Americans Should Get Real

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If
you’ve been listening to the story-line composed by American officials
promoting the Bush administration’s foreign policy, you might have
concluded that two recent international developments are all part
of the Freedom Narrative. The two developments are the Chinese opposition
to the security accord between Washington and Tokyo that listed
for the first time that easing tensions in the Taiwan Strait was
their ‘common strategic objectives’ and the strong US lobbying against
a plan by the European Union (EU) to lift its 15-year arms embargo
on China.

According
to the neo-conservative ideologues, the leading global democratic
power (the United States) and its courageous liberty-loving ally
in North-east Asia (Japan), are standing up to a repressive regime
(China) that is threatening to strangle a fledgling democracy (Taiwan).

Neocons’
take

At
the same time, the spineless and greedy Europeans seem to be ready
to appease once again another dictatorship. In this narrative concocted
by the neocons, there is the Community of Democratic Nations headed
by America and joined by (among others) Japan, Taiwan, Australia,
Britain, India, Ukraine, and New Europe, and then there are (among
others) China, Russia, Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea.

If
the US would only remain committed to its democratic principals
and use its power to spread them worldwide, Old Europe and other
wavering players are bound to jump aboard the Freedom Train, while
the forces of democracy would rise in China, Russia, and Iran. You
just wait and see!

This
is of course a heart-warming fairy tale that recalls the legend
of President Woodrow Wilson who, once upon a time, had dreamt about
ridding the international system of balance of power politics and
establishing a make-believe world in which the commitment to democracy
would overcome selfish national interests.

That
idealistic fantasy ended up being transformed into the nightmares
of the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and World War II. But a century
later, a new generation of Wilsonians are trying to impose their
wishful thinking on a complex international reality. In fact, much
of what is happening in the world today, including the US-Japan
accord on Taiwan and the US-EU tensions over China, would be familiar
to the likes of Lord Castlereagh and Prince Metternich who helped
engineer the post-Napoleonic wars balance of power in Europe that
Mr. Wilson had so despised.

For
the architects of the Congress of Vienna and those who helped maintain
peace and stability in Europe for close to a century, the news today
would sound quite familiar. It’s the balance of power, stupid!

Hence,
the US has tried to strengthen its hegemonic position by going to
war in Iraq. It challenged the opposition to its policy from the
EU, Russia and China and imagined that in the aftermath of a military
victory in Iraq, it would ‘forgive Russia, ignore Germany and punish
France.’

But
instead, the war has exposed US diplomatic, economic and military
weaknesses. That reality is now being exploited by the new emerging
global powers and forcing the US to cuddle Russia (please, don’t
sell military technology to Iran and Syria!), embrace Germany (please,
press Nato to help us in Iraq!) and give a big kiss to the French
(please, don’t orient the EU against us!).

By
going to war against Iraq, the Americans ignored core interests
that the Europeans, especially the need by the French and Germans
to secure their strategic and economic backyard in the Middle East.
So the EU, by moving to lift the embargo against China, is sending
a clear message to Washington: If you continue to dismiss our concerns
in the Middle East, don’t expect us to act differently when it comes
to our own interests in Asia.

The
result is that one rising global power (EU) is strengthening the
bargaining power of another new global player (China) that feels
threatened by the Americans (over Taiwan).

At
the same time, the American Japanese accord is an attempt to counter
that challenge as Washington takes advantage of Tokyo’s worries
over Beijing’s growing economic and military power in Asia. Indeed,
this new triangular global relationship suggests that the post-Cold
War unipolar system is starting to crumble and taking the multipolar
shape. Wilsonian campaigns on the part of Washington would be the
most disastrous response to this changing reality.

Instead
of ‘punishing’ Russia for its alleged blow to democracy (recall
that President Vladimir Putin was elected in a free vote by a larger
majority than President George Bush enjoyed in the last election),
Washington should embrace Moscow as a strategic partner in a way
that could counter pressures from the EU and China.

Long-term
interests

A
new effort to cooperate with the Europeans over Iran and Israel/Palestine
would make it perhaps more likely that the EU would be willing to
accommodate American concerns over China. And Washington should
recognise that the strategic partnership with Tokyo doesn’t play
into the hands of Japanese nationalists whose attitudes towards
China run contrary to American long-term interests.

It
also goes without saying, that Americans should start a serious
debate on the direction and shape of US military commitments to
Taiwan.

Indeed,
we should recognise that in the real world out there, nations are
willing to work with Washington – and even adopt its democracy rhetoric
for a while – when it’s in their interest to do so. We should do
the same and ensure that US resources are utilised to advance America’s
core interests and not to fulfill dangerous fantasies.

March
2, 2005

Leon
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore
. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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