Robert Radu HERVIAN
Tzvetan Todorov, a Bulgarian-French literary theorist and historian promoter of elaborate and interesting ideas, died recently in Paris at 77. His work during the past decades varied from fiction to fantasy, from colonialism to fanaticism and the Holocaust. He famously explained that if more people would understand the multilateral values of the dialogue between themselves, between political factions and between international governments, many problems of the world would be solved easier or prevented altogether.
He was a fellow at the National Center of Scientific Research in Paris where he spent this time discerning and analyzing many of the legends attributed to the history of the national identities, their political structures, their heroes and villains as well as their victims. The absence of a dialogue in the modern world, Todorov complains, constitutes the weakness in the taking of the right position and allows nationalism, racism and greed to prosper. Instead of preventing it helps the rate of enrolling, a new and larger participation among the evildoers of the world, it encourages cultural relativism.
One cannot agree more that embracing ambiguity in search of the correct and moral answers has merits. Today’s world is confusing enough within the darkness of terrorism and poverty, diseases and mass emigration. Talking with each other may prompt the stronger to listen to the weaker, the rich to listen to the poor, the healthy to the sick, etc. In the end morality and justice based on understanding can only be achieved thru dialogues not thru wars, apartheid or military dominance.
I do not intend by any means to advocate unconditional or asymmetrical disarmament for example and I do not intend to excuse the ”force” when necessary to prevent even worse scenarios on the global map. There is unfortunately a need for shrewdness, complicity and secret strategies when dealing with evil. But in order for the truth and morality to prevail, the dialogue has to be forcefully employed before the aggression starts, even against an unknown and untested enemy. Case in point: a clearer path to victory and shorter and less damaging war during the 1991 Iraqi conflict versus the 2003 Iraqi battles which continue even today with incommensurate loss of both lives and treasure. The dialogue among nations, not always seeing eye to eye on many other subjects, developed by the first Bush Administration, clearly avoided the mishaps of the more recent one, in which the advanced dialogue was rather succinct and void of importance. In conclusion, there will always be wars and conflicts. After all it is the actual mode of the human race. The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne once described the human existence as: ”an imperfect garden, which you can improve but can never make it perfect”. This improvement if at all possible can and should be achieved thru dialogues.
This brings us to the recent decisions of the Trump Administration in reference to the US policies on defense and its expected worldwide strategies.
The new American Administration has promised, and it is expected to succeed in convincing the Congress to fund a huge revamping of the US military forces, an approximate budget of $54 Billions. Indeed the US, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), a think tank which has a well documented database (on line) for 170 countries since 1988, spends more than the next 7 world powers combined. In 2015, the US military spending was nearly three times higher than China’s, the second-highest military spending nation on the world. Russia occupies the third place.
Now, the necessity of such expenditure is questioned in many military and political circles although there are a few generals asking for this financial bust. However, the list of opposing generals is quite impressive. Their number is evaluated at more than 120. As the Administration is likely to win the cause, our job is to question the powerful and look for arguments in favor as well as opposed to it.
And that’s because the argument of the Generals in opposition to the new and expensive program are supporting the very subject of our column today: the dialogue before the war. They argue that funding diplomacy and development is critical to keeping US safe, more than re-arming at a faster and richer pace.
Obviously the money allocated for the Pentagon must come from somewhere. It was announced that part of the funding will be provided by Congress by pushing back on several other Government programs and Agencies. One of the victims seems to be the institution which traditionally is involved in the very dialogues employed to prevent wars and conflicts. The one involved in the determination of economical investments and political education. I am referring to the The State Department – an institution conducting the American foreign policies, from its location at the Foggy Bottom in Washington, D.C.
Such news has begun to worry some military brass. It was recently announced the more than 120 retired generals and admirals have signed a letter pushing back against the White House proposal for major cuts to diplomacy and overseas development. It is worth quoting actually, the present Secretary of Defense, Gen James (Mad Dog) Mattis, who, while functioning in 2013 as the commander of the US Central Command, has famously stated: ”If you do not fully fund the State Department, then I need to buy more ammunition.”
Among the supporters of a dialogue before a war and a signer of the letter, we find the very well respected by both the Republicans and the Democrats, Gen. David Petreus, the former CIA Director and successful commander of the American Forces in Iraq or Gen. James Stavridis, the former NATO supreme allied commander. They are just two among the three or four stars generals asking for ”critical to keep America safe” funding for the State Department. ”The State Department, the USAID, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Peace Corps and other development agencies are critical to preventing conflict and reducing the need to put our men and women in uniform in harm’s way”, the generals wrote. The letter-message was initiated by the Global Leadership Coalition, which backs investments in development and diplomacy alongside defense. The signatories, generals and admirals, argue that in support of the funding, they’ve ”heard” directly from the servicemen in uniforms. They also stated that, as the dangers facing the USA, confronting violent extremist organizations like ISIS in Northern Africa and the Middle East or fighting Ebola, cannot always be won by a military solutions.
The efforts made in support for dialogues rather than drones are not new. Back in the times he was Secretary of Defense, another well respected figure, Dl. Robert Gates has called for ”dramatic increase” in the U.S. budget for diplomacy and foreign aid. He was even quoted saying that Al Qaeda is doing a better job in communications than Washington does, arguing that Washington’s message toward the world in regards to civilians deployment abroad has been rather ”ad hoc and on the fly in the climate of existing crisis.” Gates made these declarations being aware that the Pentagon observers may consider them a ”blasphemy”. After all, since when a Secretary of a Department makes a request for funding of another Department?!
America has already the most powerful military in the world. The Americans know that and so does the rest of the world. But the future strategies may not depend on military operations alone. They tend to be fundamentally of political nature. The military presence in Iraq has certainly improved the conditions and reduced the level of violence between the diverse local factions, religious or otherwise, after the fall of Saddam Hussein. But, by no means succeeded in putting the troubles to bed. Thus, the necessity of a dialogue between the allied forces fighting together on that land is still necessary. And so it is between the different factions on the ground, such as the Shiite-government and Sunni and Kurdish minority groups.
The American ability of exporting industrial and scientific goods as well as culture is a well acknowledge fact. By comparison however, the US ability to converse, discuss and deal in peace making efforts around the world has somehow diminished since the end of the Cold War. Robert Gates also mentions that the US active duty Army cut its manpower by nearly 40 percent, while the CIA reduced its clandestine operations by 30 percent. These reductions do not concern the former SECDEF1. But he is bitterly complaining about the shrinking of the US Agency for International Development staff and the abolition of the US Information Agency – ”effectively gutting … America’s ability to engage, assist, and communicate with other parts of the world”.
To better understand the meaning of the ”Dialogue” notion, there are no dedicated standards. The most accepted definition, although incomplete and still subject to discussions sounds as follows:
Intercultural dialogue is a process that comprises an open and respectful exchange or interaction between individuals, groups and organisations with different cultural backgrounds or world views. Among its aims are: to develop a deeper understanding of diverse perspectives and practices; to increase participation and the freedom and ability to make choices; to foster equality; and to enhance creative processes.
It is true, the contemporary world is by far more interconnected than it was at the end of the Cold War. Which does not mean the peoples of the world, ie. individuals and societies, are living together. Minorities, migrants, poor and women, a certain segment of youth around the world, are subject to continuous or even increased level of disenfranchising. Just having indefinite information access, via the internet, cellular phones and computers on the advanced technology and culture does not constitute sufficiency in political wisdom. It cannot create peace, prevent conflicts, eradicate poverty and inequality; it cannot substitute the safe and harmonious relations between nations or newly created organizations. That is where the intercultural, international or inter-ethnic dialogue must intervene.
Peace and harmony are not just ”the absence of war”. We live in a turbulent time; a globalised world which benefits some while omitting others. The rule of law becomes a victim of those unhappy and the justice is too often overruled. As a consequence, human rights are disregarded, the differences of race, sex and religion cause as many conflicts and refusing to talk with each other places our very coexistence in jeopardy. Peace should not be taken for granted. It requires imagination and steadfastness, participation and vigilance. And we all must be involved, every generation, every government, every individual.
As such, a rapprochement of civilizations, religion and culture has to be the task of everyone and it can only be achieved thru dialogue. Are there any efforts and initiatives emerging presently to meet the ideals of dialogues throughout the world? Not counting the on and off actions originating at the United Nations or UNESCO? The answer is Yes.
It seems like many private organizations are involved with this task. They are sometimes succeeding in creating optimistic spots and sometimes unable to move the ball forward. Among those which can show results we’d like to mention ”The International Dialogue on Peace building and State building (International Dialogue)”. This is the first forum for political dialogue engaged in bringing together some of the countries placed in the weakest link: those countries affected by conflict and fragility. This organization is composed of members of the International Network on Conflict and Fragility (INCAF), the Gg7+ group of fragile and conflict-affected states, and member organizations of the Civil Society Platform for Peace building and State building (CSPPS).
Their ”Dialogue” forum is trying to create a certain momentum and make a difference for change by strengthening partnerships as well as a combined supervision and accountability among members. They provide technical, political and cultural support for the world most fragile states, promoting a comprehensive attitude regarding economic development, security issues and integration. Per their self declared program status the International Dialogue wants to implement what they call ”The New Deal” as follows:
Facilitating experience sharing of good practices and constraints to delivering effective development cooperation in fragile states;
Building political momentum for change and trust between fragile and conflict affected countries, development partners, and civil society;
Developing and providing guidance for the implementation of the New Deal principles;
Supporting country level dialogues on key commitments of the New Deal, such as Use of Country Systems, Transparency and private sector engagement.
The International Dialogue meets once a year at the ministerial or senior level. The progress of their endeavors is reviewed at the annual global gathering. The working group on the implementation of the agreed programs is co-chaired by Afghanistan and USAID.
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This however is treating the problem only in general terms since the intercultural dialogue has its particularities, its national, ethnic, political and economic aspects. And even these consecrated chapters are further divided with respect to migration, human rights in general and children and women rights in particular. Analyzing each aspect separately would do us no service and will be an impossible task for the space we have; it will be only superficial and insufficient.
Therefore in this article we will address only one aspect in this multitude, one that torments America today, for which there are no easy answers and which came into play after the US presidential elections of 2016.
Rallying in a populist way throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump has promised what he called a renewal in American policies from the economy to the foreign relations and initiatives. Under the slogan ”America First” the new President wants to either isolate or re-negotiate many of the treaties previously signed by the United States.
Perhaps one of the most controversial decision, the new administration has taken soon after the inauguration, was to simply place a temporary ban on emigration into the US, especially from certain countries with a largely Muslim population. The reason based upon this decision was taken, is to give American authorities a batter chance in vetting who enters the US. Initially the executive decision being rushed in order to please the President electorate has been pushed back by the judicial branch and the plan had to be modified to better conform with the existing emigration laws.
A new more moderate format was delivered a couple of weeks later but it has also been opposed by some Federal Judges and it is presently in a sort of a limbo, creating as a result all sorts of conflicts between the supporters and the opposition. Enforcing such decision will undoubtedly cause a pause in the American involvement with many countries, the dialogue will be interrupted and the whole concept of talking with ”the others” will be placed on hold. Remains to be seen if such politics will truly improve the security of the United States. Meanwhile the Administration seems to be backing off in some respects from their initial positions but few alternatives are offered.
It is particularly difficult to prevent the entry, even temporarily of so many doctors, artists, scientists who are working in the US while traveling on their national passports and are returning to work from their vacations or business trips overseas. Along with the aforementioned ban, at least temporarily, the multiple ”inter” dialogues between the US, historically a major participant in such endeavor, and the rest of the world is presently under review.
New York 11 March, 2017
1 Secretary of Defense / SecDef (n.r.)