With large numbers of Libyan surface to air missiles missing, with Islamic parties surging in the Arab Spring, with Pakistani relations in the freezer, with Iran expanding its influence and its arsenal, and with U.S./Russian relations at a low point, the United States enters a more dangerous 2012.
In late December 2010, CNN’s State Department reporter Jill Dougherty made her gushing on-the-air prediction for 2011, she said: “Its Hillary’s world.” Unfortunately there were no significant American diplomatic achievements this past year. All the overseas “victories” touted by the White House for 2011 consisted of targeted killings by Predator drones, special operations personnel and Libyan mobs. Hillary Clinton’s diplomacy could be called “wonder bread” diplomacy, after the infamously unnutritious American bread that is sold in flashy red, white, yellow and blue bags. U.S. diplomacy in 2011, looked superficially good, but under scrutiny it was a failure and a dangerous failure.
There was much window-dressing at the December 2011, Bonn Conference on Afghanistan. It was all an attempt to obscure the fact that the conference was a charade. President Hamid Karzai made a hollow promise to fight corruption and in return the West made a hollow promise of continued financial and military assistance. These were the same hollow promises the U.S. provided to the South Vietnamese government, which were reneged on in 1975.
Women’s rights across the globe faced numerous reversals. In Afghanistan NATO brothels continued to operate and Afghan courts continued to victimize women who fail to act as the property of their husbands, all with no condemnation by the Department. Reports surfaced all year of sexual exploitation by United Nations peacekeepers in Africa, with no condemnation by either Secretary Clinton or Ambassador Susan Rice. The trafficking of women and children around the world continued with no credible U.S. diplomatic efforts to halt these tragedies.
Secretary Clinton, with great fanfare, made a trip to Myanmar to meet with the ruling junta. The photos taken were beamed around the world, but nothing substantive occurred. At the same time the State Department has all but ignored Mexico, which is perhaps the greatest national security threat to the United States. Narco-killings and border violence reached new heights in 2011, and reports appeared of growing links between terrorists groups and narco-traffickers, yet the issue of U.S.-Mexican relations appears to have been relegated to junior diplomats.
The potentially most ominous U.S. failure was the war in Libya. By all insider accounts, this war was promoted by Secretary Clinton who reportedly convinced President Obama to support a half-heated effort to oust Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. This may turn out to have been a disastrous blunder by the United States. The U.S. Government ignored the Powell Doctrine, which advocated the use of overwhelming force in order to win as quickly and decisively as possible. The result in Libya was a drawn out conflict that empowered local Islamic militias and created chaos for nine months. This allowed untold numbers of surface to air missiles and other military equipment to exit Libya. The ultimate consequences of this dilatory U.S. action may not be known for months or even years. There are significant risks that American mistakes in Libya have galvanized the terrorist networks and will eventually destabilize the entire region.
The year 2011, ends with the United States and its NATO allies in serious and perhaps even dire economic decline. Greed, corruption and inept management by the Western democracies reflect poorly on Western values. NATO will not be withdrawing from Afghanistan as much as it will be limping away. It is expected that Iraqis will cheer the December 31, 2011, final withdrawal of al U.S. forces, as will most Afghans when that occurs. Such an event seems almost unthinkable considering the investment in money and lives by the U.S. and NATO. Such cheering will be testament to a failed foreign policy and to a diplomatic effort that is in shambles. The State Department had cute slogans such as “smart power;” gimmicks such as special ambassadors and czars; and a photogenic Secretary of State, but there was little of substance.
Secretary Clinton had an opportunity in 2011, to use the U.S. budget crisis as the impetus to reform and revitalize the State Department and its antiquated Senior Foreign Service. She could have challenged institutional anachronisms within the Department that have hindered American diplomacy. One key reform would have been to promote the concept of country experts. The idea for countries in conflict is to post diplomats for tours of 5-7 years (instead of the current one-year tours to Iraq and Afghanistan). In addition, the diplomats would only be posted after at least a year of intensive study of that country’s languages, especially dialects and minority languages. The U.S. would thereafter be fielding an Embassy of diplomats who could function effectively throughout each country and who would have the necessary first hand knowledge, friendships and acquaintances that are crucial for expanding American interests and for managing successful development projects.
Secretary Clinton could have led the Cabinet in promoting efficiency and innovation; instead she reverted to the standard bureaucratic tactics of seeking an ever larger budget for the State Department and refusing to acknowledge that there was any duplication, inefficiently or waste in her Department. Despite a seemingly endless stream of negative audit reports, foreign aid continued to be squandered. The mismanagement has been so shocking that growing numbers of Congressmen began calling for a complete termination of all foreign aid, which would be unfortunate if it happened. The State Department’s response to all this bad news continues to be suppression and not reform. Whistleblowers continued to be harassed and dissent continued to be discouraged. The WikiLeaks disclosures took place in part because healthy debate, dissent and criticism are not permitted in the State Department and in part because there continues to be a credibility gap between the facts and public statements by Department officials.
The State Department likewise tried to push the clock back overseas. It continued to embrace Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov and his NSS secret police, because the Pentagon needs transit rights through Uzbekistan for NATO supplies. No “Uzbek Spring” was allowed nor was there any condemnation of the “friendly” governments in Bahrain or Oman or Jordan who were crushing pro-democracy groups. The State Department quietly approved export license for crowd control chemicals to the military junta in Egypt while publicly attempting to side with Egypt’s pro-democracy demonstrators. The people of Southwest Sahara will have to wait longer for their freedom as the State Department refused to push Morocco into withdrawing its occupation force. Likewise the people of Tibet have no future because their freedom remains inconvenient, just like the Uigars, Chechens and Kashmiris.
The summary execution of Colonel Gaddafi and his son by a mob of Misratan militia fighters was ignored by the State Department, which tends to only be selectively outraged by human rights abuses. At Foggy Bottom (the unofficial name for the State Department building) freedom and justice are flexible concepts that all too frequently are subordinate to other more “important” national policies.
The year 2012 will likely see a major confrontation between the Egyptian people and the military junta that is struggling to hold onto power. It is not clear which side the U.S. will be on. That confrontation will not end well. Secretary Clinton should be pushing President Obama to travel to Syria and personally attempt to mediate with President Assad. It is worth undertaking such a risky mission. The U.S. instead is encouraging civil war in Syria and is likely to get its wish, which will be a disaster for the region. Both conflicts will harm the Israeli/Palestinian peace process, which Secretary Clinton allowed to languish and crumble due to a lack of personal attention.
The prediction is that unpopular and unprotected U.S. diplomats in Iraq will face increased violence and will be forced to end their ineffective and poorly thought out expansion in that country, further highlighting the failure of the civilian surge both in Iraq and in Afghanistan. The U.S. and NATO will significantly wind down their efforts in Afghanistan while a major Taliban surge is predicted. All the while the Afghan National Army will continue to shrink with desertions. Iran’s nuclear program remains on track despite promises earlier this year by Ambassador Susan Rice of punishing and effective UN sanctions.
The year 2012 may usher in a series of water conflicts as countries vie for increasingly scarce water resources in the Jordan River, Nile River, Amu Darya River, and Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, among others. Afghanistan is current in a drought, as are many other countries. The State Department has unfortunately ignored these flash points. Water conservation, aquifer recharge and water reuse and treatment innovations take years and even decades to fashion and implement. The lack of a long-term global plan for such may lead to tragic and violent results.
In conclusion, as America enters 2012, it finds itself more isolated, with more enemies and with less resources. Despite that, it is business as usual at the State Department, even though that business is losing money, customers and market share. Ancient Rome was also oblivious to its mistakes until the Visigoths came for a visit in the year 410. It is difficult in this mess to see any star power therefore the State Department should be awarded an “F’ for its failing grade.