Africa: US stance won’t change

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By Checheresi Mthambosi

WHILE our own local opposition had warmed up to former US President Donald Trump and looked up to his second term, they consoled themselves with a President Joe Biden win and are again now excited about it because as they say, ‘we co-sponsored the ZDERA Bill with some Republicans’, even when Bidden was chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR). 

In this, they forget that the same Biden, in his earlier life, was favourably disposed to the objects of the armed struggle and struggle for political emancipation.

Our own Government was one of the earliest to congratulate Biden and I guess it was purely just diplomacy and gamesmanship more than preference, for when all is said and done, the difference remains the same as this opinion piece will demonstrate.

Robert Blackwill and Thomas Wright as well as Henry Kissinger Senior Fellow for US foreign policy at the CFR and director of the Centre on US and Europe/Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institute produced the CFR’s Council Special Report No. 86 in May 2020 titled ‘The End of World Order and American Foreign Policy’.

The reference to World Order, which is atypical to US hegemony and domination in the international systems, is itself very loaded.

You do not need to read the whole document to appreciate there is a self-perpetuating system in the US which has nothing to do with whether it is the Democrats or Republicans in power, especially for a third world country like ours.

My advice is, if you are on the leeward side or rain shadow of US foreign policy, relax, take heart and do the best to your own national advantage within your known prescriptive limitations instead of getting excited about US elections.

The foreword by Richard Haas, the President of the CFR is only two-and-a-half pages but from that you can read the direction of US foreign policy and all the contents of the 43-page document.

Hass says World Order is a description and a measure of the world’s condition at a particular moment or over a specified period of time reflecting the degree to which there are widely accepted rules as to how international relations ought to be carried out and the degree to which there is a balance of power to buttress those rules so that those who disagree with them are not tempted to violate them or are likely to fail if, in fact, they do.

Accordingly, any measure of order necessarily includes elements of both order and disorder, and the balance between them.

That is not only very loaded, but summarises US foreign policy for you — past, present and future.

Haas further writes: “During the Cold War, the order was bipolar, split between American and Soviet-led camps. 

A balance of power, bolstered by nuclear deterrence, kept the central peace, and shared understandings (mostly implicit) of the legitimate aims of foreign policy circumscribed the behaviour of both superpowers. 

Following the Cold War’s end and the Soviet Union’s collapse some three decades ago, a US-led world order prevailed, underpinned by American absolute economic and military strengths and relative advantage over others. 

Now, however, against the backdrop of a retrenching US, a rising China, a resentful and assertive Russia, a nuclear North Korea, and an ambitious Iran, not to mention a number of serious global challenges, much of what had been assumed can no longer be taken for granted. 

Both the balance of power and the consensus at the heart of world orders has faded.”

Thus, Blackwill and Wright conclude: “With COVID-19, the reordering moment is here. 

Avoiding dangerous confrontations with rivals is possible, but only if the US is up to that diplomatic challenge, based on US national interests and democratic values. 

Through wise and steady international leadership, Washington can also implement adroit and consistent policies that substantially shape international order in line with its preferences.”

From the above, it is clear that selecting the foreign policy instrument of choice, whether military force, diplomacy, Aid bait, regime change agendas or sanctions vests with ‘the US Government’ and has nothing to do with Democrats or Republicans.

Leading arguments from within the CFR quarters seem to suggest that transactional and assertive foreign policy approach is likely to continue.

Herman Cohen, a retired ambassador who has been with the US Foreign Office since the 1950s has just published his book, US Policy Toward Africa-Eight Decades of Realpolitik. 

The book ends with covering two years into the Trump administration which demonstrates constancy on US-African policy approaches.

Biden’s campaign message was very clear:

λ There was no mention of an increase in US federal spending in African aid and development.

λ No commitments to deeper US involvement in Africa’s security problems and challenges like the Islamic invasions in Mozambique.

λ There was talk of the restoration of mutually respectful engagement and the revival and reinvigoration of diplomacy and a reaffirmation of American support for African democracy and economic growth, maybe an entry point Zimbabwe could use in the resolution of its two decade-long regime change induced cold war.

λ There could be continuation of Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative.

λ US could rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement.

Whichever way you look at it, despite the given consistent policy outcomes for Africa will also depend on who Biden appoints to Cabinet senior positions, that is, Secretary of State, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, USAID admins and the NSC Director for Africa (this had been emasculated under Trump).

By no means should this opinion be read to blame the CFR for maintaining a consistent US foreign policy — it is their country and it is their relations. 

They are simply protecting their national interests.

We can only cry foul when their consistent policy rides roughshod over small nations, even against their own national interests.

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