US must rethink its narrow focus on terrorism - Armitage

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 12 March 2008, 18:15 GMT]
Former deputy secretary of state Richard L. Armitage this week urged sweeping changes to current U.S. foreign policy, arguing that the superpower needs to replace its almost exclusive focus on fighting terrorism with a broader agenda. “If your foreign policy is just organized around the global war on terror, you’re missing the bet. I think a new paradigm will emerge. I don’t know what it will be, but in the interim we need to engage with friends and frankly engage with our enemies. Actually, it might be more important to engage with our enemies,” he told The Washington Diplomat journal.

Richard Armitage
Fomer U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage [Photo Courtesy: MSNBC]
“We’ve been exporting our fear and anger after 9/11, rather than the more traditional export of hope and optimism and opportunity,” he said in an interview with The Washington Diplomat.

“As I see it, the United States was twice victimized by 9/11—first by the attackers, but then we victimized ourselves by losing our national confidence and optimism and seeing the world only through the lens of terrorism.”

“Fighting terrorism is an important challenge, but it should not be the only part of our foreign policy,” he argued.

“The United States has to be involved across the full breadth of our foreign policy tool box and not so heavily weighed toward the military as we are now,” he said.

“Since 9/11, we’ve been so focused on the prosecution of the war on terror we’ve forgotten we have so many more tools. Perhaps the most useful is the power of our ideas.”

“I’m not sure I can tell you what the central organizing premise of our foreign policy should be, but I think it’s possible to have the wrong organizing premise,” Mr. Armitage said.

“If your foreign policy is just organized around the global war on terror, you’re missing the bet. I think a new paradigm will emerge. I don’t know what it will be, but in the interim we need to engage with friends and frankly engage with our enemies. Actually, it might be more important to engage with our enemies,” he added.

“There is no doubt the US is always the big dog in the room, but we don’t need to say it. When we’re asked our opinion, we can give it. It carries enormous weight. But we have to carry ourselves in an appropriate way. The next president has to set a new tone, not of arrogance and swagger, but of humility and confidence in our pre-eminence as a force for good,” he said.

“Most Americans don’t want to see their country as an object of ridicule. They want the United States to be humble, but great, in the conduct of American foreign policy.”

Mr. Armitage has held senior positions in the Pentagon and State Department and is considered one of the America’s most experienced and savvy foreign policy practitioners.

He was prominently involved with the U.S. role within the Norwegian-led peace process from 2002.

As part of his visits to Sri Lanka, Mr. Armitage travelled to the war-ravaged Jaffna peninsula, comparing the devastation he saw there to what he had witnessed during his service in the Vietnam war.

A harsh critic of the LTTE, he nonetheless welcomed the LTTE’s submission of its proposals for an Interim Self-Governing Authority (ISGA) noting: "the LTTE's proposal is the first time I've seen such a comprehensive delineation of the aspirations of the LTTE, and in this regard I think it's significant."

However, Mr. Armitage drew the ire of Sinhala nationalists, including the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), which associated his role with an "American imperialist plot to divide the island and destabilize India."

Now a trustee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Mr. Armitage recently co-chaired a task force under the auspices of CSIS on US foreign policy.

Working with Harvard University political scientist Joseph Nye, their report, “Smart Power,” was released several months ago and has been praised on Capitol Hill and by international affairs experts.

Mr. Armitage said he hopes the report can help the country move out of its hunkered-down, post-9/11 military mindset and regain confidence, idealism and strength.

“Joe Nye is regarded as Mr. Soft Power and I spent eight years at the Pentagon so maybe I’m a little harder power,” Mr. Armitage said.

“But we both felt the need for a smarter power—melding soft and hard power for a more effective instrument of foreign policy.”

US influence has clearly deteriorated around the world, Mr. Armitage said, citing the nation’s current reputation as an arrogant and rejectionist power and growing questions about America’s competence, as evidenced by the debacle after Hurricane Katrina and the poor planning for the war in Iraq.

The Smart Power panel argues that US foreign policy should move away from the current preoccupation with Iraq and terrorism toward a more positive agenda that builds on U.S. strengths, opportunities and influence in the world.

To that end, the panel challenged the Bush administration’s decision to organize U.S. foreign policy around counterterrorism.

Above all, the panel advocated a skillful meshing of U.S. hard—i.e. military-focused—power with soft power, a concept developed by Nye that involves the ability of a country to attract peoples and nations to its side without coercion, instead using an attractive culture and admirable values that command respect across the world.


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