Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Consumed by Fear and Dysfunction: A Great Nation is Losing Influence and Credibility

During the fifty years following the end of World War 2, the United States was unquestionably the leader of the free world. Both diplomatically and militarily, the rest of the free world looked up to us, depended on our leadership, respected our values and our form of government. The foreign policy mistakes we made during this period of time, and they were considerable, were readily placed in a context that allowed their being passed over as no nation is perfect, even great ones error, and  positive qualities far outweigh the negative.  Something drastic has happened to the international standing and regard for the United States since then, and while our military power is still supreme, our world leadership on the diplomatic front has suffered a number of major self-inflicted wounds, and is now but a shell of what it was 15 years ago.  Our government still talks and acts as if it were the world leader, but when it looks behind, very few other nations are following.

There are currently three major world trouble spots that give stark examples of the US's policy being out of sync with the policies of most of our would-be allies.  In the open warfare in the Middle East, most of our allies among the western, NATO nations recognize that if  a western nation is taking the lead in fighting ISIS and other terrorist groups on their home terrain, we are inviting continuing failure, with results no better than with our prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even King Hussein of Jordan recognizes it has to be Muslim nations and forces that coalesce and defeat ISIS and terrorist groups on their land.  It is folly for non-Muslim nations, especially ex-colonial powers, to take the lead. Most European nations now recognize this, and are focusing their efforts on securing their homeland and protecting against terrorist attacks there.  They no longer feel compelled to blindly follow the dictates of US desires.  With the US willing to play the major role in fighting terrorists in the Middle East, most Muslim nations with much more at stake than us are willing to stay in the background, and let us fight their battle. Its not working, we can provide strong support to Muslim nations as they take up the fight, but it has to become their battle, not ours.  The Europeans have gotten the message, but there are still major Neocon voices is our government that are constantly pressing us to make it our battle.

The Ukraine is the second region where our policy is currently diverging from that of many of our major allies.  When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Ukraine became an independent nation, it was informally agreed among leaders of European nations, the US, and Russia, that the Ukraine would best remain a neutral, non-aligned nation, providing a buffer area between east and west.  This was allowed to be the case for years, with elected governments shifting their leaning periodically between east and west, until last year, when the Maidan revolution in Kiev overthrew a Russian-leaning leader and installed a pro-western one desiring affiliation with the EU and potentially NATO.  Sensing the danger to its naval base in Crimea and the extensive Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine, Russia acted immediately to annex Crimea, and support the Russian population near its border. The US State Department officials responsible for Eastern European affairs played a covert role in encouraging and supporting the governmental change, and our policy is leaning towards offering military support to the Kiev government to defeat the eastern Ukraine separatists. Neocons again are pressing for more military involvement on our part, while the major European nations, especially Germany and France, are backing a negotiated settlement keeping the Ukraine intact but granting considerable regional autonomy and independence to the Russian-speaking areas. Again, few are following our lead.

The third area of major foreign policy divergence concerns our policy with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  As the West Bank area designated to become an independent home state for the Palestinians continues to be occupied by Israel, and Israeli settlements continue to expand, even after over 60 years of unsuccessful attempts at resolution, an increasing number of western nations, and the general sense of the UN, is that it is time to recognize Palestine's right to exist and grant it's government full recognition. US policy is increasingly standing alone in its inability to meaningfully fault Israel for continuing its settlement policy and in not placing more pressure on Israel to promote a means of resolution that would leave Palestine a viable, independent, self-sustaining nation.  Our government's attempts to promote a resolution lack having any real effect on securing an equitable settlement, and we remain Israel's main supporter in the conflict.

There are various reasons why our foreign policy has been loosing influence and credibility, and why few other major nations now readily follow our lead.  Political dysfunction at home is certainly among them, as is our over-reliance on military power and control when conflict and danger trigger fear which encroaches on our nation's well-being.  Foreign nations have been watching as our government came to a virtual standstill for 6 months over Clinton's impeachment trial. They were watching when a contested presidential election was arbitrarily decided by the Supreme Court. They were watching when our leaders fabricated evidence to begin a war against a nation that was not involved in terrorist attacks against us. They have been watching the governmental gridlock that has stymied effective action on numerous pressing issues, as the party in control of Congress refuses to compromise on policy choices with an elected president. They were watching when our financial institutions developed practices which led to a major world economic downturn, from which only the wealthy have fully recovered. They have been watching our income inequity mushroom to the highest levels in our history, and the government unwilling to take major steps to reverse the trend. They know we are launching lethal drone raids in sovereign nations, killing innocent civilians and terrorists alike. They know the NSA and the CIA are violating their privacy rights, as well as the privacy rights of its own citizens, in indiscriminate ways. And they read about many of our respected political leaders arguing that we should be fighting and supporting more wars in other lands, not, of course, on our own terrain.  In this context, it shouldn't be surprising that our world influence and credibility are taking a hit. The real question is, why are we, the citizens responsible for our nations policies and actions, not demanding much, much better of our government, and doing more to ensure it?