Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Can American Leadership Be Restored?
Remarks By Charles W. Freeman
Washington Institute of Foreign Affairs
24 May 2007
When our descendants look back on the end of the
20th Century and the beginning of this one, they will be puzzled. The end of
the Cold War relieved Americans of almost all international anxieties. It
left us free to use our unparalleled economic power, military might, and
cultural appeal to craft a world to our liking. We did not rise to the
occasion. Still, almost the whole world stood with us after 9/11.
There is still no rival to our power, but almost no one abroad now wants to
follow our lead and our ability to shape events has been greatly – perhaps
irreparably – enfeebled. In less than a decade, we have managed to discredit
our capacity to enlist others in defending our interests and to forfeit our
moral authority as the natural leader of the global community. There is no
need for me to outline to this expert audience the many respects in which
our prestige and influence are now diminished. Historians will surely
wonder: how did this happen?
How our global leadership collapsed is,
of course, a question our politicians now evade as politically incorrect.
It's also a very good question and really deserves an answer. I don't plan
to try to give you one. Why deprive our posterity of all the fun of puzzling
We are engaged in a war, a global war on terror; a long
war, we are told. It is somehow more dangerous than the Cold War was, we are
warned. So, to preserve our democracy, we must now refrain from exercising
it. And, to keep our ancient liberties, we must now curtail them. These
propositions may strike some here as slightly illogical, but I beg you not
to say so – especially if you have a security clearance and want to keep it
or are interested in a job in this or a future administration. To many now
in power in Washington and in much of the country, it remains perilously
unpatriotic to ask why we were struck on 9/11 or who we're fighting or
whether attempting forcibly to pacify various parts of the realm of Islam
will reduce the number of our enemies or increase them.
So, we're in
a war whose origins it is taboo to examine, as the only presidential
candidate of either party to attempt to do so was reminded in a debate with
his fellow Republicans just last week. And this is a war whose proponents
assert that it must – and will – continue without end. If we accept their
premises, they are right. How can a war with no defined ends beyond the
avoidance of retreat ever reach a convenient stopping point? How can we win
a war with an enemy so ill-understood that we must invent a nonexistent
ideology of "Islamofascism" for it? How can we mobilize our people to
conduct a long-term struggle with a violent movement once they realize that
its objective is not to conquer us but to persuade us to stay home, leaving
its part of the world to decide on its own what religious doctrine should
govern its societies? And how can a war with no clear objectives ever
accomplish its mission and end?
The answer is that no matter how
many Afghans and Arabs we kill or lock up in Guantánamo it can't and it
won't. The sooner we admit this and get on with the task of reducing the war
to manageable proportions, the less we will compound the damage to
ourselves, our allies, our friends, and the prospects for our peaceful
coexistence with the fifth of the human race that practices Islam. The
sooner we decide and explain what this war is about, the fewer our enemies
and the more numerous our allies will be. The sooner we define achievable
objectives, the greater our hope of achieving them. The sooner we stop
rummaging blindly in the hornets' nests of the Middle East, the less likely
we'll be stung worse than we have been.
The pain of admitting failure
will be all the greater because this disaster was completely bipartisan.
Both parties colluded in catastrophically misguided policies of militarism
and jingoistic xenophobia. We succumbed to panic and unreasoning dread. We
got carried away with our military prowess. Our press embedded itself with
the troops and jumped into bed with our government. We invaded countries
that existed only in our imaginations and then were shocked by their failure
to conform to our preconceptions. We asked our military to do things
soldiers can do only poorly, if at all. Our representatives pawned our
essential freedoms to our Commander-in-Chief in exchange for implied
promises that he would reduce the risks to our security by means that he
later declined to disclose or explain.
Not many among us voiced
public objections. Those who did found the press too busy demonstrating its
patriotism to publicize dissenting views. The issues were, as always, too
complex for television. As a wise commentator recently pointed out,
television has the same relationship to news that bumper stickers do to
Perhaps that's why we decided to try out a made-for-TV
approach to international negotiation in which our leaders demonstrate their
resolve by refusing to allow our diplomats to talk to bad guys until they
come out with their hands up. When that approach produces the predictable
impasse, we fall back on the "shoot first, let God worry about what happens
next" neocon school of war planning. In the mess that ensues, our primary
concern is rightly to support our troops. But supporting the troops is a
domestic political imperative, not a strategy, and it doesn't tell our
military what it is being asked to achieve. As force protection becomes our
major preoccupation, we find we must pacify the countries we occupy so that
we can continue to station troops in them to fight the terrorists our
occupation is creating.
Rather than consider the possibility that
the witless application to foreign societies of military pressure, no matter
how immense and irresistible it may be, is more likely to generate
resistance than to make states of them, we prefer to blame the inhabitants
of these societies for their ingratitude and internal divisions. So we
threaten to withdraw our political and economic support from them, while
piling on more American troops. Asked when our soldiers may be able to
declare their mission accomplished and to leave Iraq and Afghanistan, our
Commander-in-Chief replies that this is a policy question that the generals
in the field should decide, and that he's not going to decide for them.
Think about that for a minute. Since when are generals responsible for
making policy decisions? They are conditioned to focus on implementing
policy and to avoid making it. Whatever happened to civilian control of the
military or "the buck stops here?" Why should our military be left to hold
the bag in this way?
How we got into this mess is, however, far less
important than figuring out how we can get out of it. Much more has been
destroyed than just the social and political orders in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The term "collateral damage" was invented to denote the undesirable
side-effects of actions on the battlefield. But it certainly applies to the
consequences of our confused and counterproductive conduct and the
misdirection of our armed forces since 9/11. We have greatly devalued our
political and moral standing with our allies and friends and foolishly
degraded the deterrent value of our military power. The world now fears our
savagery but has lost confidence in our fair-mindedness, judgment, and
competence. What are the consequences of this and how can we overcome them?
A common concern about the belligerent unilateralism of the world's
greatest military power is driving lesser powers to look for political and
economic support from countries who are distant, unthreatening, or unlikely
to back American agendas. So, for example, Venezuela, Brazil, Saudi Arabia
and key Africans are courting China; Europe is flirting with Asia; and all
are seeking the affections of the oil and gas producers of the Middle East
as well as of Russia and India. In most countries, politicians now see
public spats with the United States as the easiest way to rally their people
and enhance their prestige. The result is the progressive displacement of
our previously indispensable influence and leadership in more and more areas
of the world.
Sagging demand for our leadership may be a good thing
to the extent it relieves us of the burdens of our much-proclaimed status as
the sole remaining superpower. But we're clearly bothered by being seen as
less relevant. Our answer to this seems to be to build an even more powerful
military. Some of you will recall newspaper reports that our defense
spending is only about 3.6 percent of GDP, reflecting a defense budget of
only – I emphasize – only $499.4 billion. But a lot of defense-related
spending is outside the Defense Department's budget. This fiscal year we
will actually spend at least $934.9 billion (or about 6.8 percent of our
GDP) on our military. Outside DoD, the Department of Energy will spend $16.6
billion on nuclear weapons. The State Department will disburse $25.3 billion
in foreign military assistance. We will spend $69.1 billion on
defense-related homeland security programs and $69.8 billion for treatment
of wounded veterans. The Treasury will spend $38.5 billion on unfunded
military retirements. We will pay $206.7 billion in interest on war debt.
Other bits and pieces, including satellite launches, will add another $8.5
billion. Altogether, I repeat, that's about $935 billion. But there's no
sign that all this military spending – though it is vastly more than the
rest of the world combined – and the power projection capabilities it buys
are regaining international leadership for us.
In Latin America,
Brazil is assuming the mantle of regional leader, even as Hugo Chávez Frías
and other defiant nationalists seek to build influence at our expense.
In Europe, transcontinental integration is proceeding without reference
to us or our views about the roles of strategically important countries like
Turkey and Ukraine in the Eu. New relationships are being forged with
Russia. European policies toward such problem states as Iran, Iraq, and
Israel increasingly diverge from our own.
Asia is returning to its
pre-modern status as the center of gravity of the world economy. Events
there are being driven not by us, but by the restored wealth and power of
China and India, a once again assertive Japan, strategic repositioning by
both parts of Korea, growing partnerships between Muslim nations in
Southeast Asia and the Arabs and Persians, the de facto reintegration of
Taiwan with the rest of China, and a bloom of pan-Asian political and
economic arrangements from which we are absent.
In the Middle East,
Iran has been empowered by our blunders in Iraq, Palestine, and Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia has awakened from its traditional risk-averse passivity to fill
the diplomatic vacuums we have created. Israel is even more despised and
isolated than we are, and together with the Israelis we are rapidly
multiplying the ranks of terrorists with regional and global reach. And so
The world before us is both unfamiliar and unanticipated.
Our military-industrial complex, securocrats, and pundits keep arguing for
more carriers, submarines, and fighter bombers. This is good for the defense
industrial base but, in terms of stopping terrorists, it is, I am afraid, an
American equivalent of the Maginot Line: the building of an impregnable
deterrent to the threat of the past, not the future. Like the French
generals, our defense planners are preparing for the return of a familiar
enemy – some new version of our sadly vanished Soviet adversary that will
rise to compete with us for global hegemony and that we can hold to account
for failing to constrain attacks on us by lesser enemies. But it is not what
is happening and it must now be doubted that it ever will.
world of the early 21st Century, the major ideological contest is between
those who share our past faith in the rule of law and the new American
contempt for the notion that we should, like others, respect the UN Charter,
the Geneva Conventions, and other elements of international law. In some
senses, we have met the enemy and he is who we used to be. We can count on
no common threat to rally the world behind us. In the new era, there are no
blocs and no clear battle lines. Those who are our allies for some purposes
may be our adversaries in respect to others, and vice versa. For all of our
military strength, the demands on our diplomatic skills will be the greatest
in our history. The stakes are high and the margins for error of our foreign
policies are steadily narrowing. We are, however, training our diplomats for
the transformative tasks of imperial administration. Like our military
planners, our diplomatic leadership has it wrong. Our empire was stillborn.
We just didn't notice.
Our post Cold War global hegemony is being
undermined not by a peer competitor but by a combination of our own neocon-induced
ineptitude and the emergence of countries with substantial power and
influence in their own regions. These regional powers distrust our purposes,
fear our militarism, and reject our leadership. Distrust drives them to
reaffirm the principles of international law we have now abandoned. Fear
drives them to pursue the development or acquisition of weapons with which
to deter the policies of preemptive attack and forcible regime change we now
espouse. (If the weak think the powerful consider themselves above the law,
the only protection for the vulnerable is to arm themselves. So scofflaw
behavior in the name of halting or reversing the proliferation of weapons of
mass destruction actually promotes it.
All this is creating a world
of regional balances in which we play a lessened role, some of these
regional balances – as in South Asia today and the Middle East of the future
– involving dangerous nuclear standoffs between two or more middle-ranking
As new centers of economic and political power emerge around
the world, global institutions designed to include countries whose
participation is essential to problem solving are no longer in alignment
with the actual distribution of either the world's power or its problems.
They reflect past rather than present international pecking orders. Since
they exclude key players, they can't contrive workable solutions or buy-in
to them by those who must support them or refrain from wrecking them if they
are to succeed. The problem is most obvious in organizations devoted to
Take the G-7, a self-constituted
Euro-American-Japanese club of democracies plus Russia. The G-7 once played
a central role in managing the global economy. It still discusses global
trade and investment imbalances. But, without Chinese participation, this
amounts to little more than ineffectual whining.
Or consider energy
and the environment, other issues of broad concern. With the fastest growing
new energy consumers like China, India, and Brazil outside the OECD and its
affiliated International Energy Agency, there is no way to coordinate an
effective international response to energy shortages or crises. And when the
United States absents ourselves, as we have from the Kyoto regime and from
some parts of the UN system, even less can be accomplished.
pattern of growing misalignment between power and institutions exists
throughout the international system. The membership and voting arrangements
of the UN Security Council, for example, reflect both the colonial era and
the outcome of World War II far better than they mirror current realities. A
body charged with the management of global security and other vitally
important issues is obviously handicapped in its ability to make,
legitimize, and enforce its decisions if it overweights Europe, inflexibly
slights India and Japan, and includes no Muslim nation or group of nations
among its permanent members. The UN's difficulties are compounded by the
contemptuous treatment it now receives from Washington, and by the effects
on its image here and abroad of our using it primarily to fend off
international condemnation of outrageous behavior by Israel. We can and must
do better than this.
To regain both credibility and international
respect, we Americans must, of course, restore the vigor of our
constitutional democracy and its respect for civil liberties. But that in
itself will be far from enough. The willingness of others to follow us in
the past did not derive from our ability to intimidate or coerce them.
Instead, we inspired the world with our vision and our example. Now, we know
what we're against. But what are we for? Whatever happened to American
optimism and idealism? To be able to lead the world again we must once again
exemplify aspirations for a higher standard of freedom and justice at home
and abroad. We cannot compel – but must persuade – others to work with us.
And to lead a team, we must rediscover how to be a team player.
President Roosevelt first proposed what became the United Nations, he
envisaged a concert of powers that could foster a harmonious and largely
peaceful world order, increasingly free of both want and fear, and
respectful of individual and collective rights as well as of the cultural
diversity of humankind. That vision remains both relevant and compelling.
The bipolar struggles of the Cold War strangled it at birth. But the Cold
War is over and the world that is emerging, though it contains multiple
strategic geometries, needs a common architecture that can flexibly address
its problems and sustain its peace and development. As currently
constituted, the UN does not serve these fundamental purposes well. It is
time to admit that it has lost the confidence of many of its members. We
need to update it, as we must reform other institutions – like the G-7, the
World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund – to be able to manage the
challenges before us. And if we cannot bring these organizations into
alignment with emerging realities, we should not shrink from starting over
by creating alternatives to them.
Like our own country, the UN was
founded on the belief that liberty, tranquility, and the general welfare are
best secured by the rule of law – universal adherence to rules that provide
predictable order and protect the weak against the strong. That concept,
like parliamentary democracy, is a unique contribution of Western culture to
global civilization. It has been embraced, though not yet implemented,
almost everywhere. Achieving its implementation and embedding it firmly in
the structure of the emerging world order should be at the very top of our
foreign policy agenda. It must be at the center of any reaffirmation of the
UN's purposes through its reform or replacement.
But, if America and
Europe, which originated and sponsored the idea of a tolerant, rule-bound
international order as an alternative to the law of the jungle, are no
longer united in support of the rule of law, it is unlikely to survive,
still less to prevail as the international system evolves. And as European
arrest warrants for American agents engaged in officially sanctioned
kidnappings and torture attest, the Atlantic community is now seriously
divided. If we Americans renew our adherence to the rule of law at home, as
I believe we must, we would find the European Union ready to work closely
with us in promoting it abroad. Nowhere has the utility of consultative
processes been more convincingly demonstrated than in Europe, where a
democratic common political culture respectful of human rights has spread
across a continent. A club of democracies like the G-7 may now be unable to
manage the world's economy, but regular meetings at the summit of such a
grouping could have a major impact on the world's political evolution if
they focused on harmonizing and promoting global standards for the rule of
law and parliamentary democracy. The groundwork for such an effort is
already in place.
Finding common ground with Europe and Japan will
also be key to curing our default on leadership with respect to the climate.
China is about to overtake the United States as the world's largest emitter
of greenhouse gases. The prerequisite for persuading China to behave
responsibly is to join the other industrial democracies in behaving
responsibly ourselves. Only then can we insist that China and other newly
industrializing nations do likewise
Let me conclude. I have been
talking about how to reassert our leadership on the global level. But, in
the end, we face the paradox that the world, though globalized to an
unprecedented degree, is made up of a series of regions in which regional
powers increasingly call the shots. And all diplomacy, like all politics, is
local. We face perplexing choices in every region of the world. But the
policies that have brought discredit upon us center on one region – the
Middle East. To restore our reputation we must correct these policies. And
the problem of terrorism that now bedevils us has its origins in one region
– the Middle East. To end this terrorism we must address the issues in the
region that give rise to it.
Principal among these is the brutal
oppression of the Palestinians by an Israeli occupation that is about to
mark its fortieth anniversary and shows no sign of ending. Arab
identification with Palestinian suffering, once variable in its intensity,
is now total. American identification with Israeli policy has also become
total. Those in the region and beyond it who detest Israeli behavior, which
is to say almost everyone, now naturally extend their loathing to Americans.
This has had the effect of universalizing anti-Americanism, legitimizing
radical Islamism, and gaining Iran a foothold among Sunni as well as Shiite
Arabs. For its part, Israel no longer even pretends to seek peace with the
Palestinians; it strives instead to pacify them. Palestinian retaliation
against this policy is as likely to be directed against Israel's American
backers as against Israel itself. Under the circumstances, such retaliation
– whatever form it takes – will have the support or at least the sympathy of
most people in the region and many outside it. This makes the long-term
escalation of terrorism against the United States a certainty, not a matter
The Palestine problem cannot be solved by the use of
force; it requires much more than the diplomacy-free foreign policy we have
practiced since 9/11. Israel is not only not managing this problem; it is
severely aggravating it. Denial born of political correctness will not cure
this fact. Israel has shown – not surprisingly – that, if we offer nothing
but unquestioning support and political protection for whatever it does, it
will feel no incentive to pay attention to either our interests or our
advice. Hamas is showing that if we offer it nothing but unreasoning
hostility and condemnation, it will only stiffen its position and seek
allies among our enemies. In both cases, we forfeit our influence for no
There will be no negotiation between Israelis and
Palestinians, no peace, and no reconciliation between them – and there will
be no reduction in anti-American terrorism – until we have the courage to
act on our interests. These are not the same as those of any party in the
region, including Israel, and we must talk with all parties, whatever we
think of them or their means of struggle. Refusal to reason with those whose
actions threaten injury to oneself, one's friends, and one's interests is
foolish, feckless, and self-defeating. That is why we it is past time for an
active and honest discussion with both Israel and the government
Palestinians have elected, which – in an irony that escapes few abroad – is
the only democratically elected government in the Arab world.
restore our reputation in the region and the world, given all that has
happened, and to eliminate terrorism against Americans, it is no longer
enough just to go through the motions of trying to make peace between
Israelis and Arabs. We must succeed in actually doing so. Nothing should be
a more urgent task for American diplomacy.
Charles W. Freeman:
An Interesting Fortnight Appointment
By David Morrison
ccun.org, May 21, 2009
On 26 February 2009, President Obama appointed Charles W Freeman as
the Chairman of the US National Intelligence Council. This body
oversees the production of US National Intelligence Estimates, which are the
consensus judgments of the 16 US intelligence agencies.
Less than a
fortnight later, Freeman withdrew. In a blistering statement
explaining his withdrawal, he said he had been “under constant attack by
unscrupulous people with a passionate attachment to the views of a political
faction in a foreign country”
and he didn’t believe that the National Intelligence Council could function
effectively while he was its chairman and under attack in this manner. The
foreign country in question was Israel.
below made in May 2007 shows why the Israeli lobby in the US was less than
happy with his appointment. In it, he makes a number of outrageous
remarks, for instance:
“Israel no longer even pretends to seek
peace with the Palestinians; it strives instead to pacify them” and
“it is past time for an active and honest discussion with both Israel and
the government Palestinians have elected, which – in an irony that escapes
few abroad – is the only democratically elected government in the Arab
Freeman has a long record in government service, beginning
in 1965 when he entered the US foreign service. He acted as President
Nixon’s interpreter on his visit to China in 1972. He was US
ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1989-92 and served in both the Reagan and
Clinton administrations. Since 1997, he has been president of a
Washington based think tank, called the Middle East Policy Council.
Freeman’s speeches on foreign policy over the past decade make interesting
reading (see ).
He has been a fierce critic of US foreign policy since 9/11, which, like
Obama’s pastor, he regards as the chickens coming home to roost for the US –
he told a forum in October 2005 “what 9/11 showed is that if we bomb people,
they bomb back” .
He says (in the speech below) that US unquestioning support for Israel
“makes the long-term escalation of terrorism against the United States a
certainty, not a matter of conjecture”.
Freeman is an admirer of
China and served on the advisory board of the Chinese national oil company
from 2004 to 2008, for which he was remunerated. (He recently referred
to the last year’s violence in Tibet as “a race riot by Tibetans”
). He is also
an admirer of Saudi Arabia, which supported his think tank financially.
Critics of his appointment seized on his past receipt of money from both
China and Saudi Arabia, saying that it made it impossible for him to fulfil
his duties as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council impartially.
Freeman is not in favour of America retreating from the world, in the
manner advocated by Pat Buchanan. He is in favour of US foreign policy
being driven by a realistic assessment of America interests in the world,
rather than by ideology. Spreading freedom and democracy is not high
on his agenda. As such, he is in the mould of people like Brent
Scowcroft, who worked for the first President Bush.
To date, the
Obama administration has not made any dramatic shifts in US foreign policy,
and certainly not on Palestine. However, that he appointed somebody of
such unorthodox views to a senior position (albeit not a policy making
position) is an indication that he hasn’t got a closed mind on foreign
The Israeli lobby’s victory in unseating Freeman may turn
out to be hollow. Had he taken up his post, he would have had to shut
up about foreign affairs. Now that he has been unseated he will
certainly not shut up, as his withdrawal statement demonstrates, and his
words will have a much wider audience, and much greater impact, than before
his appointment – to the detriment of Israeli interests.