First do no Harm

The old Hippocratic admonition to would be physicians was interpreted to mean

that sometimes inaction is preferable to such actions that could result in harm to the patient; it is unfortunate that practitioners of foreign policy follow no such constraints. A nation’s foreign policy should advance its position and protect its national interests; once those interests are identified, policies are implemented to safeguard them. The most important part of foreign policy is consistency; the English consistently opposed French expansion into Belgium and would intervene by any means necessary to make sure that no continental power became too strong; likewise, the Russian Empire’s consistent objective was to secure access to year-round ice free ports; both empires continued their respective policies regardless of the government that happened to be in power any any given time.

It is unfortunate that the only consistent trait of American foreign policy is its inconsistency; governments we support at one time, we throw under the bus at other times depending on whatever notion is currently fashionable. One such notion was the much fawned over Arab Spring which was heralded in the press as proof of the Arab peoples yearning for freedom and democracy. That the flash point of the demonstrations centered in Tunisia, where a street vendor set himself on fire to protest the police corruption that extorted money from him and other vendors and that at no time was he, or any of the other protesters demanding democracy, as it is understood in the West, was glossed over in the press. The US condemned the Tunisian government, an American ally and at the time one of the most liberal in the Arab world; after the president fled, Tunisia has become a bone of contention between secularists and fundamentalists.

We reversed decades of support of Egypt’s Mubarak and demanded his resignation; as a consequence, the Muslim Brotherhood, in an election worthy of Chicago, came to power -much to the delight of the State Department- only to be overthrown, after much turmoil and bloodshed, by the Egyptian military. The latest move by the US government was to block the sale of F-16 fighters, which Egyptians claim are needed to fight the terrorists -unleashed by the Brotherhood- in Sinai.

We backed the rebels fighting the Khadaffi regime without proper vetting and ignored the reported presence of Islamic fundamentalists in their ranks; after Khadaffi’s gruesome demise -under the delighted eyes of Hillary Clinton in the Situation Room- it has come to light that Khadaffi’s arsenals were looted and thousands of weapons of all kinds disappeared -to surface later in the hands of the rebels in Mali and the Maghreb. Among the missing weapons are thousands of Stinger shoulder missile launchers, feared to be in the hands of Al Qaida. In Yemen, the president -another American ally- survived the demonstrations and the White House calls for his resignation. One more item: it must be pointed out that the terrorists who attacked the American consulate in Benghazi and murdered four Americans, including our ambassador, were most likely empowered by the US.

In August 2013, reports came to light that the Assad regime in Syria had used chemical weapons against the rebel forces fighting to overthrow him. The world saw the spectacle of the American president putting on the war paint and beating the war drums and threatening military action in retribution for the 1,400 victims of the chemical attacks; it all sounded very humanitarian if not for the fact that at the time over 100,000 had already been killed; would the reaction had been the same if those 1,400 had been killed by more conventional means say, by bullets and bombs? The world also saw the same president, the one that had previously drawn a red line over the use of chemical weapons, swiftly backtrack. The red line had been drawn by Congress, then by the world, he had to refer the matter to Congress….etc, etc. Secretary of State Kerry had a rambling press conference in which he stipulated that only Assad’s willingness to get rid of all his chemical weapons would save him from swift and punishing military action -only to have Vladimir Putin call his bluff and agree the next day to do just that. In his next press conference, Kerry declared that the planned attack would be “unbelievable small” -and was promptly contradicted by President Obama, who stated “the US does not do pin pricks”. The net result is that Putin gained the moral high ground while Obama looked weak and indecisive after he flatly denied drawing the imaginary red line himself.

The latest crisis is the Russian annexation of Crimea. Whatever the level of rhetoric, facts are facts. Crimea had been Russian for well over a century and most of its inhabitants are ethnic Russians. The area became part of Ukraine only because of Khruschev’s arbitrary decision to make a gift of it to his “adopted” Ukraine; another fact is that what triggered this crisis was the EU and NATO’s offer to Ukraine of possible membership in both organizations. The legitimate elected president, Viktor Yunokovych declined the EU’s offer and opted to accept Russia’s offer instead, triggering protests in the western part of Ukraine. We meddled in the crisis, as was evident from the sight of Victoria Nuland, from our State Department, mingling with the demonstrators in Kiev. We stepped on Putin’s toes and he pushed back. Crimea seceded via a referendum, which the West has declared illegal; it was a bloodless secession, which contrasts with the bloody amputation of Kosovo from Serbia.

We have no national interests in Ukraine and much less in Crimea; all we have succeeded in doing is to place ourselves in an untenable position, from which it would be wise to extricate ourselves -after we make some high sounding and meaningless statements that can be interpreted any way you want.

Have any of these actions improved the US position in the world? Has the notion of the US armed forces acting as Al Qaida’s surrogates -as in Lybia and possibly in Syria- sunk in yet? More important, the pattern of the US foreign policy seems designed to undermine and destabilize America’s allies while strengthening America’s enemies.

The continuing stream of platitudes coming from the State Department’s mouthpieces brings to mind the story of the prizefighter who was being pummeled by his opponent round after round; at the end of one particularly disastrous round, he staggered back to his corner and mumbled to his distraught manager “Don’t worry, I’m wearing him out”



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