Wednesday, June 16, 2004

True patriots speak up...

"For people who don't do this for a living and who pay attention to foreign policy only when it's in the news, it's probably hard to comprehend how radical the current administration's foreign policy approach is, as well as how dramatic the effects have been internationally in terms of America's plummeted standing
around the world."

"We've been in existence for two and a quarter centuries, and I don't think
we've ever experienced this degree of hatred and fear. One of the most
disturbing things I heard, and I can't remember which nationalistic member
of the administration it was who said it, was the answer to a concern
expressed that the United States was feared: "Well, if you're feared you
get your way, don't you?"


June 16, 2004 

National emergency

A spokesman for a new bipartisan group of retired diplomats and military
officers says Bush must be removed for the good of the country By Eric Boehlert

Angered by what they see as President Bush's dangerous and
radical foreign policy initiatives, a unique bipartisan group of nearly two dozen
former senior U.S. government officials -- drawn heavily from the Washington
establishment -- has founded a new activist organization that calls for Bush's
defeat in November. Calling itself Diplomats and Military Commanders for
Change, the group is scheduled to release a statement at a Wednesday morning
press conference, arguing that Bush's foreign policy has damaged both the
United States' national security and its standing around the world.

Traditionally, diplomats and members of the military, each of whom must work
seamlessly with administrations from both parties, studiously shun election-year
politics. And avoiding the political spotlight usually extends to those who have
retired from the Pentagon and the State Department as well. The Bush
administration, however, has sparked more diplomatic outcries than most. Last
year, on the eve of the war with Iraq, John Brady Kiesling resigned from the
State Department in protest, as did a handful of others. Earlier this year, some
50 retired U.S. diplomats urged Bush to reverse his Middle East policy, insisting
he had "placed U.S. diplomats, civilians and military doing their jobs overseas in
an untenable and even dangerous position."

And while the new group insists it is not partisan in the sense that it's working
with the campaign of Sen. John Kerry, its members say the surest way to right
today's foreign policy wrongs is to defeat Bush in November. "We think the only
way to reverse the situation is to elect a different team," says William Harrop,
one of the group's primary organizers, who spoke with Salon. A 39-year veteran
of the Foreign Service, Harrop served under Presidents Carter and Reagan as
ambassador to Guinea, Kenya, Seychelles, Zaire and Israel. Along with Harrop,
the list of signatories to the group's statement includes a number of senior
officials who served under Republican presidents. Among them are Arthur A.
Hartman, Reagan's ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1981 through 1987;
Jack Matlock Jr., appointed by Reagan as ambassador to the Soviet Union in
1987; Allen Holmes, an assistant secretary of state under Reagan; Charles
Freeman, ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the elder Bush; and retired
Marine Gen. Joseph Hoar, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East under
the elder Bush.

Tell me how this group came together and why you're doing this now.

It came together in late March and early April of this year. There were two
things that happened. First, many of us, who have worked for both Republican
and Democratic administrations, had talked to each other, and we could see
there was a real discontent with the direction our country was going. Second,
the thing that really kind of tipped it for me was that Pew global attitudes poll
that showed the extraordinary drop in international support for the United
States -- and how we're more feared and less respected than at any point in
our history. That was kind of a cold shower.

Were there any reservations about going public?

As public servants you don't normally get involved in politics, and it wasn't easy
for a lot of people to do it. But we decided we had to speak out and found that
many people wanted to join in. In fact, after the Los Angeles Times wrote about
our group, we got calls from people saying, "Hey, why did you leave me out?" So
we're going to have a Web site, which will go up tonight [at dmcc.org], and with
the Web site people will be able to get more involved.

You mentioned the Pew poll. It's interesting in that most Americans traditionally
pay very little attention to foreign affairs; probably even fewer pay attention to
how America is perceived internationally. But as a former diplomat, I assume
that's your life's work?

Some of us feel that we've spent 20, 30, 40 years working to create a
circumstance in which the United Sates could exert influence and could see its
policies carried out because we were respected, because we had alliances and
people were accustomed to working with us through the United Nations and
bilaterally in other ways. We feel that a lot of this has been undermined by the
philosophy and style and policies implemented by this administration.

And the centerpiece of that is the war in Iraq?

The war in Iraq is very important. There really was a disingenuousness in the
way the war was presented. Most of my colleagues probably did believe there
were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But the intelligence that was
available was shaped and distorted, and [there was] downright dissembling
regarding whether Iraq was involved with al-Qaida and 9/11 -- there just
wasn't evidence of that.

But it's not just Iraq by any means. And it's not just about Israel and Palestine.
If you look at the list of people who have signed the statement, they've
primarily worked in Latin America, Europe and Africa. It's more a feeling that
the approach toward the world of the United States, now that we are the only
dominant world power, is that we can get our way by muscle and not by leadership.

In the Los Angeles Times piece, a Republican strategist close to the White House
suggested Diplomats and Military Commanders for Change doesn't understand
that 9/11 changed everything.

Well, in my opinion, things have not changed that much since 9/11. Most of us
involved in this group have dealt with terrorism. This is not new -- 9/11 is the
first time [terrorism] has happened on U.S. soil, but 9/11 does not really change
the nature of the world or the importance of developing allies or a coalition of
governments to collaborate in trying to reach common goals. It doesn't change
that. I think there's been an attempt under President Bush to give the impression that he alone decides foreign policy in the wake of the terrorist attacks because the whole world has changed.

Another comment in the L.A. Times piece, by a White House ally, suggested that
your group is made up of former State Department Arabists, whose diplomatic
approach, perhaps more evenhanded than the Bush administration's, never
succeeded in the Middle East, and now that the White House has staked out a
different course people are offended by that.

Some of us got together to talk about our press conference on Wednesday, and
we had all read the story. And one fellow said, "It just occurred to me I'm the
only Arabist in this crowd." That was Michael Sterner, a former deputy assistant
secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. I just don't think there's anything
to that accusation -- it's a desperate retort on the White House's part.

Another point made by the White House is about the timing, that forming the
group doesn't make sense now because we just saw President Bush go to the
U.N. and do what critics said he hadn't done, which was to mend fences and
try to come up with a consensus approach to Iraq. What do you say to that?

I welcome those developments at the U.N. and think they're very good things.
But I think [they occurred] because the administration came to the realization
that its approach in Iraq was simply untenable, that they couldn't be going it
alone and that they had to go back to the U.N. They made some important
concessions and got a resolution passed in the Security Council, but it's awfully
late in the day. We've already spent a great deal of money and lost a great many American lives. Nobody has offered more troops, which is what the United
States needs in Iraq. I welcome the developments, but I do not believe they
represent a policy sea change in the administration.

There was a lot of talk last week about Ronald Reagan's legacy and within that
discussion was a small one about whether Reagan would have supported the war
on Iraq and the neoconservative approach to foreign policy this administration
has taken. As someone who worked for his administration, do you have any
thoughts on that?

All you can do is speculate, but I don't really think that he would support this
approach. I think Reagan's and Bush's approaches were quite different. There
were certain hints in Reagan's righteousness about good vs. bad. But it hadn't
developed toward anything like the circumstances we're seeing now.

You mentioned that Foreign Service officers usually don't get involved in politics
and that forming this group was a difficult decision. At what point do you think
such people should get involved -- and what precedent does that set?

I don't think people "in harness," so to speak, should. If you feel that strongly
you should resign. You can't really take part in partisan politics as a diplomat
when you've sworn an allegiance to the Constitution and to serve the
administration. I think when diplomats retire there might be a little more
involvement. I think people have a lifetime habit of not getting involved and
have a hard time breaking it.

Would there be any downside if more former diplomats and military commanders
were routinely involved in partisan politics?

I don't think so. Your loyalty is to your country, and as a citizen you have every
right, even responsibility, to become involved. And I'll tell you that hardly anyone we spoke with didn't share our views. But there were a couple who said they just didn't think going public was right.

In March 2003, I interviewed John Brady Kiesling, a career U.S. diplomat who
was serving in Athens and who resigned on the eve of the Iraq war, fed up with
the rationale for the war he was forced to spin to his diplomatic counterparts in
Greece. You mentioned that if you get to that point during service, then your only
option is to resign. Looking back at your time served, at what point might you have
thought of resigning, and if you were an ambassador today, do you think you
would have come to the same conclusion?

I don't know. There are so many personal considerations. You've got to educate
your children, and it's not easy to do that when you resign. But at some point you
might have to. Quite a few members of the Foreign Service resigned, probably
30, over the incursion into Cambodia in 1970. But there has not been a long
tradition of resignations in the Foreign Service, and there probably should be
more than there have been. I've always admired the British system, where it's
not all that uncommon.

Do you think those who signed the group's statement represent the traditional,
internationalist foreign policy community in Washington, those who believe in
the interlocking relationships the United States relies upon around the world?

I think the key people involved in this have learned from their decades of
experience in the business that alliances and improved relationships are a
necessity to solving problems, and that the approach we're seeing now by the
United States is probably not going to prove very durable.

For people who don't do this for a living and who pay attention to foreign policy
only when it's in the news, it's probably hard to comprehend how radical the
current administration's foreign policy approach is, as well as how dramatic the
effects have been internationally in terms of America's plummeted standing
around the world.

None of us would argue against the right of the United States -- if its national
security were in danger -- to take whatever action is required. We just think
military action should not be a first resort; it should be a last resort, and it
should be done in a political context that you prepare to make sure you obtain
the results you want. In contrast, this war appears to have been an ideological
war. People had been thinking about taking out Saddam Hussein for many, many
years, then moved to take that action and had to overcome a lot of objections.
I think that was radical.

And what about the dramatic effects on the world's perception of the U S?

We've been in existence for two and a quarter centuries, and I don't think
we've ever experienced this degree of hatred and fear. One of the most
disturbing things I heard, and I can't remember which nationalistic member
of the administration it was who said it, was the answer to a concern
expressed that the United States was feared: "Well, if you're feared you
get your way, don't you?"

And what is the problem with that, because it sounds very appealing?

The problem with that is that you get your way for the moment, on whatever the
immediate issue is. But you're not able to persuade people to listen to you and
go along with your general conceptual view.

In our statement, we list a number issues that are going to be very difficult for
the United States to deal with in coming years. There are lots of things you
could solve because people agree with you. The tougher issues require leadership
to get other countries to work together and to get people looking in the same
direction and feeling your same urgency. Over the long haul, we don't think
leading through fear will work.

The group's statement clearly calls for working toward the defeat of Bush in
November. Is that because you think we're past the point of his being able to
correct the errors of his ways?

Some people have said that if the neocons who strongly backed the war were
replaced, then the situation could be changed in the administration. Most of us
don't really believe that's possible. We believe Bush is a strong president. We
don't think he's a puppet of any particular group. And we think it would be very
hard to get him to change direction. He has a strong personality and character
and is strong-willed; he knows what he wants. So we think the only way to
reverse the situation is to elect a different team.


http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2004/06/16/diplomats/index.html

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