Sunday, May 22, 2005

What Would Bismarck Do?

Condi thinks he’d acknowledge North Korea’s sovereignty.

A clear indication of Condi Rice’s current, if perhaps transitory, victory over the neo-cons can be found in the transcript of Yale professor John Gaddis’s remarks at Ten O’clock Scholar.

Gaddis, with disingenuous humility and disbelief, describes how he was invited to the White House and found out everybody from George Bush to Condi Rice to Karl Rove are reading his stuff and talking about his take on Otto von Bismarck.

Gaddis’s take on Bismarck is:

And I said that although great grand strategists know the uses of “shock and awe,” they also know when to stop. Here I cited the example of Otto von Bismarck, who had shattered the post-1815 European state system in order to make possible the unification of Germany in 1871, but then had “replaced his destabilizing strategy with a new one aimed at consolidation and reassurance – at persuading his defeated enemies as well as nervous allies and alarmed bystanders that they would be better off living within the new system he had imposed on them than by continuing to fight or fear it.”



And that the single greatest mistake the administration had made was to assume that it could shatter the status quo in the Middle East, and that the pieces would then realign themselves spontaneously in patterns favorable to American interests. Bismarck, I said, would never have made such an error.

The absolute dead give-away that George Bush’s interest in Bismarck is a piece of political framing—and theater—for the foreign policy crowd is Gaddis’s delighted discovery

that the piece (an article by Gaddis in Foreign Affairs) had not only been read and circulated around the White House, but it had also been sent out to an e-mail distribution list for columnists and commentators that Karl Rove’s office maintains.

If there is anything at work here, it is Condi Rice’s hope that, with the neo-cons in cold storage, Don Rumsfeld in the doghouse, and with Condi at the president’s ear, America still has enough power, prestige, and credibility to persuade the world that it can sincerely promote the global win-win scenarios associated with traditional diplomacy.

That’s what’s behind the leaking of the apparently unproductive and futile direct meeting with between U.S. and North Korean officials in New York earlier this May, as well as a host of other exercises in conventional diplomacy, handholding, and consensus building recently reported in the press.

Condi is trying to signal that America is back as an engaged, sincere force in the diplomatic initiatives trying to resolve issues in North Korea and Iran.

Condi may not only be underestimating the lasting damage that unapologetic, brazen U.S. war-driven unilateralism in Bush’s first term inflicted on America’s credibility.

She may not be ready to accept how much of that damage was willful and intentional—and irreparable.

The special genius of the neo-cons was to create scenarios of escalation and confrontation that foreclosed diplomatic alternatives and committed the U.S. to a preordained path of extreme actions in order to preserve its prestige and credibility.

It wasn’t just a matter of hurriedly and pre-emptively relegating Iraq, Iran, and North Korea to eternal pariah-state status with the Presidential impratur of “Axis of Evil”.

It was our open, gratuitous pro-Israel tilt, which guaranteed that the Muslim states would be allowed no political role in the Middle East crisis that might serve to moderate American behavior.

It was the aggressive impugning of the United Nations, the vilification of France, Germany, and Old Europe, the withdrawal from the ABM treaty, and the repudiation of the International Criminal Court, which demonstrated that we would repudiate and attack any political or institutional alternatives to American power.

It was a scorched-earth campaign designed to ensure that mistrust and anger at the United States would run deep enough among our enemies and expendable allies to assure that America had no choice but to take the lonely road of sole world hegemon.

George Bush and the neo-cons propelled us into a zero-sum future in which America’s stated willingness to use extreme, unilateral power hangs over everybody else like a dark cloud.

That’s why North Korea—which seeks from the United States above all an acknowledgement of its legitimate sovereignty and right to exist—has discounted an otherwise significant initiative from the State Department:

After a public appeal from North Korea, a State Department envoy met with North Korean officials at the United Nations last week to reiterate Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's recent statement that the Bush administration recognizes the reclusive country's sovereignty, U.S. officials said yesterday.


While George W. Bush—the man who personally inducted North Korea into the Axis of Evil, reportedly because public relations concerns demanded at least one non-Islamic target—still in the White House, North Korea’s distrust of the U.S. administration is fundamental and unalterable.

The situation is described in greater detail below in the post Our Korean Conundrum.

And that’s something that a few diplomatic initiatives—or some lessons from Bismarck—won’t be able to undo.

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