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U.S. foreign policy goals for new year

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

By Guy W. Farmer

On New Year’s Day, the New York Times published an op-ed column by Secretary of State Colin Powell titled “What We Will Do in 2004.” It’s worth taking a closer look at Powell’s column in an effort to decide whether U.S. foreign policy is moving in the right direction. In my humble opinion it is, and I’ll tell you why.

“America’s formidable power must continue to be deployed on behalf of principles that are simultaneously American, but that are also beyond and greater than ourselves,” he states at the outset. “We resolve … to expand freedom, and we are focused in particular on Afghanistan and Iraq.” That’s a promising start, but he goes on to say that we’re also resolved “to turn the president’s goal of a free and democratic Middle East into a reality” – an ambitious goal by anyone’s standards. And then he declares:

“We will expand the Middle East Partnership Initiative to encourage political, economic and educational reform throughout the region … (and) will also stand by the Iranian people and others living under repressive regimes, as they strive for freedom.” This initiative isn’t limited to the Middle East either, as Powell mentions Cuba’s “repressive regime” and promises support for “the young democracies that have risen in Latin America, (Eastern) Europe and Africa.” Our efforts will apply to people too, he adds, with programs to combat human trafficking (slavery) and AIDS.

These are far-reaching foreign policy goals that will be difficult to carry out as we continue to fight deadly guerrilla wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And although Powell reaffirms that the war on terrorism is our top priority, he also recognizes that “success in that war depends on constructive ties among the world’s major powers.” That’s true and it’s a concept that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must accept. Powell went even further in a Jan. 6 London Times op-ed column by “strongly affirming the vital role of NATO and other U.S. alliances including the UN,” a policy he describes as “enlightened self-interest.”

As a former diplomat, I hope that Secretary Powell has finally wrested control of foreign policy away from Rumsfeld and the Pentagon. As I’ve written before, the Defense Department is an effective war-fighting machine, but it shouldn’t be in the lead on foreign policy and international relations. “Rummy” was left in charge of Iraq’s reconstruction far too long before being replaced by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice late last year. With her appointment, it appears that President Bush is finally moving to redress the civilianÐmilitary imbalance in Iraq by replacing soldiers with trained diplomats and civilian specialists who understand Iraqi history and culture, and speak the language.

Now don’t get me wrong. We need to maintain a sizeable military presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future in order to keep the peace by combating Saddam loyalists and other terrorists. But experienced diplomats and civilian specialists should handle reconstruction and the hoped-for return to democracy. The first step in that process will be when the Iraqi Governing Council takes over most of those responsibilities from U.S. Administrator L. Paul Bremer this coming summer. That will be a proud moment for both countries.

Another promising foreign policy initiative by the Bush administration is the so-called “Millennium Challenge Account,” which represents a new approach to U.S. foreign aid. This program will favor democratic countries that welcome foreign investment and promote projects designed to meet their people’s basic health and education needs. It contemplates $5 billion annually for the program beginning in 2006, a 50 percent increase over current foreign aid levels. This will be a tough sell in Congress.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Andrew Natsios calls the Millennium Challenge program “a revolutionary new development initiative.” While he recognizes that money alone cannot solve public policy problems, he also believes that “it can accelerate progress in countries with enlightened governments.” But Rep. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a Latin America expert, says the program does nothing to help that region’s impoverished masses. Noting that current U.S. aid to Latin America is heavily weighted toward military and anti-narcotics programs, he’s proposing a $500 million development fund to fight poverty in countries “on the verge of chaos” like Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

Having lived in Latin America for nearly 20 years, I know that those countries need more than foreign aid in order to eliminate poverty. They also need forward-looking, honest governments. For example, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a former military coup-plotter whose best friend is Fidel Castro, has destroyed his country’s economy “and alienated nearly all of his neighbors,” according to the Washington Post. So Col. Chavez isn’t a very promising candidate for USAID funds.

And in Africa we’re confronted by entrenched dictators like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, a black racist who has transformed a once-prosperous country into a failed state. If the Bush administration’s new approach to foreign aid can help put countries like Venezuela and Zimbabwe back on the road to real democracy and economic recovery, it will be a cost-effective investment of taxpayer dollars in a better, more peaceful world.

Guy W. Farmer, a semi-retired journalist and former U.S. diplomat, resides in Carson City.