In my experience, I believe that there is a fundamental impediment in giving foreign policy decision-making to those who have dedicated their lives to big business. That is not to say that these business people are less well educated, motivated or competent to perform the tasks; rather that their core competences militate against the flexibility needed to formulate long-term foreign policy objectives. Where the business people concentrate on the “Art of the Deal” their efforts often ignore the policies which will be affected by the “Deal”. Little of life is a “zero-sum “game. The successful foreign policy of any nation depends on maintaining a “joined-up” awareness of the impact of how political initiatives relate to other political challenges in real time.
This is also true of the public. Because of the large amount of information available through ‘open source’ publications, television broadcasts and commentaries, and the printed word in newspapers and journals it is difficult for the public to get a grasp on the interconnectedness of international interactions; particularly because the journalists and commentators add their own simplistic interpretations. This leaves the way clear for ideologues or fundamentalists to present individual policies as moral issues with high emotive content.
For example, the current state of hostility between the U.S. and Russia over Syria, the Ukraine and Crimea masks the long period of co-operation between the two nations over mutual concerns; especially confronting the logistical challenges of the Afghan War. This core logistical problem led to the closest co-operation between Russia and the U.S. Russian co-operation and support of the U.S. military effort was crucial to the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan. The U.S. was dependent on Russian co-operation in delivering U.S. goods to Afghanistan and in allowing the safe passage of the U.S. trove of military supplies out of Afghanistan as it reduced its forces there. The Russians, in response to a request by the U.S. allowed the establishment of a Northern Distribution Network (NDN) to move these goods through Russia and the various ‘stans’ associated with Russia.
The U.S. engagement in Afghanistan represented one of the most difficult logistical challenges in the annals of war; a challenge even for the United States, which is the world champion of supply solutions. Supplying Afghanistan was harder than the Vietnam land war in Asia or the Berlin airlift or Iraq I and II. These previous engagements, although difficult logistically, pale in comparison to the task of supplying 100,000 troops and as many contractors in Afghanistan over a ten-year period. Landlocked, mountainous, beset by civil war, banditry and extreme underdevelopment, Afghanistan is surrounded by a clutch of hostile, suspicious, barely functioning sovereignties who offer little real support.
The U.S. and allied troops (ISAF) required a Herculean mass of supplies from ammunition to toothbrushes, fuel, computers, night-vision goggles, concertina wire et cetera at the rate of thousands of tons per day. Even with the containerized packing systems and all the technology that made-in-USA delivery systems have made available to the military, the traffic volumes were immense. In 2008, nearly 30,000 containers were sent to the front or about 75 per cent of the total need in fuel, food, equipment and construction materials. Traffic reportedly doubled in 2009, and doubled again by 2012.
There were serious problems with Pakistan which periodically blockaded U.S. fuel lorries which precipitated the logistics shift towards the NDN. The Pakistan route was never easy. The road north from the port of Karachi is a hazardous trip of nearly 1,000 miles, finally passing through the difficult and often-hostile terrain of the Hindu Kush and then over the treacherous Khyber Pass before finally dropping down into Afghanistan.
In fact, the NDN comprised several itineraries, commencing at one of two ‘western hubs’ in Latvia and Georgia. From these secure jumping-off points, the cargo went by combinations of trains, trucks and ferries across Russian territory and the adjacent ex-Soviet ‘stans’ to enter Afghanistan from the north. All the new routes shared the same attraction of altogether avoiding Pakistan. Taken together, these new routes in the NDN provided redundant paths for overland supplies that, however expensively, make it logistically sustainable for the U.S. and its allies to wage their Afghan campaign.
The most important new route, the ‘northern route’, started in the Latvian port of Riga, the largest all-weather harbour on the Baltic Sea, where container ships offloaded their cargo onto Russian trains. The shipments rolled south through Russia, then southeast around the Caspian Sea through Kazakhstan and finally south through Uzbekistan until they crossed the frontier into north Afghanistan. The Russian train-lines were built to supply Russia’s own war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and Moscow’s cooperation made them available for use by the U.S. and NATO in their own Afghan campaign.
The NDN also involved two additional routes. A ‘southern route’ transits the Caucuses, completely bypassing Russia, from Georgia. Starting from the Black Sea port, Poti, it travels north to Azerbaijan and its port, Baku, where goods were loaded onto ferries to cross the Caspian Sea. Landfall was Kazakhstan, where the goods were carried by truck to Uzbekistan and finally Afghanistan. A third route, which is actually a spur of the northern route, bypassed Uzbekistan and proceeded from Kazakhstan via Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which has a northeast border with Afghanistan. This route was often hampered by bad roads in Tajikistan.[ii] The Russians and the U.S. CENTCOM have agreed the use of a major air base at Ulyanovsk, an airport north of Samara for trans-shipping goods.
The NDN proved an important logistical link for the U.S. in the withdrawal of soldiers and equipment from Afghanistan and Iraq. It was closed by the Russians in May 2015 as a reaction to the tension between the U.S. and Russia in the Ukraine.
Maintaining a good relationship between the U.S. and Russia seemed to be very important in formulating a response to the growth of ISIL in Syria where the Russians had a powerful role with the Assad Government. The Russians were key in bringing the Iranians to the negotiating table to participate in the talks on the rejection of acquisition of nuclear weapons. There are several other important areas of co-operation dealing with the international trade in narcotics, shipping through the North Sea Passage in the Arctic, controlling the escalation of tensions between Vietnam and China in their maritime conflict, etc. which the U.S. continues to engage in with Russia. All of these are integral parts of U.S. foreign policy. The U.S.’s important relationship with Russia is much more than the military confrontation in the Ukraine or Syria; it is part of the U.S.’s joined-up foreign policy on a global basis. The Russians are not co-operating as a result of an attack of altruism. They co-operate because it is in their own interest to do so.
This masking of a direct understanding of U.S. foreign policy objectives is most obvious in the U.S. relationship with Israel. The U.S. gives large amounts of tied foreign military aid to the State of Israel. This has been a very contentious issue for years with many decrying the U.S,’s special relationship to Israel. This objection entirely misses the point of the relationship between the two powers. A very high proportion of the development of advanced military and communications systems has been developed in Israel by Israeli technicians working for companies like IAI, IMI, Raphael Advanced Military Systems, Elbit Systems and others. Almost every major U.S. defence and technology industry in the U.S. has a joint venture with these Israeli companies and operate much of their R&D in Israel. Many of the major advances in military technology relating to UAVs, missiles, communications were developed in Israel but were, for the most part, built in the U.S. Israel is too small and ill-equipped to manufacture these advanced technologies on a large scale inside Israel. The U.S. has the factories, the finance and the clients for almost everything the Israeli technicians can design. So, the Israelis conceive and design the systems and the U.S. builds them. The U.S. then gives large amounts of military aid to Israel to buy the products they have designed. The system works well most of the time.
Recently, the Netanyahu Government in Israel has disturbed this relationship by following the policies of the ultra-right wing zealots of the religious parties of Israel – the Jewish Taliban. They have attacked and confronted Obama and the Democrats and polarised the debate between the two countries. Obama, with the support and guidance of the Israeli military and defence companies, challenged Netanyahu and abstained on the UN vote as a shot across his bows. This has led to confrontation between the U.S. and Israel and has proved a temptation to Trump and his ilk to openly support Netanyahu and his policy of settlements; even threatening to move the embassy to Jerusalem. This flies in the face of the military relationship between the U.S. and Israel, turning a practical program into an ideological confrontation with the Palestinians.
This is a good example of the failure of a ‘joined-up policy’ by Trump. Almost no area of U.S. policy is not linked with another policy. Virtually nothing stands on its own. The Trump administration is busy confronting the Europeans of NATO for failure to keep up their levels of contribution and commitment to the alliance. What he says is true but his remedies will cause a great deal of harm to European and U.S. interest. While it is very true that the Europeans are sheltering under the U.S. defence umbrella they are also very worried about Russian aggression; not only in the Baltic States but also in the Balkans. In the last weeks, it is clear that Russia intends to revise the state borders of at least four countries: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo and Montenegro. The Europeans are worried that the U.S. is not committed to helping them in resolving these less than strategic problems and will leave them to make their own fight against the Russian aggression. This is not a “deal” for Trump but part of a wide-ranging problem; not made easier by Trump’s hints at removing Russian sanctions.
The problem lies with the business subculture in which the entrepreneurs thrive. Over the years I must have written two hundred research briefing papers and made scores of presentations to these businessmen – usually at very high level. I have always been disappointed by their short attention spans. If one wants to get them to read what you have written it has be written in ‘bullet-points’ or they abandon the reading after the first half page. This is true even when you talk with them. They bring to the table a wealth of knowledge but never on the subject I am trying to discuss with them. You have to start with the very basics and then they resent the fact that you are talking to them as you would an adolescent. I gave up trying to communicate with them years ago, and leave the interaction to those with better grace and patience than I can muster. If a report is more than two pages they will not read it.
I was once asked by the members of a board committee of a giant oil company to explain the conflict in the Nigerian Delta. I asked if they were serious and wanted a full report. They assure me they did. I researched and wrote a detailed study (about 38 pages) on the subject and handed it to my client who was supplying the oil company. They handed it back to me and said “This is too much. Turn it into twenty-five bullet points” and they will read it. I did that and handed them the points. For the next three weeks, I was called by the client to explain what I meant in a bullet point and I could refer them to the page in the original report where the answer lay. Had they read the report the first time there would have been no need for further queries.
There is another problem with businessmen in power which no one mentions. That is most high-level businessmen have little more than contempt for politicians. They spend their corporate funds on a large number of lobbyists who routinely ‘buy’ politicians. They view politicians as a necessary evil who have to be bought at regular intervals. There is not a factory built, a housing plot zoned, a transport hub opened without having to pay the politician who managed to be in charge. No bill passes through Congress without a price tag.
Years ago, when I was in working in Washington I was sent to the Hill to lobby for the creation of a Dunes National Park in Michigan. It was of such little concern that the union deemed it okay for a novice like me to lobby. I called the office of our congressman and made an appointment. I went to the Hill and to the congressman’s door. I entered and was sent to the congressman’s legislative assistant who asked where I was from and what I wanted to speak to the congressman about. He then went off to the congressman’s office and summoned me. I said “Congressman Ford, I am here on behalf of the United Auto Workers, a major political organisation in Michigan, to explain our reasons why we think you should vote for the creation of a Dunes National Park in Michigan.” Ford looked me in the eye and said, “Well there was just a man here who told me he has ten thousand good reasons why I should vote against the bill.” I asked if I could make a call to my office and our legislative director, Bill Dodds, said “Tell him we have fifteen thousand good reasons why he should vote for the bill.” I told the congressman we had fifteen thousand good reasons why he should vote for the bill.” He smiled and said he would consider that when he voted. About ten days later they had the vote on the bill which created the Dunes National Park. I was sent with an attaché case filled with fifteen thousand dollars to the congressman’s office. His legislative assistant took the case and thanked me. That was my first legislative experience. Ford went on to become President of the U.S. In the years following I made many such trips.
It is hard for successful businessmen to view the politicians with more than contempt. With the passage of Citizens United it became easier to buy congressmen as you don’t have to meet them. The lobbyists take care of that themselves. Business people just had to chuck in cash. The rest is taken care of. However, the gap between politicians and business people abides and it doesn’t bode well when a businessman actually takes political power himself. This will be an interesting ride.