Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
October 29, 2004
POLITICS: Dogs Not Barking
Looking back over my recent take on the election, I’m actually struck by some of the things I left out. Notably, the things we’re not paying attention to, especially in foreign affairs.
In 2000, Bush and Gore famously never debated the issue of terrorism. Today, the election has focused on the fight against al Qaeda, the insurgency in Iraq and, to a lesser degree, on Iran and North Korea, with a dash of Darfur thrown in. As some have noted, however, that leaves an awful lot of the world undiscussed. Might there not be big things we don’t see coming or big areas that we are taking for granted because things are going fairly well?
For example, in a very significant move earlier this week, Colin Powell controversially restated and even modified America’s position on Taiwan, an issue that, if ignored, could drag us into a war that would make Iraq look like the invasion of Grenada. The Taiwanese, whom we have long supported, are incrementally inching towards declaring independence, a situation which would almost certainly lead to an invasion from mainland China. For all the talk about Bush’s reckless and naďve foreign policy, his administration has maintained a very realist posture in other parts of the world, while we take on more pressing and ambitious projects in the Middle East. Thus, Powell, despite the initial furor, restated the conditional nature of America’s support for Taiwan, thereby maintaining the good relations the U.S. has with China, throwing some cold water on the most aggressive Taiwanese and helping to preserve a status quo which is in our interest. This course may go a long way to preventing a massively destructive war, yet it was quietly overlooked in the West.
In fact, in a campaign where one side is denouncing the administration’s lack of diplomatic skill, it is easy to forget that the U.S. has probably never had better relations with both China and Russia at the same time. Of course, both governments have major problems, but the current good relations are clearly helping us in many areas, including Central Asia. The Bush Administration has also helped achieve a gradual easing of the standoff between India and Pakistan and bolstered America’s alliance with Japan, maintaining a delicate balance between friendly relations with both it and its Chinese rival. Meanwhile, peaceful democracy continues to spread in Latin America, in Eastern Europe and even in Southeast Asia, where Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, recently had its first democratic elections. All is not perfect, but it has rarely been better in many parts of the world.
It’s also worth considering a few things that didn’t happen these past four years. As Charles Krauthammer notes, John Kerry would have you believe that he would’ve exactly replicated all of the recent triumphs in Afghanistan and Iraq, but would’ve avoided all the mistakes. Right. Given Kerry’s multilateral instincts, I suspect that he would have gone through the long, torturous UN process prior to any invasion of Afghanistan, not just Iraq, and that our whole military response would’ve either been airstrikes or an invasion delayed by months or years by diplomatic haggling. Al Qaeda would not have “escaped” from Tora Bora, since they probably would’ve been gone long before we ever even got there. It is easy, with retrospect, to see past mistakes, it is a little more difficult to see pitfalls that were avoided.
Anyway, I could go on, but my point – such as it is – is that there is an awful lot going on in the world, in Iraq and elsewhere, but we should not let ourselves forget the big developments or non-developments throughout the world which often go under-reported. There are a lot of dogs barking at the moment, but, every once in awhile, we should pause to consider those which are not.