On Native Ground
AN INNOCENT ABROAD
by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- President George W. Bush is back from his Asia trip. It wasn't a total debacle, but it certainly didn't offer anyone any hope that he knows anything about foreign policy other than what his advisors tell him. Take this quote from a speech he made in Japan: "My trip to Asia begins here in Japan for an important reason. It begins here because for a century and a half now, America and Japan have formed one of the great and enduring alliances of modern times. From that alliance has come an era of peace in the Pacific."
Hello? Wasn't there a bit of a disagreement between Japan and the United States that occurred about 60 years ago -- World War II? That certainly was a break in the "enduring alliance," which didn't really begin until we destroyed Japan in the war, and occupied its territory ever since. That wasn't quite as bad as his remarks a day earlier when President Bush confused "devaluation" with "deflation." That gaffe sent the shaky Japanese markets into a brief tailspin, until traders figured out that Bush didn't know what he was talking about.
Then there was the obligatory visit to the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South Korea -- one of the most tense places on Earth where more than 40,000 U.S. troops have been stationed ever since the end of the Korean War in 1953. During his tour, President Bush learned of an attack in the mid-1970s on U.S. troops in the DMZ by North Koreans wielding axes. "No wonder I think they're evil," Bush said, sounding shocked that an incident like that could happen in a place where two powerful armies have stood eyeball-to-eyeball for a half-century.
The North Koreans weren't impressed by this observation. According to the Times of London, the North Korean Foreign Ministry described Bush as a "a man bereft of elementary reason" and "a politically backward child." Of course, Bush has thinks North Korea is evil for being a totalitarian police state that abuses human rights and sells missile technology to Iran, Iraq and Pakistan. While that same description also applies to China, the difference is that American companies haven't been able to set up sneaker factories in North Korea yet. When the last hard-line Stalinist nation on Earth finally opens up as China did to foreign investment, it will be pretty safe bet that North Korea will nolonger be seen as evil.
It's not just the North Koreans who think President Bush is a naif. A group of Chinese students turned what he thought was a routine photo opportunity into yet another embarrassment.
President Bush urged China's leaders to be more like the U.S. and embrace the values of tolerance and diversity. The Chinese government responded by arresting 47 Christians for having what it called "an illegal gathering" during Bush's visit.
A couple of students pressed President Bush on the issue of American policy toward Taiwan, specifically why whenever Bush talks about Taiwan he says that there must be a peaceful settlement of the dispute between Taiwan and China, not a peaceful reintegration of Taiwan into China. What followed was a cascade of "ums" and multiple repetitions of the words "peace" and "peaceful."
He might have been unwilling to directly answer the question, but it seemed more likely that President Bush had no clue what U.S. policy was regarding Taiwan and China - one of the major foreign policy issues of the past half-century. Could he really be that dumb, or does it just seem that way once he departs from his prepared script?
The world generally pays very close attention to whatever comes out of the mouth of the president of the United States. He is the most-listened-to person in the world, especially in the 24-7, warp speed age of global communications. When world leaders hear Presuident Bush and the truly stupid rhetoric that regularly comes out of his mouth, they shake their heads and wonder what kind of nation would put such a fool in a position of power. Our allies have been nearly unanimous in their contempt for the Bush administration's new doctrine of an unilateral and permanent war on terrorism. We are now seen by much of the world as the ultimate "roguestate." President Bush may frequently sound like a fool, but the policies of his administration are pursuing are anything but a joke. They reflect how intemperate words can undermine diplomacy.
The original intent of the "war on terrorism," was to enter Afghanistan to track down and capture or kill Osama bin Laden. "Wanted, Dead or Alive," in the words of Bush. He refused any attempts at a negotiated hand over of bin Laden, choosing instead to have our bombers and missiles rearrange the rubble of one of the most destroyed nations on Earth.
But bin Laden is still on the loose, as are thousands of Taliban and al-Qaida fighters. Afghanistan is back to the pre-Taliban era of warlords and anarchy. When the fighting season resumes in the Spring, another civil war is fairly safe bet to happen, but the Bush administration would rather not talk about that. They would rather discuss widening the war.
The now-famous "axis of evil" label applied by President Bush to Iran, Iraq and North Korea has wiped out years of improving relations with Iran and North Korea. Why?
Perhaps to justify the $250 billion boondoggle known as "National Missile Defense." Even though Bush admitted during his Asia trip that the U.S. has no intention of actually attacking North Korea, that nation has long been used as one of the justifications for NMD. There have been so many illogical words and deeds, it would all be comical, except that so many have been killed and maimed in the last six months and many more may die to help boost Bush's approval rating and make the energy companies and defense contractors richer.
This is hardly a foreign policy worthy of a great nation.
Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for morethan 20 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books).