America's new circus diplomacy: preamble

It’s easy to envision George W. Bush as both gaffer and ringmaster presenting America’s diplomatic clowns: an assortment of white face, auguste and character clowns… without forgetting the type peculiar to American popular culture: the evil clown. But first, before we bring in Condi Rice, John Bolton, Karen Hughes, Roger Noriega and the other zanies to share the spotlight in the diplomatic big top, let’s take a moment to reminisce and reflect on past American diplomacy.

In a history that barely spans ten generations, American diplomacy has evolved with the symmetry one would expect from a unique, diverse and expanding nation… from the diplomacy of survival and geographical isolation of the late eighteenth century, to the Mecca of power that it is today.

By the end of the nineteenth century, culminating with the takeover of Spain’s colonies- Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, absurdly misnamed the Spanish-American War, the United States had lost its diplomatic virginity, bri just in anticipation of the first anniversary of the Madrid train bombings… the infamous 11-M (March 11), Spain’s version of America’s 9-11.

In his speech in Portland , Dr. Brzezinski pulled no punches in denouncing Bush’s foreign policy as the instigator of global terrorism, unworkable unilateralism and provoker of anti-Americanism. His quotation of a letter from a foreign friendect on past American diplomacy.

In a history that barely spans ten generations, American diplomacy has evolved with the symmetry one would expect from a unique, diverse and expanding nation… from the diplomacy of survival and geographical isolation of the late eighteenth century, to the Mecca of power that it is today.

By the end of the nineteenth century, culminating with the takeover of Spain’s colonies- Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, absurdly misnamed the Spanish-American War, the United States had lost its diplomatic virginity, bringing strong military credentials to safeguard its expanding economic interests in Latin America .

The svelte and freedom-bearing beauty known throughout much of the world as America was represented by the Statue of Liberty, a gift from the now-maligned French. A gift which followed Alexis de Tocqueville’s flattering writings on America… and his portrayal that “ America is great because America is good.” This portrayal was long-lived for over a century, including two world wars.

And although that dictum may have grown stale or proven untrue as the twentieth century matured, Americans and others in the world would cling to it, truth or fiction… if for no other reason than a feeling of pride- for Americans; or the retention of hope- for much of the world.

Then, as Americans started to feel threatened by a world with ideologies disruptive of their way of life, the circus of diplomacy started to take shape accommodating the acts expected of an influential nation finding necessary to maintain its preeminence in both economic and military terms.

However, it became increasingly difficult for American diplomacy to provide a rationale to other nations that would allow it to maintain an economic disparity that in 1948 had the US, with 6.3% of the world's population, consuming half of its resources. After WWII, the Marshal Plan would provide America with like-minded, much-needed friends/allies.

Enter George Kannan who as the architect of the containment strategy with the Soviet Union brought a high wire balancing act to America’s diplomatic circus. A strategy that was not so much against an ideology, communism, as it was against a prospective powerful enemy, the Soviet Union, which could change America and its way of life. That strategy did prove successful but, as its author later conceded, at too high a price… and well outside the realm of diplomacy that could lead to world harmony.

Half a century after having formulated the doctrine of containment, at 95 years of age, yet commanding a very clear view of today's world, Kennan decried in an interview what US foreign policy and its diplomatic arm had become. “This whole tendency to see ourselves as the center of political enlightenment and as teachers to a great part of the world strikes me as unthought-through, vainglorious, and undesirable,” he said in 1999.

As we mourn the recent passing of this diplomacy-realist conservative American, one ponders what his thoughts might have been six years later as the neo-conservative wave had taken over the nation’s reins, bringing an already flawed foreign policy to the abyss of rule-by-might and post-facto diplomacy.

And now Americans are being told that the “defense executives” at the Pentagon, with the consent of their commander-in-chief, have just crossed the Rubicon of discussion and diplomacy… taking the nation from a doctrine of containment to one of “active deterrence.”

This assertive defense policy renders diplomacy valueless, allowing any and all self-defense actions, defined in the narrowest of terms, as matters of interpretation by ideologues with unprecedented freedom to do as they please. This defense policy has in effect dismantled all remnants of a sane foreign policy.

Taking gargantuan steps, American foreign policy is becoming more and more a hybrid form of a Curtis LeMay-Jesse Helms school of foreign policy… which unfortunately has more followers in the US than we care to admit. Americans still recall with dismay Gen. LeMay, the Strategic Air Command chief honcho, and his preferred diplomacy with the Vietnamese... “Bomb them back to the Stone Age;” or Senator Jesse Helms’ response to the killings of doctors and nurses by the contras in Nicaragua… “Well-they’re just Communists-they deserve to die.” Little change is needed to revive that policy now. Just replace Vietnamese and communists with the real or perceived enemies-du-jour, be them peoples, nations or even organizations.

Now we are bringing in the clowns. To do what, may we ask? By confrontation or neglect we have antagonized two billion people when we add Latin America to the many Muslim nations… and have done poorly as well with many of America’s stalwart friends of the past.

If there’s no change of heart… all we’re about to get from the Bush Administration is a fumbling PR job.