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Foreign Policy Post-911: Learning Right Lessons

Foreign Policy Post-September 11: Learning the Right Lessons

Donald K. Steinberg, Deputy Director, Policy Planning Staff Remarks to Town Hall Meeting Dixie State College, St. George, Utah February 27, 2003

It is a great pleasure to be here this evening at Dixie State College. I wanted to begin by thanking Mayor McArthur, President Huddleston, and Director Petersen for their gracious hospitality and their organization of this program, which is helping establish new links between Washington County and Washington, D.C.

As you can guess, there are many reasons for me to be inside the Beltway now, but it is too easy to become captured by the Washington bureaucracy, especially within the walls of the State Department. Indeed, one of the pleasures of our Foreign Service is the chance to move beyond the bureaucratic hallways and to live and serve around the world.

I joined the State Department in 1975 straight out of graduate school, and underwent a cross-cultural expedition moving from blue jeans to pinstripes, and from studying Soren Kierkegaard to working for Henry Kissinger. I soon found myself serving as vice consul in the Central African Republic, a country coping with a brutal dictator after a failed decolonization and still coping with its legacy some four decades later.

I ve spent most of the past 27 years at U.S. missions overseas. In Brazil, we helped promote political opening and democracy as a military regime left power. In Malaysia, we supported a half-Muslim, half-Chinese country to address ethnic divisions and the role of Islam in a modern state. In Mauritius, we prepared a small Indian Ocean island to find its place in the world economy and emerge as a beneficiary, not a victim, of globalization. In South Africa in the heady days after Nelson Mandela s release, we helped blacks and whites make the transition from apartheid to non-racial democracy. And most recently in Angola, we helped build peace in a country held hostage by civil war since independence.

Now, at the State Department Policy Planning Staff, I m serving Secretary of State Colin Powell to look around the corner to the challenges and opportunities we face as a nation abroad. When Secretary George Marshall first created the Policy Planning Staff, he told the first director, George Kennan, that his mission consisted of two words: "Avoid trivia."

So tonight, I want to obey Marshall s instructions and provide you a broad overview of what I believe are the perils and promises of America s mission in the world. I d also like to discuss the growing role that private citizens, foundations, and businesses play in foreign policy, especially after September 11.

That morning, we looked out our State Department windows at the black smoke rising from the Pentagon. I went with a group of colleagues to a small, windowless room in the State Department Operations Center for the first of many all-night sessions to support the President s steadfast efforts to assemble and maintain a global coalition in the fight against terrorism. Even as we sought to contain the emotion of the moment and sought the detachment needed to do our jobs, we knew in an instant that our world would never be the same.

Looking back, a year and a half is a short time to gain perspective on an event with the impact of 9/11. Chinese leader Zhou En-Lai was asked by a French journalist in 1970 to assess the impact of the French Revolution. He replied, "It s too soon to tell."

Looking ahead, to quote another famous political theorist, Yogi Berra: "It s dangerous to make predictions, especially about the future."

Still, it s clear that September 11 brought home to us the importance of foreign policy in a way that had been absent for many years. A generation of Americans born into peace and prosperity had come to view us as invulnerable to threats from beyond our borders. With the end of the Cold War, foreign affairs budgets shrunk. The triumph of liberal democracies and open economies was assumed. In the words of one theorist, history itself had come to an end.

In the mid-90 s, I often spoke to high school students about foreign affairs. I d describe the anxiety we all shared during the Cold War and, in particular, my elementary school experience in Los Angeles of learning to "duck and cover" during the Cuban Missile Crisis, four decades ago. How we ever thought that putting our heads beneath our desks would save us from a nuclear attack is beyond me. I soon learned that the students couldn t relate to a foreign threat to their very existence.

September 11 changed all that. We learned again that American primacy doesn t mean American invulnerability. Even a country with our unprecedented economic, political, military and cultural power, and nestled behind vast oceans cannot be fully insulated from every threat, particularly in a world marked by globalization.

With this renewed recognition of our inter-connection with the world has come a new resolve for international engagement. Our challenge is to channel this resolve into the right causes. I wanted to start by addressing the threats and the dangers of this new period, including transnational threats ranging from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction to global poverty and HIV/AIDS.

In 1994, I remember struggling without success against the prevailing wisdom that Rwanda s genocide while certainly a human tragedy didn t threaten our security and thus didn t warrant even the most modest U.S. intervention. Now, we understand that a failed state in Central Asia, mistreatment of women under a perverse interpretation of Islam, the curriculum in religious schools in Indonesia, drug trafficking in the Andes, and a virus in the blood stream of millions of Africans can set in place a string of dominos that, once set toppling, can touch our lives here in America in the most immediate ways imaginable. In today s interconnected world, crises in the Middle East, Kashmir, the Andes or central Africa won t stay put. They cause suffering and instability not just in one region, but spill over and spark conflict elsewhere.

These are issues on which I ve spent most of my career. They involve identifying and combating ethnic divisions, intolerance, illiteracy, disease, hunger, and repression. For example, Secretary Powell has asked me to work on reducing the impact of conflict on women. When men and teen-age boys go off to war, women are left to bear the brunt of displacement. They re likely to be victims of gender-based violence rape used as an instrument of war and may suffer deep psychosocial trauma. We were shocked although not really surprised when Physicians for Human Rights reported that one-sixth of the women in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan had tried to commit suicide.

The breakdown in health structures means that maternal and infant mortality rates skyrocket. Trafficking in women and girls increases when social order deteriorates. Even after the killing stops and the soldiers return home, women run the risk of stepping on landmines and being subjected to rising levels of domestic violence and alienation.

Under President Bush s direction, we re acting to address these difficulties; to empower women to limit the impact of conflict on their lives; to ensure that women aren t just victims of conflict but keys to reconciliation and recovery; and to include women as planners, implementers and beneficiaries of all relief and development efforts.

The President also announced in his State of the Union address his intention to provide $15 billion over the next five years in the fight against the tragic global epidemic of HIV/AIDS, especially in Africa and the Caribbean.

These actions are usually referred to as the "soft side" of foreign policy, especially by those who ve never worked on them. Let me assure you there s nothing "soft" about going after traffickers who turn human beings into commodities. There s nothing "soft" about going into a refugee camp to face down armed thugs terrorizing displaced people, holding warlords accountable for human rights abuses, or forcing warring parties to give women a seat at the table in peace negotiations and post-conflict governments. These are among the hardest challenges we face.

Even as we work around the world to protect people from conflict, September 11 reminded us that the most fundamental charge of any government is to protect its own citizens. In the words of the Constitution, we must "provide the common defense." Today, security for our homeland is at the top of our national agenda, using a wide variety of tools diplomacy, economic sanctions, intelligence cooperation, law enforcement, and military strength.

We re working with our friends and allies to freeze terrorist funds, while law enforcement officials in 90 countries have arrested or detained 3000 suspected terrorists and their accomplices. We ve also used military force through coalitions of the willing in Afghanistan and beyond to close down terrorist camps.

Addressing our national security also means preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. We re now facing a dangerous nexus of weapons of mass destruction, terrorist and international criminal networks, and rogue states.

In most cases, we fight proliferation through diplomatic approaches and international agreements. With North Korea, the President and Secretary Powell are working with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia, and others to address the serious challenge of nuclear proliferation in that country. We re all pressing Kim Jung Il to abandon his nuclear ambitions and focus instead on improving the horrific living conditions for the people of his devastated country. He must give up his uranium enrichment program for nuclear weapons and freeze the plutonium production facilities at Yongbyon.

With Iraq, we re not dealing with a regime that responds to normal diplomatic engagement. As President Bush told the United Nations, 12 years of sanctions and inspections haven t stopped Saddam Hussein s quest for chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. His regime flouts the basic norms of civilized behavior by brutally repressing its people, launching wars of aggression against its neighbors, murdering members of ethnic and religious groups, using chemical weapons against its own people and Iran, and diverting humanitarian aid intended to feed and house its citizens to expensive programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, such that 60% of its population is now fully dependent on rationed food.

Working with Congress, the UN, and our friends and allies, we must ensure that a regime with such destructive intentions as Iraq doesn t possess the means to blackmail the world. Saddam Hussein must answer some simple questions. Where are the 25,000 liters of anthrax? Where are the 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, the 500 tons of sarin, VX nerve agents, and mustard, and the 30,000 munitions capable of delivering chemical agents?

I am a huge supporter of the United Nations, and for that reason, the UN Security Council and all nations in the world have a responsibility to see that Saddam Hussein s regime is disarmed, and that the will of the international community is enforced. Even as we face these darker challenges, we cannot allow these threats and dangers to blind us to the remarkable opportunities of the era ahead. Jazz singer Ruth Edding was once asked what it was like living in the "Golden Era of Swing." She replied: "Goodness, if I d known I was living in an era, I would ve paid more attention."

We are living in an era, one in which we can end great power competition, build democracy and human rights, and promote economic expansion, and we should all pay attention. We may not be at the end of history, but our Cold War adversaries Russia and China are undergoing fundamental internal transition. Their movement toward greater economic and political openness is in our strong national interest. Similarly, India, with its long tradition of democracy and rising economic standing, is now seeking to transform its role in the world.

If we can integrate Russia, China and India, along with Europe, an enlarged NATO, and Japan, into new frameworks of cooperation, peace among the world s major powers can become an enduring feature of the international landscape.

This unity can help us address the toughest challenges. For example, we re now working with the so-called Quartet, including Russia, Europe, and the United Nations, to promote the President s vision of lasting peace in the Middle East through the existence within three years of an independent, viable, sovereign, and democratic Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel.

Another key change that provides new opportunities is a growing challenge to the concept of absolute sovereignty the notion from the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648 that princes could do as they pleased within their own borders.

Similarly, we have a new opportunity to promote world-wide respect for human rights, democracy, rule of law, and responsive governance. There s a long way to go to make this vision a reality, and we need to build the infrastructure of democracy around the world. In Africa, Latin America, East and Central Asia, and beyond, we need to support legislatures, judiciaries, electoral processes, and civil society to allow alternative sources of power to emerge.

We re putting our money or actually, your money where our mouth is. President Bush is asking Congress for a $5 billion expansion over the next three years in our foreign aid for the Millennium Challenge Account.

This new fund will support countries that are committed to good governance, investment in people, and economic openness serving as encouraging examples to other nations. We need concrete actions and new public-private partnerships. As Secretary of State Colin Powell said, "Words are good: actions are better. Only actions can put a drop of clean water on the tongue of a thirsty child, prevent the transmission of a deadly virus from mother to child, and preserve the biodiversity of a fragile African ecosystem."

In addressing these challenges of the 21st century, governments can t go it alone. The task is just too big. Each of us through our connections with unions, businesses, charities, religious groups, and schools actually form and carry out American foreign policy. This is an encouraging change from the past.

In September 1919, Woodrow Wilson came here to Utah as part of a 29-city, 10,000-mile campaign to mobilize the American people to resist the false promise of isolationism after the war to end all wars. Wilson described here his vision of America s mission. He said:

"America is believed in throughout the world because she s put spirit before material ambition. She is willing to sacrifice everything that freedom may reign throughout the world Let us bind ourselves in a solemn covenant that we will redeem this expectation that the world shall follow us and that in leading, we will not lead along the path of private advantage or national ambition, but we along the paths of right, so that men shall always say American soldiers saved Europe and American citizens saved the world."

But even this call to action failed to mobilize public pressure. The Senate rejected the Treaty of Versailles; we didn t join the League of Nations; and the roots of World War II were sown by America s disengagement from the world.

Americans learned that lesson well. After World War II, President Truman and his Congressional allies were able to gain popular support for the great decisions to create NATO, form the IMF and World Bank, and launch the Marshall Plan.

With the Cold War as a backdrop, President Kennedy s formed the Peace Corps to harness the idealism of America s youth and direct it outward to improving the world. In 1984, President Reagan helped form the National Endowment for Democracy and the international arms of labor unions, businesses, and the Republican and Democratic parties to support foreign political parties, free enterprise and independent unions as the foundations of democracy.

In Wilson s day, there were about 200 NGOs working abroad; today, there are 29,000. And even as many Americans tell pollsters they oppose foreign aid, they give some $34 billion a year to international development and relief groups or more than three times what they give through government. This includes $4.5 billion given by U.S. corporations and foundations, and $1.3 billion in scholarships to foreign students at American universities.

But engagement doesn t end with writing checks. Citizens help set the agenda for foreign engagement. For example, I was honored to meet today with your Board of Trustees Chairman Stephan Wade and to learn more about the superb work he is helping sponsor with micro-credit programs for women in Kenya.

Similarly, international attention over the past decade to fight against the 70 million landmines planted in one-third of the world s nations, stem the spread of small arms and light weapons, stop the use of child soldiers, and promote the rights of the disabled all have their origins in large part in the actions of private citizens.

Other groups are working to build democracy and rule of law, promote development, reform education, and strengthen civil society around the world. In the darkest and nastiest corners of the world, they ve been the eyes, the ears, and often the conscience of the international community.

Some of my diplomatic colleagues may long for the days: when the people s business was done far from the people s eyes; when "open covenants of peace, openly arrived at" was Woodrow Wilson s vision, not a reality; and when protest to government policies consisted of polite letters to elite foreign policy journals rather than protest marches in major cities.

But the world s a better place because of the democratization of foreign policy, in part because it s created a constituency for international engagement in the face of those who would ve us pull back from a messy and morally complex world. This constituency is the hallelujah chorus that Wilson so desperately sought to invigorate.

Two days after Woodrow Wilson s visit to Utah, he collapsed in Pueblo, Colorado, and soon suffered the stroke that would eventually cost him his life. Today, instead of thinking about the fate that awaited Wilson and his vision, we should hearken back to the soaring image that Wilson took away with him some 83 years ago.

As his train moved around Oregon, California and Utah, Wilson wrote in one of his last lucid moments: "The aspiring lines of the wonderful mountains of the Northwest must lead people s eyes to be drawn upward to see the real, pure vision of the interests of humanity."

That clarion call must continue to inspire us to work together for the benefit of ourselves, the world and future generations. Thank you. [End]

Released on March 17, 2003

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