Sunday, December 03, 2006

Pointing finger the othe way

Oct.26, 2006
Pointing finger the othe way

IN the hypothesis that the Bush administration were to ask the American people what course it should follow in the Korean nuclear crisis, a majority would affirm that they favour direct talks with Pyongyang without preconditions. This is what is indicated in an opinion poll conducted by the Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA)/Knowledge Networks.
Washington has ruled out direct talks with North Korea mainly because such dialogue has to be based on an American undertaking not to seek "regime change" in Pyongyang and not to stage military action against the country. The deadlock in the dispute over Iran's nuclear activities also stems from a similar position adopted by the Bush administration.
The administration says it will only have dealings with North Korwea as part of six-nation negotiations meant to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear programmes. Those talks have been deadlocked for nearly a year.
It is highly unlikely that the administration would heed the message in the PIPA survey finding that its constituents favour a different approach. In any event, the US government could not be expected to implement major policy changes based on public opinion if such shifts do not fit in with its overall scheme of things. That might not be democracy in a broad interpretation of the term, but that is the way the political system works in the US.
Findings of opinion polls are often dismissed as not represenative of the public mood. Pollsters are often implicitly accused of selectivity in their target audiences with a view to arriving at and reporting predetermined outcomes. Surely, if the findings of the PIPA survey were to be put to the US government, then the stock answer would be that they are not accurate and do not reflect the real opinion of a majority of the American people.
However, the Bush administration might not be able to get away with the argument this time around because calls for direct talks with North Korea have come from the Republican camp itself, including leading senators such as Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Such an approach was also backed by the top Democrat in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden, who said that the other four nations in the six-party negotiations — China, Russia, South Korea and Japan -- have privately urged the US to launch direct contacts with North Korea.
Lugar has affirmed that a Washington-Pyongyang dialogue is "inevitable if (the nuclear crisis) is to be resolved diplomatically."
One day, Lugar said, "there will be an American president talking to the 'Great Leader' (North Korea's Kim Jong-Il) and his people and saying, in essence, in terms they can understand, 'We are not going to overthrow you; we are not involved in regime change; you're going to stay'," Lugar said. Precisely that is what Washington wants to avoid, and it is highly unlikely that it would move away from this position in a hurry.
In any case, the Bush administration does not have a record of listening to public opinion. Had it listened, then the US military would not find itself embroiled in the Iraq crisis nor in the nuclear stand-off with Iran and North Korea.
More reflective of the American public mood seems to be the conclusion of the PIPA pollsters that a growing number of Americans feel the US places too much emphasis on military force and unilateral action. They want their elected representativbes in Congress to shift the emphasis of US foreign policy in favour of diplomacy, multilateral co-operation and homeland security.
Only nine per cent said the US should remain the sole superpower.
For a vast majority in the international community, it does not really matter whether the US remains the sole superpower as long as Washington, as a matter of principle and practice, stays away from using that status in order to impose its will on other countries. However, the US behaviour is quite contrary to that expectation, and this reality seems to have penetrated the American mindset at large.
The PIPA findings on American public mood over the Korean nuclear crisis could not be seen isolation. It has been established that the American people do not see eye-to-eye with their government on many major foreign policy issues including the Iraq crisis, the dispute with Iran and the overall Middle East conflict. The sad reality is that successive US administrations always choose to put up lame defences in fiery words and point the finger the other way. However, it might not be able to get away with this strategy for too long. The sooner turnaround would come the better for not only the American people but also the international community at large.