You thought it couldn’t get much worse for United States foreign policy. After seven years of Bush (time flies when you are having fun), with levels of anti-Americanism at all-time highs, and what most experts consider a quagmire in Iraq, how much more havoc could Bush and his gang of neocon nimrods really wreak on the international community?
Yet the last month provided such a stream of diplomatic debacles that it’s almost tempting to feel sorry for the beleaguered Bush administration. Let’s take a look at the new fronts of the Bush regime’s undeclared War on Responsible Diplomacy.
Front 1: Pakistan
Sunday, Pakistan’s head of state Gen. Pervez Musharraf, ignoring American pleas to loosen his dictatorial grip on his country, declared a state of emergency imposing martial law in the capital Islamabad on Sunday. He suspended the country’s constitution and dismissed the chief justice of the supreme court.
The move came amid growing Islamic radicalism in Pakistan, much of which stems from the perception that the general is a pawn of the American infidels. Religious radicalism has been heating up for some time, especially in the areas near the Afghanistan border where the Taliban and al-Qaida often have quasi-governmental jurisdiction.
The long fragile situation has become increasingly explosive. This summer, hundreds of Muslims protesting for Islamic sharia law inside the Pakistani capital barricaded themselves inside the Red Mosque for four days until security finally stormed the complex and forcefully ended the protest.
Since the Red Mosque incident, more than four hundred Pakistanis have been killed in terrorist bombings. Later in October, radicals attacked the welcome rally of the most prominent secular leader in Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, killing more than 130 and injuring more than 500 in Karachi. October also saw a terrorist attack aimed at Musharraf killing security guards but leaving the head of state unharmed.
The State Department needs to be very careful with how they deal with the precarious situation. Pakistan is a nuclear state whose destabilization would pose problems for the entire international community. Yet unrestrained support for Musharraf, whose selfish power grabs are angering both secular lawyers and radical clerics, is not much better.
America’s highest priority in Pakistan is keeping a lid on the sectarian violence and protest, while gradually phasing in a more democratic regime that might include a power sharing deal with Bhutto. Bush should make it clear that the $150 million check the U.S. sends Pakistan for aid each month, most of which goes to funding the country’s military, is contingent upon progress toward democratization and stabilization.
Front 2: Turkey
Our second front in the U.S. War on Responsible Diplomacy is Turkey, another “friend in the War on Terror.” If October was a tough month for American relations with Pakistan, Turkey gave Condoleeza Rice one headache after another.
On Oct. 10, in a move that puzzled Democrats and Republicans alike, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs approved a bill that denounced the Ottoman Turks for the genocide of about 1.5 million Armenians during WWI – more than 90 years ago.
Bush condemned the non-binding resolution as “not the right response” and dangerous to American geopolitical interests. Interestingly, all eight of the living former secretaries of state agree with him. Bill Maher didn’t miss the opportunity to lampoon his beloved Dems.
About a week later, the Turkish parliament voted overwhelmingly to authorize an invasion of the Kurdish region of Iraq to hunt for radicals, especially those associated with the secessionist militant organization known as the Kurdistan Workers Party (or PKK). In October, the PKK was been responsible for multiple attacks killing about 40 Turkish soldiers along the Iraq-Turkey border.
Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdo?an has been receptive to Washington’s pleas to abstain from a land invasion of Kurdistan Iraq. According to Stephen Kinzer, professor of political science at Northwestern and former New York Times bureau chief in Istanbul, this restraint probably is the result of two factors: the logistical difficulties of invading the mountainous terrain of northern Iraq and the likely derailment of Turkey’s admission into the EU, the Erdo?an administration’s #1 foreign policy goal.
“There is a huge national demand in Turkey for immediate military action against the PKK in Iraq,” Kinzer said. “Prime Minister Erdo?an has looked carefully at the potential negative implications of an invasion, and has refused to surrender to emotion. In this way, he is behaving in a much more mature way than the U.S. behaved when it invaded Iraq.”
The situation boils down to a diplomatic debacle for the Bush administration, which has never been too adroit at negotiating the nuances of diplomacy. Please, save the “Iraq and a hard place” jokes.
Bush finds himself in a catch-22: if he pursues the Kurds in northern Iraq he risks destabilizing the only pacified area of the country; yet if he does not actively pursue the PKK, an organization on the U.S. State Department list of foreign terrorist groups, Bush risks looking like a hypocrite and agitating Turkey.
“The problem that U.S. faces is almost insoluble – there is no good answer,” Kinzer said. “Bush cannot attack the PKK guerrillas in Northern Iraq, yet if he refuses to do so he is endangering our only true ally in the Middle East, which is Turkey. It is an example of the consequences of this Iraq invasion coming home to roost. Everybody saw this coming.”
The Bush regime did not create these diplomatic quandries overnight, nor was the process unilateral. The problems in Turkey and Pakistan are a consequence of complex geopolitical realities, internal divisions and national history.
Yet both of Bush’s fronts in his War on Responsbile Diplomacy are inextricably tied to the invasion of Iraq that, beyond being right or wrong, was executed without any consideration of possible problems for regional stability months, years and decades down the line. Now our foreign policy looks like a house of cards, with even our strongest allies in the War on Terror acting more like distant acquaintances.
With these high stakes, it’s time for some real diplomacy. Let’s bring in regional powers like Syria and Iran and the greater international community to try and solve some of these diplomatic dilemmas.
For Bush and his stained legacy, this diplomatic mission is one that needs to be accomplished — preferably without a photo op.