Outside its superpower rivalry with the USSR and China, the United States has struggled with many deeply entrenched problems which have dramatically affected global security, but despite the efforts of successive administrations, no resolution has happened.
Too many commentators look at these problems solely as a local issues, so it valuable that former US diplomat Thomas Graham’s book, Unending Crisis, compares what happened in North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Palestine, while adding two more thematic chapters on the Rule of Law and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. He even had time to add a coda on the Arab Spring, as well as the killing of Osama Bin Laden, to bring his observations on the Middle East right up to date.
Unending Crisis’ main value lies in Graham’s detailed narration of the events which drove each of these separate crises, and his great strength as an author lies in his close familiarity with the material. He spent 32 years in the government service with the United States, 27 of which were devoted to arms control and non-proliferation issues.
As Graham he puts it “from 1970 to 1997, I participated in a senior capacity in every major arms control and non proliferation negotiation in which the US took part.”This focus on the nuclear element of the different crises gives the book its main thread, as the struggle to limit the spread of nuclear weapons has been a major pre-occupation of the United States. Graham sees the undermining of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a significant threat to world peace, and comments brutally on the Bush administration’s errors in this area.
The main weakness of the book is that it does not have specific chapters on the USSR/Russia, and China. These are the two states on which the US focused most of its diplomatic efforts during these crucial decades, and it would have made sense to add the details of the diplomatic and military wrangling.
Another gap in the book is by focusing on the security element exclusively, Graham leaves out what each administration’s over-arching foreign policy principles might have been. In a book like this which ranges over the US’ influence on the whole globe it would be useful to know where the presidents saw the US’ role in the world, particularly after Reagan and the collapse of the USSR removed his simplistic focus on defeating the Communists.
By looking at specific locales, Graham confines his review of American foreign policy to the limited arenas of the smaller problems which the book focuses on, rather than the dominant struggles of the decades with the superpowers.
But that said, this book is a “must keep” reference book for the shelves of anyone who in interested in how the US is facing these vital territories, which have been chosen because they are all still very much live issues, and remain six of the most some contentious issues that the United States faces. Obama’s administration is wrestling with the same issues that his predecessors have struggled with for decades, and Graham succeeds in giving the reader excellent analysis on what went wrong in each region.
Bush’s “witches’ brew”
He is very dismissive of George W Bush’s failures to manage the issues. He dismisses the fundamentals of Bush’s neoconservative philosophy as “a witches’ brew of misguided ideas that turned out to be deeply inimical to US national security, to the prosperity of the United States and to its place in the world. For generations US policy had been based on multiculturalism at home and multiculturalism abroad. The Bush administration opposed and virtually wrecked both.”
But there is not much in the book to give comfort to Barack Obama. While Graham notes Obama’s improved commitment to international law, he laments the United States’ reduced leverage on the global stage. Graham makes a plea that American foreign policy should re-orient itself away from military solutions to more diplomatic and economic ones, supporting reform and enhancing education.
Unending Crisis reviews how the Bush administration failed to get to grips with these major security issues, and allowed them to fester and grow, handing them on to the Obama Administration in “a nearly unsolvable condition”.
Graham shows how Bush squandered the window of opportunity created by the entire world’s sympathy for the Americans in the wake of the September 11 attacks in 2001. But he shows how this might have been expected following NATO’s failure to re-admit Russia to the ranks of new powers after it emerged from the debacle of the Soviet Union.
Graham describes in detail how Cold War thinking remained the corner stone of US and NATO thinking, so that rather than welcome the new Russia into Europe with open arms and developing some kind of new Marshall Plan, the West instead extended NATO right up to Russian borders while deliberately excluding Russia from NATO.
Therefore while Russia struggled to become democratic and a more open society, the effect of NATO’s anti Russian policies was that a centralised and authoritarian state was reborn, bringing back many of the policies of the USSR. The current spectacle of the former KGB leader Vladmir Putin retaking the presidency, while his sidekick Dimitri Medvedev agrees to take the prime minstership yet again, is only one result of the Western myopia identified by Graham.from gulf news.