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Thomas Friedman of the NYTimes, America's most influential foreign policy commentator, today throws a radical proposal onto the table:
"... Let's offer Iraq full diplomatic relations with the U.S. in return for full intrusive U.S. inspections of Iraq's weapons facilities. The real issue is weapons inspections, and it has gotten totally and dangerously lost."
This can be parsed six ways from Sunday (do the 'relations' come with sanctions, or without?), but in essence this appears to stress safety through engagement, not embargo. Is it my imagination, or isn't this strikingly similar to the position pushed by Scott Ritter and others for the last two years?
Note that Friedman is still spinning the consequences of sanctions as a PR disaster ... with no acknowledgement (yet) of their humanitarian or moral cost. And from the safety of his keyboard, he remains a stalwart interventionist. But still, beneath the din of sabre-rattling, there may be encouraging movement ...
Golden Valley, MN USA
The New York Times
July 10, 2001
Policy by Obituary
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Let's do a quick test. I'll mention a name and you tell me what comes to mind. Ready? Secretary of State Colin Powell . . . Quick - what comes to mind? Well, actually nothing.
Now the fact that Mr. Powell's tenure so far doesn't conjure up anything doesn't make him a failure as secretary of state. It's way, way too early for such judgments. Sometimes the best policies involve doing nothing, because there's nothing to be done. But there are two basic ways to do nothing. One is to rely on biology, the other is to rely on creative diplomacy, and for now the Bush foreign policy is more biology than diplomacy.
A biological foreign policy means that you have run out of ideas or political room to maneuver for how to deal with a certain foreign leader, so your whole approach is waiting for that leader to die. Biology!
The most obvious case of biology in U.S. foreign policy today is Cuba, where nine U.S. presidents have been boycotting the country and waiting for Fidel Castro to die. But the fact is, the Bush foreign policy is also to wait for Saddam Hussein, Yasir Arafat and Kim Jong Il, the leader of North Korea, to die and be replaced by more pragmatic figures.
One problem with a biological foreign policy is that bad guys can live long: Mr. Castro is said to have given up smoking cigars and is eating yogurt; Mr. Arafat takes regular naps and puts only honey on his cereal. Another problem with biology as foreign policy is that it enables these leaders to divert attention easily from their actions to ours. So the U.S. is blamed for starvation in Iraq, lack of development in Cuba or the breakdown of Israeli-Palestinian peace.
If the Bush team prefers to do nothing in certain places, let's at least do nothing creatively, so the pressures are on the rogues, not us.
On Iraq, let's stop messing around with "smart sanctions" designed to let more goods into Iraq while weeding out military items. The states surrounding Iraq that would have to impose such smart sanctions have no economic incentive to do so. And the Arab world wouldn't give America any more credit for smart sanctions than dumb ones. It's a half-measure. If we're not going to go to war against Saddam, let's at least put a serious offer on the table that puts all the focus on him: let's offer Iraq full diplomatic relations with the U.S. in return for full intrusive U.S. inspections of Iraq's weapons facilities.
The real issue is weapons inspections, and it has gotten totally and dangerously lost. If we are just going to wait for Saddam to die, let's at least create a context in which all the world sees that it is his insistence on developing and hoarding weapons of mass destruction that is the problem.
On the Arab-Israel front, a great power like the U.S. does not belong arranging cease-fires. This has allowed Mr. Arafat to turn everyone's attention away from the fact that he rejected a peace plan put forward by the Clintonites that offered Palestinians 95 percent of what they wanted. The Bushies should say to Mr. Arafat that the U.S. will get re-engaged if he accepts the Clinton plan, or a Bush adaptation of it. The focus should not be on whether Mr. Powell is serious about mediating but on whether Mr. Arafat is serious about a deal.
On Cuba, we should long ago have lifted the embargo so Cubans could see that the reason their economy is so backward is not because of the U.S. blockade but because of Mr. Castro's idiotic Marxism. On North Korea, the Bushies have raised the bar so high in their talks with Kim Jong Il - to restrict his missile production - that it appears they don't really want a deal and are just waiting for him to die. Mr. Kim can export a lot of missiles while we wait for him to die.
The one area where the U.S. did not rely on biology - but on force, incentives and creative diplomacy - was in Serbia. There we created a context where all the focus was on whether the Serbian people would allow Slobodan Milosevic to be their leader. Slobo wanted to make us the issue, and we made him the issue.
The U.S. can't choose the leaders of Cuba, Serbia, North Korea, Iraq or Palestine, but we can do more than wait for them to die. We can create a context that puts greater pressure on these leaders to make better choices, a context that puts all the blame on them, not us, if they don't and a context that may not solve any of these problems but at least strengthens us with our allies and the people in these countries.