News and Features
Muslim "fundamentalists" are often people from the striving middle class.
The Bush Administration, urged by the oil industry, has embraced a corrupt regime.
They give each other tit for tat.
The next tat may get Arafat.
There is enough blame to go around for the events that have turned the Camp David promise of peace into the killing fields of the Mideast without dragging in President Bush.
"... Come my friends,
'tis not too late to seek
a newer world, ..."
On the eve of George W. Bush's recent tour of Latin America, Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes equated the advantages of a global free market with the peaks of the Himalayas, characterizing them as summits so inaccessible that the poor cannot even see them, let alone scale them. Fifteen years of US-prescribed free markets and trade liberalization in Latin America have generated an average annual growth rate of only 1.5 percent, far short of the 4 percent needed to make a serious dent in poverty levels. Add to that the Mexican peso meltdown of 1994, economic stagnation in Central America, the Brazilian currency crisis of three years ago, the political and economic collapse of Peru, endless war in Colombia, coup jitters in Venezuela and the staggering crash in Argentina, and one can understand Fuentes's pessimism.
"Trade means jobs," Bush said as he met with regional leaders and promised a harvest of benefits from his proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA)--a thirty-two-nation pact Washington hopes to implement by 2005. But for all Bush's talk of a prosperous hemispheric future, his policy initiatives are mired in a cold war past. The Administration has just anointed a former Oliver North networker and interventionist hawk, Otto Reich, to head the State Department's Latin America section. And much as in the days of the Reagan wars in Central America that Reich helped promote, the Bushies seem to believe that the region's ills are better solved by guns than butter. No sooner had Washington signed off on the sale of a new fleet of F-16s to Chile (ending a two-decade ban on sophisticated-weapons sales to Latin America) than the Administration began asking Congress to increase military aid to Colombia and to lift all restrictions on its use. Those critics who argued that the $1.3 billion antidrug "Plan Colombia" would suffer mission creep and inevitably morph into a prolonged counterinsurgency war are now seeing their darkest fears confirmed.
On the economic front, Bush offered little more than warmed-over trickle-down Reaganomics to a continent in desperate need of a lift from the bottom up (the three countries he visited--Mexico, Peru and El Salvador--all suffer poverty rates of 50 percent or more). Certainly not lost on his Latin American audiences was the one-sided nature of the free trade offered by Bush. For nearly two decades now, Latin Americans have been told that by adhering to the "Washington Consensus" of market liberalization they will be able to partake of the rich American pie. But the cold fact is that the US market has remained closed to a cornucopia of Latin American goods.
Some remedy was found in the past decade's Andean Trade Preference Act, designed to lure impoverished Latin Americans away from local drug economies by allowing them to freely export a list of 4,000 goods into the United States. But since ATPA expired last year, the Senate and the White House have balked at its reauthorization because of protectionist pressure from conservative, primarily Southern, textile and agriculture interests. Its reinstatement could shift 100,000 farmers in Peru alone from coca to cotton cultivation.
Washington's refusal to depart from such unequal and inflexible models has--unwittingly--provoked some positive alternative stirrings. The use of armored cars and tear gas barrages in downtown Lima during the US-Peruvian presidential meeting was an official acknowledgment of the growing restlessness with the status quo. Newly elected President Alejandro Toledo has seen his popularity plummet to 25 percent as he has failed to offer economic alternatives. In Brazil center-left candidate Luiz Ignacio "Lula" Da Silva leads in this fall's presidential polls and vows to block the FTAA if elected. Even the incumbent, more conservative, President Enrique Cardoso has begun to steer Brazil toward more independence from Washington. It's still too early to predict how the developing debacle in Argentina will play out.
Finally, El Salvador, where Bush ended his Latin American tour, couldn't have provided a more fitting showcase for the current disjuncture between Washington and its southern neighbors. During the 1980s the United States was willing to spend billions to fight a war against leftist insurgents and promised a bright, democratic future. That conflict was settled ten years ago with a pact that opened up the political system but did nothing to address the social ills that provoked the war in the first place. And once the guerrillas were disarmed, Washington lost interest; in the past decade US aid has been reduced to a paltry $25 million a year. Today El Salvador languishes with vast unemployment, radical economic disparities and a murder rate forty times higher than that of the United States.
Democrats like California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa are probably right when they claim that Bush's trip was aimed more at luring the domestic Latino vote than at building bridges to the South. During his 2000 campaign, Bush excoriated Bill Clinton for squandering a chance to improve relations with Latin America. But now Bush seems to be following in that same sorry tradition.
Barely six months after Russian President Vladimir Putin became the Bush Administration's most valuable ally in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan, the promise of a historic US-Russian partnership is being squandered. Indeed, this second chance to establish a truly cooperative relationship with post-Communist Russia--after the lost opportunity of the 1990s--is being gravely endangered by Bush's own policies.
During the weeks after September 11, Russia's contribution to the US counterterror operation in Afghanistan exceeded that of all of America's NATO allies together. Not only did Moscow provide essential intelligence information, it allowed the Pentagon to use its airspace and crucial Soviet-built airfields in Central Asia. It also stepped up its military assistance to the Afghan Northern Alliance, which Russia had supported long before September 11 and which did most of the ground fighting until recently. Even Russia's pro-Western lobbies are now asking, "What did we get in return?" Or as a leading member of the Parliament defense committee told us, "After September 11, we thought we were strategic partners, but America is an unreliable partner who completely disregards the interests of Russia."
Indeed, the arrival of the two of us in Moscow in March coincided with the Los Angeles Times revelations about the Pentagon's new nuclear doctrines, which continue to include Russia as a possible target of a US attack. It was the lead story for days in Russia's media, and most of the headlines and commentary were angrily anti-American. Komsomolskaya Pravda, Moscow's largest-circulation newspaper, featured a half-page illustration of a muscular Bush as Rambo, cradling a machine gun and flanked by his warriors--Rumsfeld (in a metal-studded headband, brandishing a bloody sword), Cheney, Powell and Rice. Protests against US policy and Bush himself reached such levels that the US ambassador called in Russian journalists to chastise them for being anti-American.
His lecture did nothing to squelch anti-US sentiments, which had diminished after September 11 but are now growing rapidly. Symptomatic was the view, widely expressed in media commentary and public opinion polls, that a US-led plot had deprived Russian athletes of gold medals at the Salt Lake City Olympics. Scarcely less resented was Bush's decision to impose tariffs on Russian steel, which increased belief in American hypocrisy about the virtue of "free markets."
More serious, however, is the opinion spreading across Moscow's political spectrum that the Bush Administration's war on terrorism now has less to do with helping Russia--or any other country--fight Islamic extremism on its borders than with establishing military outposts of a new (or expanded) American empire ("a New Rome," as a leading politician's aide remarked to us) with control over the region's enormous oil and gas reserves as its primary goal. Even Russians who consider themselves pro-American are understandably finding it increasingly difficult to counter this charge.
After all, viewed from Moscow, since September 11 the Bush Administration seems to be systematically imposing what Russia has always feared--a hostile military encirclement. This is not merely the product of anti-US conspiratorial theories. In fact it is likely that by 2003, there will be a US or NATO military presence in at least eight or nine of the fifteen former Soviet republics--four or all five of the Central Asian "stans," Georgia and the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
Not surprisingly, President Putin, Bush's alleged "partner," is coming under increasing high-level attack in Moscow as a result of White House policies. Putin's policies have unleashed angry charges that he is "losing" Central Asia and the Caucasus while succumbing to US imperialism. Of special importance, and virtually without precedent in Soviet or Russian history, has been a series of published "open letters" signed by retired generals, including one of former President Yeltsin's defense ministers, accusing Putin of "selling out" the country and "betraying" the nation's security and other vital interests.
The Kremlin is, of course, trying to defend what Putin's supporters call his "strategic choice" of an alliance between Russia and the United States and to discount the Bush Administration's recent steps. But a fateful struggle over that choice--and perhaps Putin's leadership itself--is clearly under way in Russia's political class. A pro-Western newspaper headline responded to the Pentagon's new strategic doctrines: America Prepares Friendly Nuclear Strike for Russia. Even given Putin's personal popularity with the Russian people and his backing by the Western-oriented energy oligarchs, it seems unlikely that he can go along with this fictitious "partnership" much longer.
If nothing else, the new US strategic thinking, including its enhanced status for tactical nuclear weapons, strengthens elements in the Russian military that have lobbied since the 1990s for giving "surgical" battlefield nukes a larger role in the Kremlin's own doctrine. As a leading Russian military specialist argues, the new US doctrine gives the Russian military additional arguments for new testing and deployment. "If the United States resumes real nuclear tests to make the new weapons," he wrote in early March, "Russia will soon follow." Indeed, in late March the head of the Parliament defense committee called on Putin to upgrade Russia's nuclear weapons capability in response to the US missile defense program.
All this suggests that the scheduled May summit between Bush and Putin, in Russia, may turn out to be little more than a show designed to promote the two leaders' political fortunes, but that does nothing to achieve today's most urgent security need--sharp reductions in both sides' nuclear arsenals. ("Storing" instead of destroying warheads, as Washington insists on doing, for instance, would not actually reduce those weapons or Moscow's growing sense of military insecurity.)
None of this is in America's true national interest. The post-cold war nuclear world, as this magazine has long pointed out, is more dangerous than was the cold war itself. The primary reason, September 11 notwithstanding, remains the instability of Russia's post-Soviet nuclear infrastructures. CIA director George Tenet has emphasized, for example, the imminent danger that Russia's nuclear devices, materials and knowledge might become the primary source of proliferation.
The Bush Administration's policy of treating Russia not as a real partner, with its own legitimate national interests, but merely as a part-time helper when it suits US purposes as well as a potential nuclear target only increases these dangers. In this fundamental sense, the United States today has an Administration whose Russia policies are endangering America's national security.
What was originally billed as Dick Cheney's mission to recruit Arab nations' support for ousting Saddam Hussein became a lecture tour on the urgency of dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--with Cheney as the lecturee. By the time he reached Israel the Vice President was promising that the United States would become "very actively engaged" in peace efforts in the Middle East.
Was this a Paul-like conversion on the road not quite to Damascus? Hardly. Whether it evolves into a full-scale US diplomatic effort to achieve a workable peace settlement remains to be seen, but there are new glimmers of hope as other key parties are now speaking out. Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's proposal injected a fresh impetus into the bloody Israeli-Palestinian impasse. The Saudi plan--which calls for Israeli withdrawal to its pre-June 1967 borders in exchange for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza and normalization of relations with the Arab nations--is, of course, nothing new. But its source, a conservative Arab state, carried weight, and its enunciation was timely. Such a vision still offers the best framework for a lasting solution. To the Israelis it promises peace, security and commerce with its neighbors; to the Palestinians it promises an end to the occupation and the establishment of a viable Palestinian nation. As Israeli novelist Amos Oz recently wrote, "Even Ariel Sharon and Yasir Arafat know the solution: peace between two states, established by the partition of the land roughly in accordance with demographic realities based on Israel's pre-1967 borders."
The United States, for its part, has taken several mildly positive steps, including engineering a UN Security Council resolution for a Palestinian state and Bush's admonition that Sharon's massive incursion into the Palestinian refugee camps was "not helpful." US disapproval stopped Sharon's invasion, and the Prime Minister also dropped his condition that peace talks would proceed only after seven days without Palestinian violence.
The Bush Administration's let-'em-fight-it-out policy, coupled with continued military and economic aid to Israel, has been a disaster, tacitly encouraging Sharon in his admitted attempt "to increase the number of losses on the other side. Only after they've been battered will we be able to conduct talks." Also a disaster was Washington's myopic ritual of blaming everything on Arafat's alleged failure to stem Palestinian terrorism. The US stance ignores what UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recently called Israel's "illegal occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza. Annan notably followed up those words with an indictment of the Israelis for unleashing the military in what resembled "all-out conventional warfare" against heavily populated civilian areas.
The Administration must now recognize that the best tactic in this renewed peace process is to work for a political settlement in tandem with a military truce. Achieving such a settlement will require a deep and evenhanded involvement on its part. Peace in the Middle East, not toppling Saddam Hussein, should be the United States' top priority. Many Arab leaders don't like the Iraqi dictator, but they know that military action against Iraq would further destabilize the region at a time when Arab opinion is inflamed against Israel and America.
Implementing the Saudi plan would mean taking some difficult steps, including the removal of Israeli settlements and the creation of a contiguous Palestinian state. The issues of the Palestinians' right of return and the location of their capital in East Jerusalem must be faced. These aren't intractable once the principles of full withdrawal for full peace are agreed on. International monitors should be introduced into the region to implement and enforce a peace agreement--particularly on the Palestinian side, because Arafat's power to curb terrorist elements (and curb them he must) has been undermined by Israeli incursions as well as his own weakness. Once a just settlement has emerged, Washington should impose compliance, if necessary, by cutting off aid and support to the recalcitrant party.
Washington must bring to bear its immense power, in coordination with the good offices of the European Union and the UN, and work to resolve this conflict. Such an outcome would be the most effective measure yet in the so-called war on terrorism.
On March 10 the citizens of a small African country went to the polls to cast their votes for an incumbent with a reputation as one of the continent's most unreconstructed tyrants, a man who used every form of trickery in the book to secure his re-election. Zimbabwe? No. I refer to the equatorial Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), which held its presidential election on the very same weekend as Zimbabwe's. Military strongman Denis Sassou-Nguesso was re-elected by a 90 percent landslide after his major opponent pulled out of the race the day before the elections, citing irregularities and urging his supporters to boycott. One such irregularity was Sassou-Nguesso's refusal to establish an independent election body to oversee the voting.
Observing the results in Zimbabwe and Congo, the respected Kenyan publisher Barrack Muluka has written in the East African Standard that "the continent of Africa abounds with miscarried and defrauded electoral history" and that the vote in Africa, when it happens at all, "can only be described as electoral fiction." Wondering why the West barely noted the Congo results, Muluka asks: "Is it possible for Tony Blair to admit that his concern over Zimbabwe arises first and last out of the fact that Mugabe has been messing up with the White population in that country?" Muluka concludes that he is as sickened by the hypocrisy of the West as he is by "the autocracy of the Mugabes of the world."
Zambia's recent elections were disputed, and Madagascar is in the throes of civil unrest because the incumbent there, Didier Ratsiraka, refuses to leave office after having been voted out. With a few shining exceptions (Senegal, South Africa, Botswana and, perhaps, Nigeria and Ghana), Muluka is right. Why, then, the fuss over Zimbabwe? Muluka provides part of the answer: The fact that there is a sizable white settler population in Zimbabwe and a steady diet, for the international media, of dead white farmers means there's a human interest dimension to the Zimbabwean story that poor Congo can't match. Did you know, for example, that 10,000 Congolese were killed in the civil war that brought Sassou-Nguesso to power in 1997 and that his ensuing repression displaced nearly a third of the country's 3 million citizens?
But Afrophobia aside, there are other, more honorable reasons for the world's current obsession with Zimbabwe's tragic descent into chaos. When Mugabe came to power in 1980, he was to many Western Afrophiles a shining light, a vision of reconciliation (he urged whites to stay and work with him) and a mark of the triumph of pragmatism over ideology (he was, in a nutshell, anti-Soviet). The generation now making policy in the West marched against Rhodesia and then marched for the brave new world Mugabe symbolized. His plummet into kleptocracy and tyranny signifies nothing short of betrayal for the Blair cohort of once-were-lefties.
And then there is Thabo Mbeki. The South African president has spent the past two years circumnavigating the globe peddling his New Partnership for African Development, which has as its precondition the achievement of African self-determination through democracy. When the Organization of African Unity approved the plan last year, Mbeki wrote that this "marked the moment when Africa took its destiny into its own hands for the first time in 500 years."
Mbeki acknowledged that Africans had said this before but explained how things are different from the moment of African independence in the early 1960s: We were no longer pawns in the cold war, and "corrupt and dictatorial leaders [could] no longer count on the patronage and protection of superpowers intent on maintaining a particular global balance of power and influence, which enabled the Mobutus of this world to thrive for decades."
And so Zimbabwe has become a litmus test for Mbeki's own aspirations: for South Africa (which, because of the "Mandela miracle," still carries the world's expectations for this continent) and for the unfettered African future Mbeki so publicly dreams of. Zimbabwe's 2002 election will be remembered as the moment at which Africa needed to make up its mind.
Mugabe has alienated the West, but he does seem to be able to count--with a couple of noble exceptions--on Africa's own ruling elite, including Mbeki's ANC. On March 19, however, Mbeki and his colleague, Nigeria's Olusegun Obasanjo, joined Australian Prime Minister John Howard in agreeing to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth. Have they, by doing this, exercised the self-determination Mbeki calls for? Or are they--as Mugabe's apologists would have it--colonial lackeys who have succumbed to racists with checkbooks?
Mbeki is in a tight spot. Chaos in Zimbabwe cannot but affect the whole region, and so, to date, his approach has been conciliatory. He understands, in a way that Tony Blair never could, that a Mugabe defeat would have spelled a bloody civil war. But it does not help Mbeki's case that he has not, at this writing, made any public pronouncement of his own.
Only when--as Mbeki himself has so compellingly put it--Africans really do start policing themselves, will shrill (and possibly racist) voices from the West begin to recede in significance. And only then will the ordinary people of countries like Zimbabwe really have a stab at the self-determination most people in the West take as their God-given right.