It's hard to imagine a worse month for the Bush administration, foreign-policy-wise, than September has been. Every day brings a new disaster on top of the last one like a line of speeding drivers tailgating their way into a 20-car pile-up.
First came the Bush administration's failure to secure UN sanctions against Iran for purportedly seeking to build a nuclear weapon. Never mind the fact that UN inspectors have affirmed Iran's uranium enrichment program is all above-board, and that they've only enriched uranium to a 3.6 percent purity level. To build a single nuclear weapon, they would need to get a 90 percent purity level, which most experts agree they might achieve over the course of a decade or two. Yes, that's decades, not months, as Republicans in Congress would have us believe.
Not one single nation on the UN Security Council, other than the US, will consider sanctions against Iran, for two reasons: one, it's been done before, against Iraq, and it was a massive blunder, and two, everybody else on the Security Council trades with Iran, except for us, to the sum of $22 billion per year. Germany sells them steel, France cars, Russia weapons, and China sells them air conditioners, washing machines, trucks, tractors, and other machinery. China also buys Iranian oil, which accounts for 18 percent of its crude oil imports. Even some US companies trade with Iran through subsidiaries registered in foreign countries. Iran, with 68 million people, is the second largest economy in the Middle East, after Saudi Arabia. It has a higher standard of living than our "democratic projects," Iraq and Afghanistan. Sanctions were a stupid idea, guaranteed to fizzle from the start.
Speaking of Afghanistan, the recent news from that country is shocking. Remember, in early 2002, the Bush administration had secured a victory in Afghanistan. They had it in the bag. But on Sept. 13, Condoleezza Rice and Tony Blair stood before a NATO meeting and said that Afghanistan is on the verge of becoming a "failed state." A coalition of criminal gangs, drug lords, militias, resurgent Taliban fighters, and al Qaeda extremists control between one-half to two-thirds of Afghanistan's total territory, depending on which regional expert you're listening to. Some of the drug lords also moonlight as Afghan government officials and policemen, according to Afghan villagers interviewed by the press. That's why Afghanistan is on track to produce a record $3 billion opium harvest this year, which will add up to 92 percent of the world's total heroin trade.
That's a major defeat in the flagging War on Drugs. Already, in Britain, the street price of heroin has dropped 50 percent. The Bush administration says that Afghan heroin has flooded Europe but hasn't reached the US. That's got to be a lie. When one nation accounts for 92 percent of total world opium production, a lot of that heroin has to be hitting our shores, too.
So Rice and Blair begged NATO to supply more troops for Afghanistan, but this month saw the worst fighting in Afghanistan since the war began five years ago. Not a single NATO nation signed up to bail us out, except for Poland, which said it might send 900 soldiers some time next year - although they've already promised 100 troops who haven't materialized.
The Darfur debacle continues, with George W. Bush begging the UN to send a peacekeeping force. Meanwhile, he has refused to come out in favor of a bill that would require the US government to divest in companies that trade with Sudan. Fifteen states have already passed such a bill, but the Bush administration won't support a similar version currently deadlocked in Congress. The President could literally get on the phone tomorrow and call key Republicans in Congress, and the bill would pass the next day. No one in the US press has pointed out the hypocrisy of Bush calling for sanctions on Iran, but not sanctions on Sudan, where the massacres in Darfur are continuing, even as you read this.
As a campaign strategy, the administration has pushed the war in Iraq to the background, since most Americans now view it as the disaster it has always been. Yet bad news still bleeds through. Witness the Sept. 15 announcement that US and Iraqi troops will dig trenches around Baghdad to keep out an enemy that has already infiltrated the city. In fact, the "enemy" is and always has been the population of the city itself, but that's a fact not to be discussed, even by mainstream critics of the war. The trenches are just busy work for the handful of new Iraqi army recruits (the old ones having deserted when their salaries didn't get paid), and a public relations gesture gone badly awry. Trenches around Baghdad do not look like a good idea, even to diehard Republican supporters.
And finally, Sept. 18 was the start of Beat Up Bush Week at the UN, where Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez led the charge on Sept. 20 by calling George W. Bush "the Devil" and waving around a copy of Noam Chomsky's latest book on US imperialism. In spite of efforts by Republicans, Democrats, and the mainstream US press to belittle and demonize Chavez, Chomsky's book shot to the number one spot on Amazon.com's bestseller list. Clearly, someone was taking him seriously. Shortly after Chavez's UN speech, the word "hegemony" became a popular word for many speakers who took the podium after him.
Outgoing UN Secretary General Kofi Annan scolded Bush for making the world less safe and drawing resources away from more pressing matters. Thabo Mbeki of South Africa called for less focus on "security" and more work on poverty and development issues, and Brazilian President Lula da Silva seconded that view. But the spotlight belonged to Bolivia's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, who came directly from a meeting with representatives of Native American tribes to speak at the UN in New York. He stood on the floor of the General Assembly and pulled a coca leaf from his pocket, then said, "Coca is green, not white like cocaine." In other words, cocaine is a US problem, not a Bolivian problem.
Morales advocates growing coca for medicinal purposes, pointing out that it's an indigenous crop in Bolivia that would be impossible to eradicate. And he's right, just as opium poppies would be impossible to eradicate in Afghanistan. Several analysts and NGOs now advocate legalizing Afghanistan's opium crop so it can be used for the production of prescription painkillers, instead of sold on the black market to buy weapons for drug runners, the Taliban, and Afghan warlords. And they're right, too. Waving a big stick doesn't work nearly as well as waving cash.
(Incidentally, Morales also showed how idiotic our whole airport security system really is. Shampoo bottles are verboten, but a coca leaf makes it through okay.)
Still, it wasn't just the heads of other nations who humiliated George W. Bush at the UN. He humiliated himself. First, he gave a paternalistic speech that sought to tell citizens of other nations what was best for them and what he thought of their governments (no wonder Hugo Chavez felt emboldened to tell the US people that their president is the Devil). Then he idiotically declared, "Asia has seen freedom progress" - at the exact same moment that a military coup was unfolding in Thailand, our closest ally in Asia.
Nor did George Bush recall that Pakistan, another very close ally in Asia, is ruled by a military dictator. That same dictator, Pervez Musharraf, told CBS News on Sept. 22 that he's only been helping us out in the War on Terror because Bush's security envoy, Richard Armitage, threatened in 2001 to bomb his country "back to the Stone Age" if he didn't. Bush and Armitage immediately denied having said it, but they didn't explain why our dear ally would lie about something like that.
plenty of time between now and the November elections for more
disasters to unfold, for more humiliation and more highly amusing
blunders. And they will happen, have no doubt.