How is the press interpreting the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan? Mainly in terms of domestic American politics. Mainly in short-sighted and short-term ways. Certainly it is not seen as indicating that there is anything fundamentally wrong with U.S. foreign policy.
The Wall Street Journal says it "potentially gives an edge to candidates boasting of experience over those promising changes." The newspaper says it is boosting McCain and Giuliani’s candidacies. They are identified as anti-terror and national security candidates. Likewise, the Los Angeles Times sees a higher profile for national security and foreign affairs in the campaigns. The Washington Post plays up Hillary Clinton’s personal knowledge of Bhutto.
Clinton is not alone. Every major candidate, with the exception of Ron Paul, wants to be seen as the strong anti-terror candidate who has the knowledge of Pakistani politics and world affairs and who can step in at a moment’s notice and handle the situation. In other words, they assure the American public that they too will continue the failed interventionist policies of the U.S.
Obama attempts to play the role of the unconventional anti-Iraq War candidate. But, contradicting himself, he endorses an activist U.S. role in Pakistan: "We…stand with them in their quest for democracy and against the terrorists who threaten the common security of the world." Does this sound like George Bush, or does this sound like George Bush? In fact, following a clear Democrat Party policy theme, both Clinton and Obama promise that if elected they will deepen the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That’s where they think the real fight is.
Outdoing his competitors, Mitt Romney shows himself the global war-on-terror candidate. According to Newsweek, "Mitt Romney condemned the assassination as proof of the u2018extraordinary reality of global violent radical jihadism.’"
He is not to be outdone by Rudy Giuliani: "Her death is a reminder that terrorism anywhere — whether in New York, London, Tel Aviv or Rawalpindi — is an enemy of freedom…We must redouble our efforts to win the terrorists’ war on us."
Enough. We get the idea. All you guys are strapping on an extra two six-guns. You’re all expert marksmen. You all have your bags packed, ready to take a plane to any O.K. Corral in this wide world. You’re ready for any number of showdowns. When you get there, you’ll fire into the air while launching either the U.S. Marines, a fleet of AC-130 gunships, or a new Swiss bank account for whatever corrupt "leaders" you can dredge up. Every such leader will be a champion of democracy, who is doing the best that he or she can in the face of an unruly divided population that refuses to buckle under to the democratic script. All of this will be paid for by the American taxpayer and foreign central banks willing to buy the endless U.S. debt. This will go for the next 100 years (at least) or until the empire cracks, whichever comes first.
The infantile thinking of all the major candidates (with the exception of Ron Paul) is truly something to behold. All of them promise more of the same, with trivial variations. How is it that American politics has come to such a childish foreign policy, repeated decade after decade? How have so many remote trouble spots supposedly been transformed into critical matters of national security when any fool can see that by merely ignoring them consistently, we would enhance American security and well-being? How have we come to a pass where the major candidates continually mouth stupidities and put them into effect after elected? How can this go on and on and on, without significant change?
Evidently, America’s national political system is broken. It is producing dysfunctional and foolish outcomes at every turn. It is a perpetual motion machine running in reverse. No candidate need deviate more than a tiny amount from the accepted party lines. One of them will invariably be elected. The two parties own the process of placing their Heckle and Jeckle candidates on the public’s malfunctioning ballot boxes. There is no need for change. If it’s broke, why fix it? No one is making anyone fix it.
Why should any candidate deviate? Why should they not throw more gasoline onto the world’s fires? The two parties and their financial supporters and beneficiaries have built up an impregnable political position by endorsing an activist and interventionist foreign policy that never fails to get one of the two elected. Why rock the boat? Why should they not avail themselves of that power they assiduously seek? Why should they not tap into that great checking account denominated in everyone else’s name but theirs?
One candidate has endorsed a sensible non-interventionist foreign policy: Ron Paul. In a November 9, 2007 interview in the U.S. News and World Report, Ron Paul made these comments on Pakistan:
How has the deteriorating situation in Pakistan affected your campaign message?
"It fell right in my lap. It’s exactly what I said. Ten billion dollars we paid into this guy’s coffers to keep a military dictator who overthrew an elected government. And we’re supposed to die for spreading democracy? We’re going broke. And now we’ve created chaos in that country. We had Bhutto come back in there. Everybody over there knows our CIA is trying to run things. That’s why he’s so unpopular. As long as we’re going to interfere, there will be a motivation for people to get rid of our puppet government and turn against us as well. That’s where the radicalism comes from. It’s a response to a foreign policy that is seriously flawed."
Foreign policy produces nothing but folly, as explained here. We mistakenly believe that foreign policy is a collective good when, as it is usually practiced, it is a collective bad. Its only benefits fall out to selected interest groups out for themselves. Furthermore, this supposed good is owned and operated by an untouchable cartel of two political parties. And within those two organizations are much smaller cliques who control the nation’s foreign policies. The institutional arrangements are what are producing the mass follies of foreign policy that we constantly observe.
The average person knows enough to stay away from trouble spots that promise more and more losses of all types without any expectation of noticeable gains. A driver avoids potholes. He does not steer directly into them. A common sense foreign policy involves avoiding trouble spots. It involves the patient ability to stand aside as other peoples work out their own problems. It involves the wisdom to know that America does not have the money or the wisdom to ameliorate every thorny or even less-than-thorny political problem in this world. It involves a redirection of the ideal of helping others, away from the state and toward individuals. It involves the willingness to engage other peoples directly via peaceful trade and social interactions. It involves avoiding the destructive manipulations that are the invariable consequence of government-to-government interactions in foreign policy as currently practiced.
At present, the dynamic of our political setup works against every sound instinct of common sense in foreign policy. At present, unstable areas like Pakistan are actually excuses for even more intervention. Major candidates use instability to advocate throwing even more fuel on the fire and throwing good money after bad. This alone should tell us that something is drastically wrong with the political system.
At a bare minimum, the exercise of American foreign policy badly needs a recess, a time-out. But what it really needs is to be trashed. It needs to be replaced by the common sense policy of government nonintervention.
In one word, American foreign policy should be non-interventionist. The government should wind down its foreign policy ventures. If Americans wish to interact productively with foreign peoples, the appropriate way is not at the state’s collective and coercive level. It is at the personal level, as is done via social and business interactions.
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is a retired Professor of Finance living in East Amherst, New York.