Tuesday, December 2, 2014

U.S. Fails in Role As World Diplomatic Leader

For the past 25 years the United States has had the rare opportunity of being the sole, undisputed world power, in the unique position of being able to model and hopefully influence the world's foreign relationships along a more positive, constructive, conflict-free path than previously.  The Cold War had ended, communism had lost appeal, the Soviet Union was disintegrating.  The US had numerous allies, and no real rivals, on the international scene. Optimism abounded, there was talk of a "peace dividend", a " new American Century" laying ahead.  Looking at the world today, it clearly did not happen.  What went wrong, and to what extent does the US bear some responsibility for the condition the world is in today?

While the US clearly can not be blamed for all the conflicts and tragedies that exist currently  in the world, it cannot be disputed that we flubbed our role as a world leader. Our own foreign policy experts from previous decades, in reflecting on the years since 1990, share the belief  that valuable opportunities to create a more peaceful world scene were squandered by inaction, missteps, arrogant actions, and major miscalculations. Much more emphasis in the 1990's was placed by our government on changing international trade agreements with other nations than on setting the framework for a more peaceful world. The trade agreements had a short-term effect of accelerating economic growth and boosting corporate wealth, but also led to a major outsourcing of employment and consequent decline in the economic well-being of the middle class.  Wealth inequity began to mount, in the US as well as throughout much of the world.  The world's key tension spots were left with unresolved conflicts, the long simmering Palestinian-Israel conflict especially begging for resolution, but our leaders continued to tolerate an Israeli occupation of West Bank land designated to be a Palestinian state--a situation that could only erupt in hostility and violence.

Repeated outbursts of violence in the Middle East, between Israel and Palestinians, between rival Muslim sects, and between extremist Muslim groups and foreigners in the area were met on a piecemeal basis, but the core issues were never dealt with in depth.  The attacks of 9-11 changed all that, the US and the West became fully involved militarily, appropriately against al Qaeda, but then shifted their target to Iraq, with the unrealistic stated goal of spreading democracy, and in the process created a much less stable and more conflict-laden Middle East than had existed before.  Our leaders know, or should know, that in today's world peace in a foreign land can not be won and maintained by military means, that "the bad guys" can be killed but when ideological and cultural differences are at the core of the conflict, more "bad guys" will be created in the process, and that nation-building by a foreign power will never succeed in producing a stable local government.  Yet, our leaders seem intent on seeking solutions through military means.

Another prime example of the US's diplomatic failure has emerged this year in the Ukraine, and our previous actions and inactions have played a significant role in the situation exploding now.  The Ukraine has a long history of being a region with strong Russian ties, with its population, its economy, its political ties, whether a part of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union, or more recently as an independent nation, all clearly placing it in the Russian sphere of influence.  Since the breakup of the Soviet Union its government has maintained working relationships with both the western European nations and with Russia, but this year the overthrow of the President who was holding to close ties with Russia threatened major change to its remaining a neutral, non-aligned nation.  Since western influences, including our State Department, were instrumental in encouraging Ukraine's move away from Russian influence, Russians saw it as another western move to encircle them and erode their influence.  This they could not tolerate. Their main naval base was on Crimea, the west had already tried to pull the previous Soviet states of Georgia and Moldova away from their influence and into the Western orbit.  The West might talk of a "reset" of relationships towards being more positive, but their actions suggest otherwise--bordering nations pulled into a western military block, long range missile placements positioned near their border, exclusion from pan-European military alliances.  Our wiser diplomats from previous decades (George Kennan, Henry Kissinger, Jack Matlock ((US ambassador to the Soviet Union in the 1980's))) warned against such moves, but the warnings were not heeded, with the results that exist in the Ukraine today. All sides to this conflict seem to be seeking a negotiated settlement, not a resolution through violence and warfare.  Let's hope it can emerge.  Unfortunately it is unlikely the US will be leading the pathway towards a diplomatic solution. The history of our nation's past several decades reveals that international diplomacy has not been our strong suit, and has fallen into disuse, with often disastrous and tragic results.