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Foreign policy for a new century

With domestic politics in disarray, Michael Moran offers a six step program to getting the United States focused on the challenge of leading the world into the new millennium.

Pity the superpower. The world’s dominant nation is mired in “no exit” military missions in Bosnia and Iraq. Its political class is seeking overthrow the commander-in-chief. Its allies - those who didn’t think Americans were nuts to elect Bill Clinton - are now disturbed by pretexts used to destroy him. Despite all that, its not too late for America to enter the next century on firm footing.

1. GET ON WITH IT

Whatever people think of President Clinton, virtually no one outside the leadership of Iraq, North Korea and Serbia believes a crippled American leader to be a good thing. Political trouble may make Clinton trigger-happy, or it may make him reclusive. But it will not help the United States focus on the long-term challenges of the coming century.

That is not to say an impeachment trial can’t be held, nor does it belittle the constitutional process now underway. Once the House voted to impeach Clinton, the die was cast. The challenge is to dispense justice in the fastest possible way without compromising the president’s right to a defense or the constitutional process of impeachment.

Goal: Clinton should be either gone or free to govern by the end of January.

Whoever is running the country at that point should consider these options:

2. RETHINK IRAQ

Let’s assume a few things. First, take it for granted that Saddam Hussein is a murderous dictator.

Then, let’s concede that he has built weapons of mass destruction and used them in the past and that he may try to do these things again.

These are valid points. None of them, however, explains the prominence Iraq holds in U.S. foreign policy. Currently, the pre-occupation with the Baghdad is:

Tying up and wearing down much of the U.S. military’s offensive capability;

Destroying Washington’s ability to build coalitions on other issues in the United Nations;

Provoking murderous terrorist attacks (and providing targets for them) by basing U.S. troops on Saudi soil;

Providing a shield behind which other dictatorial Arab regimes (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the emirates) can hide as long as they acquiesce to U.S. policy;

Poisoning the far more important relationship with Russia;

Making Saddam look good by bombing his people and starving them with sanctions while leaving him unscathed;

Costing $11 billion (over seven years) for little return.

Iraq should be put in its place: it is a downtrodden but potentially dangerous middle-sized power that needs constant watching. If it ever again moves to threaten its neighbors, it should be invaded and occupied by an international force willing to organize elections after the war. But it is not North Korea; it is not Russia.

The fact is, Iraq’s dominance in American foreign policy as it is currently conducted serves Saddam’s interests as well as it does America’s. The United States should allow a comprehensive review of Iraq’s U.N. relationship go forward and use it as cover to ditch a miserable policy. And as U.S. troops board C-130s to leave the Gulf, their diplomatic representatives should be reminding regional Arab governments that future deployments to save their necks will be far more likely if those necks are seen to be moving toward democracy.

Goal: U.S. pullout from the Gulf by June, leaving only the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain. Establish a timetable for lifting economic sanctions.

The descendants of Confucius appreciate a good adage. Here’s one that fits the times: China cannot be dictated to, except, that is, by its own dictatorial leaders. There’s also a corollary that flows from that theorem: China respects only force.

The United States is not interested in going to war with China. At the same time, the United States is deeply unhappy with China’s:

Abuse of human rights;

Sale of missile technology and nuclear know-how to third countries;

Efforts to affect U.S. policy toward it by meddling in domestic campaign finances;

Resistance to dialogue on Tibet and Taiwan;

So, without force, what is the best way for the United States to influence China?

The standard solution, at least since the Reagan administration, has been driven by commerce. And, indeed, the opening of business ties to China has helped fuel an economic liberalization that may someday turn into a political liberalization.

Is that inevitable? Unfortunately, this is where the policies of all recent U.S. presidents, especially President Clinton, have failed. It’s easy to say economic progress will unleash political creativity. Otherwise (the argument goes), the economic boom will go bust.

That’s a plausible enough argument to warrant a continuing trade relationship with China. Just in case the cause and effect doesn’t kick in, the United States should be sure that it hedges its bets. To do that, the United States should:

Impose punitive sanctions on all Chinese companies involved in channeling funds into the U.S. political bloodstream.

Demand deeper cooperation from China in pressuring North Korea to open up;

Deepen ties with India and Japan, China’s arch-regional foes.

Hold yearly naval exercises with the Indian, Japanese and Australian forces.

Goal: Invite China to take its place at the table in the next century while letting them know that the United States is not about to give up its chair.

4. TREAT RUSSIA LIKE AN ADULT

Time is running out for the Bush/Clinton auto-pilot approach to the country Americans once dubbed “the evil empire.” The empire is gone, but evil never really dies. It merely reconstitutes itself as a new party.

Since the “new Russia” first emerged under Boris Yeltsin, there have been those plotting to revive the Soviet Union. Yeltsin defeated one cabal by shelling his own parliament in 1993. He beat back another, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, in the 1996 election. But these days, Yeltsin greets every dawn with a new vow to prove he’s relevant — a vow that is necessary precisely because he failed to accomplish it before going to bed the night before.

That should set off alarms in Washington. The Communists and nationalists who have been Yeltsin’s primary opponents are not much more popular than he is. If Russia’s voters get another chance to say who will rule them (in the 2000 election), they may just choose a centrist willing to mouth the words “reform” and “democracy.”

The United States may not be able to do much about the election of a fascist or Communist in Russia. It can, however, seek to avoid humiliating Russia for the sake of confused goals in Iraq and the Balkans. It’s not necessary to side with Russia in these regions. But to snub them for the sake of American policies that appear to be flawed anyway invites greater problems down the road. If containing Iraq, freeing Kosovo (or expanding NATO) comes at the price of reviving the Soviet Union, where will the victory be?

 

Goal: Find common ground on non-vital national security issues.

5. SUBCONTINENTAL SWAP

It’s high time that the indispensable nation dispenses with some of the baggage it has carried since the Cold War. That baggage, in the subcontinent at least, is called Pakistan.

For decades, Washington supported the military dictators who ruled Pakistan against the democratically elected Indians was a byproduct of the Cold War’s twisted logic. Because India flew MiGs and Pakistanis flew U.S. and British jets, Pakistan was our man. The need to supply Afghanistan’s mujahedeen in the 1980s solidified the link.

Today, that logic no longer holds. Pakistan is nominally democratic now, but its president is pushing a proposal to make Sharia, the Koranic code of justice, the law of the land. Pakistan is the primary ally of the repugnant Taliban that rules Afghanistan and trains and shields violent Kashmiri separatist groups and sworn enemies of America on its soil. It is unstable, notoriously corrupt and economically backward. And as of May 1998, it is an acknowledged nuclear power. This is a prescription for catastrophe that is not talked about enough in Washington on either side of the aisle.

India, too, angered the United States with its nuclear club gate-crashing. Yet India and the United States share enormous interests as the new century dawns. It is the world’s largest democracy and is amazingly stable despite an array of ethnic and religious minorities. It shares a fear of China and a desire to see Russia and former Soviet Central Asia develop along peaceful democratic lines. Its economy is reforming slowly and its “Silicon Valley” in Bangalore rivals all but the original in creativity and potential.

In a perfect world, good relations with both India and Pakistan make sense. Until then, the priorities should be reversed.

Goal: Tilt U.S. policy in the region toward New Delhi.

6. BALKAN HANDOFF

Lost in the buildup to the launch of Europe’s new single currency were several late moves in 1998 to coordinate the continents small but still potent militaries. The most significant moves included several cross-border defense mergers and a pact between Britain and France to expand the ability of European NATO forces to act independently of the United States.

With Germany, too, now beginning to take a more active role in local peacekeeping, the United States should consider declaring victory in Bosnia and handing over responsibility for the follow up force to Europe.

This won’t go down easily in European capitals, where the word UNPROFOR — the acronym for the European-led U.N. mission in Bosnia — is still regarded as a humiliation. European armies took hard the failure of that mission, which ended in 1995 after the Dayton peace accords.

Can Europe in 1999 manage what it couldn’t manage in 1991? If not, it is not Washington’s fault. The UNPROFOR experience exposed the weaknesses the “new Europe,” which had superpower pretensions. Their forces relied on the United States for airlift and satellite surveillance. Still, they found they couldn’t borrow credibility.

Now, after a reasonably successful European intervention in Albania in 1997 and reforms in some of the larger armies, Europe should be able to handle Bosnia. Ironically, the main problem now may be restraining the well-armed Muslims, not the downtrodden Bosnian Serbs.

The United States, meanwhile, will still have to deal with Serbia over Kosovo. But the message should be clear: ultimately, if the Euro is going to compete as a reserve currency with the dollar, the United States must insist that Europe creates a credible force to deal with future ethnic conflicts in its back yard.

Goal: U.S. forces handover to European NATO by end of summer, 1999.

MSNBC’s International Editor Michael Moran writes a weekly column on foreign affairs.