Friday, December 4, 2009

Nicolas D. Kristof and the need for a new American Foreign Policy

Well, Kristof has said it again, right there in the December 3rd New York Times. We need a whole new approach to foreign policy that focuses on how we can help people around the world through education, healthcare, and democracy, not through force and military intervention. This new direction in foreign policy, which should be made universal and implemented immediately, is being put forward, of course, in the context of President Obama's recent decision to escalate America's military presence in Afghanistan. For those who recall the United States' misguided escalation in Vietnam and the Soviet Union's own ill-fated deployment in Afghanistan, this recent decision is almost certainly a mistake, first from a tactical or strategic point of view, second with respect to everyone's long term best interests, and third, inevitably but undeniably, from a moral perspective. It will not only fail to stabilize the situation, it will make things worse by creating a "nationalist backlash" that will unleash more terrorism and more hatred for the U.S. I really think we pretty much know this to be the case, by the way, but the pressure from the military-industrial complex is so intense to fan the flames of this situation, to see it as a dispute that can only be resolved with force, that the people that represent this complex cannot be denied by a President whom I fear is increasingly weakened by the conservative forces arrayed against him.

Kristof quotes Greg Mortenson, the author of Three Cups of Tea who has built dozens of schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the effect that congressmen and generals in the U.S. made this decision to escalate "with nobody consulting Afghan elders. One of the elders' messages is we don't need firepower, we need brainpower. They want schools, health facilities, but not necessarily more physical troops."
Kritof adds, based on Mortenson's own experience, that 20 schools could be built - TWENTY SCHOOLS! - for what it costs to deploy one soldier for one year in Afghanistan!

And he ends his column with these words: "My hunch is that if Mr. Obama wants success in Afghanistan, he would be far better off with 30,000 more schools than 30,000 more troops. Instead, he's embarking on a buildup that may become an albatross on his presidency."

From now on, we need to make the case against such military buildups, unless we can be certain that there are good political and moral reasons for them. Such a case has not been made. Instead, we need to use America's wealth and power to distribute the goods that have helped to make us so strong. Only then will we begin to make any progress at all toward constructive and peaceful co-existence with the rest of the world.

1 comment:

  1. I think Kristof is right. But we have to start somewhere. Today David Brooks writes about possibilities for progress that accrue to the plan the President has outlined. I hope this exercise in nation building will be more successful than the attempts at subjugation that have failed, since time immemmorial, in the mountians of Afganistan.