Monday, January 3

More on the America Desk (CBA) and waiting for the cows to come home

"Pundita, check out the link you provided [in a 12/30 post] to Justin Raimondo's The Yuschenko Mythos article. The link brings up a Nov. 2000 article by Raimondo on his impressions of Condi Rice. Also, you mentioned Raimondo doesn't make reference to the State Department in his piece about Yuschenko. True, but a link he provides to the Guardian's 11-26-04 article on the Ukraine election mentions "the US government" several times."

Thanks to the alert reader, Pundita has corrected the mistake and promises to try to remember to proofread the links she provides in her blogs before publishing them. However, the mistake led me to read Raimondo's piece on Dr. Rice, which leads me to ruminate momentarily on the role accident plays in recollection.

Raimondo writes in part, "Condie Rice is generally associated with the "realist" school of foreign policy . . . [the school] is potentially . . . a less expansive vision than the "humanitarian intervention" espoused by the Clinton administration or the notion of forward engagement with social or cultural problems like poverty and environmental degradation espoused by Al Gore in some interviews."

There's nothing original about Raimondo's comments; surely he'd made the same observations in earlier writings, indeed, the writing repeats the widely held belief that Clinton's interventionism was grounded in humanitarian concerns. However, Raimondo's comments bring the Clinton era of foreign policy into sharp relief, which points up the utter nonsense that the American public accepted as fact about Clinton's foreign policy aim.

Again I refer Pundita's readers to the 1995 mission statement that accompanied the formation of the America desk at State. (See also the 12/29 "America Desk" post). The desk is officially called the Office for Commercial and Business Affairs (CBA).

It doesn't get clearer than saying (in block letters, no less) that one aim of the America desk is "BRINGING BUSINESS CONCERNS TO THE FOREFRONT OF THE FOREIGN POLICY PROCESS."

The mission statement is very explicit in conveying that the installation of the America desk signaled a massive shift in US foreign policy. No longer would US foreign policy be led by US national security interests; it would be led by US business interests.

So what was the US news media waiting for during the Clinton years -- to be hit with a sledgehammer before they'd grasp the direction of Clinton's foreign policy?

Yes, Clinton promoted the idea that his foreign policy was grounded in humanitarianism. The US news media uncritically accepted the idea and passed it to the public. But it's a crock that Clinton's interventionism was grounded in humanitarian concerns, as even a cursory review of the Rwanda genocide brings home.

Yet no matter how much the US media groused about Clinton's decision to intervene in Kosovo and Somalia they swallowed the humanitarian line, hook and sinker. Even Raimondo, who strikes me as a born cynic, swallowed the line, if his observations in the Rice article are indication.

However, that Clinton foreign policy served US business interests would be one matter. Yet what's slowly emerging since 9/11 about State's activities during and since the Clinton administration calls into question whether the America Desk, as a foreign policy instrument, actually did serve US interests during the Clinton era. To be more precise, whether US interests ran a distant second to the interests of the European Union.

Surely the CBA helped oil the wheels of commerce for many US businesses seeking to open or deepen markets in foreign countries. But again, the mission statement is very clear in indicating that the America Desk was conceived not only to help American business abroad but also to serve as a foreign policy instrument. It's from the angle of foreign policy that one has to examine whether the America Desk served US interests.

The more information that comes out about State's intervention in former USSR countries during the Clinton era, the more it seems that the America Desk (in its role as a foreign policy instrument) had been serving the interests of NATO's European members. Specifically, the geopolitical interests of the EU's Big Three--Germany, France, and Great Britain.

On paper that doesn't sound such a bad idea, given the NATO alliance, until the defense interests of the Big Three clash with the defense interests of the USA. A clash is exactly what happened when Bush formulated the preemption doctrine, which everyone on earth knows by now is a call for unilateral action when America's security is threatened.

From that point onward, the British foreign office and the French and German governments turned with a vengeance on the Bush administration. The US Department of State sided with The Big Three against the Bush administration. Americans have a right to wonder how our own state department could turn against our own White House and even the will of our own Congress. The answer is "easily," if State managed during the Clinton era to accumulate the same power as their British counterpart. Not all the facts are in but at this juncture, that might have been what happened.

The British foreign office is virtually an autonomous branch of government. That is why there was (and remains) a sharp difference between Tony Blair and Jack Straw's view of the Bush's administration's approach to dealing with Saddam Hussein's government.

So Americans should take with a grain of salt the Guardian Unlimited article that the alert reader mentioned. Of course the State Department is part of "the US government," but that's not the same as saying that the Bush administration supported State's intervention in Ukraine or the way the intervention was carried out.

Indeed, Bush's reply to a reporter's question, after the Ukraine situation blew up, was very careful to distance himself from comments that Colin Powell, in his capacity as Secretary of State, made about the situation.

That doesn't necessarily mean the Bush White House didn't support State's intervention in Ukraine's political affairs. It means that even if the White House had not supported State's actions in Ukraine, there wasn't a whole lot Bush could do, beyond try for damage control with Putin.

Perhaps not since the Civil War has there has been so much disagreement between US government officials as between State and the post-9/11 Bush White House. Of course the author of the Guardian piece was aware of the disagreement; everyone who writes on foreign policy is aware--I think even the American public at large is by now aware. Yet the Guardian piece gives no hint of daylight between the White House and State.

I interject that the author of the Guardian piece is within his right to ignore the schism; that an administration doesn't have control of their foreign office still means that the buck stops at the desk of "the government."

Yet the slant of the Guardian piece underscores the view of the British foreign office, which strongly colors several of the major British news media coverage of Bush and the invasion of Iraq. Not to mention coloring the views of the army of British pundits who descended on the American airwaves and the Op-ed pages of major Americans newspapers after Bush announced the preemption doctrine.

(For more on this aspect of the US war on terror, see Pundita's 11/28/04 posting, "British pundits get the jump on America and why we should care.")

In any case, a thorough congressional inquiry into the activities of the America desk since its inception should throw light on the extent to which State has served the interests of our allies across the Pond. However, it's likely the cows will come home before such an inquiry is launched.

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