President Bush and a long line of administrators before him have developed a dangerous history of a contradicting duality in U.S. foreign policy. U.S. presidents reuse the same rhetoric extolling the glories of democracy, claiming to persuade foreign states to go the way of free speech and open elections. Yet for more than 30 years, contemporary U.S. foreign policy has also included covert support of tyrants and autocrats in the name of national security. This sends a second, very different message to the international community than the humanitarianism that is preached in the White House Rose Garden.
Currently, the contradiction is more obvious than ever. The global community needs to look no further than Iraq and Afghanistan to see an example of America’s historically hypocritical international policy. President Bush spent much of his 2004 campaign reminding American voters of the impending elections in Iraq and his implementation of democracy in a country once controlled by Saddam Hussein. However, a far less noble U.S. foreign policy is in practice just one country east of Iraq.
After Sept. 11, the U.S. Executive Branch was celebrating the removal of a cruel Taliban regime, while the American arm of military force, the Pentagon, was funding Afghan warlords to fight the U.S. war on al Qaeda. With weapons and intelligence provided by the U.S., rogue crime bosses in Afghanistan consolidated their power into small, seemingly autonomous regions. These American-funded Afghan militias not only failed at their assignment, allowing a significant portion of al Qaeda to escape from Tora Bora, but now they threaten the vulnerable Afghanistan government that was established to replace the Taliban.
Unfortunately, this is nothing that can be considered an invention of the Bush Administration. The U.S. has a long history in funding criminals to fight common enemies and of trying to manipulate democracies to force outcomes that most positively affect American policy.
From Richard Nixon supporting a coup of the democratically-elected Socialist President of Chile Salvador Allende in the 1970s to the Clinton-supported American invasion of Haiti during Operation Restore Freedom in 1994, American leaders have put on a pro-democratic front, but have often used underhanded means to assure an outcome that benefited the U.S. politically and economically. When these actions are uncovered, they are embarrassing for U.S. leaders but considered worthwhile in the interest of preserving and expanding American dogma.
What may not be taken into account is the image American hypocrisy creates and the danger it can present. In South and Central Asia the contradiction of U.S. opinion is undermining any hope to encourage those leaders to give a call for democracy.
Of late, the State Department has made it clear that improving human rights and increasing democratic practices is imperative in the region. Yet, the Pentagon is far more focused on securing these countries and winning military access while ignoring, if not condoning, complete autocratic control by local leaders to achieve these goals.
Because many foreign leaders recognize the American military force before any other part of the U.S., friendly messages from the Pentagon will always supercede any other warnings, American or otherwise.
A recent example can be seen in America’s treatment of Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has offered his support for the American war on terror. Because of this, President Bush has not pressured the Russian president about his increasing consolidation of power and weakening on human rights, as in Chechnya.
These mixed messages are dangerous ones. Foreign leaders cannot be expected to do what the U.S. says and ignore what the lone superpower does. Yet, it would be foolish to want the U.S. to develop a pattern of isolationism. Because national security is directly related to international affairs, American foreign policy must change. To regain a functioning and meaningful relationship with the international community and to become once again a credible source of global advice, a U.S. president needs to support and truly believe in the humanitarianism and democracy the U.S. currently claims to defend.
Truly opening the world up to democracy, void of coercion, would likely eradicate terrorism far more successfully and permanently than manipulation and deceit.
Without that change, our current attempts at fostering democracy and crushing terrorism will make certain that neither goal succeeds.
Christopher George Wink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.