Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

I might as well weigh in too...

by papicek Sat Oct 25th, 2008 at 05:45:57 PM EST

"Russia can neither be grasped by the mind, nor measured by any common yardstick. Russia's status is special: no attitude to her other than one of blind faith is admissible."
--Feodor Tyuchev, quoted in: Conquest, Robert. "Patriot, Poet and Prophet." Standpoint September 2008: 34-37.

"the logic of nationalism is implacable"
--Kiesling, John Brady. Diplomacy Lessons. Washington D.C., District of Columbia: Potomac Books, 2006.

For the past year, everybody in US foreign policy circles has offered up their opinions, analysis, outlined foreign policy priorities as they saw it and shared their fantasies, in anticipation of the elections coming up just over a week from now. With the diplomatic debacle of the current administration's policies plain to see, everyone agrees that some serious changes need to be made, but not everyone agrees on priorities and methods.


It's useful to begin with Lael Brainard, from Brookings, who devotes a few illuminating chapters in her book, Security By Other Means, (mark the title, more on this later) to detail the byzantine mosaic of initiatives, agencies and programs with which the US faces the rest of the world. This chart, wonderfully illustrates what resulted from the decades of "policy creep" in US international relations. Many agencies have overlapping missions (some of which actually conflict) while the State Department is left largely a policy institute with little oversight of US foreign aid missions. Those are mostly, but not entirely, left to USAID, an independent agency responsible for developing its own budgets and implementing its own programs abroad. There are valid arguments to make that since the two skill sets of diplomacy and delivering foreign assistance are vastly different, and that a fossilized State Department charged with protecting American interests isn't the best place from which to administer aid programs, that it's best to leave things be. Indeed, the Peace Corps was founded apart from State just so that it wouldn't be "tainted" by Cold-War diplomacy. However, the larger point is that foreign policy of any nation is driven by its domestic politics, and Brainard's chart accurately reflects the conflicting forces operating in American politics. Looming large over this political football is the extent to which Americans are willing to surrender some of their sovereignty in order to achieve active, effective foreign policy in partnership with other nations. Though this is an oversimplification, broadly speaking one can predict how a given person will fall on many foreign policy issues by where they fall in the American nationalism spectrum.

"American-firsters" on the right will oppose any multilateral diplomacy, support Pentagon policies and call for any measure promoting a US, pro-business, Christian hegemony in world affairs. The strength of their domestic political clout can be measured by President Bush's PEPFAR program to battle AIDS/HIV. Bush chose Randall L. Tobias, former chief of pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly as his "AIDS czar", who in turn, made it a qualification to receive assistance that governments denounce prostitution and promote an "abstinence-only" policy to combat the disease. Unbelievably callous, this move purely to shore up domestic political support perfectly illustrates how our foreign policy is warped by our domestic politics.

Another illustration of the strength of domestic politics in foreign policy is wonderfully described in Gordon Adam's The Politics of National Security Budgets, published by The Stanley Foundation. In a procedural rather than political analysis, he describes five ways in which, during budget debates, the Pentagon has the upper hand over the entire foreign policy apparatus in determining where budget priorities are set. As we've seen above,

       
  • the Pentagon enjoys institutional coherence over diplomatic and assistance policy agencies,
  •    
  • can call on grassroots support in virtually every congressional district as it develops and purchases goods and services domestically,
  •    
  • can more easily measure the outputs and outcomes of it's policies,
  •    
  • has a cohesive organizational culture and focus, and finally,
  •    
  • the Pentagon has a highly disciplined and motivated planning and procedural process in place to advance its goals in Congress.
The result of which (though I don't know what goes into this number) Dr. Jeffrey Sachs claims in his book Common Wealth, that the US spends almost as much on it's military as the rest of the world combined. Indeed, many diplomatic and assistance missions overseas are now being carried out by the military, and one wonders how this could be any other way when, as Nicholas D. Kristof points out:

"The United States has more musicians in its military bands than it has diplomats."

To a certain extent, Kiesling's assertion in Diplomacy Lessons that rearranging the various foreign assistance bureaucracies resembles a reshuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic, is accurate. However, the aim to somehow place foreign affairs in the hands of professional diplomats and to give them greater budgetary clout in Congress is theoretically a move I can support. Even in face of the political reality that Congress probably would successfully block any meaningful realignment of foreign policy agencies. We have witnessed how far to the right the democratic leadership in Congress will go to ensure that their slim majority is maintained. We have seen that under no circumstances will the democrats allow themselves to be painted as weak on defense, though there may be a small window in early 2009, assuming Obama is elected, for some real reform. I hope so. The hands of many congressional democrats are as drenched in blood as their neocon counterparts - and they should be periodically reminded of this.

The problems come in two flavors: one of culture, and the other structural. Both Republicans and Democrats sponsor agencies devoted to pursuing US interests: the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, NGO's with the aim of establishing democratic governments and good governance abroad. In a recent panel discussion about promoting democracy in other countries and the presidents of both IRI and NDI, Lorne Craner and Ken Wollack participated. At one point, representing the republican party view, Lorne Craner expressed his opinion that the primary goal of American foreign policy is, and should continue to be, ensuring that Americans are safe at home - the Bush administration's rationale for its foreign policy. As he was speaking to a roomful of active and former professional diplomats, I expected he would a least make an effort to appear more thoughtful and informative. And indeed, the dozens of articles I've read (there are many more) almost uniformly speak of foreign policy reform in terms of enhancing national security objectives, when in fact, the next fifty years will see environmental, overpopulation, health, human rights, commercial and a host of other problems which will require multilateral solutions. Huge, complex problems that will require sustained diplomatic effort, only tangentially affect our national security and for which the resources and the political will do not yet exist. The panel discussion link above points to a link with video of the entire panel. Recently, I was asked for my thoughts on diplomats. Well. If I can except political appointees from the professionals, I mostly come down in favor of diplomats. The panel discussion link I gave above, copied here, shows some professionals expressing the need for sensitivity to local conditions in our dealings with other countries. Right off, Ambassador Barbara Bodine confounded my expectation that US diplomats are bent on fostering American-style democracies abroad. She spoke of diplomacy offering no more than a helping hand in aiding any democratic movement in a host country, of allowing the process to unfold according to the norms of the host culture and its political climate. Not the sort of thing that makes the news. The video is long, but I recommend setting aside a few hours to view it if you can. I can also highly recommend John Brady Kiesling's Diplomacy Lessons. Kiesling was the former Political Counselor to the US Embassy in Greece who resigned over Bush's War. In his book, he makes the case that American heavy-handedness in our relations in other countries not only is ineffective, but counterproductive both to immediate and ongoing goals. He also makes a useful distinction between diplomatic diplomats, those sensitive to the host culture and the bureaucratic diplomats, careerists who are more sensitive to what their State Department's goals and aims are in Washington. Guess who has the upper hand? There's a term, "clientitis," used in the State Department to accuse those of placing the host's interests above America's, and is the reason why every two or three years diplomats are rotated out of their posts either to Washington or to another post overseas. It's where corporate culture interferes with process and I can only come to the conclusion that effective diplomacy does in fact suffer as a result.

There's no domestic political constituency in the United States for any foreign policy other than to protect American interests and promote American values abroad. There are, and they can make themselves heard, various groups of Americans of foreign descent who advocate their particular policy preferences - AIPAC, Latin American immigrants and especially Cuban-Americans in Florida being the most successful. The last eight years have amply demonstrated that a superpower without a thoughtful, consistent and ethical foreign policy focus is in itself a danger to the rest of the world. It is equally apparent that, outside of foreign policy circles, there isn't even a basis on which domestic American debate can begin to address this fact, never mind the global policy changes that will be needed to address the issues requiring multilateral solutions. So my fantasy is this: that the UN, the EU countries, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Russia, China, India, Brazil, and the African countries (which needs help so badly) get together and with one voice insist that America clean up its act, and that professional diplomats work closely with Congress, to try to give them the political cover needed to undertake foreign policy reform and to get ready for the enormous challenges ahead.

Display:
Welcome to ET. I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sat Oct 25th, 2008 at 10:26:54 PM EST
Thank you. I appreciate the welcome.

The reason I started writing about US foreign policy is that it's a topic the left in the US finds toxic, and one in which in general, the electorate on both sides is woefully uninformed. So I intend to make it an area of special concern.

For the record, other than an amateur's love of things historical, I've no background in the subject, I've no special contacts, no professional expertise to offer, and no guidance in what I write. So essentially, all I can offer are posts of minor (trivial really) scholarship. I'll do my damnedest though, to pass along as much quality as I can.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Sun Oct 26th, 2008 at 08:59:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You have started well. I am a DoS retiree (non-dip corps civilian, but lots of related overseas experience).  I'll be happy to chime in when possible though I have no real desire to write much about US foreign policy. You know when you've had enough.  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sun Oct 26th, 2008 at 09:26:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Many thanks indeed. Any insights would be greatly appreciated. For example, I know little other than what Kiesling wrote regarding the DoS corporate culture (though I found his description of DoS as bureaucracy entirely plausible.) Or how DoS and USAID deal with Congress during the budget cycle. (Or do they let the White House do the heavy lifting there?)

I crossposted this on dkos, where it was rescued, and I'm not sure anyone there knows what to make of it. Other than a given issue, usually a humanitarian crisis, nobody in the blogosphere talks about foreign policy. Particularly the nuts and bolts of it. Diplomats, as long as they're active, understandably cannot. So the real experts out there, one we need to hear from most, need to remain silent. Frustrating!

Some months ago, I decided to try to educate myself in these matters, and share what I've picked up along the way.  There's a tremendous amount of material out there, mostly editorial, that I've been wading through and it's a great help that much of that makes it to the web.

Again, thanks. Any material you could steer me in the direction of, please feel free.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Mon Oct 27th, 2008 at 01:05:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Am I the only one who sees similarities between the current US of A, and the USSR just prior to its demise?  What does the Pentagon do then?

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sun Oct 26th, 2008 at 07:40:53 AM EST
I hadn't thought of it that way, myself.

I wonder what some of the similarities might be? Cross-border adventures (Afghanistan and Iraq) and the economic turmoil here, to be sure. However there is as of yet, no unrest in the streets, and our press and nongovernment institutions (the think tanks and the scholarly journals) are busy out there in the open savaging the current administration. And of course, there's one thing that the Soviets (and Russians as well for that matter) didn't have going for them: free, mostly fair, and mostly open elections.

Don't discount the extra measure of patriotism an election (one that you can mostly believe in) can engender. One startling fact it took me ages to realize is that, the presidential election is special. Other than all-out war, this is the only act which engulfs the entire nation, and we get to do it together every four years.

I sat at a large family dinner party last night after posting this, and witnessed this first hand - some chianti, some good food (shrimp, lobster, delmonico steaks, salads, pasta, and more - a feast! And afterwards the grappa.) Guess what the dinner talk was about? Informally, the poll ran Obama: 12, McCain: 2.

So I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for next US revolution.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Sun Oct 26th, 2008 at 08:45:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
built into your reply.  When the food is plentiful and the alcohol fills the veins, we can all sit around and discuss things like reasonable people.  

Question:  Can the food run out in the US?  What then?

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sun Oct 26th, 2008 at 08:51:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, there you go...without knowing offhand what US agricultural surpluses are, I'll say this: Americans aren't exceptional, they're exactly like every other society in history (which is why I opened this post with Tyuchev's dictum).

However, when the politicians lose all legitimacy (think crazy ideologues elected, who totally lack any capacity to govern), the food runs out (think drought in the midwest, plague killing our livestock, and fished out coastal waters), and middle class America finds itself freezing because they cannot afford to heat their homes, you'll have a nuclear-armed nation in the grip of a civil war. It won't be pretty.

We're not there yet. And rest assured, I'll find an internet connection somewhere, somehow, to report on all of it.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Sun Oct 26th, 2008 at 09:23:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
reported that grain was being left on docks because of the economic uncertainties with the banks and all.  Don't think we'll need anything too dramatic to get people hoarding food, etc.

The next 12 months should prove interesting, if not decisive.  Look forward to blogging with you.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.

by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Sun Oct 26th, 2008 at 09:47:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I hadn't heard that grain shipments were being delayed, but frankly I'd be surprised if that was something that didn't happen (for other reasons) not frequently, but at least fairly regularly.

It's worth making note of, thanks.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Sun Oct 26th, 2008 at 09:58:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
See my story This is where it gets real from October 13th, 2008. I admit I haven't been following up to see how things are developing.

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 27th, 2008 at 04:00:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
but I never put 2 + 2 together. Of course food prices have shot up precisely because trade finance costs have risen. Duh.

Frankly, I've been too busy this past month with research for this diary to pay this matter proper attention.

Thank you.

"It Can't Be Just About Us"
--Frank Schnittger, ETian Extraordinaire

by papicek (papi_cek_at_hotmail_dot_com) on Mon Oct 27th, 2008 at 06:15:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not just trade finance costs. Trade itself is stopping because of the inability to make large cross-border payments.

India Times: Commodity traders hit by arrest of interbank lending (27 October, 2008)

The credit crisis has begun to take a toll on the real economy, slowly but surely. Among the sectors feeling the pinch, is commodities, though traders are not openly expressing their angst.

A large south-based trader of edible oils has been unable to procure de-gummed soybean oil from a South American exporter, whose bank refused to discount the latter's bill owing to shortage of dollars.

"Our banker, State Bank of India, issued a letter of credit (LC) to the exporter's bank in South America, but the bank refused to negotiate the LC and pay the exporter. We will now have to negotiate with another banker to get the consignment totalling 1.5 million tonne of de-gummed soybean oil," said a company source.




A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Oct 27th, 2008 at 06:53:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Article today in dead-tree paper about Iceland and their difficulties to keep trade going, seeing how the UK confiscates their money. Terrorists the lot of them, though they seem to disagree.

Icelanders are NOT terrorists

Gordon Brown unjustifiably used the Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act of 2001 against the people of Iceland for his own short-term political gain. This has turned a grave situation into a national disaster, affecting families in both Iceland and the United Kingdom. Help us avert greater damage by signing this petition now.


Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Mon Oct 27th, 2008 at 09:54:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'll take you up on this. I (still) believe that the American social system still retains some significant differentiators from other societies. One can easily point to recent events that tend to undercut this argument, but I think we can still brag about a few things. I would point to three factors that may be important:

We do retain some shadow at least of the Enlightenment foundation of our system. Our constitution is better than most, and is stable. Everybody here buys into it (except for the part about guns) and there is no serious move afoot to make significant changes.

Also, our modern internal revolution was one of the early ones, and while there are still a lot of hard feelings, the issue (slavery) has been resolved. At least, it's been resolved in most legal senses, although obviously there is still plenty of racism in play. I would argue that the situation here is not worse than anywhere else, though.

And our society is homogeneous. This is bad from the viewpoint of "Walmart in every town" and "everybody eats at McDonalds" but it means that we have 300 million people who have absolutely unrestricted (by law as well as by societal norm) ability to move from point to point. I think this plays an important part in providing social stability, because there is virtually no difference, outside of the weather and the cost of a house, between Chicago and Baton Rouge. You can live in either place and be happy or unhappy as it pleases you. I don't think this situation applies anywhere else in the world.

There is just not that much disagreement about how things should be run. Example: If Bush and McCain are so horribly out of touch, why are the presidential polls so close? Because the policies of McCain and Obama are not hugely different. Example: Why were the "protests" at the Democratic convention in Denver, which were highly publicized in advance, such washouts? Because people are generally happy with the system.

The U.S. may collapse at some point, but I don't see it happening any time soon.

by asdf on Sun Oct 26th, 2008 at 08:39:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is just not that much disagreement about how things should be run. Example: If Bush and McCain are so horribly out of touch, why are the presidential polls so close?

Now there's a question. The answers could likely fill a large book on American societal norms.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sun Oct 26th, 2008 at 09:38:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
If Bush and McCain are so horribly out of touch, why are the presidential polls so close?

Because a lot of those they are out of touch with are disenfranchised?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Mon Oct 27th, 2008 at 09:57:48 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BECAUSE ... Americans on the average are EXTREMELY

  1. Stupid.

  2. Under-informed.

  3. Absolutely self-centered.

  4. Anybody else want to add to the list?


They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Mon Oct 27th, 2008 at 10:05:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perhaps you are right, but the whole point of democracy is that you get to elect whoever you want. If the stupid and uninformed choose to vote for someone who will take their money and give it to the already-rich, that's their choice. No cause for revolution...
by asdf on Mon Oct 27th, 2008 at 10:16:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So if the majority stupid decide to torch the planet, no cause for revolution.  Glad I don't have any kids if that's the prevailing philosophy.

They tried to assimilate me. They failed.
by THE Twank (yatta blah blah @ blah.com) on Mon Oct 27th, 2008 at 12:28:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
[Dmitry Orlov's Collapse Gap TechnologyTM]

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Mon Oct 27th, 2008 at 11:14:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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