Friday, July 09, 2004

Clinton, Bush, and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

One of Reuters' top stories for today is the non-binding decision by the U.N. World Court in the The Hague to "order" Israli to stop buidling the wall in the West Bank, and to pay reparations to the Palestinians. The Israeli-Palestianian conflict is important to the the United States, because many experts believe the lingering conflict is fueling the growth of terrorist organizations such as Al Queda.

Ignoring the highly controversial issue of the wall itself, the response of President Bush is revealing. Reuters quotes him as saying, "We've always said [a courtroom in general or the U.N. Court specifically] is not the appropriate forum to resolve what is a political issue."

Of course, as the U.N. World Court itself pointed out, there is a cross-over between politics and law. "Important" legal cases are usually important because they touch on (or are an attempt to resolve) some important political crisis of the day. Courts were created as an alternative to resolving conflicts through violence. They are an important component of civilization. A democratic, binding (and fair) World Court would be an important part of an democratic international system. A fair international way of enforcing contracts is vital to globalism and global trade, with all the benefits that brings (as has been discussed many times in these pages).

The U.N. World Court is not a real court in the sense that its decisions are usually non-binding. In that sense, the U.N. World Court is much more a political forum than most courtrooms. This makes Bush's comments especially perplexing; the U.N. World Court is a highly political forum, and thus would normally be considered a good place to help resolve political issues.

In particular, the Palestinians deserve some praise here for attempting to hurl words at Israel in the U.N. World Court, rather than their usual ploy of hurling suicide bombers (which might have run into problems of late trying to get across the aforementioned Israeli Wall). No doubt they will go back to suicide bombers once the wall is rendered less effective. Nevertheless, we must give them credit for trying something different.

The larger problem here is that the hawks (especially in Washington) are losing the PR battle in the rest of the world.

Clinton appeared Wednesday on the U.S. PBS Networks' Newshour T.V. program (transcript; streaming audio and video), in which he discussed his latest book My Life with reporter Jim Lehrer. This was one of many occasions where Clinton contrasted his philosophy with that of the Bush Administration.

In Clinton's globalist view, it is unclear how long the U.S. can remain the world's sole superpower. Therefore, the U.S. should strengthen the international system, binding like-minded allies into a system of collectivist security and enhanced global trade that will guarantee the United States' economic and political role on the world stage well after it is no longer the world's sole military superpower.

In the Bush administrations' view, as Clinton explained it, it is unclear how long the U.S. can remain the world's sole superpower. Therefore, the U.S. should use its military advantage to leverage as many concessions from the rest of the world while it still has that military advantage.

Clinton says his view was to "Act multilaterally when we could, and unilaterally only when we had to," while the Bush Administrations wants to "Act unilaterally when we can, and multilaterally only when we have to."

In reality, the Bush Administration's view of the world is much more primitive. It discredits economics, diplomacy, and international organizations (e.g., the "EU", which today has a larger population then the U.S. and one of the strongest economies) as being of little or no real value; the military power of individual nations is, in their backward view, the main determining force in history. (Ironically, the United States itself was once an "international institution." The world "state", after all, is the old world for "nation."). The Bush Administration's unilateralist view has, in Clinton's view, alienated allies and weakened the United States by underming the international system which the United States helped create and which should have formed its guarantee of a prosperous future.

In many ways, the Bush Administration's view that the U.N. Court is not a legitimate forum for a political question illustrates in microcosm the hawk's failure to appreciate the importance of world opinion and diplomacy in a globally interdependant world.

Clinton also touched on the Israeli-Palestinian question in his interview. He told Arafat that he had effectively put Arial Sharon in power by rejecting the peace process. "You think it doesn't matter," but it does, he told Arafat. And, of course, as we're seeing today, of course it matters.

There are two successful models of civilizations. The first, the Chinese model, involves the segregation of political boundaries through the building of walls to effect centralized control. The Chinese built as many walls as they could: around cities, provinces, and eventually around their entire nation. The Chinese word for civilization comes from their word for "wall." (Even the popular and intellectually very challenging Chinese strategy game of "Go" revolves around the building and commandeering of walls.)

This is not the Western model. The West's model of civilization is effectively still that of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Rather than build walls to slow down the movement of trade and armies, the Romans were globalists. They built roads to speed up the movement of trade and armies. The Romans tried to solve most problems through diplomacy (at one point giving away Roman Citizenship to the leading citizens through their realm). The built fast roads, however, to allow for their armies to move rapidly into any trouble areas. (The West often thinks of strategy in terms of the placement of highly mobile Chess pieces as opposed to the building of strategic walls in "Go.") Our own (Western) civilization would add the concepts of technological and economic progress, as well as democratic values, to our understanding of "civilization", and we would find these more compatible with the earlier Roman model of fast roads and interdependent peoples that with the older model of achieving civilization through walls and rigid restrictions.

The famous American WWII General Patton once called fixed military fortifications (like walls) one of the great reoccuring follies in this history of the human race.

Lasting security cannot be achieved through purely military solutions such as fixed fortifications. Rather, all instruments of public policy must be utilized to combat the scourage of terrorism. In that light, the effectiviness of robust diplomatic efforts must never be underestimated.