Foreign Policy

Continent of Hope

Forgive a typical American if she were to pay a visit to the West African nation of Sierra Leone and be confused by her surroundings. If she had ever heard of Sierra Leone before, it might have been while watching the movie Blood Diamond, which graphically depicted some of the worst depredations of the conflict there, such as the rebel group RUF’s amputation of limbs, the drug-crazed child soldiers, and the links between criminal diamond-dealing mafias and the war economy.

If this visitor to Sierra Leone had been reading occasional international news missives over the years, she might have remembered something about a rebel group that hacked the limbs off civilians to punish them for voting, or perhaps might have remembered that al Qaeda laundered money in the Sierra Leone diamond market before and after 9/11 to hide its assets.

Given that context, she certainly would have been quite astounded to have joined me on my visit to Tongo Fields in eastern Sierra Leone, the heart of the diamond-producing area and the site of some of the most intense fighting and horrific atrocities in the last century in Africa. What she would have seen in fact defied all expectations—the kind of low expectations that have come to mark international attitudes toward Africa in general.

Tongo Fields is a place crawling with former child soldiers, heavily contested by three political parties in last year’s election, and placed at further risk by a winner-take-all electoral process that dictates access to diamond profits as a result of victory at the polls.

Before Sierra Leone’s historic 2007 election, every conflict indicator was flashing a red alert. Africa “experts” around the world were predicting that Sierra Leone, only half a decade after the end of its brutal civil war, was perhaps heading back down an inevitable road toward a return to war.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2008
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Restoring America's Standing in the World

When President Bush leaves office in January, he’ll take with him the cadre of neo-cons who shaped the administration’s foreign policy over the last eight years. Their departure offers the hope that the U.S. will meet the world in a whole new way: Not as imperial conquerors, but as a willing member of the community of nations, acting in a spirit not of domination, but of cooperation.

For better or worse, Iraq and Afghanistan, and probably Iran, will certainly continue as center points of U.S. foreign relations. But the rest of the world matters, and the change of administration gives the opportunity to revisit our country’s whole approach to international relations.

Take Africa, for instance. What will it take to “decolonize” our images of Africa, and thus our way of relating to the continent, its varied nations and peoples? As best-selling author and human rights advocate John Prendergast explains, Africa—long portrayed in the U.S. as a desperate basket case—is actually a land filled with enormous possibility. The way the U.S. engages with Africa—in everything from aid and trade relations to patent laws to multilateral treaties—makes a huge difference in the lives of millions of people.

And few would question the central effect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on world relations. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, head of the Reformed Church in America, describes in his article (“Discovering Palestine,” page 18) how he gradually came to see Palestinian Christians as brothers and sisters—and how that transformed his understanding of what it will take for the U.S. to play an “honest broker” role in the region.

In that kind of transformation are seeds of hope for people the world over—a hope for new models of U.S. global behavior in the post-Bush era.—The Editors

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Sojourners Magazine December 2008
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Want to Change the World?

If, as Shakespeare once noted, even the devil can quote scripture, then it should come as no surprise that Osama bin Laden can cite Noam Chomsky. In his Sept. 6, 2007, video message, that’s exactly what he did.

In addition to naming Chomsky, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor and fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy, bin Laden also delivered a fairly simplistic version of the standard left-populist worldview. “The capitalist system,” bin Laden said, “seeks to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations under the label of ‘globalization.’” American democracy is a sham because “Those with real power and influence are those with the most capital.” And “the life of all mankind [sic] is in danger because of the global warming resulting … from the emissions … of the major corporations.”

All pretty familiar stuff to any reader of this magazine. And we should take note of it. It is a humbling experience to hear your own ideas mouthed by a man who has, without remorse, ordered a fiery death for thousands of men, women, and children who had nothing whatsoever to do with his alleged causes. How good can those ideas be, we might wonder, if they can be twisted to such evil purposes?

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Sojourners Magazine December 2007
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In Defense of Peace

Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.

In order to accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

Article 9, the Constitution of Japan

Since the end of World War II, Article 9 of Japan's Constitution has shaped Japan's foreign policy, guided its active engagement in efforts to reduce the global trade in weapons, and prohibited the possession, production, and introduction of nuclear weapons on Japanese territory. Though conceived by the victors, it has been embraced by most Japanese people. Few more powerful examples exist of national policy committed to pacifism and nonviolence.

But a disturbing and dangerous effort to revise Article 9 is gaining momentum. In 2004, a contingent of Japan's Ground Self-Defense Forces was sent to support the U.S. in Iraq—the first time since World War II that Japanese troops have been dispatched to a conflict situation. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with the support and encouragement of the Bush administration, has campaigned to revise Article 9, permitting Japan to maintain de jure military forces to be dispatched anywhere in the world and enabling Japan to take a proactive military role in the U.S. Asia-Pacific security strategy as part of the global "war on terror."

Religious leaders in Japan, including the Japanese Catholic Bishops' Conference, say such a revision of Article 9 would have profound reverberations throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

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Sojourners Magazine August 2007
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World Market 101

Imagine you're a Mexican corn farmer in 1994. On a small plot of rain-watered land, you grow corn for your family, with a bit left over to sell so that you can buy medicine, clothes, and other necessities. You may or may not be aware that your government has just negotiated a trade deal, the North American Free Trade Agreement, with the governments of the U.S. and Canada. But if you don't know, you will soon—up close and personal.

Hundreds of miles north, impelled by market forces, U.S. farmers are using petroleum- and pesticide-intensive farming methods that produce large yields but pass on environmental costs to future generations. Because of this, and also because they receive massive government subsidies (most of which wind up going to agribusiness), their corn sells for a much lower price than yours. For decades, your government, like that of many low-income countries, has protected its farmers with tariffs on imported corn, which makes it easier for your corn to compete in Mexico. Now NAFTA will end the tariffs that protect you, without affecting the production model or subsidies that make U.S. corn so cheap. To ease the impact, the Mexican government had negotiated a 15-year transition period on corn tariffs—but large-scale Mexican cattle growers, who want cheap feed and have more political pull than you do, will talk the government into getting rid of tariffs in a mere 30 months. The price you get for your corn will plummet nearly 50 percent.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2007
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Taking Action

• Write your members of Congress to demand that they not renew the president's "fast track" authority on trade agreements, which ties Congress's hands by allowing it only to approve or reject trade agreements, not amend them. Fast track will expire this June unless it's reauthorized.

• Ask Congress to direct the U.S. Trade Representative's office to give antipoverty, environmental, and religious groups at least as much access to trade negotiations as corporations have; also ask it to commission impact reports of how any proposed trade agreement will affect the poor, women, and the environment, in the U.S. and abroad.

• Ask Congress to move its supervision of the U.S. Trade Representative from the overworked people who are doing it now (the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee) to a select committee on globalization—one whose members bring expertise in poverty fighting, the global AIDS crisis, equity for women, labor rights, and the environment.

• Write a letter to your local newspaper when it misuses the term "free trade" and parrots the market-fundamentalist party line.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2007
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Decoding the Lingo

Trade technocrats try to hide behind a veil of boring, but you can get beyond the jargon.

• Neoliberal economics, aka "market fundamentalism." The idea that we are better off eliminating all barriers to trade (and commerce in general), all the time.

• Policy space. Letting governments choose the economic policies that actually fit their circumstances, instead of restricting them with one-size-fits-all trade agreements or harmful conditions attached to aid or loans.

• World Bank. An international body, controlled by wealthy countries, that lends and grants money to poor countries in order to fight poverty. It is slowly getting over the destructive habit of imposing harmful conditions.

• International Monetary Fund. An international body controlled by wealthy nations. When its original goals (having to do with currency exchange rates and short-term balance-of-payments problems) became obsolete in the 1970s and after, the IMF started strong-arming poor countries into accepting damaging conditions.

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Sojourners Magazine May 2007
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