The Disastrous Foreign Policies of the United States, Part 2

The all-out campaign of the U.S. to impose on the world its own version of big-corporation, free-trade globalization is every bit as damaging to international peace and justice as Washington’s unquestioning support for Israel’s policies on Palestine and the ill-conceived U.S. wars against terrorism and nuclear proliferation. (See my article of May 9, 2002, Part 1 of The Disastrous Foreign Policies of the United States.) Globalization has many complex facets. This article covers only those aspects that seem to me most important in contributing to widespread animosity against the U.S.

The first thing everyone should understand is that globalization does not have to be based on big corporations and unregulated free markets. Webster’s Dictionary definition of the word is totally non-political and simply defines globalization as the process of “making something worldwide in scope.” When we use the word today, we’re usually talking about the economy. The definition does not say that globalization must incorporate any specific economic or political system, be it free-market and free trade-capitalism, Soviet-style Communism, Scandinavian-style Socialism, or any other “ism” or combination of “isms.” On the other hand, Webster’s definition in no way prohibits you from arguing, to take one view, that free-market capitalism and free trade should be an integral part of globalization. Nor would it prevent you from arguing, to take a different tack, that universal health care or a right to a “living” wage, as aspects of a human rights program, should be a part of globalization. The only absolute necessities for globalization are the technological advances in transportation, communications, and information technology that make the movements of goods, people, money, and data around the world faster, easier, and cheaper.

Most politicians, and many experts and pundits, constantly proclaim that globalization is inevitable –that it is unstoppable and therefore nobody should try to stop it. Without much doubt, the non-political globalization defined by the dictionary probably is inevitable. It is wholly based on technological advances that seem, as far as anyone can tell, likely to continue. But most of those who talk incessantly about the inevitability of globalization really want us to believe that their own, highly political versions of globalization are unstoppable, and therefore the rest of us should roll over and lie back in acceptance. To me, it’s pure fallacy to argue that the political aspects of anyone’s version of globalization are as inevitable as the technological aspects.

Although it has faced opposition, the U.S. in recent years has worked constantly to spread its version of globalization into new areas of the world. Successive administrations have pressed home five main points in their drive for a form of globalization modeled after our own economy, political system, and culture:

1. Advocacy of free-enterprise, market capitalism; free trade; free and unrestricted movement of capital; and privatization of economic activity throughout the world.

2. Strong support for global corporations and hostility toward governmental regulation of them.

3. Extension to all countries of a “rule of law” patterned to the extent possible after the U.S. legal system.

4. Encouragement of human rights in all countries.

5. Encouragement of democracy in all countries.

On points 1 and 2 above, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank have become Washington’s main implementers and enforcers throughout the third world. Both the IMF and the Bank refuse to provide debt relief or to fund projects, and at the same time discourage private investment, in most of the world’s poor nations unless the governments of these nations carry out austerity measures and other “reforms” intended to bring them into compliance with the precepts of free markets and trade, privatization, and deregulation. The reforms may sometimes have laudable long-term objectives, but they almost always lead to an immediate drop in living standards of the already poor. The final three points above (3, 4, and 5) seem unexceptionable as goals of the U.S. version of globalization. In each case, however, there are specifics in the U.S. interpretation of these goals that actually intensify opposition among much of the world’s poor.

On point 3, hardly anyone opposes greater global support for a “rule of law” in the abstract. But when average people in Africa, Asia, and Latin America see great profits being extracted from their own hides by U.S. or other corporations, many do not regard the U.S. legal system with high favor. They think it is appropriate to ask why those corporations receive excessively favorable treatment under U.S. law, and why that law unfairly gives inanimate corporations most of the rights of human beings –which is exactly what the U.S. legal system has done for more than a century. I’d guess that the poor people in most poor nations would see the establishment in their countries of a rule of law based on the U.S. legal system as benefiting the rich and the corporations, not themselves.

Point 4, the encouragement of human rights, is also not the apple-pie issue it appears to be. Just as the U.S. only supports a particular, politicized version of globalization, it also only supports a particular, politicized version of human rights. When the U.S. government encourages human rights, it always and exclusively talks about greater individual human rights vis-?-vis governments. That is, when the U.S. encourages human rights, we want governments to allow their peoples greater freedom of speech, greater freedom from capricious arrests, and other rights like that. And these things are beyond question extremely important human rights

But the U.S. tends not to regard as human rights such matters as universal healthcare, guaranteed “living” wages, or a guaranteed right to form labor unions. The U.S. government instead sees issues like jobs, housing and healthcare as “questions of policy, not principle, which cannot realistically be guaranteed as universal rights.” Many of the world’s people, however, and not just people in developing countries, do want such economic and social matters to be recognized as basic human rights. In the poorest areas of the world, some people undoubtedly see these unmet economic and social “rights” as more important even than free speech.

Making such a change in the definition of human rights, and enforcing that change in a globalized economy would, of course, make it more difficult for corporations to find cheap labor. And a principal method of enforcing such rights would almost certainly be to increase governmental regulation as well as controls on trade among nations. All of this would be anathema to supporters of the U.S. version of globalization, and workers around the world understand this well. They also understand that, despite its propaganda, support by the United States even for its favored type of human rights has had a checkered past in many parts of the world. Examples from both the past and the present are almost too numerous to mention: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, parts of Central and South America, the Israeli-occupied territories, and the Palestinian Authority, among others).

And finally we come to point 5, the encouragement of democracy as a fundamental characteristic of the U.S. version of globalization. Here we need to ask ourselves, what kind of democracy are we talking about? When corporate spokesmen and even some U.S. government officials have talked about democracy in recent years, they have increasingly talked about the “democracy” of the free market rather than political democracy. There’s a recent book, entitled One Market Under God, that I want to quote on this subject. The author is an American, Thomas Frank, who opposes U.S. globalization policies. Here are a few lines from it.

“From paleoconservatives to New Democrats, American leaders in the 1990s came to believe that markets were a popular system, a far more democratic form of organization than (democratically elected) governments[T]he central premise[was]that in addition to being mediums of exchange, marketsexpressed popular will more articulately and more meaningfully than did mere elections. Markets conferred democratic legitimacy; markets were a friend of the little guy; markets looked out for our interests. Today, American opinion leaders seem generally convinced that democracy and the free market are simply identical. What is new is this idea’s triumph over all its rivals [and] the determination of American leaders to extend it all over the world .”

Views like these –and similar views in other recent books –are read by people in other countries as well as in the U.S. And such views vitiate American pronouncements in support of global democracy. People in other countries by no means glorify free markets to the degree many Americans do, and they are far more skeptical about the supposed democratic values imparted by markets. Many around the world in fact despise the hypocrisy of American leaders who seek to substitute free markets for political democracy. In historical terms, of course, U.S. credentials for supporting political democracy are none too good; and just recently, the Bush administration’s actions in Venezuela have further tarnished those credentials.

Are The World’s Poor Really Doing Better?

During the last 20 years of this U.S. version of globalization, the gap between rich and poor people in most countries has grown wider. And animosities against America have grown as the poor have watched the U.S. expand its wealth and its hegemony, while they themselves have received scarcely any benefit.

Supporters of globalization in this country and elsewhere loudly disagree with the view expressed in the last paragraph. Most of them don’t try to argue against the fact –and it is a fact –that the gap between rich and poor has widened. But they argue that the average absolute level of income of the poor around the world has actually increased over the past 20 years. And from this they conclude that the U.S. version of globalization, while it has allowed the rich-poor gap to widen, has still been beneficial to the poor.

The problem with this analysis is that it uses an average, of all the so-called underdeveloped countries, weighted by population. But using an average can be misleading. The two countries of China and India, with an immense combined population of over one-third of all the world’s total, have a correspondingly immense impact on any average. And beyond question, these two countries have done better under globalization than most other countries. Why have they done better? They’ve done better because, although they are still “underdeveloped,” they are powerful enough and offer such large markets, that they can pick and choose the particular parts of globalization that they want to accept. They both protect and regulate their own industries in various ways that are against the precepts of the free market. So they are not examples that prove in any way that the U.S. version of globalization has been good for the poor of the world. The more than 100 other underdeveloped nations, on the other hand, are generally small and weak, and have to accept all parts of the U.S. globalization program; otherwise the World Bank and the IMF simply refuse to provide loans or debt relief to them. If you take China and India out of the “averages” for all underdeveloped countries, you’ll see that the average for all the rest has shown no improvement in the level of absolute poverty. Yet many of these 100-plus countries are the very ones which, unlike China and India, have had to suffer under the full weight of U.S. globalization programs.

In any case, the worldwide income gap between the rich and poor truly is immense. Global statistics are far from perfect, but they show that the world’s population recently hit 6 billion. Almost half of this total, 2.8 billion people, have incomes of less than two dollars a day, and one billion people have incomes of less than one dollar a day. Furthermore, U.S. propaganda supporting globalization has accelerated the rising but still unfulfilled expectations of the poor. The relatively new presence of satellite television almost everywhere has helped spread this propaganda more widely than ever. These things taken together intensify the sense throughout the third world of being oppressed by the U.S. I’ve made this comparison before, but I’m going to do it again. Similar feelings, of being oppressed by the Allies after World War I, made it possible for Hitler to arouse the fear and hatred among Germans that led to World War II and the Holocaust.

By the way, a recent issue of The Nation magazine contains a splendid article on the huge international conference recently held in Porto Alegre, Brazil, by 50,000 “anti-globalization” people, including economists, social scientists, progressive politicians, and many just plain “activists.” I’d particularly like to endorse one of the proposals made at the conference and described in The Nation magazine article. This proposal calls for “the reorientation of local economies toward domestic and not foreign markets; significant land and income redistribution; policies de-emphasizing growth and maximizing equity; and implementation of a strategy that subordinates markets to social justice.” These are the kinds of guidelines that should be used in implementing a global “Marshall Plan” that would be absolutely essential if the U.S. should ever make a serious effort to overcome the deficiencies in its current version of globalization. (For more details on the scope of such a Marshall Plan, see my article of March 4, 2002, referenced above.)

Free Trade: Fine for Some

There is one final aspect of globalization I’ve already touched on but want to discuss in more detail –the insistent demands for free trade all over the world by recent U.S. administrations. Other governments know full well that historically just about every nation, while advancing from underdeveloped to advanced status, has found it necessary to shun free trade and employ protectionism for the decades needed to make the transition. In Europe, England, France, and Germany all followed this course, even though colonialism may have accelerated the transition, at least in the British and French cases. The U.S. used high and manipulative tariffs up to the 1930s. Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan used various anti-free-trade measures for many years after World War II. It is becoming clearer than it used to be that free trade is much more beneficial for already advanced nations than it is for nations still underdeveloped or in transition. Yet both Presidents Clinton and Bush, in speech after speech, have advocated open markets and free trade for everybody. Except, of course, for some in the U.S., where if you are a steel manufacturer, President Bush has decided that you are certainly entitled to protective tariffs. And also for farmers big and little, who have received new and higher subsidies that cushion them from, among other things, foreign competition, at least in election years.

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US Globalization Now At Its Zenith?

Three recent developments –Enron’s collapse, Argentina’s economic failure, and the aforementioned new grants of anti-free-trade protection to America’s steel and farming interests –provide at least a glimmer of hope that the U.S. version of globalization may soon reach its high-water mark and begin to recede. Enron almost certainly provides an early example of fraud and corruption that is more widespread than we know in minimally regulated global corporations. Its collapse should lead to pressures for more effective international regulation. Argentina, after being glorified as the poster-boy of globalization in the 1990s, is now an economic basket-case, seemingly receiving “tough love” but little more from its former mentor, the United States. Other nations, seeing Argentina’s problems, may henceforth become less pliant about accepting U.S. prescriptions. And the examples of U.S. protection for steel and farmers might slow the push for global free trade, at least for a while. But the resilience of the extreme, and extremely selfish, U.S.-dominated global capitalism that we are stuck with for the moment should not be underestimated.

I think there are two series of questions we all ought to be asking ourselves:

ONE. Are most people in the United States likely to derive any real benefit from Washington’s continuing drive for global political hegemony and an economic globalization that would mirror the economy of the U.S.? Will the military, economic, and internal security costs of such U.S. foreign policies benefit or damage our own society, living standards, and culture? Or will most of the benefits/profits from this version of globalization accrue to international corporations and to the thin layer of wealthy people who support them in the many nations where they operate?

TWO. Will the global income gap between rich and poor widen or narrow over time, if the U.S. continues to pursue its own version of globalization? If the answer to this question is unknowable, except, say, after ten more years of experience with the present version of globalization, can we afford to wait those ten years as expectations throughout the third world continue to rise but inevitably will not be fully met?

My own opinion is that the present U.S. version of globalization will most probably result over the next ten years in a continuing widening of the income gap between rich and poor in most of the world’s countries, and a worsening of the animosities against the United States. Therefore the U.S. should (1) stop trying to implement the present U.S.-dominated globalization program, (2) launch immediately a vast aid program to reduce income gaps around the world, (3) encourage individual nations to accept or reject, more or less as China and India do now, whatever aspects of globalization they themselves choose, and (4) encourage individual nations to accept or reject the precepts of free trade to the extent they themselves choose. Finally, the U.S. in its foreign policies should encourage greater political democracy in other nations, especially those now ruled by dictatorial and corrupt minorities, but only through means other than military action and covert operations.

You don’t have to buy all or any of this. Just think about it and come up with your own ideas of what would be sensible foreign policies for the U.S. to pursue in the future. Then get out there and make all the noise you can in support of your ideas.

Bill Christison joined the CIA in 1950, and served on the analysis side of the Agency for 28 years. From the early 1970s he served as National Intelligence Officer (principal adviser to the Director of Central Intelligence on certain areas) for, at various times, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa. Before he retired in 1979 he was Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis, a 250-person unit.. His wife Kathy also worked in the CIA, retiring in 1979.Since then she has been mainly preoccupied by the issue of Palestine.