December 9, 2003

An Idiot's Guide to US Foreign Policy

By Stephen Gowans

How many Complete Idiot's Guides are there? The Complete Idiot's Guide to Origami. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Movies. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jesus.

I've only ever read The Complete Idiot's Guide to Vitamins and Minerals (in a moment of idiocy.)

If you haven't read it, don't bother. Here's what it says.

No matter how rich in whole grains, nuts, seeds, dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables your diet is, you're never going to get enough of the heart-attack reducing, cancer-preventing, artery-cleansing, carpal-tunnel syndrome-relieving and libido-enhancing vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavanoids and micro-nutrients "your body has to have for optimal health."

Which means you better march down to your local health food store pronto, and unload a bundle -- about $100 every two months by my reckoning -- on nutritional supplements.

Spending $100 every two months on supplements is sure to make someone rich, including, among others, the Solgar Vitamin and Herb Company and Jerry Hickey of Hickey Chemists (a company "dedicated to bringing" its "clients evidence-based nutritional supplements," including Vitamin E, magnesium, calcium citrate, dietary fiber, CoQ10, green tea tablets and resveratrol, the health-promoting substances The Complete Idiot's Guide says are so damned hard to get enough of from a healthy well-balanced diet.)

So why do I single out Solgar and Jerry Hickey? Well, I haven't really. It's the book's authors, Alan Pressman and Sheila Bluff, who do. It seems Carl Germano, Director of Product Development at Solgar was so helpful in getting the book written, the authors felt duty bound to acknowledge him. And Jerry Hickey's contribution couldn't go unrecognized either.

Macmillan, the publisher of the Complete Idiot's Guides, didn't tell me Pressman and Bluff had essentially written a long sales brochure for the nutritional supplements industry. This is what's called a symbiotic relationship. The industry gets to drum up business and Macmillan pockets $25 for every brochure it sells to saps who get dinged twice: once by the supplements industry and another time by Macmillan. It isn't called the complete idiot's guide for nothing.

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What Macmillan really needs to add to its stable of Complete Idiot's Guides, is a Complete Idiot's Guide to US Foreign Policy, but not one brimming with claptrap about Washington promoting democracy and human rights abroad, in which the author expresses his thanks to members of the US foreign policy establishment for their kind assistance in helping him write the book, but one that is quite different, which is to say one that tells the truth. In other words, one that Macmillan isn't going to publish, the truth being incompatible with that most American of virtues -- blind, unthinking patriotism.

It wouldn't have to be a lengthy book. All it would have to say is that Washington supports any foreign leader, whether brutal or kind, authoritarian or open, communist or capitalist, warlike or peace-loving, whose policies provide plenty of room for US investors and corporations to sell their goods and services, invest their surplus capital, and hire low wage labor.

And it undermines any foreign leader who tilts toward an imperialist rival and therefore provides more profit-making opportunities to the rival's investors and corporations, or, otherwise, limits the unimpeded expansion of American capitalism.

The foreign leader's commitment to representative democracy, civil and political liberties, and free enterprise is neither here nor there, except insofar as departures from these American shibboleths can be used as an excuse for military or economic confrontation.

The book would then juxtapose similar leaders, asking why one has been demonized and the other left to do as he pleases, within the bounds established by the collective bottom lines of Wall Street.

Eduard Shevardnadze, the Georgian president recently ousted by a US-backed putsch, would be compared to the Aliyev dynasty in neighboring Azerbaijan, whose commitment to free and fair elections has been no stronger than Sheverdnadze's.

James Baker III, former Secretary of State, travelled to Georgia to warn Shevardnadze to hold free and fair elections, in the run-up to the country's parliamentary elections, last month.

Baker, mover-and-shaker, and Bush family go-to-guy, is head of his family law firm, Baker Botts which "has been and continues to be the leading international law firm involved in the re-emergence of the oil, gas and related hydrocarbon transportation industries in the Caspian region," according to the firm's Web site.

The oil, gas and hydrocarbons of the Caspian are slated to travel by pipeline through Azerbaijan and Georgia, skirting Russia, bound for Turkey and Western Europe, adding to the prestige, power and profits of Baker Botts and its corporate clients.

Having had a serious tête-à-tête with Shevardnadze, the West's former golden boy, Baker neglected to drop in on Aliyev, who had handed the presidency to his son in a election that observers say was a mockery. But then Aliyev was doing his part to help out the re-emergence of the oil, gas and related hydrocarbon transportation industries in the Caspian region.

So too was Shevernadze, up until shortly after he had been award the Averill Harriman Democracy Award by the US National Democratic Institute for having "taken to democracy with the zeal of a convert."  Soon after, the former Georgian president turned toward Moscow, threatening to throw a spanner into the re-emergence of the Baker Bott-connected oil, gas and related hydrocarbon transportation industries in the Caspian region. Bye-bye Eduard.

These days, members of the Bush cabinet have been insisting on Georgia's territorial integrity, another way of saying Washington won't tolerate South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Adzharia, three separatist regions of Georgia, exercising self-determination, a much different attitude to self-determination than it expressed when it was encouraging the republics of the former Yugoslavia to secede. Of course, it's in the interests of Baker Bott and the US energy companies it represents for Georgia -- a vital link in its pipeline plans -- to remain intact. A fractured Yugoslavia has been kinder to American business interests.

We might also want to compare the leaders of Saudi Arabia, to Saddam Hussein. Much has been made of Saddam's brutality and Iraq's lamentable record on civil and political liberties, but Saudi Arabia, a human rights monstrosity which is only now taking its first tentative steps toward a limited, wimpy democracy, gets a pass. The difference between the Saudis and Saddam: Iraq's oil wealth was invested in Iraq; the Saudi's shipped theirs to the US.

And finally, a look at the record of Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe versus Nigeria's president Olusegun Obasanjo. Washington and the rich members of the British Commonwealth - Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada - like Obasanjo, despite the Nigerian president's involvement in widespread vote rigging. Human Rights Watch complains of "persistent violence, corruption and poverty" and "extrajudicial killings." According to the World Bank, Nigerian income per head is shrinking, illiteracy runs at 34 percent and 38 percent lack access to clean water.

Sounds like the complaints made against Mugabe. Except Obasanjo hasn't told the IMF to get stuffed, and nor has he tried to cut the Gordian knot of land reform by violating that most sacrosanct of principles: private property (even if the property was stolen in the first place.) Plus, Nigeria has a lot of oil, which Obasanjo seems perfectly willing to let US firms exploit for the greater good of shareholder value, while ordinary Nigerians slip deeper into poverty.

One thing's for sure. Human rights liberals are all over Mugabe. But they haven't a clue who  Obasanjo or Aliyev are. Maybe they're waiting for the State Department's ghost-written Idiot's Guide to find out.

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