniquely qualified for their role on their team. (Unlike Condoleezza Rice, who while brilliant, is an expert on the communism and former Soviet Bloc and was therefore terribly unsuited for understanding the new complexities and dynamics of a post-communist world). President Obama has on his foreign policy team, a collection of intellectually driven Rhode scholars and individuals like Samantha Power (anticipated to hold a senior position at the National Security Council) and Ivo Daalder (expected to be US Ambassador to Nato) who grew up outside the United States, much unlike Bush's foreign policy team who came primarily from the south and Midwest of the United States. But more importantly, Obama has assembled a group of realists and pragmatists like Anne-Marie Slaughter (tipped to be head of policy planning at the State department), who believe that the U.S. is not in an arch battle with other great powers in the world but is instead a central player in an integrated world. He has real experts on counter-terrorism, not ideologues or war mongers, like Daniel Benjamin and Philip Gordon who respectively believe that such threats need to be "managed and reduced" and that terrorism can be overcome when "the ideology that underpins it loses its appeal." And although, interested in reigning in America's hard power as the sole option in fighting terrorism, with Samantha Power and Carlos Pascual (now at Brookings Institution, he may move to the State Department) there will be greater focus on expanding the American military to achieve humanitarian aims, preventing future genocide and peace-keeping.

Now I am not so naive or idealistic to think that just because we now have a infinitely more globally conscious, enlightened, culturally sensitive and pragmatic foreign policy team in Washington that U.S. foreign policy will move in a completely new direction or be completely even-handed. The world of politics is too complex and more often very dirty and messy. I am fully aware that the Israeli lobby is still firmly entrenched in American politics and so undoubtedly, this administration will continue to cater to the expansionist whims of the Israeli government partially if not completely. But after the eight years we have just experienced, we and the rest of the world finally have a reprieve from the 24 hour inane and insane, all day every day.

I guess time will tell, if our optimism is warranted. But for now, I sleep a little better at night.
For more information check out:
Shifting Horizons by Gideon Rachman (FT)
The U.S. can reclaim 'smart power' by Joseph Nye (LA Times)

1 comment:

  1. Canada adopted what it dubbed a 3D approach (defence, diplomacy and development) as the lead of the NATO mission to Afghanistan, which began in 2003. This was in recognition of the strong links between security and development - and the need for diplomatic efforts as well to support military and development work. More recently, it has been termed the 'whole-of-government' approach, drawing on other parts of the government too. It's really great to see the U.S. moving toward such an approach as well. In practice though, the 3D approach has been difficult - in part because linking the military to humanitarian/ development work remains controversial.