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Archive for the ‘foreign policy’ Category

These are just a few random observations about the current conflict in Georgia.

Americans are ill suited to being a global power. The great majority of Americans are mostly bored by conflicts involving strange, foreign lands. If we’re not bored, we’re easily misled by the media into assuming we know enough to have an opinion, which usually takes the form of a Wilsonian-idealist-interventionist set of principles that do not do much to clarify what are our legitimate interests. For the most part, foreign policy is the play thing of a smallish clique on the East Coast wedded to outdated ideas of the U.S. being the “sole superpower.” Most everyone else is basically nationalist and isolationist. Americans only take notice when things have gone very wrong long after the trend lines have been established.

Putin’s Russia is becoming Franco’s Spain for anti-modern traditionalist conservatives. His ethnonationalist concept of Russia, his subordination of business interests to the state, and his rejection of the liberal internationalist order all have a certain appeal. The mainstream media and mainstream conservative institutions diverge from a significant voice that sees in Iraq and crusades for democracy the seeds of disaster. This group, seeing in Russia a Christian nation undergoing a renaissance of power that is often in conflict with a common enemy in the form of militant Islam, strikes some of us at least as a natural ally with certain admirable qualities.

Along these lines, the Russia people today parallel the US view of ourselves and our applications of military force. Russia selectively rejects international institutions and international norms, including subordination to the UN, when such norms simply restrain its power without benefit. The average American’s view of its actions in Panama and Kosovo were much the same. Russia too has a rather romantic view of its soldiers and the beneficence of its power projection. It’s more than a little humorous to see Russia simply mimicking the western formulae of “stopping the genocide in Ossetia.”

Russia’s army itself, judging from photos, is a bit rough and ready, though apparently quite capable of taking on the poorly equipped and outnumbered Georgian forces. In various photos, we see a hodge podge of uniforms, old T-62 tanks, and irregular Ossetian and Chechen forces on display. Together, they show that the modern fores on display in the recent Victory Day Parade conceal the uneven pace of military modernization and the persistent ill discipline that still plagues the Russian army.

Finally, the geography of the Cauceses matter quite a bit for US power projection and shows how things that cannot be easily changed–like mountain ranges and the Asia Minor peninsula–limit our power. The Black Sea can be easily closed off by Turkey. None of the countries in the Caucuses can be reached without some cooperation from Ukraine, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, or some other neighboring land. Almost all of the significant US actions since WWII–Korea, Lebanon, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Kuwait, Kosovo, Iraq–occurred in lands close to a large body of water, where supplies can be easily brought on shore and where power can be projected directly without the consent of countries bordering land-locked battlefields. Afghanistan was and is the exception and could not have occurred without Pakistani, Uzbek, and other nations’ cooperation. Even now, the indifferent state of that cooperation hinders operations.

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Stratfor has a very persuasive analysis of the entire situation in Georgia, in particular how it is not the beginning of a new balance of power but rather the manifestation of an already-changed one.  It shows that the predictable US response is likely to do little to help Georgia, while hurting US credibility:

By invading Georgia as Russia did (competently if not brilliantly), Putin re-established the credibility of the Russian army. But far more importantly, by doing this Putin revealed an open secret: While the United States is tied down in the Middle East, American guarantees have no value. This lesson is not for American consumption. It is something that, from the Russian point of view, the Ukrainians, the Balts and the Central Asians need to digest. Indeed, it is a lesson Putin wants to transmit to Poland and the Czech Republic as well. The United States wants to place ballistic missile defense installations in those countries, and the Russians want them to understand that allowing this to happen increases their risk, not their security.

The Russians knew the United States would denounce their attack. This actually plays into Russian hands. The more vocal senior leaders are, the greater the contrast with their inaction, and the Russians wanted to drive home the idea that American guarantees are empty talk.

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Tom Piatak makes an important observation about the historical context forgotten by those who see in today’s Russia the same kind of threat that existed in the former Soviet Union:

The border dispute between Russia and Georgia over South Ossetia has inspired much breathless commentary, including Andrew McCarthy at NRO proclaiming this the “Soviets’ rebirth.”

Before hyperventilating, McCarthy would be well advised to read some back issues of National Review. As that magazine long argued, what made the Soviet Union such a dangerous threat was the Communist ideology the Soviet Union embodied, an ideology that gave the Soviets many Western admirers and allies and also propelled the Soviets toward confrontation with the West. Soviet Communism is dead, and what is going on in South Ossetia is an old-fashioned border squabble of the type that the United States has wisely stayed out of for most of our history.

This is exactly right. No one ever expected Russia before or after the Soviet Era to be indifferent to the safety of its own people, the actions of nearby enemies, and the behavior of neighboring nations in general. The problem for the United States and the West during the Cold War was not so much that the Soviet Union concerned itself with the Caucuses or the Baltics, but rather that it also concerned itself with Vietnam, Nicaragua, Angola, Libya, Syria, and everywhere else on the globe.  Its unifying Communist ideology was an uncompromising and aggressive set of principles that did not acknowledge any geographical or other limits. A nationalist and powerful Russia, by contrast, can always be expected to have a certain influence over its neighbors. This is not a problem for the United States, and those neighbors ultimately must reach a modus vivendi with Russia that the U.S. can do little to fashion.

The natural power of Russia over its near-abroad–particularly the Caucuses–is why the expansion of NATO to Russia’s front door and NATO’s embrace new of missions such as the Kosovo Campaign are so foolish. These detours turn a defensive alliance, once necessary to contain an aggressive and ideological regime, into an offensive conspiracy that would foment the very aggresion that it ostensibly exists to deter.

Any useful concept of post-Cold-War relations must be founded on some realistic consideration of spheres of influence. The Caucuses are a legitimate concern for Russia, not least because they include parts of Russia and, in the case of Georgia, a nation that borders Russia. Just as Europe should respect American influence over the Western Hemisphere, it is natural and predictable that nations like Russia will be substantially more touchy in affairs taking place in their own backyard.

Even if some strategic relationship with nations like Armenia and Georgia makes sense to the U.S., it is particularly unwise that cooperation extends the NATO defensive military alliance. Far from “avoiding another Munich,” such commitments would instead hurt the intended beneficiaries, and likely hurt the U.S. as well.  Such commitments could hurt both parties directly by dragging us into wars based on the actions of our uncontrolable treaty partners or indirectly by creating commitment that the U.S. would ultimately abjure and thereby devalue our national honor. It is especially a bad idea to get into bed with a provocative and irresponsible–if fawningly pro-American–leader like Saakashvili. After 1989, and especially now after witnessing the indifferent assistance of our NATO allies in Afghanistan, the U.S. should scale back our NATO commitments to informal relationships with the handful of NATO nations that can actually do something useful for us like Italy, Great Britain, and Turkey.

Our continued cultivation of NATO is an extension of a self-defeating U.S. strategy undertaken during the 1990s: the impossible goal of maintaining “unipolarity.” In foreign affairs, this quest to remain the “sole superpower” makes everything everywhere our business, sets us up for manipulation by cynical power brokers like Hasim Thaci and Saakashvili, and is in the end a recipe for high cost and little reward, as our power will become resented and opposed by inevitable regional powers like Indian, Russia, and China. Just as anti-war conservatives should acknowledge that the strong defense posture of the Cold War was addressed to a singularly dangerous threat, pro-war conservatives today should remember the same in reverse. Very few threats match those of Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia. It is time to restore some sense of proportion in foreign policy, based on the sturdy foundations of preserving our own safety and our own national independence in a world where the reality of power politics is the most important factor.

Of course, such a world would not always be a perfectly just one. I don’t mean to imply the evils suffered in this war, particularly by the civilians of Georgia, are not real and unfortunate. But politics, above all, requires some translation of abstract justice into the human realm, refracted as it is by memory, power, history, and geography. A foreign policy that aimed to rid the world of all evil, all competition, all war, and all strife in the name of “commitment to doing the right thing” would destroy the country that pursued it, no matter how sincerely. If the Soviet Union’s doomed history teaches us anything, it should be this.

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America is reaping the whirlwind after its policies in Kosovo and the Caucuses. In the quest of certain factions to reinstitute the certainties of the Cold War, we seem to have forgotten that Russia is rightly concerned more with its neighbors and Russian co-ethnics in neighboring states than we ever would be. Bush continued the Clinton policy of confronting Russia, supporting nationalist regimes on its borders, and generally disrespecting Russia’s right to have influence on its neighbors. Today Russia said, “Enough.”

It’s certainly not the case Russia’s motives in Georgia are pure. It’s hard to believe Russians care a heck of a lot about the non-Russian Ossetian people. But neither are Saakashvili’s motives so idealistic. He is a nationalist in the same mold as Putin or Medvedev. But, unlike the Russian leaders, he controls a weak nation. Further, he aims to enlist the US in its provocations, extending to his suicidal push to become a NATO nation. As Richard Spencer observes, treaties and military alliances have consequences. And the worst of all possible worlds is a series of provocations coupled with American bad faith when the natural consequences come around This is exactly what NATO expansion into the non-European Caucuses would mean. It’s unlikely America would go to bat for Poland or Lithuania. But Georgia? Let’s just say that Tblisi doesn’t exactly roll off the American tongue.

It’s time to stop the madness. Russia and Georgia are engaged in a petty border dispute of no consequence to the US. We have nothing in common with the people of Georgia or Chechnya or Dagestan or anywhere else in the region. It’s their problem. It’s appropriate Georgia is in the orbit of Russia. It is needlessly provocative for the US to forge such close ties to Georgia when it is run by a provocative leader willing to gamble on a major war. It’s bad enough to be in this position, but now we have the double problem of scaling back our commitment after having stupidly extended it. This unfortunately is the price we must bear for our own independence and our own safety. It’s a lesser price than continued conflict with Russia. There’s no reason to continue our present course and jump in the shark-infested waters having gone so far out on this plank.

Too many Americans, particularly conservatives, will fall into a Pavlovian response after seeing Russian tanks on the offensive. A friend suggested it was like Czechoslovakia in 1968. It is no such thing. It’s more like Kosovo in 1999 or, rather, 2008. No principled basis exists for Russia not to outright annex South Ossetia under the principles the U.S. has endorsed in Kosovo, i.e., allowing independence bids after brokered autonomy under multilateral peacekeepers becomes part of everyone’s general consciousness.

South Ossetia has been de facto independent since the early 1990s. It contains a cooperative force of Russian, Georgian, and Ossetian peacekeepers. An increasingly confident Georgia–not Russia–decided to initiate the provocative attack earlier this week that injured Russian peacekeepers. Georgia’s learning to its chagrin that Russia does not observe the suicidal principle of absolute proportionality in such matters.

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Kissinger reminds us that Russia is moving in its own way towards the rule of law and that we should not needlessly provoke her:

Speeches denouncing Russian shortcomings and gestures drawn from the Cold War have occurred frequently. Proponents of such policies assert that the transformation of Russian society is the precondition of a more harmonious international order. They argue that if pressure is maintained on the current Russia, it, too, will eventually implode. Yet assertive intrusion into what Russians consider their own sense of self runs the risk of thwarting both geopolitical and moral goals.

Some groups and individuals in Russia undoubtedly look to America to accelerate a democratic evolution. But almost all observers agree that the majority of Russians perceive America as presumptuous and determined to stunt Russia’s recovery. Such an environment is more likely to generate a nationalist and confrontational response than a democratic evolution.

In many ways, we are witnessing one of the most promising periods in Russian history. Exposure to modern open societies and engagement with them is more prolonged and intense than ever before — even in the face of unfortunate repressive measures. The longer this continues, the more it will impact Russia’s political evolution.

The pace of such an evolution will inevitably be Russian. We can affect it more by patience and historical understanding than by offended disengagement and public exhortations.

I was encouraged that such a wise man of foreign policy echoed some themes I had written about earlier in my own non-expert musings on Putin and Medvedev here and here.

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Interesting article about Marine operations in Afghanistan.  Veterans of the successful (for now) Sunni Awakening strategy are trying to recreate those results in Southern Afghanistan.  As in Iraq until very recently, locals fear to work with the US and Afghan troops because they are  “here today, gone tomorrow” leaving peasants to the tender mercies of the Taliban.

There are a fraction of the numbers of troops in Afghanistan as there are in Iraq, and the war presents many of the same strategic and operational challenges.  Even with the surge and the intelligent leadership of General Petraeus, at most the conditions of some kind of stability and success have been created in Iraq.  America has little power or ability to shape the Iraqi political settlement, which our leaders have always acknowledged requires reconciliation that can only come from the Iraqis themselves.  Without more troops–which are unavailable and will be for the foreseeable future–there is little hope even for this level of “success” to transpire in Afghanistan.  The country is nearly as large, requires more troops to patrol due its spread-out rural population, and yet there are only 23,000 US troops there, a fraction of the 130,000 plus in Iraq.  Even if the overall “hearts and minds” strategy focused on security succeeds, it is at best an intermediate goal.  As in Iraq, nothing stable will come of it that will not require a continued US presence,  because the end-state will be a power-brokered democracy.  Yet that presence is entirely unrealistic considering our modest-sized “peace dividend” military.  The Afghan people are entirely sensible to be wary of US offers of support and protection.  The Marines themselves surely know that politicians will break faith with these forlorn people far more readily than local commanders would.

We truly have a situation of lions led by donkeys.

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Andrew Bacevich–West Pointer,  conservative, father of KIA 1st Lt. Bacevich–criticizes the war in a way that should be persuasive to conservatives, including conservatives like me who initially supported the war for punitive reasons. Namely, it’s now clearly a waste of resources and a strategic error to continue on this course. It’s important not to continue this path, even though leaving Iraq would violate a normally good means to discover good policy: staying would enrage liberals.

Just because many anti-American liberals oppose something, doesn’t make it right. This war, like others, might be wrong for reasons pacifists and unpatriotic globalists don’t appreciate. As Bacevich observes, the war is a strategic failure and will continue to murmur along without any real progress indefinitely:

The costs to the United States of sustaining this dependency are difficult to calculate with precision, but figures such as $3 billion per week and 30 to 40 American lives per month provide a good approximation.

What can we expect to gain in return for this investment? The Bush administration was counting on the Iraq War to demonstrate the viability of its Freedom Agenda and to affirm the efficacy of the Bush Doctrine of preventive war.

Measured in those terms, the war has long since failed. Rather than showcasing our ability to transform the Greater Middle East, Operation Iraqi Freedom has demonstrated just the opposite. Using military power as an instrument for imprinting liberal values in this part of the world has produced a failed state while fostering widespread antipathy toward the United States.

Rather than demonstrating our ability to eliminate emerging threats swiftly, decisively, and economically—Saddam Hussein’s removal providing an object lesson to other tyrants tempted to contest our presence in the Middle East—the Iraq War has revealed the limits of U.S. power and called into question American competence. The Bush Doctrine hasn’t worked. Saddam is long gone, but we’re stuck. Rather than delivering decisive victory, preventive war has landed us in a quagmire.

I would add that the absolute worst reason to stay in this war is for some emotional notion of national honor and commitment to the troops, impulses that undergird the very unstrategic thinking John McCain and numerous buck sergeants. We don’t go to war to do the conquered a favor. We don’t stay to avenge deaths like some armed camp of Zulus. A nation goes sends its army to war to accomplish foreign policy goals. This same nation can and should withdraw these troops when it’s in our interests to do so, when those goals are out of reach, no longer important, or too costly. It’s not like Iraq is sacred American soil; this is a foreign land, half way around the world, in a very bad neighborhood, populated mostly by uncivilized people whom we do not understand and who do not understand or appreciate our soldiers’ sacrifices.

Sure, we can pig-headedly spend $20 or $30 trillion over another decade, but even if everything turns out for the best, it will be a strategic benefit worth some fraction of that. And then what? We’ll still have al Qaeda to worry about. We’ll still have North Korea. Our borders will be too porous. Our ranks of third world immigrants will remain too numerous. The Middle East will still have large numbers of pissed off young men who are given sanction to vent their anger by their religion.  The deterrent value of staying or leaving is a wash. Iran knows we won’t easily commit to a similar adventure on its territory. Russia and China will still be ascendant in their spheres of influence. Oil will still be scarce and in the hands of unstable autocrats and their resentful subjects.

Vast swaths of people all around the world will not appreciate Iraq as a model, it ends up as stable as Pakistan or Indonesia when all is said and done. Instead of seeing idealistic U.S. sacrifices for democracy, most Arabs and Muslims will perceive a marginally successful bid for power and domination of Iraq’s oil wealth. Most of the worlds peoples will continue to be more passionate about religion, nationalism, ideology, wealth, prosperity, and tribalism than democracy and the rule of law. Not only that, they’ll treat these tangible goods as more desirable than democracy–whether originating from bloody revolutions at home, or imposed from without by an idealistic and ideological United States.

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Most of George Bush’s foreign policy mistakes have been caused by what may be termed excessive foreign policy idealism.  Though Bush is rightly criticized for his incompetence and failure to learn from events, no amount of competence would have saved him from the pathetic, ongoing insurgency in Iraq. This outcome was a natural consequence of the situation that he put himself in due to foreign policy idealism:  our ambitious plans to change Iraq’s people and culture, the lack of an Iraqi center of power or leader to which we could appeal, and the inherent friction of a proud, ancient people in the face of foreign occupation. 

Bush misjudged where we should intervene (Iraq, Ukraine’s elections, Kosovo Independence), how long we should stay (forever), and what kind of results we could expect (flowers) because of this idealism. In the world of Bush and the neoconservatives, we should concern ourselves not merely with security or commerce, but high ideals like democracy and human rights among both our allies and our enemies.  The lack of concern for such things has undergirded our historical alliance with folks like Saudi monarchs and Indonesian dictators.  The idealists respond that these regimes fuel terrorism amongst their resentful and downtrodden people.  So, we must democratize places like this by force, including Iraq, as a matter of englightened self-interest. 

McCain believes all of this in spades.  Pat Buchanan describes what we can expect in a President McCain:

Like Condi Rice, who regularly disparages the policies of every president from FDR to Bill Clinton, McCain enjoys parading the higher morality of his devotion to democracy-uber-alles.

“For decades in the Middle East we had a strategy of relying upon autocrats to provide order and stability. We relied on the Shah, the autocratic rulers of Egypt, the generals of Pakistan, the Saudi royal family. … We can no longer delude ourselves that relying on these outdated autocrats is the safest bet.”

Speaking of self-delusion, does McCain believe the “democrats” lately elected in Pakistan will be tougher on al-Qaida and the Taliban than Pervez Musharraf, who has twice escaped assassination for having sided with us?

Does McCain think this new crowd in Islamabad will be more pro-American than the general, when the people who voted them in are among the most anti-American in the Islamic world?

From Richard Nixon to George Bush I, we expelled Moscow from Egypt, won the Cold War, brought peace between Egypt and Israel, and created a worldwide alliance, including Hafez al-Assad of Syria, that drove Saddam’s army out of Kuwait.

What has the Bush-McCain democracy crusade produced, save electoral victories for the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah and Hamas? And if we dump the sultan of Oman, President Mubarak, and the king of Saudi Arabia, who does McCain think will replace them?

The “idealists” are the most war-mongering bunch around.  Their idealism has no respect for the diversity of political arrangements in the world, nor the benefits of tolerating injustice compared to initiating the horrors of war. Idealists are behind such varied campaigns as Kosovo, Iraq, and Vietnam, as well as the current call to intervene in Sudan.  Without a sustained focus on America’s abiding interest in peace and the avoidance of trouble, the idealism of a Clinton or a Bush or a McCain will always get us into wars.   The “no war for oil” folks have it all wrong.  That at least would make some crude sense.  The neoconservative ideaslists are seeking not power or lucre, but the satisfaction of standing up for a noble cause.  For them, every threat is Hitler, every decision Munich, every threat of world historical importance.  This same idealism does not give a leader the analytical tools to realize our predicaments and extricate ourselves. 

Idealists always paint vivid images of the future, a world characterized by law and right. Our present difficulties are always treated casually, necessary and bearable suffering that will be vindicated by the verdict of history.  Such “this worldly” optimism is reminiscent of the Hegelian-Marxist view of history, where any given state of society is only a step on the way to the Communist paradise. 

But sometimes it’s not December 1944. Sometimes the stakes are not existential.  And in these cases, hard-headedness is needed to go with softer-heartedness, in McCain’s case the admirable concern for others and a high sense of duty and persistence.  There is a time to throw in the towel, and that time has arrived in Iraq.

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Below is a link to my Kosovo Op-Ed in the Orlando Sentinel.  The comments on the on-line version are surprisingly pro-Serb.  I guess people everywhere are fed up with wars being waged over half-baked abstractions like Democracy and Self-Determination. 

Here’s an excerpt:

No one believes that the Kosovar Albanians will act as tolerant stewards of a multicultural society. Since 1999, Kosovar extremists have destroyed Christian churches and monasteries and expelled thousands of Serbs in a campaign that one NATO commander described as “ethnic cleansing.”

History has not been kind to the Serbs. After World War II, the communist regime murdered Serbians en masse who fought against the Nazi invaders. In the 1990s, though all sides committed atrocities in the Balkans, Americans and Europeans singled out the Bosnian Serbs for condemnation. The hypocrisy reached its peak in 1995 when the West remained silent as well-armed Croatian forces expelled 200,000 Serbs from Bosnia’s Krajina region. Today in Kosovo, the holy land of the Serbs, the West has explicitly approved the nationalist aims of the Albanians by recognizing an independent Kosovo.

This is a bigger issue than Serbia. Once again, the United States has needlessly provoked Russia. In recent years, we’ve meddled in its Ukrainian neighbor’s elections and pushed NATO’S boundaries farther eastward. In 1999, a weak Russia could do little to support its Serbian ally. But today Vladimir Putin’s Russia is strong, and its patience with the West has worn thin.

We may soon find that we have insulted Russia one time too many.

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What can we say about Obama and his contradictions?  He’s the man they faint over like the Beatles.  He is also the guy that earnestly discusses health care policy and other wonkery.  He made a deadpan comment about that Bill Clinton’s dance moves (or lack thereof) would prove if he’s black.  Yet, he’s the Harvard lawyer who eschews sound bites and overt partisanship.

Obama is actually quite brilliant politically.  He talks like a very serious guy, but, if you listen closely, he says nothing.   Just by way of example, Obama says the most important job of the next president “will be to mobilize the American people to move forward.”  This means nothing.  People are nonetheless impressed with his “seriousness” and gravitas.

I think this is mostly because he can ably articualte both sides of an issue.  He rarely sinks to the Clintons’ penchant for describing conservatives as a sinister cabal with bad motives.  His style is a big part of the product because that style is so different from Bush’s.  Where Bush is cocksure, inarticulate, and uses the rhetoric of fear and oversimplification, Obama is deliberate, highly articulate, discusses his opponents’ positions intelligently, and uses the rhetoric of . . . (drum roll please) . . . hope. 

I think he is, however, very unserious.  I know this not because “Obama Girl” exists or shallow women are fainting at his speeches.  Nor is it proven by the insufferable “Yes We Can” video.  He’s unserious because he does not openly face the fact that controversy and unpopular trade-offs are the essence of politics.  This evasion is highly evident when he talks about foreign affairs.  His basic schtick is to change the subject and talk about midnight basketball or health care.

If he were brave rather than slick, he could articulate a more sensible vision of domestic and foreign policy.  He’s really just a product of his party.  Democrats don’t want to hear about trade offs or spending cuts or the need to face al Qaeda. They just want to hear from the Smart Guy Who Will Take Us Out of Iraq and Soak The Rich.  On every other issue, his supporters insert their own beliefs into the empty vessel rhetoric of “hope” and “change.” They are happy because they think Obama is such a great guy for agreeing with them, even though that agreement is only in the ether, so to speak.

Obama is spawning unserious devotion precisely because of his apparent seriousness, which at bottom is not serious at all.  It’s an illusion.  He is a typical  hack Democratic politician, but he happens to speak well and has charisma. He knows if he spoke like Kucinich, he’d lose.  So he conceals his beliefs behind a facade of empty rhetoric. That’s all he’s got.  Some “messiah.” 

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I love this map.

 NWO Map

Events far away in Kosovo implicate a very practical question:  Do we want countries and their borders to be up for grabs every time one of their ethnic minority groups resorts to terrorism?  Or do we want, instead, to encourage all nations, even nations that are commited like most will be to remaining an “ethnic state” with a particular majority, to behave justly to all of their people, seeking negotiated solutions where possible?  I think these questions answer themselves.  And the answers matter not just to Europe but to America too, because we are facing the separatist “reconquista” ideology of Mexican radicals coming to the United States.  If Serbia must give up Kosovo, what will Americans say if someday New Mexico or Arizona seek to break off from the United States and become new Hispanic-majority nations aligned with Mexico?

Ethnic and religious minorities are always a bit nervous about their safety and understandably so.  Often the best solution if peace cannot otherwise be found is purposeful separation.  If the recent breakup of Yugoslavia proves anything, it should prove the dangers of multiculturalism and multinational states.  In any ideal world, Yugoslavia would have been dissolved through fair negotiations, population transfers, mutually agreeable drawing up of frontiers, and some form of compensation of displaced people. 

But even if one thought every stateless people–Tamils, Palestinians, Kurds–deserved a nation state, the justification for a new state in Kosovo is nonexistent.  Albania, the nation, is right next door and offers a suitable homeland to any Albanian that wanted to leave Yugoslavia. Because of these contradictions, the U.S. has resorted to saying that its recognition of Kosovo’s independence will not serve as a precedent because it is “unique.”  Unique indeed, because Bush and the Europeans do not want to admit that we have participated in an incredibly dangerous exception to established principles of international law. 

* I can’t say enough about the excellent coverage of the Kosovo Crisis over at Svetlana Novko’s Byzantine Sacred Art Blog, where I found the map above.  A Serbian living in Canada, Svetlana has excellent sources and coverage from Kosovo and the rest of Serbia. 

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Winging It

George Bush “winged it” on foreign policy. He didn’t know who Musharraf was in 2000. But he did do something sensible: he hired accomplished people of diverse views to advise him including Powell, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, etc. On paper at least, this looked like the way to go, but unfortunately the neoconservatives alone had a coherent explanation of the causes and appropriate response to 9/11 and happened to be spectacularly wrong on both counts. Bush demonstrates the inadequacy of good advisers alone to guide an ignorant president. A certain amount of “horse sense” and private knowledge is necessary to evaluate competing claims, positions, and proposals. By way of analogy, I wouldn’t presume to run a software company or baseball team, even with the greatest advisers. I’d essentially be judging their rhetoric with pure reason, which is not a basis through which to make sensible decisions.

Huckabee has this problem on foreign policy. He knows nothing. He proposes, for example, tightening the borders with Mexico to keep out militant Pakistanis. Well, the borders do need to be tightened, but it’s not because fanatics from the ISI or Sharif’s Pakistani Muslim League are about to cross the US-Mexican border to blow up rival politicians. His tone, his substance, and every word out of his mouth on foreign policy are a ventriloquist act, at best parroting the slogans of others, whether it’s on Pakistan or his criticisms of Bush’s diplomacy as “too arrogant.” Like Bush, he’ll be a tool of his advisers without the knowledge, skill, or experience to evaluate anything they say.

Bush has been a disaster and the cause, it seems, is his utter dependence upon advisers in all but the most picayune domestic concerns. He was supposed to be a Republican Clinton, pushing feel good initiatives like school choice and faith-based charities. But reality intruded on 9/11, and he’s been over his head ever since, in spite of early victories in Afghanistan.  Strategically, we’ve never had a coherent response. Who knows which direction Huckabee (or Obama or Edwards) would take? They don’t know themselves, just as no one could have told what direction Bush would have taken. Do we really want another round of this juvenile stupidity, particularly as we know this time around that these issues will have to be addressed by the next president?

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Andrew McCarthy reminds us why Pakistan is messed up, that feel-good slogans about democracy miss the point, and the Bhutto assassination is merely business-as-usual.

Auster notes that our language in dealing with atrocity is impoverished by the logic of liberalism, which does not like to call evildoers evil.

Ace explains the fundamental contradiction of Democratic Party calls for diplomacy while also criticizing our diplomacy–as in financial and diplomatic support–of people like General Musharaff.

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Republican and Democratic Presidents’ Israel policies resemble liberal policy errors in other areas.  Liberals start with a well-meaning intervention, say, urban renewal.  This leads to a variety of unforeseen problems.  Then the same policymakers have solutions to those problems, such as welfare, AFDC, and an army of social workers.  In time, this response leads to still other problems; these in turn lead to more government programs, all designed to correct the correction of the correction of the original problem. Soon the entire apparatus acquires a life and momentum of its own.

Our Israel policy is, if nothing else, highly interventionist.  Even after the end of the Cold War, we continue to provide substantial funds to Israel and Egypt as a part of the Camp David Accords.  The American F-16s and Apache helicopters used by the IDF are visible symbols around the world of this close patron-client relationship.  We share intelligence and military technology, though we find ourselves occasionally at odds with one another’s arms sales, e.g., Israeli sales to China; American sales to Saudi Arabia.

Israel, having different internal politics and security needs than the United States, naturally uses this aid in ways that America does not always agree with, not least in their massive invasion of Lebanon in 2006 after the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah.  America has always, stupidly in my view, conceived of its role as the over-arching moral force above the Palestinians, Israelis, Jordanians, etc.  Our continuing deep military involvement with Israel, not mandated by any treaty, leads to ill will with Arabs and Muslims who see a civilizational ally in the Palestinians and their nationalist struggle.   Our substantial conventional and diplomatic power is recognized by all sides, and its application one way or the other does not go unnoticed. The costs of that ill will from the Arab and Muslim world materializes in the form of terrorism and machiavellian manipulation of oil prices. 

The right response to this cost of our support for Israel is not then to pressure Israel to follow a quixoitc and unrealistic strategy of rapproachment with the Palestinians.  Today this approach is crazier than ever, considering that Hamas now has substantial political power, and it gained it through the political authority and elections the United States fought for.  Hamas, if I must state the obvious, is a terrorist organization with a parallel political arm that thoroughly supports terrorism.  Freedom is on the march, after all.

The right response after the Cold War ill should have been (and remains) to reconsider and then scale back U.S. aid and involvement everywhere We can sell arms to Israel and various friendly Arab countries without also providing substantial military aid amounting to billions of dollars.  From Oslo to Wye River to the incompetent Condoleeza Rice’s presently ill conceived efforts to cajole Israelis to restart negotiations with the Palestinians, America exerts substantial diplomatic energy on projects whose success is unlikely and over which we have little control.  As in Iraq, success requires idle hopes that these tribal and historically violent people will all of a sudden rally to a program of nonviolence and democracy, when instead the Arab players repeatedly demonstrate their abiding desire for respect and revenge and power.

From South Korea to the Middle East, the post-Cold-War strategy of the United States maintaining costly alliances and involvement where the high stakes of the Cold War have disappeared is costly and unwise and leads to ever-expanding involvement to correct the blowback from earlier interventions.  To respond to the inevitable complications of these alliances–after all, allies need us precisely because they have potential and actual enemies–by trying to control allies, who have unique foreign policies of their own, increases the complexity of our foreign policy and involves us more deeply in various parts of the world out of inertia.  We soon find ourselves not in control of our national destiny because of the ever-expanding obligations caused by alliances that are supposed to advance justice and our national security. 

The swamp of interventionism is analgous to the big government policies at home, where the government grows by trying to correct earlier ill-advised and overly ambitious policies.  We should instead follow the wise counsel of the Foudners:  avoid entangling alliances, have commerce with all, and try to stay out of parochial foreign struggles, while always being willing to fight to defend our national sovereignty and honor with military force as a last resort.

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If Obama’s foreign policy is sometimes incoherent, Hillary’s is simply Bush-lite.  Her recent essay in Foreign Affairs reveals herself as someone who does not depart substantially from the globalist paradigm of Bush and President Clinton, with the main difference being her greater faith in “diplomacy.”  In a world where many nations’ interests involve knocking America down in prestige and power, this is simply wishful thinking of the worst sort.  It’s essentially the foreign policy espoused earlier by John Kerry.  It is vague about how she will fight terrorism, focusing instead on a policy of supporting the people that will clean up the pieces in the wake of an attack, the lauded “first responders.” 

The flaws in Hillary Clinton’s basic perspective are never more apparent than in her discussion of one of the major foreign policy failure of the last decade, the payoff deal given to North Korea to cease its nuclear programs.  This deal was brokered by Jimmy Carter and signed off by President Clinton and promised North Korea money to cease its nuclear arms programs after it had essentially threatened the West with its arsenal.  She writes: 

Like Iran, North Korea responded to the Bush administration’s effort to isolate it by accelerating its nuclear program, conducting a nuclear test, and building more nuclear weapons. Only since the State Department returned to diplomacy have we been able, belatedly, to make progress.

Actually, North Korea was undertaking all these programs after the deal when it promised it would not do so.  Nothing in Bush’s “axis of evil” remark could have set off such a massive undertaking.  The money paid off by the ’94 Clinton Deal enabled the North Korean regime by giving it much-needed financial and material support.  As I wrote earlier:

I can’t say I blame Clinton for not discovering North Korea violations and weapons plans earlier. The secret North Korean regime is notoriously hard for our spies to penetrate. But I do fault him for thinking he could bribe a criminal regime like this into behaving sensibly. The basic concept of the agreement was the problem, and the end result was more or less inevitable. Even the most minimally rationally black-mailer, once he’s been paid, has an incentive to seek more. And that’s exactly what North Korea’s been trying to accomplish ever since. Clinton’s plan was all carrot and no stick. Bush has been tasked with cleaning up a mess that he did not create, where he did not fail to negotiate real security guarantees, and under the threat of a far more substantial North Korean weapons capability.

On top of its flawed concepts, Clinton’s lengthy essay provides little guidance as to when and where diplomacy is necessary or unlikely to be of use, nor does it articulate when force is needed and under what circumstances she would use it.  For instance, does she embrace the “humanitarian wars” concept of President Clinton?  Does she think a UN mandate is always necessary (after all, her husband did not in Kosovo)? Does she recognize that certain irrational players on the world stage, such as A-Jod in Iran, may not respond to the same incentives as less ideological and religiously-tinged leaders?  Finally, does she recognize any inherent or at least structural tension between the Western World and the Islamic world?  She’s either silent or vague on these issues.  The world Muslim only comes up in referring to her support for “building a Muslim democracy in Afghanistan.”

Bush has been a disaster on foreign policy because he is a liberal.  He believes in spreading democracy, the universality of American values, and the necessity of idealism in our foreign policy.  He also has been incompetent, using tough talk without backing up words with appropriate action, alienating potential friends like Russia, using democracy as a substitute for the necessity of real security in Iraq, and being diffident and inarticulate about the need for intelligence-gathering against al Qaeda.  There is no reason to think Clinton will not be worse in all these respects, even if she is accepted more readily by the Europeans. 

Let’s not forget that it is al Qaeda, China, Iran, and Russia who matter most in the next President’s foreign policy.  On all four matters, the first President Clinton, embracing a very similar view as Hillary was a disaster.  Al Qaeda grew in strength and planned 9/11 during his watch.  China grew stronger military and economically under his watch, and its increasing trade with the West did not liberalize its internal affairs as promised.  Iran continued to support terrorism during Clinton’s more mild presidency and was linked to the Khobar Towers bombing without any retaliation on his part.  Finally, Russia grew increasingly alienated from the West during Clinton and Bush’s presidency because both presidents desired to expand NATO, criticized Russia on Chechnya (where it’s fighting al Qaeda and its allies), and both meddled in Russia’s internal affairs and elections.  Clinton may not be loony on foreign policy, but liberals and conservatives alike should expect many of the same problems as Bush has had, coupled with the likely disappointments that the deus ex machina of diplomacy will foster.  These problems will persist because both Hillary Clinton and Bush use liberal ideas–the importance of the UN, democracy (including among our allies), and human rights–as guides when hard-headed realism about diplomacy and the use of force is needed.

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