Sunday, February 24, 2008

Winners lose: U.S. and the final defeat of the Cold War mentality

David Ignatius (yes, I know that I’ve quoted him twice during the same week) makes the argument that the U.S. is the final country still applying the same, tired Cold War mentality to the rest of the world: Point in case, the very experienced Bush foreign policy staff that invaded, defeated, and subsequently lost the aftermath of the Iraq war. (My argument: they were fighting the previous war.)

Anyway, here is Ignatius:

The intellectual matrix formed by the Soviet threat, and before that by Hitler's rise in Germany, needs to be reworked. There is a new set of problems and personalities -- and if America keeps trotting out the same cast of characters and policy papers, we will fail to make sense of where the world is moving.

The piece is an argument about McCain, a candidate truly enmeshed in the Cold War frame; Hillary Clinton, who was part of the first, erratic decade that followed the Cold War; and, Barack Obama, who comes lacking baggage from either time period.

Let’s recast this argument in terms of Africa. One could say that the Pentagon’s desire to secure a base in Africa is an idea straight out of the Cold War. (However, don’t you think its plan for U.S. soldiers to perform development work is quite modern: A willingness by the Americans to accept the importance of non-state actors?) Let’s look at the work of a potential U.S. “foe” on the continent. Instead of stationing soldiers, or writing checks for questionable development projects, the Chinese are investing heavily in Africa (and in mucky places no Western nation dares go), securing minerals for their future and simultaneously helping build some African economies from the ground up. More than a few Africans argue that the Chinese come to the continent as partners, and the U.S., and other European powers, waltzes in with airs of former colonial masters.

My comparison is a little too pat, granted. But there does seem to be something missing from the U.S. African policy; a lack of moving past conventional wisdom or something. (I’d make the same argument about the Europeans, too, the death of Françafrique aside.) Yes, George Bush has progressed beyond simply signing development checks by attempting to tie aid to certain indicators (human rights, business climate, etc.). But is this a true revolution of thought? Or is it just attempting to fix what want went wrong in the past? (One could make an argument that fixing the mistakes of the past is a revolution in itself. But that sounds very bureaucratic, doesn’t it?)

Let’s be honest: African countries of certain serious consequence (i.e. countries that are possible terrorist havens or strident allies in the fight against terror) the administration has thrown those seemingly vital indicators out the door: Uganda, Ethiopia, Niger all come to mind. Angola, I guess. Does Egypt also count?

Although all signs point to a growing, confident second world (and some of these countries are African), the U.S. is finally getting around to paying these countries the attention they deserve. (Another holdover from the Cold War is the concentration of resources on the Middle East.) We could be realistic and say that Africa will very rarely pop up on the radar screens of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Perhaps that is reason enough for the need of storming the Bastille. (Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their ties.)

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