From The Statesman
Wednesday 17 November, 2004
Revisiting Bush’s policy of pre-emption
Cyber Age/ ND Batra
The USA needs deeper engagement with the world through international economic aid, building up democratic institutions and strengthening weaker or failing states so that they don’t become havens for terrorists. It cannot depend solely upon its firepower and modern war technology to subdue a restive people. Consider what happened at the funeral of Yasser Arafat, where Palestinian authorities could not control frenzied, hysterical mourners, who jumped barbed wires, climbed over the walls of Muqatta, descended on the compound, and raised passionate chants to grieve the passing away of their beloved leader. Such street-battle scarred people, whether in Palestine or elsewhere, need to be engaged culturally, economically and politically to wean them away from Islamic militant ideology. Pre-emptive policy needs revisiting.
During the 2002 brinkmanship between India and Pakistan, the USA by sharing selective military intelligence with both countries played a low-profile but significant role in defusing the crisis; and since then Washington has been unobtrusively supporting the process of normalisation. Today, the Indian sub-continent is a more hospitable place for business and investment than it was a few years ago. Although this does not diminish the bold foreign policy initiatives taken by the Vajpayee and Singh administrations, the quiet diplomacy of the USA has begun to bear fruit.
The only way the USA can exercise its influence is through the use of diplomatic power, the power of persuasion through cooperation, commonality of national interests and developing common goals such as economic growth, fighting terrorism and eliminating AIDS. Diplomatic power arises from the attraction of a nation’s culture and values, apart from its economic and military prowess. Most people around the world perceive American culture as a culture of Hollywood, pop music, blockbuster movies and steamy television programmes, but that’s only partly true. American culture is a culture of openness, of freedom and open roads that lead to the free marketplace of goods and ideas. It is a culture of optimism that holds the possibility of expanding human horizons. The Arab-Muslim world needs to be informed and educated about.
India like China has understood the power of US openness, the free marketplace, and has become one of the fastest growing world’s economies. If the USA, for example, were to shut its doors on India by blocking outsourcing, India’s technology-driven export economy would receive a setback. Bush’s Democratic opponent Senator Kerry talked against outsourcing. From economic and diplomatic point of view, Bush is a better choice for India. China has benefited tremendously by opening its economy and eventually would open itself to other cultural influences including free expression and democracy. By opening its markets to China, the USA has exercised its diplomatic power and changed a hostile nation to a friendly global power. A similar phenomenon has begun to take place in Pakistan, where the economy is picking up steam and foreign currency reserve is swelling. Americans may be resented and even disliked in some places, but they are also a most admired and envied people in the world. India and China aspire to catch up with the USA one day.
Joseph Nye of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Governance says that a country can become attractive by “co-opting people rather than coercing them.” He suggests that international influence “comes from an effective aid and information programme abroad. What is needed is increased investment in soft power, the complex machinery of interdependence, rather than in hard power – that is, expensive new weapons system.” Although fighting terrorism requires both hard and soft power, attraction of the soft power, “is much cheaper than coercion, and an asset that needs to be nourished.” Just as trade with China and rising prosperity has co-opted the Chinese people and has given them new hopes and new dreams, a similar policy might transform Iran too.
The Bush administration must explore new directions in international relations instead of using pre-emptive power. For example, it is important that the USA uses media power to present an alternative view of reality to the Arab and Muslim world. Unlike the quick catastrophic victory in Iraq, the results of such cultural engagement would not be immediately visible but they would be long lasting. All battles ultimately have to be fought and won in the minds and hearts of the people. “Effective broadcasting,” wrote Edward Kaufman in The Battle for Hearts and Minds, “strengthens the traditional triad of diplomacy, economic leverage, and military power and is the fourth dimension of foreign conflict resolution… Perceptions change when outside information challenges certain assumptions.” International broadcasting done in local languages, for example, as done by BBC, must become part of the larger front of public diplomacy, the deployment of soft power of culture, to win the war of ideas.
More than anything else it is corporate America that makes the USA attractive. If American apparel makers were to open factories in Palestine, for example, they would create new hopes and dreams for the Palestinian people. The USA should encourage corporate America, through economic incentives and other means, to invest in West Asia to raise and sustain democratic dreams, the kind of dreams about which Bush talked about in his recent joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.