March 03, 2003

Case Studies: Three Allies, Three

Case Studies: Three Allies, Three Snags


Remember the U.S. Special Forces troops that were supposed to hunt for Abu Sayyaf guerillas?

"...last week, the plan was put on hold, raising questions about how it was put together in the first place. Some details about the process remain unclear, but in interviews here and in Washington, officials described a series of missed signals and apparent misunderstandings that led to an embarrassing public reversal. The Pentagon announced Friday that the plan was being frozen." Some sources questioned whether Philippine officials had given unwarranted assurances to U.S. military planners, allowing them to proceed when they should have been more cautious. Others, including some U.S. officials, asserted that the Pentagon failed to grasp the political and cultural sensitivities in the Philippines, a former U.S. colony in which nationalist sentiment led to the closure of two U.S. military bases a decade ago.


And, of course, whether we have a full-fledged Northern Front remains in doubt given chaotic deliberations in Turkey. As one typical Turkish commentator opines:

"The US learned through the proposal that pressure put on Turkey by ignoring Turkey and its public, without considering its pride important might turn upside down. It understood that there was a public and Parliament in Turkey but itŐs too late now. Anyway, ParliamentŐs decision caused the US to realize its mistakes. It showed that it was a great mistake to consider Turkey a kingdom in the Middle East or an emirate and to put pressure on it as if the prime minister makes all the decisions alone. It was also understood that Turkey isnŐt panicked and frightened that it will be ruined and destroyed if it doesnŐt do what the US wants. "

South Korea

And how about South Korea, which we have defended in blood and treasure for half a century? The young are unimpressed.

"There is also recognizable sentiment among younger Koreans that the United States has adopted a bullying attitude in the world since the September 11 attacks. The Internet portal was filled with messages blaming the United States for everything from the Korean War to the oppression of the Palestinians in the days and weeks after the attacks. "Mix [the armored-vehicle incident] up with the 'axis of evil' remarks, which irritated and alienated a lot of people in this country, the perception that the Bush administration is not as enthusiastic as the previous one on negotiations with North Korea, and that it is unilateralist and doesn't listen closely to the needs of its allies, and it's a recipe for resentment toward the United States," a senior Western diplomat said.
A survey conducted by Potomac Associates for the Korean Society Quarterly, which is published in New York by Donald P. Gregg, U.S. ambassador to Seoul from 1989 to 1993, found that 49 percent of South Koreans believe that feelings of anti-Americanism are growing, compared with 8 percent who think they are declining. "The image of America has changed enormously among South Koreans since September 11," a local wire service reporter said in an interview this month. "Most people now see the United States as an angry and mighty giant who doesn't care what others, including friends, think or need."

And these are ostensibly some of our close allies.

Whether we like it or not, and perhaps quite apart from the Iraq issue, we are facing a grave image problem across large swaths of the globe. Part of this perception, of course, is the almost inevitable resentment that our unprecedented degree of "hyperpuissance" inexorably engenders. Yet how painful to hear, so soon after the post-9/11 sentiments of solidarity, that increasing numbers around the globe view us as changed for the worse after we were wounded so greviously.

Regardless, and quite apart from whether one views this increasingly widespread resentment towards the U.S as justified or not, the bottom line is that such perceptions are beginning to impact the U.S. achieving key geopolitical aims. Whether, at the very least, delaying troop movements to the northern Iraqi border via Turkey, or causing snags in our plans to hit back at the al-Qaeda linked Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines, or generating a political climate in Seoul that allows for overly conciliatory feints to Pyongyang from the South--all these "case studies" argue for fresh approaches, a re-invigorated U.S. diplomacy.

Partly, this relates to Jose Aznar of Spain's message to Dubya of needing (I'm paraphrasing) "more Powell and less Rumsfeld." Yes, many of us like Rummy's fresh talk, no-nonsense demeanour, robust pursuit of the American interest. But, impossible to deny, he creates messes that the hapless Colin Powell must frequently clean up. Many of the problems described above may not have become so grave if we had pursued our objectives with a slightly less heavy hand, a bit more humility, a sense of "i'll meet you half-way."

Don't get me wrong. I'm not arguing for limp-wristed appeasement a la Jacques and Gerard show. God forbid. Just a slightly more tactful approach now and then. It will only help us deal with the grave threats we are confronting in so many theaters more effectively.

Posted by Gregory at March 3, 2003 09:07 PM
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