Bill Steigerwald Bill Steigerwald, 7/21/2006 [Archive]

The State of World Affairs



America and World Affairs

Whenever a fresh war breaks out in some dusty corner of the globe, it's a good bet Sky Foerster can explain what's going on and why. Foerster, who is as well-traveled and experienced as he is educated, is president of the World Affairs Council of Pittsburgh, a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational organization devoted to promoting greater understanding of important international issues. A former U.S Air Force intelligence officer in southeast Asia, he is a former defense department security and arms-control adviser in Washington and Europe and received a Doctor in Philosophy degree from Oxford University. I talked with him July 18 as the Israeli-Lebanon border was a war zone.

Q: What's the state of world affairs? Is the glass half full or half empty?

A: I am very worried. There are a lot of things to be happy about. The global economy is growing. All projections are that the economy will grow as a result of globalization, substantially, over the next decade or so. But the things that worry me the most are the radicalization of conflict and the continuing conflict over not only ideology but, increasingly, natural resources -- water and energy, particularly oil.

Q: How do you see the Lebanon-Israeli crisis playing out?

A: What I have said to a couple of people this week is that the best outcome I can foresee at this point is another generation of extremely radicalized politics in the Middle East with no real progress toward any peaceful solutions to the underlying problems. And that, good sir, is the best outcome that I can see. This has become so totally radicalized it makes it increasingly difficult for anyone to be in the middle trying to find some kind of compromise solution.

Q: Has Israel been disproportionate in its response to Hezbollah's terrorism?

A: I understand that Israel is wanting to defend itself by pushing back the effective boundary of Lebanon by sending military forces into southern Lebanon. But I do not understand how it weakens Hezbollah and maintains the integrity of the Lebanese government, which is what our president keeps saying we want to do, by bombing Beirut Airport and knocking off all the roads and bridges. I don't get it. I think we're creating more sympathy for Hezbollah.I don't think it's going to accomplish the political solutions Israel wants. It may be a near-term prophylactic, but that's all.

Q: People are saying that Hezbollah is doing Iran's work and Israel is doing the United States' work.

A: I think that would be oversimplified. Israel is doing Israel's work and Hezbollah is doing Hezbollah's work.Hezbollah gets support form Syria and from Iran, but Hezbollah is a powerful political force in its own right. It's part of a broader radicalized Shia movement that has focused on being the resistance to Israel. The political objective of Hezbollah is to terrorize the Israelis, and they are succeeding with the random use of Katyusha rockets. They can't hit the broad side of a barn, but they don't have to. The difficulty for all of us is that trying to use military force to achieve a more sophisticated political objective -- which is to say removal of a political force -- is a very difficult thing to accomplish. We've discovered that in Iraq, too. There are parallels here about the challenges of using military force to deal with political resistance.

Q: Is the war in Iraq looking more or less like a good idea to you?

A: Our efforts to try and appear to be a helpful broker to a stable government is going to be complicated by the fact that we are associated with the Israeli re-occupation or at least with the attack of southern Lebanon and the bombing of Beirut and this current crisis. ... The real struggle in Iraq is between the Shia and Sunni, who weren't prepared to lock arms and go into the sunset together. And we can't force them. Until they do, we're stuck.

Q: What do you say to people when they argue that U.S. foreign policy is too aggressive, too unilateral, too interventionist, too global -- all those bad things create a lot of enemies for us and causes us grief that we should not have?

A: There is no alternative to American engagement in the world because we're the only country in the world with the ability to project military power and sustain it anywhere in the world. That's a force potentially for bad and for good. The tsunami -- support for the tsunami is an example of a force for good. We are one-third of the world's economy. We have a singularly powerful military. We project power around the world and people look to us as a country of power -- not necessarily benign, but they look to us as a powerful country and they hope that we will exercise that power well.

Q: Is there a period in the last 60 years that we have exercised that power well?

A: Well, in the aftermath of World War II, we demonstrated ourselves as a very responsible power that demonstrated that power for good, and people looked to us for leadership. In the main, throughout the Cold War we were viewed as a benign power as well by most of the countries of the world. Countries looked to us to continue to exercise leadership in a responsible way after the Cold War and we ourselves were reluctant in the '90s to engage. We had a decade-long debate about whether to really be engaged.

We debated what our vital interests were and Afghanistan was never amongst them. Africa was never amongst them. And those are the issues that are biting us on the backside now. Really attacking the problems of the Middle East was not among those vital interests and we are hurting ourselves now. Our dependency on oil was something we never really addressed, and that is hurting us now. So our indifference to our global engagement priorities -- our real priorities -- that took place in the '90s is hurting us, because we don't really understand the dynamics of the world in which we are currently living, and these are not the dynamics that defined the world of 10, 20, 30 or 50 years ago.

Bill Steigerwald is a columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. E-mail Bill at bsteigerwald@tribweb.com. © Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, All Rights Reserved.

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