GOING IT ALONE; America's wooden stance: King is only player on board
The Chicago Tribune
Copyright 2003, Chicago Tribune. All Rights Reserved.
With American casualties in Iraq mounting and weapons of mass
destruction remaining elusive, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz
told Congress recently that he is suspicious of United Nations offers
of help because they might entail some constraints on U.S. actions.
About the same time, South Korean students marking the 50th anniversary
of the Korean War armistice called America more dangerous than North
Korea; production of opium destined for the U.S. heroin market was
reported to be soaring in Afghanistan; looting and slaughter continued
under Liberia's thuggish dictator as Washington declined a UN request
for humanitarian intervention; and African cotton farmers faced growing
penury as President Bush failed to reduce subsidies to U.S. growers as
they flooded world markets with excess production.
Americans have been wondering why the world has not rallied to our side
in the last two years, and our leaders have provided convenient
answers. "They hate our freedom" or "they envy our success" or
"criticism just goes with the territory of being the top dog," we are
Glibness, however, requires gullibility.
Take first the very notion of America battling alone in the face of
envy and hatred. The outpouring of sympathy and support that occurred
around the world on Sept. 12, when even the French newspaper Le Monde
proclaimed "We Are All Americans" should have put that notion to rest.
If it didn't, certainly the number of world leaders, from India to
Canada, backing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in his offer of help in
Iraq showed a worldwide willingness to help with reconstruction even
though most nations had opposed the war.
The real problem here is not so much foreign hostility as America's
insistence on going it alone in its own way. Wolfowitz's testimony is
the tip-off. The United States would rather be in absolute control than
accept any help that might in any way dilute that authority or that
might even slightly complicate U.S. operations.
This was evident in the case of Afghanistan long before the Iraq
question arose. Immediately after Sept. 11, America's longtime allies
in NATO voluntarily invoked the treaty's "an attack on one is an attack
on all" clause and literally begged Washington to include their troops
in the invasion of Afghanistan, to no avail. It would be easier and
faster simply to move alone, the Pentagon said.
The lack of interest in NATO and UN help is the natural result of the
adoption by the United States of the radical new doctrine of preventive
and pre-emptive war developed by Wolfowitz and a small group of
self-styled neo-conservatives after the collapse of the Soviet Union in
Although the United States won the Cold War with a strategy of
deterrence and by building alliances and multilateral institutions such
as NATO, the UN and the World Trade Organization, the new thinking
argued for military superiority such that no other power would even
consider a challenge and a unilateral approach based on the view that
while friends are nice to have they are really not necessary for the
United States to achieve its objectives.
`Coalitions of the willing'
Much discussed and partly adopted during the 1990s, this doctrine of
pre-emption and "coalitions of the willing" in place of deterrence and
alliances became the foundation of U.S. strategy since Sept. ll. In the
world of the 21st Century, it was argued, the threats will be so dire
and immediate that we must be prepared to strike first, and perhaps
alone, to avoid being struck.
Of course, to be credible as something other than an excuse for
permanent war, such a strategy must be based on accurate intelligence
about the immediacy and seriousness of the threat.
In the run-up to the recent Iraq war, the Bush administration
repeatedly emphasized that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had large
numbers of weapons of mass destruction that could be unleashed against
the United States at any moment. Other countries harbored doubts, but,
claiming superior knowledge as well as virtue, the United States
overrode allied requests for further investigation and deterrence and
set course for war with a "coalition of the willing."
In the aftermath, we have learned not only that our intelligence was
faulty but that, while we can win the military battles by ourselves we
really need help with what comes afterward. Yet our doctrine and
operating style inhibit us from getting that help.
This problem goes beyond Iraq.
Despite our great power, it is clear that beyond the battlefield there
is little that we can accomplish by ourselves in an increasingly
globalized world. We can't fight the wars on terror and drugs by
ourselves nor can we run the world economy or deal with epidemics such
as AIDS and SARS or problems like global warming by ourselves. We need
help and friends; yet our inconsistent attitudes and policies are a
source of constant disappointment to those who would be our
friends--not to mention that they often are destructive to our own
Take the problem of soaring opium production in Afghanistan. As part of
the effort to knock out Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, the United States
overthrew Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and promised a new era for
women, democracy, economic development, and security.
Washington's Afghan failure
In fact, however, Washington has put little effort into providing
either development or security and has undermined any hope of democracy
by acquiescing control of large parts of the country by its traditional
warlords upon whose help the Pentagon relied to defeat the Taliban. Now
the warlords are getting rich by promoting opium production with the
tacit connivance of the same U.S. government that says it is fighting a
war on drugs. Meanwhile, faith in America and its promises of
development and democracy is much diminished throughout the region, and
the Taliban appear to be making a comeback.
The situation in Korea is another case in point. For Americans who grew
up thinking they had "saved" South Korea from the communists, the newly
widespread anti-Americanism of Korean young people has come as a
What the U.S. public doesn't understand is that while America may have
prevented a communist takeover of South Korea, Washington installed not
a democracy but a sometimes brutal dictatorship that was backed by a
series of U.S. administrations before the Koreans achieved democracy in
the 1990s through their own efforts. Indeed, in some cases, U.S.
commanders released Korean troops from their command to participate in
quelling pro-democracy student uprisings.
More recently, U.S. hard-line policies toward the North are seen not
only as having stimulated the North's development of nuclear weapons
but also as having been adopted without consultation with the South and
in opposition to the South's "sunshine policy" of trying to soften up
the northern regime through trade, investment, family visits and
tourism. In short, young South Koreans believe America's interest has
never been in Korea itself, but only in how Korea fit into America's
The case of Liberia again points up the inconsistencies in U.S.
policies that give rise to foreign cynicism and alienation from
America. Long ruled by a dictator who regularly did business with Al
Qaeda and Hezbollah militants and who set up roadblocks made of human
intestines from disemboweled victims left by the roadside, it has
become the object of a UN effort to stop the slaughter of a raging
civil war. In the absence of weapons of mass destruction, the United
States has been justifying its invasion of Iraq on the basis of having
gotten rid of a brutal, inhumane dictator.
Yet, in Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves and whose
capital Monrovia is named after James Monroe, the United States has
stoutly deflected the pleas from the UN to intervene on humanitarian
grounds. Cynics ask why the United States will intervene on
humanitarian grounds in one place and not the other. They answer with
one word: oil.
But perhaps the most troubling example of American inconsistency is
international trade. During his recent trip to Africa, Bush talked
about helping fight AIDS and promoting investment and economic
Common error in Africa
But like all of his Republican and Democratic predecessors, he failed
even to suggest the one thing that would make all the difference.
Despite all of America's rhetoric about the glories of free trade and
all its pressure on countries like China and Japan to open up their
markets, American leaders never suggest cutting subsidies for U.S.
farmers. Consider that, in West Africa, farmers using oxen and hand
ploughs can produce a pound of cotton for 23 cents while in the
Mississippi Delta it costs growers using air conditioned tractors and
satellite-guided fertilizer systems 80 cents a pound. Logically, the
U.S. farmers ought to be switching to soybeans or something else they
can grow more competitively. Instead, they are expanding their planting
and taking sales away from the African growers in export markets. How
can they do this? Via subsidies to the tune of $5 billion. Not
surprisingly, Muslim West Africa does not see America as a friend and
force for good and is increasingly listening to the mullahs who call
America the "Great Satan."
Thus does America checkmate itself by eschewing offers of help and
insisting on total control while alienating those who would be friends
by talking the talk but not walking the walk. It should be clear by now
that the doctrine of pre-emptive war and coalitions of the willing can
no longer be maintained. The failure to find those weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq means that future U.S. warnings of imminent threats
will be met with disbelief by the rest of the world and the American
Moreover, it is clear that the United States is already stretched to
the limit by the effort in Iraq and could not contemplate any
significant additional interventions without real help from the
international community. But others will not proffer this help without
getting some say in the policy-making process.
Thus, the way forward is to return to the multilateralism that won the
Cold War and to work on correcting our inconsistencies rather than
telling ourselves it doesn't matter what the rest of the world thinks
of us. In fact, it makes all the difference because in the shrunken
world of the 21st Century we won't be able to achieve our objectives