Monday, January 19, 2009

Out With The Old, In With The New

Tomorrow one of the most amazing aspects of modern politics will occur: a peaceful transition of power. While we and most other democratic nations take such occurrences for granted nowadays, we should keep in mind that not only is it a relatively new phenomenon, but that many countries in the world either do not have regular transfers of power or do have peaceful ones.

As George Bush prepares to leave and Barack Obama assumes the most powerful and important job in the world, it seems appropriate to reflect a bit on the last 8 years. I do believe that it is, in general, far too early to properly assess Bush's legacy, and my gut tells me that we will see his presidency in a far better light 10 or 20 years from now. But today, things don't look so good. Real Clear World has a piece highlighting 5 major foreign policy successes of the Bush administration. Let's take a look....

#5: Colombia

President Bush's administration significantly helped Colombia make giant strides in ending its decades-long war.

Colombia, a democracy, has been waging a war against the drug trade with the drug cartels and terrorism with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). By 1996 the US had decertified Colombia as cooperating on narcotics and withdrew assistance for two years, a period during which drug traffickers forged alliances with the FARC and the paramilitary United Self Defense Forces (AUC). When Andrés Pastrana took office, his top priority was to resume US assistance and he suggested a Plan Colombia, in the lines of a Marshall Plan. The Clinton administration agreed to a plan that would provide nearly $3 billion in security assistance and development aid over six years starting in 2000. While the plan aimed to strengthen the Colombian economy, local government, and establish the rule of law, it also gave way to a peace process that ceded the FARC a 16,000-acre safe haven south of Bogotá, which allowed the FARC to expand its drug production capabilities, increase its number of combatants and carry out more violence. At the same time, the AUC also became more powerful. (For further background please read Helping Colombia Sustain Progress Toward Peace, by Stephen Johnson)

When President Bush took office his Andean Regional and Andean Counternarcotics initiatives (ACI and ARI) granted more assistance to Colombia. By 2002 Andrés Pastrana had ordered the FARC out of their sanctuary zone when the FARC refused a cease-fire. That May, Álvaro Uribe, whose father had been killed by the FARC, was elected president of Colombia by running on a hard-line platform. During his first six months in office Uribe doubled aerial crop eradication efforts, raised a $780 million war tax, increased the size of the army, and started a network of 1 million civilian informants.

The Bush administration's ACI and ARI approach has focused in addressing the root causes of the drug trade, not just on curtailing the drug trade per se. The Colombian people have supported Colombia's austere government budget, its efforts to reduce public debt levels, and the economy's export-oriented growth strategy, along with the government's democratic security strategy (i.e., extending legitimate authority over national territory, all measures which complement the US's $600 million/year Plan Colombia aid.

With the US's assistance and training, the Colombian military has become more effective and more reliable. After the Colombian military's March 1, 2008 successful raid of a FARC encampment across the Ecuadorian border, the military (which years ago could hardly be trusted, as Simon Romero of the NYT reported) has dealt heavy blows against the FARC. The information yielded by the FARC laptops revealed not only Venezuela's Hugo Chávez support of the FARC, but also that of the Swiss and 30 other countries. For further reading on the FARC's international connections, see The world of the FARC (Part I: Europe) and The world of the FARC (Part II: America).

In July 2, the military successfully rescued French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, Americans Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves, and 11 Colombian officers and NCOs, in a mission that was planned and carried out by Colombians, with ultra-modern American spy technology . Following that rescue, the military has kept the FARC on the run, severing the FARC leadership and seizing their weapons while curtailing the FARC's drug production. The July rescue also showed Hugo Chávez dream of a cross-border Bolivian revolution to be a failure.

Colombia still has far to go, but thanks to the joint efforts of the Colombian people and the support of the Bush administration, it has turned itself around from being a failed, or near-failed, state to being the US's staunchest ally in South America.

I agree when it comes to FARC. US military aid has been vital in helping Colombia turn the tide against the Marxist rebels. But RCW's assessment ignores the absolute failure that Plan Colombia has been. As Foreign Policy makes clear, the US has spent $6 billion in an effort to reduce or eradicate Colombia coca cultivation and cocaine smuggling. However, between 2000 and 2006, coca cultivation rose by 15%. Now, maybe stabilizing Colombia has been worth $6 billion. But I doubt it. I find it hard to agree with the assessment of Bush's Colombia policy as a success.

#4: Military Transformation

At first blush, suggesting that transforming the military has been a success of the Bush administration seems counter-factual. After all, hasn't the U.S. military failed to bring decisive victory in both Afghanistan and Iraq? Hasn't the verdict been delivered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus that rather than lean and mean, the U.S. military needs more boots on the ground? Less tech and more mech? And indeed both men, in tandem with the incoming Obama administration, appear intent on reversing the military's emphasis on an agile, networked force to comport with the new conventional wisdom that what we really need are more soldiers skilled at pacifying unruly natives.

Looked at another way, however, transformation did indeed deliver on its promise. The U.S. military was able to swiftly depose two governments with minimal use of U.S. troops, and thus, a minimum loss of American life. In Afghanistan, the U.S. crossed 7,000 miles to run the Taliban out of power and fracture al Qaeda with an unconventional mix of precision airpower, Special Forces and C.I.A. paramilitary. In Iraq, a three week race through the desert brought down Saddam Hussein's Baathist tyranny without any of the ecological or regional catastrophes that a more protracted, conventional campaign might have provoked.

What the military failed to do - "win the peace" - was arguably never possible, even if General Eric Shinseki had his way and 300,000-plus troops poured into Baghdad. Studies of successful nation-building efforts from the Rand Corperation suggested that for the U.S. to adequately police Iraq, it would have needed to have nearly 500,000 troops inside Iraq and draw on a manpower pool of close to 2.5 million - nearly 1 million more troops than the U.S. had in its entire military (including the Air Force and Navy) at the time of the invasion.

Of all the vehicles to bring democratic governments to Iraq and Afghanistan - nations that have not known functional, let alone liberal, governing institutions for decades - the U.S. military was spectacularly unsuited. The only example in recent U.S. history of post-war military occupations delivering allied democratic governments (Germany and Japan) were preceded by unimaginable devastation and loss of life - destruction on a scale that would never have been countenanced for either Iraq or Afghanistan.

Most commentators and theorists have gazed into the maw of post-war Iraq and concluded that the U.S. needs an Army capable of waging counter-insurgencies against lightly armed guerilla forces: a constabulary Army with a civilian infrastructure modeled on the British Colonial Office. But one can just as easily conclude that the Iraq war should simply never have been fought. One can argue that Iraq did not expose the folly of military transformation, but the folly using militarily power unnecessarily and then insisting on the unreasonable political objective of installing a democracy in the heart of the Middle East. Even in Afghanistan, where the U.S. was legitimately compelled to act, the dynamic is similar. The "failure" is not insufficient boots on the ground, but political objectives for the country, which are at odds with America's capabilities and available resources and tangential to her interests.

While campaigning for the presidency, George Bush made two national security promises: to transform the military into a 21st century force and to avoid nation-building. At least he kept one of them.

Agreed. As I've written about many many times, US military planning needs to go in two separate directions. The warfighting component needs to be transformed, continuing the work begun by Rumsfeld. The counter-insurgency and nation-building forces need to be separated from the warfighting forces. Doing this will ensure that the US remains the unparalleled military power of the 21st century, dissuading any potential rival from challenging the current balance of power, while providing the US with the tools it needs to deal with the new problems posed by nation-building, intervention, and stability operations.

#3: India

On October 8, 2008, President Bush signed the United States-India Nuclear Cooperation Approval and Non-proliferation Enhancement Act. It was the capstone of a feverish, controversial effort by both the U.S. President and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Though the deal was ostensibly a technical agreement on civilian nuclear trade, in truth it was part of a broader effort to forge closer ties between the world's most populous, multi-ethnic democracies.

Great power relations fell out of favor in the aftermath of 9/11, as the spotlight shone on the role of non-state actors. But getting those relationships right remains the key to U.S. - indeed, global - security. Having shed its statist economy, India, with China, has taken its place among the world's major economic powers. While uncertainty persists regarding the trajectory of China, the U.S. shares a number of key interests with India, from counter-terrorism and free trade to the stability of Pakistan. As former Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns remarked, "this partnership will be for the 21st century one of the most important partnerships that our country, the United States, has with any country around the world. I would wager that in 20 or 30 years time most Americans will say that India is one of our two or three most important partners worldwide."

India was also the scene of some of the Bush administration's most deft diplomacy. On December 13, 2001, gunmen linked to Pakistani militant groups attacked the Indian Parliament, precipitating a tense stand-off between Pakistan and India. Both nations mobilized their militaries along the Line of Control and the specter of a nuclear exchange hung ominously in the air. Yet behind the scenes diplomacy by the Bush administration, led by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, was crucial in defusing tensions.

Again, right on the money. Getting the Indian nuclear deal completed was a major foreign policy success and one that should be emulated with other states, namely Pakistan. While it's fine and good to insist on upholding the moral and legal norms of nonproliferation, the weaknesses of global enforcement means that pragmatism must trump normative adherence. Getting the Indian nuclear program under international inspection regimes was absolutely vital. As India continues to grow in power, it will be able to play an increasingly important role in the world. The US needs to help India grow into that role in a manner befitting a democratic nation.

#2: China

On April 1, 2001, not even three months into his presidency, George W. Bush found himself in a treacherous predicament. A U.S. EP-3 spy plane, flying over the South China Sea, collided with a Chinese military jet and was forced to land on China's Hainan Island.

A tense 10-day period followed as China held the 24-person crew while the two sides negotiated a resolution. Finally, the U.S. offered up an "apology" that satisfied China. The statement, released only in English, expressed that the U.S. was "very sorry" for the death of the Chinese pilot and the plane's landing in Chinese territory. The Chinese took liberty with the translation and scored some "face" points with its domestic audience. The American crew was released and the plane returned a few months later.

In the seven-plus years hence, the Bush administration has continued an uncanny nimbleness in dealing with China, which was growing into a super-power-in-waiting and the world's third-largest economy. Although China opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq and blocked a few other U.S.-sponsored actions in the UN, for the most part, the U.S. has maintained a mutually constructive relationship with China - and not at the expense of other regional allies such as Japan and South Korea.

It was a far cry from an adversarial approach many had envisioned before Bush took office. Bush had campaigned on the basis that China would be treated as a "strategic competitor" instead of a "strategic partner" as it was during the Clinton era. Without a doubt, 9/11 necessitated a reassessment of U.S. relations with China, as the U.S. had more pressing security concerns. Also, the growing U.S.-China trade required both sides to seek more accomodations, not confrontations.

The Bush administration was particularly adroit in handling a potentially explosive situation across the Taiwan Strait. The Bush years ran almost concurrently with the presidency of Taiwan's Chen Shui-bian, who made it his business to endlessly provoke China with incessant rhetoric toward "independence." As Taiwan's security guarantor and arms supplier, the U.S. dealt with Chen smartly by exerting pressure both publicly and privately. The administration's handling of Taiwan allowed China to step back and calmed the tensions without sacrificing Taiwan's vital interests. With help from Taiwan's voters in 2008, the prospects for sustained peace across the strait have improved dramatically.

Bush hoped to liberalize China by opting for pragmatism and engagement - in that regard, the results were a mixed bag. Under current president Hu Jintao, China's record on human rights and religious and press freedom has not improved appreciably. But even to the very end, Bush chose diplomacy over grandstanding, most symbolically by accepting Hu's invitation to attend the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.

The transformation that has been occurring in China is truly remarkable to watch. China today is a much less threatening state that it was 10 years ago. Economic and political engagement must continue unabated to ensure that as China grows it accepts rather than seeks to challenge the status quo. Hopefully, the anti-trade posture of Obama so far will not extend across the Pacific and undermine what has become a promising relationship.

#1: Africa

"The Bush regime has been divisive — but not in Africa. I read it has been incompetent — but not in Africa. It has created bitterness — but not here in Africa. Here, his administration has saved millions of lives."

So wrote singer and political activist Bob Geldof, remarking on the often overlooked legacy President Bush has built in the continent of Africa. Geldof - well known for his Live Aid and Live 8 concerts - isn't alone in his praise for the 43rd President. Among those Africa activists who, albeit reservedly, have praised the departing executive is Bono, U2 front-man and well known advocate on matters of African poverty and disease. "It is amazing what President Bush has done on AIDS ... to put AIDS third on the bill in a State of the Union speech by a conservative president was unthinkable a few years ago," said Bono in a 2003 interview.

Such praise might be news to the casual observer of the Bush years, and understandably so. Eight years, two increasingly unpopular war fronts and a weak economy are bound to obscure any president's positive works. Marred by his questionable invasion - and subsequent management - of Iraq, President Bush has had his good deeds obscured in Africa. Where his other foreign policy endeavors have been riddled with missteps and miscalculations, George W. Bush's African efforts have come about as close to a pure foreign policy success story as one two-term president could ever hope to get. While the president has become a reviled and clownish caricature in other parts of the world, he has enjoyed the opposite throughout much of Africa.

And with good reason. President Bush's emergency AIDS plan for Africa was possibly the largest health investment ever of its kind. In addition to AIDS spending, Bush quietly tripled the amount of overall U.S. aid to some of Africa's poorest countries. His efforts to address other deadly diseases, according to some activists and experts, have saved hundreds of thousands of African lives. The President's efforts have also cut incidence of Malaria by half in over a dozen African countries.

Tackling tough political matters in the region, President Bush moved the proverbial ball on genocide in Darfur, earning him rare praise from groups like Human Rights Watch. In Liberia, he helped facillitate the removal (and eventual arrest) of Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, and his administration has played an active role in resolving instability in Kenya.

His critics, rightly or wrongly, have been quick to point out upheaval in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo as cases for indictment of Bush's African initiative. This view, while not lacking in certain merits, is perhaps too cynical when discussing Africa. Centuries of colonization, de-colonization, oppression, poverty and disease have left the continent a far too daunting policy challenge for any one president to tackle. And some, for various reasons, have done more than others in the time granted them by the American people.

For Africa, it's been a good eight years.

Many people, myself included, would have liked to see the administration do even more in Darfur and Zimbabwe. But those are very hard cases indeed. Under Bush, the US has paid more attention to Africa than ever before and has done far more good. One could easily add the Millennium Challenge Account to this success, which radicaly altered the way the US distributes foreign aid and has driven many African states to pay more attention to such metrics as governmental transparency, educational opportunities for girls, management of natural resources, and access to land. Bush's legacy in Africa should not be overshadowed, as it will hopefully pave the way for more and better programs that can make a serious different in the most often ignored part of the world.

Certainly, the fact that the US has not been attacked since 9/11 -- something that few analysts would have bet on back in 2001 -- must be labelled a success as well. For whatever reason, al Qaeda has not been able to successfully attack the US, and Bush must be given some credit for that. Obviously, Iraq and Afghanistan and works in progress.

Bush's failures are many, and there are enough other analysts writing about them that I see no need to do so. But we must give credit where credit is due.

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