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Archive for the ‘Foreign Affairs’ Category

Interesting piece by Rich Lowry on how, for Obama, America’s history does not matter, and he does not conceive of himself as a defender of America’s reputation.  For him, it’s practically year zero.  To me this has as much to do with his narcissism as his philosophy. It’s all about him! And if he wasn’t around when America did something–such as the very morally defensible, if disastrous, Bay of Pigs invasion–then it should not matter.

On a related matter, Buchanan notes that the Achilles Heel of Democrats has long been their perceived lack of patriotism, and Obama’s recent road show will not help.  I think this is right, though I also agree (and wrote earlier this week) that America may have changed so much that the old Real America may not be numerous enough to slow him down.  Obama has to show himself a champion of America as a vital, historical entity, not simply as a partisan for a grab-bag of liberal principles.  Bush too got burned on this when he pushed amnesty as aggressively as he did.  I think this will be difficult for Obama, though, because he has almost no experience outside of Chicago and the strange locale of Hawaii.  He is a bit of a stranger to his country, in particular to the values and way of life in its interior. He also lacks affection for much of is past, which, though perhaps understandable, does not make him well suited for sustaining the affection of a great many Americans.

I’m no great fan of torture, particularly in the way it was couched in extreme legalism under the Bush administration.  I feel an aggressive application of the pardon power is the better solution in war time, rather than having such terrible acts done deliberately, with the patina of legality, and the consequent degradation of lawmakers and the law.  But I think it’s profoundly dishonest for Obama and others to say constantly that there is no choice between security and “our values.”  There are choices, and they need to be made and defended honestly based on what they entail.   Obama’s days of voting “present” are over.  I confess, I don’t fully understand the critics’ passion on this issue.  There are times when torture might work in saving Americans from a major disaster; an honest opponent of torture–like an honest defender of civil rights–would acknowledge that there are times when we should suffer in order to follow through on this moral commitment, though I think here the scale of harm is so much greater than ordinary crime that it’s a much closer moral question.  War time, unlike ordinary policing, is a different realm, and this is something the lawyer Obama and his numerous lawyer advisers fail to appreciate.  There is little chance any American citizen would be “tortured.”  The victims are all foreigners of one kind or another, in fact all high ranking al Qaeda members.   So long as “rough interrogations” are directed outward, the harm is confined to strange enemies, not potentially innocent accused Americans.  Further, this talk of “our values” is a little results-oriented and astorical  Our “values” did not prevent some pretty rough treatment of the Indians or Japanese.  Waterboarding was common in Vietnam.  George Washington had military commissions, as did FDR.  So “our values” apparently means “today’s liberal values” for most who invoke this question-begging phrase.  I think Obama also will find out that the various perma-bureaucracies in DC, particularly the CIA, have ways of getting even to perceived disrespect, as evidenced this week by the leakage of memos on the effectiveness of torture in preventing a 9-11 style attack on L.A.

Lucian Reed’s photographic essay of combat in Iraq, particularly with the audio of actual combat, is haunting and powerful.  I found him at the Battle Space photography portal. It’s funny how much the media has dropped Iraq; there’s still a war going on, and those of us in military families can’t afford to “tune out.”

Closer to home, a scathing portrait of Tim Geithner.

The economy still looks pretty grim, and the “bear market rally” of the last few months has been a very low volume play thing of day traders and perpetual bulls, as best I can tell.  One area that is rallying, in spite of drops in commodity prices, is ammunition. While gun prices have dropped some since January, ammo’s getting impossible to find, and price has tripled from 2-3 years ago.  People who used to have a hundred rounds or so sitting around the house are, quite obviously, stockpiling.  This is Obama-inspired, mostly, but it’s also inspired by the general fear out there among the peasantry.  This is or course a smallish market with various impediments to entry and importation, and it’s subject to occasional panics like this one.  Then again, this may be “how it is” so long as a gun-grabber is in the White House.

As a “signs of the times,” perhaps fearful of the devalued dollar, China has assumed a much larger gold position in the last several years.

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Apparently, Obama made a lot of friends at the G-20 summit, not least through his conciliatory speech that recognized America’s arrogance in the form of unilateral policies on the War on Terror. And what did it garner? Massive troop commitments to fight al Qaeda? Unanimity in the face of North Korea’s provocative long range missile test? A Russian commitment to withdraw from South Ossetia? No, nothing at all, just some words of congratulation with the usual pusilaniminousness about anything that might actually require Europe to behave like a normal collection of strong nations, rather than a bunch of spoiled welfare cases living under the American security umbrella.

I would add that Obama’s idea we need a “civilian surge” in Afghanistan, an idea that appeals to peaceniks and Europeans alike, suffers from the same problem that Iraq labored under in 2004-2007: without real security, nothing of note can really be accomplished by civilian advisors and, even if some combination of military and civilian nation-building ultimately is successful, it may be overkill if the chief U.S. interest is stopping terrorists from organizing and training in a manner capable of doing harm to the civilized world.

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Daniel Larison makes a very strong point:  the world does not like the US because of its policies, and the symbolism of an Obama presidency will do little to heal the rifts and unavoidable tensions with the rest of the world:

As I have said before there is scarcely a more disrespectful, condescending attitude towards the rest of the world than the assumption that they can be bought off or won over with something as superficial as a U.S. President with a mixed racial background.  If the Obama fans actually believe their candidate has some legitimate policy changes to introduce, that might be a reason for other nations to respond favorably to him, but on the whole the changes on offer are, like so much else in this campaign, symbolic and aesthetic.  In the end, Obama fans project their own fantasies about “racial reconciliation” into the international sphere, implicitly likening the majority of the world to our minority populations, which is to belittle them a second time.  This relieves them of the obligation to critique seriously U.S. foreign policy, which is the source of some significant part of anti-U.S. animus, since they have already concluded that America’s reputation can be repaired in some measure simply through the election of one man. 

It sure doesn’t help that Obama knows he’s weak on foreign policy and sometimes plays the hawk, like an in-over-his-head manager playing the tyrant to rattle and silence his subordinates.  His appearance and background will do little to help him with counterparts ranging from China to Pakistan to Russia, and his lack of experience and interest in foreign affairs will provide an additional burden if he becomes the President.  George W. Bush is a good example of this problem in action: he could care less about world affairs before he became President, he’s been unduly influenced by idealistic-sounding idiots like Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, mucking things up mightily because his ability to think critically about the sometimes conflicting advice he’s getting is severely compromised.

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It’s bad enough that the United States criticizes Russia’s elections, the methods it uses against Islamic extremists in Chechnya, and the peaceful sharing of power between Putin and his successor Medvedev, but now certain voices in the government are implying that there’s something wrong with Russia’s celebration of its victory over Nazi Germany by having a military parade. Consider the context: this was the worst, most bloody war in world history, and the Russians bore the brunt of that bloodshed, losing some 23 million people, including 11 million civilians. Further, even with the various horrors of life under the Soviet Union, the Soviet state was powerful and taken seriously on the world scene until 1989. People held down by Soviet reality could take some pride in the nation’s collective power, particularly as private life improved during the Gorbachev era. In the 1990s, under a decade of weak leadership by President Yeltsin, the Russia military went into a state of disrepair, and the Russian state became a laughing stock–a land of prostitutes, fraudsters, selfish oligarchs, military weakness, disappearing pensions, and poverty.

Today life in Russia is good, the military is strong, the economy is improving, and birth-rates are rising. In other words, life is better after Putin’s rule than before, and the nation–full of patriotic people who have always held the military in high esteem–enjoys seeing the military on display, replete with sophisticated weaponry in a state of good repair, operated by troops in a state of discipline and good order.

Interpreting this as “saber-rattling” is a typical misreading of reality by folks schooled in the high theory of foreign policy structural realism. Structural realism takes little account of a nation’s domestic life. It postulates that all states everywhere are aiming for maximum power; it does not matter if a nation is a democracy or dictatorship, nor does it matter that it has ideological and cultural attachments and predispositions. Labeling oversimplified models with fancy names does not make them any more useful; unfortunately, this kind of “crib sheet” thinking is common among Bush’s neoconservative advisers, who studied under the high priests of foreign policy structural realism at the University of Chicago.

There’s a simple truth that too much education can obscure from observers: people like a good parade, particularly when it honors a nation’s military that defeated the Nazis against great odds and after great losses. Americans, who have many criticisms of their own government, have a similarly positive view of the military as the most effective and least self-interested government institution. To look at a parade as an international affairs provocation is a typical misreading of events, though not a surprising one, considering our government’s misunderstanding of the Iraqi people, the nature of the Kosovo terrorist state, and the likely outcome of democracy in the Palestinian Authority.

The prominent display of Soviet symbols does deserve mention. What does it mean? One thing it does not mean is that Soviet-style communism, aggression, and human rights violations are making a comeback. There is no doubt that Putin and Medvedev have rejected Soviet-style control over the economy and the civil society of the Russian people. Private businesses and religious life are enjoying a renaissance. The Russian solution is not the same balancing act of liberty and order as we enjoy in the United States, but neither is that of France, Germany, and the UK, all of whom routinely prosecute conservatives for trumped up charges of “racist” speech. Putin’s positive display of Soviet symbols is part of a broader attempt at national reconciliation.  Putin, to his credit, has embraced the type of solution to national strife employed by de Gaulle after WWII and northern Americans after Reconstruction. That is, he emphasizes those honorable parts of the Soviet past, particularly the strength of its military against the Nazis, while simply setting aside the moral meaning of state control of the economy, the suppression of Russian nationalism, and other evils. This narrative is analogous to the universal recognition of the honor and bravery of the Confederate soldier in America from, say, 1876-1960. In other words, Putin knows that it’s simply too much to ask a man to piss on his father’s grave and for a nation to declare one third or more of its people criminals.  Pride, order, patriotism, and normalcy are paramount, even at the expense of historical accuracy. He’s sought to synthesize the symbols of the pre-revolutionary Russian nation, Soviet military power, and the universal desire for peace and prosperity in the public life and symbology of the new Russia.

Much of modern foreign policy concerns itself with criticizing other nations’ internal affairs, even as diplomats and analysts are steeped in a theory that studiously avoids serious understanding of the character of the world’s peoples and their domestic politics.

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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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A truly excellent article appears in Foreign Affairs describing how the European peace and prosperity of the last 50 years were a product of increasing ethnic homogenization among almost all of these nations since WWI. 

Far from this being the age of post-nationalism, the EU and Franco-German detante conceal the fact that our age is witness to the apotheosis of the traditional nation-state.  While nothing earth-shattering appears in Muller’s essay, it is very clear and precise.  Ideally, it would disabuse American readers of the hoary notion that the ethnic state is an anachronism that should be eliminated through mass immigration, meddling in other nation’s internal affairs, and constant hectoring by a******s like George Soros. 

Projecting their own experience onto the rest of the world, Americans generally belittle the role of ethnic nationalism in politics. [Well, liberal ones, minorities, and recent arrivals do.]  After all, in the United States people of varying ethnic origins live cheek by jowl in relative peace. Within two or three generations of immigration, their ethnic identities are attenuated by cultural assimilation and intermarriage. Surely, things cannot be so different elsewhere.

Americans also find ethnonationalism discomfiting both intellectually and morally. Social scientists go to great lengths to demonstrate that it is a product not of nature but of culture, often deliberately constructed. And ethicists scorn value systems based on narrow group identities rather than cosmopolitanism.

But none of this will make ethnonationalism go away. Immigrants to the United States usually arrive with a willingness to fit into their new country and reshape their identities accordingly. But for those who remain behind in lands where their ancestors have lived for generations, if not centuries, political identities often take ethnic form, producing competing communal claims to political power. The creation of a peaceful regional order of nation-states has usually been the product of a violent process of ethnic separation. In areas where that separation has not yet occurred, politics is apt to remain ugly.

The author does a good job of explaining the present state of the ethnic state.  It’s the super-tribe, the most modern of  kinship identies, and also the weakest, but it is also a natural bond, considering the common histories, languages, religions, and physical similarities that unite most national groups. 

I do think he misunderstands the nascent American ethnic nationalism that bloomed in the post-war era, only to be scrubbed away after 1965 through mass immigration and a “counter-cultural” ideological program. But the main point stands, and it probably stands doubly strong once American exceptionalism is rejected as an ideological tale told by self-interested parties, mostly unassimilated minorities and our foreign enemies.

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One problem with Bush is that he’s neither analytical, consistent,curious,  nor is he particularly experienced in life to know what he’s doing. So a series of abstractions and sycophants compete for his attention.  Worst of all, when all else fails, he resorts to decisionmaking by instinct, instincts honed through a singularly undemanding life prior to assuming the role of the presidency:

They said Mr. Bush — an ardent believer in personal diplomacy, who once remarked that he had looked into the eyes of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and had gotten “a sense of his soul” — was taken in by the general, with his fluent English and his promises to hold elections and relinquish military power. They said Mr. Bush looked at General Musharraf and saw a democratic reformer when he should have seen a dictator instead.

Nothing wrong with dictators, sometimes they’re our only friends in certain parts of the world, but you shouldn’t let the Burberry suits and Cambridge educations fool you, whether you’re talking about King Abdullah or Putin or the Chinese or Musharaff.  Incidentally, I believe the latter is someone we can do business with, and the current tensions reflect parochial battles between ethnic groups and power brokers, but his power also is a delicate matter, and we needn’t demand elections when he’s hanging by a thread.

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