Monday, January 24

The American Century, at last

"Pundita, Until I read your Saturday post I tried for more than two years to figure out what Bush is talking about. You're right, he's easy to understand if you go to the source. The media think Bush is so stupid they don't really listen to what he says. Now they are dreaming up wild theories about what his democracy speech means. Thank you for demystifying what he said. ...
[Signed] Caesar in San Francisco"

Dear Caesar:

The media don't think Bush is stupid; it's just that they haven't absorbed the extent to which his ideas represent a radical break from US foreign policy thinking.

For more than a half century American foreign policy has been lashed to the mast of NATO thinking. The NATO alliance has been vitally important to the US. The price tag is that there has been no real American foreign policy; there's been NATO policy, which overwhelmingly reflects the European view.

That's why many Americans spent the Cold War tearing their hair out over what they perceived to be incoherent and even insane US foreign/defense policy. However, the war itself--America's struggle against the Soviet Union--and the enemy's nuclear armaments masked the root cause of the incoherence.

An example is the widespread US protest that built against the Vietnam War. Americans slowly realized that Vietnam represented an unwinnable war because we couldn't declare war on the real enemies, which were Red China and the Soviet Union. See USS Clueless for an outline of the situation. Once Americans understood that our soldiers were locked in a proxy war with no end, they branded the Vietnam War as madness. However, the mad part was American foreign policy trying to do an imitation of Europe's. This point drifted untended through the subsequent decades until it met head-on with 9/11.

Proxy war greatly predates the nuclear arms era; it is longtime standard operating procedure for European governments; one look at a map of Europe tells you why. Proxy war, triangulation, detente--all that stuff makes perfect sense for a bunch of small countries jammed next to each other with approximately the same military power and population number. Yet when translated into policy for America, the European viewpoint produces the kind of weirdness that Jefferson Airplane captured in their White Rabbit lyrics.

It's ironic that an American president who is admittedly not comfortable with verbal language has tasked himself with articulating a purely American defense/foreign policy. However, he's doing a better job than is evident from US media analysis of his ideas, which is why Pundita always advises to go to the source first when trying to follow Bush policy.

If you read the description of the Millennium Challenge Account, it jumps out that the concepts of personal responsibility and accountability are cornerstones of Bush foreign policy. The cornerstones are also evident in Bush's views about education. You're not going to create a modern workforce if you keep passing children who can't read and write. The public schools have to be held more accountable.

In the same manner, we've spent a half century learning that if you invite a despot to vote in the United Nations, and in all other manner treat him as a democratically elected leader, this is not going to create a democratic leader out the despot.

The Bush Democracy Doctrine boils down to saying that you cannot keep giving despots a passing grade--not if the despots want something from you, such as big-bucks aid and big trade deals. You must demand accountability and responsibility and for this, clear standards need to be developed and enforced. Otherwise, despots assume they can keep on as they've been doing. Just as a generation of American public high school graduates assumed it was okay to read at the level of a 12 year old and get into college. The school system wasn't set up to provide feedback that it's not okay.

The Bush approach reflects a typically American viewpoint, or rather a reassertion of the American viewpoint. The viewpoint went into decline at the US news media level. The media are not so much anti-Bush as at sea. George W. Bush is laying the groundwork for a foreign policy that is free of NATO-centric and Euro-centric thinking. But that's a paradigm shift for the US news media, which spent more than a half century reporting on and analyzing an American foreign policy view that was dominated by European thinking.

We still have a way to go before an American policy fully emerges but the Bush presidency has made a good start.

Thank you for allowing me use your praise as a quote on the Pundita blogspot header.

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