Retrieving an alternate tradition of US foreign policy…
Response to “Friendless Obama needs Middle Eastern allies of convenience”, Financial Times, Wednesday September 24, 2014
Sir, Francis Fukayama and Karl Eikenberry critique President Obama for “overpromising” when he states that the US will “degrade and ultimately destroy ISIS”. Recent wars should have taught Americans that, “they do not have the wisdom, resources or staying power to dictate political outcomes”. This makes sense, but Professor Fukayama and Ambassador Eikenberry’s alternative is singularly lacking in originality and vision: the best America can do is “offshore balancing” just as the United Kingdom did in previous centuries. Like the UK, America has no “permanent friends”, only “allies of convenience”. Off shore balancing, however, did little to pacify Europe.
We should remember that part of the American historical experience has consisted also in mediating non-violently between foes for the benefit of all involved. Let us remember President Theodore Roosevelt’s successful mediation between Russia and Japan over the fate of the Sakhalin islands; and the post WWII Marshall Plan whose most remarkable feature was not that it was a large hand out, but that it required from the beneficiaries that they propose a plan for sharing the fund among themselves. 16 European countries created the Organization for European Economic Cooperation, a practical experience in collaboration that altered deeply the relationship between former enemies, and paved the way for European reconciliations, beside its immediate economic benefits. At the end of the Cold War, President George H.W. Bush offered helpful and deliberately low key mediation between Germany, which was keen to reunify and the Soviet Union, France and the United Kingdom, which were understandably worried at the prospect.
In 2006 the high-level bipartisan Iraq Study Group appointed by Congress delivered a remarkable set of proposals. Its Report recommended that the US engage in a “robust diplomatic effort to build an international support structure intended to stabilize Iraq…This structure should include every country that has an interest in averting a chaotic Iraq, including all of Iraq’s neighbors – Iran and Syria.” The George W. Bush administration, which had made much of the Group, chose to disregard this proposal in favor of the surge and re-arming the disaffected Sunnis of Iraq. One wishes that it had put half as much money and effort into mediating between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq and beyond. It is no too late for Americans to remember that mediation and treating other peoples like friends rather than enemies or mere allies of convenience, has served them well.