Playing it smart is the game To the Editor
Guyana Chronicle
January 30, 2002

After winning international sympathy for the September 11 tragedy, followed by international support for its war against terrorism, the Bush administration is now adopting a go-at-it-alone policy on the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay. This is rankling some of its European allies and some human rights groups.

As if that is not troubling enough, the administration's refusal to accede to Secretary of State, Colin Powell's request to declare the captured fighters as prisoners of war, in keeping with the principles of the Geneva Convention that protects POWs, may be a sign that a rift exits both in the administration and with its European allies. This does not bode well for future military coalitions, and could be extended into the political and economic arena.

Secretary Powell, America's chief spokesman on international affairs, should never have been so publicly "dissed" by his cabinet colleagues, nor left by his boss, George W., to look like a loser.

If the American Government can treat its top international affairs guy with such disdain on such a sensitive international issue, what is their view of their European allies who share Powell's concerns? Looked at from another perspective, what are the European allies' views of the Bush administration on this issue?

This is a troubling question, or it should be from the American perspective, because if the European Union feels it has the political fortitude to officially and openly differ with the Bush administration on this issue, at such a crucial juncture of world history, it then could easily make moves that can prove disastrous to traditionally good European-American relations.

It also could catapult the Union into a position of having to lead negotiations on behalf of other concerned nations to arrive at an amicable settlement. This is not a development America should dare the Union or other nations to engineer or orchestrate, since any EU-led negotiations could paint the Union as America's equal or a potential equal in world affairs.

Losing traditional friends in the international community of nations is not a good thing for a superpower. The more friends lost, the weaker the superpower becomes. The name of the game, therefore, should be to retain the status quo through policies of inclusiveness and being sensitive.

The sensitivity question also came up last week with the U.S.' decision to lift the requirement for U.S. servicewomen to make public appearances in Saudi Arabia attired in clothing that covers their body from head-to-toe.

The Saudi Government deemed the lack of U.S. consultation with the Saudis on the matter as an infraction of its sovereignty, as much as it was a violation of Islamic law, which governs the kingdom. Now the kingdom, through its Interior Minister, is concerned that over 100 of those in Guantanamo Bay are Saudis, and is calling for their return home to undergo interrogation. How this development plays out could determine the temperature of the U.S-Saudi relationship.

This arbitrary move, reminiscent of the go-at-it-alone POW approach, has angered a long time ally, to the extent that there is talk of the Saudis asking the U.S. to pull its troops out of the kingdom. Not only will this create a vacuum that the U.S. needs to keep filled with its presence as a superpower, but it will send a strong signal that the U.S. no longer is a player, but a stranger.

With the Americans gone from Saudi Arabia, how long after will it be before American businesses follow? The kingdom's multibillion dollar commercial or infrastructure and military development contracts over the past two decades went mostly to American businesses. In the past decade, alone, U.S. arms deliveries to the kingdom totaled some 34 billion US dollars.

A vacuum created by America's departure could easily be filled by, in this order, Europe, China or Russia. Is this what America wants? Worst, with all of that military hardware left behind, and in today's turncoat politics, these same weapons may end up being used against America and its interest.

America needs to listen to its Secretary of State and its allies or its traditional friends, because it is not always about playing exclusively by the rules, but also playing it smart. Wisdom is the principled thing if America is to come out not looking foolish.
Emile Mervin,
Brooklyn, New York