01-04-2008 - Traces, n. 4


The City 
and the World

In contrast to the 1990s, foreign policy has been a major concern for Americans in this decade. The terrorist attacks in 2001, the subsequent interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the perceived threats from Iran and North Korea–two members of the so-called “Axis of Evil”–have all heightened the public’s awareness of national security. However, foreign policy cannot concern itself exclusively with national security. Diana Negroponte, Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institute, talks to Traces about what a fully integrated U.S. foreign policy should look like

by Everett Price

Two thoughts, uttered thousands of years apart, have been helpful in crafting a judgment on foreign policy. In a recent discussion hosted by Crossroads Cultural Center in New York, Dr. David Schindler of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, argued that “a God who is truly God must make a difference to everything all of the time.” Belief in God has something to do with everything in reality; if such belief makes a difference while thinking about the ultimate questions of meaning, as well as moral questions about torture or murder, then certainly it also has a bearing on the Christian’s thinking about foreign policy. Second, in the Letter to Diognetus, we read that Christians “dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.” The universality of Christianity–that is, the universal body of Christ–while not taking anything away from patriotism (which is, after all, a virtue), compels us towards an American foreign policy that ought to be benevolent, humanitarian, and global in perspective. Ideology alone will not suffice; as Christians, our hearts are provoked by the reality we face in the rest of the world and, as Americans, we should respond by entering into a relationship with our global community, rooted in compassion.

TRACES: Apart from national security, what other issues and interests must we take into account when considering the position of the United States vis-à-vis the rest of the world?
NEGROPONTE: Traditionally, national interests go beyond security. In the early part of the 20th century, trade was the dominant force behind our foreign policy. I would argue that that was also the case in the 1990s, when trade agreements were both multilateral (in the [WTO] Doha Round), and bilateral, in NAFTA (with Canada, Mexico, Central America, and the Dominican Republic), and remained one of the driving forces behind American foreign policy. After all, we all want to have a rising standard of living and that’s only going to be achieved if we produce more, sell more, and import necessary goods at a lower cost. So, trade has always been on the agenda and the debate has always been: “Does trade go before the flag, the flag being the symbol of security, or does the flag go before trade?” Both are critical.

Many are currently questioning the wisdom of American engagement abroad. With manufacturing and service sector jobs moving offshore and mounting American casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, a temptation to isolationism has arisen in our national dialogue. Is there a danger to this?
We are not experiencing the same degree of isolationism that America went through in the 1920s. But there is a strong sense that we, the United States, don’t have to be involved in every fight, in every trade negotiation, and that our interests are limited and, therefore, we should reduce our interactions and resort to what I have termed “limited liability,” which is more inward looking, more selfish, more concerned with “me first” than recognizing the global needs of our planet. This is a very unhappy time for our country. It is linked to the anti-immigration of Lou Dobbs, the isolationists of some of the radio talk shows, and it does not display the best of America which is its outreach, its generosity, and its engagement with the rest of the world. The predominant thrust has been this outward looking rather than “limited liability.” But limited liability will be with us until we elect a leader who can persuade the American people that engagement is better than withdrawal.

Engagement toward what ends?
We need to be engaged in the world in development issues, principally with, maybe, the unintended consequence that we shall live in a safer world, a world that doesn’t have these huge discrepancies between the haves and the have-nots. It is in our interest to see more people living with sufficient food and water and housing and jobs, rather than a growing number who are living on less than two dollars a day. So, I would claim that our engagement should be on development. We should seek to fulfill our obligations on the Millennium Challenge account and we should work with our allies–like in NATO and in the Asian Forum–to seek and to share both the goals and the means to combat extreme Islam and to establish stability in areas such as Darfur, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.

What do you say about the Wilsonian idea that America has a moral duty to spread its own ideas of freedom and democracy throughout the world?
We must be careful about assuming a moral responsibility because good will won’t always be received as a disinterested action but may well be interpreted as an interventionist, negative move… Whether we have an obligation to spread our form of liberal democracy leads to the Wilsonian experience, when Woodrow Wilson believed we should take our democracy and make the other countries safe enough to enjoy the same liberties that we do. Wilson took us to war with Nicaragua, with Mexico, and we did not join the peace in 1919 [after World War I]. We have gone through, recently, a similar period, and that began in 2001 when American exceptionalism led to a new administration which believed that America had a responsibility to export our liberal democracy. It has not been as easy as those who promoted it believed and some would argue that it has created a backlash against the United States and against our form of democracy. So you ask, “Why?” And the answer is that things go awry when you seek to export these wonderful values in conjunction with a war. The ideas get confused with the violence and the violence tends to assume a greater importance than the values that you offered in all innocence but that got lost. So, if we now ask the people of the Middle East, and ask the people of Latin America, “Do you trust the United States? Do you believe in their form of liberal democracy?” the responses in the recent polls are poor, if not very negative. In part, this has been because our stress on an ideology of democracy and liberty was at odds with the reality that we were ready to go to war; the reality was that we were ready to intern people as enemy combatants and we were willing to tolerate abuse of human behavior in the U.S.-run prison of Abu Ghraib.

What are the limitations of the “War on Terror?” How do we account for the claim that America has acted “imperialistically” in the Middle East?
Let’s go to your original premises that we face radical extremism, which is based in large part on radical or extremist interpretations of Islam and the Qur’an, a religion which is fundamentally peaceful. Those are the principal challenges we face because the weapon that extremists have used has been the weapon of terror. Terrorism is not an ideology, per se; it’s a tool, it’s a means. You don’t blow up innocent women, children, and elderly in a market because you believe that innocent women and children will be better dead than alive; you do it because you wish to instill fear in a society. The creation of fear, such that your enemy changes his behavior, is the purpose behind using terror. There is no such thing as a “War on Terrorism;” it’s a misnomer. But we have to recognize that since time immemorial people who do not share our values and who do not share our interests have used terror as a weapon. Now a classical 19th and even 20th century put soldiers into uniforms and clearly defined components in terms of national states. We fought Germany. We fought Japan. You and I know that those national wars are part of history and that those who do not share our values and interests no longer live uniquely in one state but are to be found spread throughout the world…. So we now have to be alert to the fact that we can be attacked by people living in societies otherwise at peace with us, otherwise sharing those values, and that not only must intelligence be shared among peace loving states, but that we must be alert that radical extremists will attack the people of Hamburg, the citizens of London, the commuters of Madrid, as well as the citizens of the U.S. We all share at this time in our history the common threat from a relatively few people who wish to harm our way of life and the values we stand for. How you phrase that, how you create a sentence which is short enough to be understood and accurate enough is hard and the “War on Terror” doesn’t do that.

How can we articulate the true nature of the threat we face? How can we come to understand the radicalization of an otherwise peaceful religion?

The principle responsibility for this lies within the community of Islamic practitioners, the believers of Islam, because it is an extremism within their midst that they understand better than we do but also presents a threat to the people of Islam. The extremist must be stopped. The people closest to doing that are within the Islamic world themselves. This means that we should emphasize that the prime responsibility is upon them and in the meantime we have a responsibility to keep our citizens safe by using checkpoints before we get onto airplanes, etc.

What are the diplomatic priorities of the upcoming administration?
I believe that the priorities are engagement with our allies through alliances and through the United Nations. In the past three years, the second Bush Administration has already returned to these priorities. They are not always easy because when you converse with allies they prevaricate; they don’t give you what you want as soon as you want it; they are contentious. But I would argue that it is in U.S. interests to seek consensus, to accept that we will not always get our way or not always get our way within the timeframe that we need. We are not a contented superpower. We were a more satisfied people when we shared power either during the Cold War or in the period before that with the Europeans. And I would argue that we need to return to a multi-polar international system in which we recognize the constraints that other regions and other states can exercise but that it is to the benefit of the American people as a society to live within those constraints than to go it alone.

Relations Terms

WTO Doha Round
A round of broad-ranging negotiations begun in 2001 by the World Trade Organization (WTO), including discussions on agriculture and services. In the most recent summits, member states have also agreed to consider the difficulties developing countries face in complying with WTO agreements. Since 2005, negotiations have stalled due to the misaligned interests of the developed and developing member states.

The Dominican Republic-Central America-Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA) was ratified by the U.S. Congress in 2005 and established a “comprehensive trade agreement among Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the United States.”

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), effective as of 1994, was negotiated by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. The agreement has facilitated trade across these North American borders by minimizing obstacles such as tariffs. Some argue that it has also caused American producers to compete with lower-cost workers in Mexico, leading to a flight of American jobs south of the border.

Millennium Challenge Account
 The Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) was established by the Millennium Challenge Corporation with the aim of removing politics from the calculus of foreign aid allocation. To that end, developing countries are evaluated against 16 indicators and receive funding on a competitive basis, in which only those countries that have made the greatest strides toward economic liberalization and the decimation of corruption receive development assistance.

SOURCES: WTO: BBC News– http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/5095588.stm; official Doha website– http://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/dda_e/dda_e.htm
CAFTA: USDA website–http://www.fas.usda.gov/itp/CAFTA/cafta.asp
NAFTA: USDA website– http://www.fas.usda.gov/itp/Policy/NAFTA/nafta.asp
MCA: White House website– http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/developingnations/millennium.html