Throwing gasoline on the fire in Asia

 

The only good thing I can say about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's trip to Asia last month is that it is over. Some people put out fires; other people throw gasoline on them. After her trip to Asia, I can safely say that Clinton is in the latter category.

I wish her performance could be attributed to inexperience or jet lag, but I'm afraid that is not the case. What she said and did was obviously scripted and rehearsed.

Here are some "high points" of the trip:

  • Lectured the Chinese and Vietnamese on human rights, never mentioning our own human rights failures in the political, economic, and social spheres.
  • Turned up the verbal heat on North Korea.
  • Visited the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas.
  • Announced new sanctions (which inevitably hurt people more than governments), including freezing of bank assets thus making it more difficult for the North Korean government to purchase food and other necessities.
  • Expressed full support for the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, supposedly in reaction to the alleged sinking of the South Korean warship the Cheonan by the North Koreans.
  • Ignored the UN resolution that condemned the sinking of the ship but named no responsible party until more evidence is available.
  • Disregarded the advice of the Chinese government to turn down the temperature on the Korean Peninsula and to resume the six-party talks promptly.
  • Insinuated herself into a territorial dispute between China and Vietnam.

This is provocative stuff - the kind of stuff that heightens tensions and triggers wars. It can only make an inflamed situation on the Korean Peninsula more flammable. Common sense should tell you that.

No one should think that war on the Korean Peninsula is out of the realm of the possible. That would be a dangerous misreading of the situation. In the present environment, a small misstep or misunderstanding on either side could unleash a bloody and deadly confrontation - even a clash between the U.S. and China. War can easily acquire a logic and dynamic of its own that even the best policymakers are unable to control.  

It is hard to believe President Obama wishes such an outcome. And yet the threats and sanctions of Secretary of State Clinton go in this direction.

So why are the president, the secretary of state, the Pentagon and other policymakers pursuing this course of action? Is it because of their abhorrence of the regime in the North? Is it because North Korea is a "rogue" state? Is it only because of pressures from right-wing Republicans?

No. A better explanation is found in examining the new balance of power in Asia and other regions of the world and the reaction in elite circles to it.

Asia is arguably the new engine of global economic growth, the center of rapid and sustained accumulation of capital, and the home of an ascendant world power - China. In this region new patterns of political, economic and cultural interaction and integration are steadily gaining ground to the disadvantage of the U.S.

Powerful political and economic forces in the U.S., however, are determined to scuttle this integrative process, cut down if not isolate China, and employ their financial and military power in order to maintain their controlling position in a region that they have dominated since the end of World War II. To put it more concisely, their aim is to reconstitute their imperial domination in the context of changing conditions.

Much the same is happening in other regions of the world where these same forces are bending to new realities of power (Latin America, for example), but resisting any scaling back of their dominant role.

Early on President Obama gave every indication that his administration would recalibrate U.S foreign policy in a more democratic direction, that it would close one chapter and begin another one in our relations with the rest of the world.

He engaged with states that during the Bush years were considered mortal enemies, including North Korea.

In Latin America, he expressed readiness to put relations on a different footing. In a speech in Prague, he voiced his wish to reduce and ultimately abolish nuclear weapons. And in an address in Cairo, he expressed his eagerness to develop new relations with the Muslim world, sit down with the Iranian government, and press for a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

A promising start! But it wasn't sustained. Under the pressure of imperialist-minded institutions and people, the administration has backtracked in recent months, not reversed directions entirely, but enough to cause alarm among peace-minded people everywhere.

Clinton's Asian trip continues and reinforces this negative turn in the administration's foreign policy. It suggests that the policy articulated by the president in the first months of his administration is giving way to a policy dictated by geo-economic and geopolitical objectives, by a determination to maintain U.S. global primacy in the 21st century.

Nothing could be more dangerous. Nothing could more cripple the ability of the global community to respond to the challenges of global warming, nuclear proliferation and poverty (no one should think that these challenges can be adequately addressed without U.S. participating in a constructive way in world affairs). Nothing could more drain resources from the domestic economic crisis. And nothing could be more damaging to the president's hope of a second term. Chasing after top dog status in a changing world is a "fool's errand."

Perhaps it was naïve on the part of all of us to think that a foreign policy pivoting on peace, cooperation and equality could easily materialize with powerful forces within and outside the state resisting it and without a broad upsurge of an active and mature peace majority.

Going forward, we have our work cut out for us - beginning with the November elections. A larger peace bloc and Democratic majority in Congress can only aid our fight.