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On State Business

By Joshua A. Kaufman

The streets of Shanghai glow from the neon lights of Coca-Cola and Gillette billboards. In the Chinese cities, the Communist murals seem but a quaint reminder of the present government's origins. The capitalist zeitgeist is present there and is growing immeasurably stronger each year. So when I went window-shopping on the Bund three years ago, it was easy to imagine that Shanghai's earlier days as an international trade center had never been interrupted.

Such is the effect of an American foreign policy that sees the national interest as the self-interest which is good for business. In return for China's yuan, the United States will place its abuse of human rights on the back burner. The Clinton Administration perpetuates Sino-American trade even at the cost of Tibetan repression, the suppression of free thought and the jailing of dissidents. Dollars come before democracy when the pair cannot be promoted together.

Secretary of State Warren Christopher was, therefore, appropriately attired in the businessman's pin-striped suit and power tie when he visited the Kennedy School yesterday. To surprisingly sympathetic ears, he delivered a standard oratorio emphasizing America's continuing objective to maintain the dominance of U.S. business in the international marketplace. Open markets, he said, will be the historical "signature" of the Clinton Administration.

With the demise of the Cold War, visions of an ideologically-based foreign policy have faded into realpolitik understandings that it is trade which dominates the dealings of international diplomacy. The starkness of our material world in itself isn't such a bad thing. But it is somewhat disheartening to see the Secretary of State promoting open societies only to the extent that they open markets.

Present barriers to the spread of markets include discord in Bosnia and the Middle East, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the recent Mexican economic crisis, unstable democracies in central and eastern Europe and even the missing Vietnam prisoners of war. Peace promotes prosperity; democracy promises dollars. That is why we have a foreign policy based upon the spread of "universal" values of free societies and free markets. That, Christopher says, is what will lead the world into "a second American century."

The Secretary proceeded to outline the Clinton Administration's capitalist initiatives for the upcoming year. The foremost goal is to cement the "implementation" of trade agreements that promote the "U.S. as the hub of an increasingly open global free trading system." This expansionary mode includes a push to invite Chile to join Nafta. Among the most original proposals was Christopher's pledge to assist American environmental industries in order to "capture more of a $400 billion global market."

Is the sale of environmentalism supposed to signal a newfound greenness in America? Not anymore than the sale of missile defense systems is supposed to promote peace. The unintentional effect of Secretary Christopher's speech was to smash illusions, and it seems that the great majority of the audience was in full compliance with the new revelatory attitude.

But some questioners could not stand for such a morally disinterested attitude. One man (who by a slip of the tongue called the Secretary "Mr. Chamberlain") asked, "What irks you about Jews in the Golan Heights?" He was referring, of course, to Christopher's shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and Damascus to restore peace between Israel and Syria. The Secretary all but dismissed the notion of this Israeli citizen's attachment to his land.

"This is not the end of history," Christopher theorized, "but history in fast-forward." Though he dismissed Fukuyama, the Secretary actually embraced the notion that industrial capitalism and its servant, representative democracy, will dominate the global marketplace unchallenged. America's interests he unfortunately believes, lie in the glitch-free maintenance of the present order.

Joshua A. Kaufman will continue to write his column next semester.

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