5 reasons why US diplomacy needs to work overtime

That the rest of the world needs the USA and the USA needs the rest of the world, there can be no doubt. However, the Bush administration has systematically been creating friction in its external relations since it was voted into power in November 2000.

The first main bone of contention was blatantly evident in yesterday’s bombing and strafing of a wedding ceremony in Afghanistan, not the first but rather the latest in a series of incidents stretching back to the beginning of the campaign. This policy has been vehemently criticised by a senior minister in the British Prime Minister’s office, who has expressed dismay at Washington’s constant “march in shooting” approach.

In an interview with the British weekly The Sunday telegraph, he declared that “The Americans think that they and the Pakistanis can just march in shooting. They do not understand the sensitivities. We have years of experience in the tribal areas and we know using force will just backfire and increase sympathy for Al Qaeda”.

These claims were backed up by Arsallah Hoti, a leading member of the Yusufzai tribe in northern Pakistan, who stated that “This is not how things work here. They have been raiding our villages with less than an hour’s notice and even burst in on a wedding because they heard gunfire”.

How ominous, these words were said two days before the bombing and strafing of civilians at another wedding in central Afghanistan. Such an attitude seems to have led certain British politicians to exasperation point. One minister involved in the steel negotiations expressed his contempt for the Bush administration: “You have to remember that this is a rather unpleasant administration.” He added that it was “protectionist and self-interested”, accusations hotly refuted by the US central command in Afghanistan, whose spokesperson said that “Our entire approach to removing the Taleban from power and eliminating the Al-Qaeda threat has been sensitive to regional issues”.

Trade is the second area in which the early promises by George Bush, pledging a commitment to free trade before his election, only to cave in to corporate pressure from within his administration and those connected to it, leave a gaping hole between the USA and its main allies in western Europe. In the United Kingdom, analysts are speculating that the “special relationship” may be nearing an end, if the US does not grant more significant concessions to British steel exporters. Downing Street will be sensitive to the fact that two senior cabinet ministers (Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Home Secretary David Blunkett) represent constituencies where steel workers make up an important part of the population.

Britain may be forced to back a EU retaliation plan which could cause serious embarrassment to George Bush’s administration and not only. A plan to levy duty on imported citrus fruits would harm farmers in Florida, where President Bush’s brother Jeb is standing for re-election in November.

The handling of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was performed with an absence of tact, if not arrogance. The US demands that its forces be declared free from prosecution for war crimes or crimes against humanity in previous and forthcoming peace missions, or otherwise they will refuse to take part, is seen as an attempt to cover up whatever covert operations have not yet been uncovered by the international community. If the USA considers that this court, set up under the auspices of the United Nations Organisation, whose headquarters is in New York, would have grounds to prosecute US peacekeeping personnel, then it would seem that there is something to hide. If not, then the use of veto in the UN Security Council, to block the renewal of the peace-keeping mission in Bosnia, leaves a lot to be explained.

Add to this the Bush administration’s rejection of the farm subsidy bill and the refusal to abide by the terms of the Treaty of Kyoto and finally, the rapid back-pedalling over Yasser Arafat, and there are a handful of avenues for the Bush administration to follow up, if lasting and meaningful bilateral relations are to be achieved between Washington and the international community in general.

In April, George Bush told British broadcaster Sir Trevor MacDonald on an interview televised by ITV: “It’s up to them (the Palestinians). Far be it from the American President to decide who leads what country”. This indicates that the recent Middle East speech was either a deliberate U-turn in policy or was very badly thought through. George Bush’s clear statement that the Palestinian people must not re-elect Yasser Arafat as president met with deaf ears worldwide and led to situations of open conflict, such as is epitomised in the words of British foreign secretary Jack Straw: “If President Arafat is re-elected by the Palestinian Authority, we will deal with him”.

Meanwhile, senior British civil servants were reported as greeting the Bush speech with expressions which ranged from “absurdly ignorant” to “puerile” and “ludicrous”, determining the US President as “a bear with no brains”, pursuing a policy of “arrogance” and “stupidity”.

Although the US President is certainly moving to defend what he and his administration perceive to be the interests of his people, even if corporate bodies around the administration are fuelled by greed, the fact that so many cracks are appearing on so many issues would appear to indicate that the attitude, if not the policy, needs to be addressed.


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