Everybody has met self-centered people who behave as if they are the only people in the world who matter, and everybody else exists only to carry out their wishes.
If they are sufficiently rich and powerful, they can get away with this for a certain amount of time. But in the end, they wind up isolated and friendless.
Unfortunately the United States conducts its foreign policy as if we Americans are the only people in the world who matter, and everybody else exists only to carry out Washington’s wishes.
This is bound to end badly.
Peter Van Buren, who was kicked out of the State Department for writing about the fouled-up U.S. occupation of Iraq, pointed out in an article for TomDispatch how this is playing out in current U.S. policy toward Iraq and the Islamic State (ISIS)
The fundamental problem underlying nearly every facet of U.S. policy toward Iraq is that “success,” as defined in Washington, requires all the players to act against their own wills, motivations, and goals in order to achieve U.S. aims.
The Shiite government in Baghdad seeks to conquer and control the Sunni regions.
Iran wants to secure Iraq as a client state and use it for easier access to Syria.
The Kurds want an independent homeland.
When Secretary of Defense Ash Carter remarked, “What apparently happened [in Ramadi] was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” what he really meant was that the many flavors of forces in Iraq showed no will to fight for America’s goals.
In the Washington mind-set, Iraq is charged with ultimate responsibility for resolving problems that were either created by or exacerbated by the U.S. in the first place, even as America once again assumes an ever-greater role in that country’s increasingly grim fate.
For America’s “plan” to work, Sunni tribesmen would have to fight Sunnis from the Islamic State in support of a Shiite government that suppressed their peaceful Arab-Spring-style protests, and that, backed by Iran, has been ostracizing, harassing, and murdering them. The Kurds would have to fight for an Iraqi nation-state from which they wish to be independent.
It can’t work.
via The Unz Review.
The inability of unwillingness to see others’ point of view is reflected in the American way of conducting negotiations.
Negotiations usually mean that I give you something that you want more than I do, and you give me something I want more than you do. But the current U.S. stance toward negotiations is that Washington draws “red lines” and other nations comply.
This may seem to work, for a while, with small, weak nations, but the “red line” approach most certainly isn’t working with Russia and China.
The U.S. government is extending its power into Ukraine and the South China Sea in ways that Russian and Chinese leaders see as dangers to their national security.
Russia is the only country in the world with a nuclear arsenal large enough to destroy the United States, and China is the country most able to damage the United States through economic retaliation. Both are largely beyond the reach of American air and sea power. Neither is going to submit to threats.
The Obama administration made some minimal concessions to Iran to return for assurances they won’t develop nuclear weapons. These concessions consist of allowing the Iranians access to their own money and to stop waging economic warfare against Iran. But the Republican war hawks in Congress claim that even this is too much.
American leaders and we the American people need to develop the imaginative capacity to put ourselves in the place of other people. It doesn’t take a profound understanding of foreign cultures (which I don’t claim to have) in order to do this—merely the ability to ask, what would I do if I were in the place of, say, Vladimir Putin or Ayatollah Khamemei
Understanding the point of view of foreign leaders and peoples doesn’t mean siding with them against my own country. All other things being equal, I don’t want to see Russia or China or Iran become more powerful than they are.
I merely recognize that the world is what it is and the future of these countries is not something that can be determined in Washington. I don’t advocate altruism. I advocate a reality check.
Five Things That Won’t Work in Iraq by Peter Van Buren for TomDispatch (via Unz Review)
The Odd American View of Negotiation by Paul L. Pillar for the National Interest.