Archive for the ‘foreign policy’ Category

Recounting various failures of Obama’s rhetoric to accomplish anything–from Copenhagen on the Olympics to Iran–Bret Stephens’ timely editorial in today’s Wall Street Journal reminds us that Obama’s fatal weakness is his own and his supporters’ unshakeable faith in his powers of persuasion:

He seems to have come to office believing that America’s problems abroad could mainly be put down to the rough-edged persona of his predecessor. Change the president, change the tone, give magnificent speeches, tinker with the policy, and the world would revert to some default mode of liking America and wanting to work with it. It doesn’t work that way. Nor does it work in domestic policy, where personal salesmanship has failed to overcome the defects of legislation. Americans still generally like Mr. Obama, or at least they’d like to like him. It’s the $12 trillion deficit and Rube Goldberg health schemes that rub them wrong.

So what’s Copenhagen Syndrome? It is a belief in your own miracles. It is thinking that those who crowned you king actually knew what they were doing. It is buying into your own tulip bulb mania. It is the floating evanescent bubble of self. God help you when it bursts.

Incidentally, I wrote something on this earlier this year, and it’s notable that Obama’s experience with the presidency is much like the rest of his life:  a series of attainments but few achievements, exactly what one would expect from a smooth-talker who time and experience have repeatedly revealed is basically a sophist.

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Obama has been critiqued by some conservatives for a lack of sufficient embrace of “American exceptionalism,” which is normally defined as the view that America is a unique nation, with a unique international role, which views that role as chiefly a positive for the advancement of human rights and justice around the world. As the Washington Times put the matter:

President Obama’s reference to British or Greek exceptionalism suggests a belief that the United States doesn’t stand alone with a particular greatness but that every nation is great in its own way and America is simply one of many nations with something cool to offer.

This kind of multicultural, politically correct, “we’re all unique in unique ways, every kid must win at dodgeball” thinking is the basis for his economic and foreign policies, from his schemes to nationalize the auto, banking, and health care industries to his lollygagging on behalf of those fighting for greater freedom in Iran.

So, we are led to believe by interventionist neoconservatives and others, the choice is between the John McCain and George W. Bush approach that would have America involved everywhere fighting for democracy and justice. And, on the other hand, we have the “internationalist” approach of Barack Obama, which also wants to be involved in the world, but shows contempt not only for America’s military and diplomatic power, but contempt for all distinctive aspects of America, such as free markets and limited government, an historical people of mostly European ancestry, a history of very charitable treatment of the defeated in foreign conflicts, and an historical desire to maintain sovereignty and independence.

Missing from this false dichotomy, and the political scene generally, is a true nationalist voice that is neither excessively indebted to nor overly influenced by or concerned with the rest of the world. A humble view that is aware of our limitations and jealous of our advantages. A view that does not seek to manage or influence the world with the exception chiefly of providing a good example to others and protecting what is ours.

America’s foreign policy and sense of self was, to some extent, permanently altered by its heading down the wrong road in World War I. That was the war “to make the world safe for democracy” where our elites’ first widely embraced the idea that we should be transforming the world to make the rest of it more like America. It’s not clear this sunk very deep in ordinary Americans’ consciousness. It took Pearl Harbor for America to get involved in World War II, in spite of FDR’s best efforts, and the Cold War was largely understood as a unique threat that called for a unique response by Americans fearful of domination by an aggressive internationalist ideology. Even then, Americans desire not to get too involved in unnecessary conflict eventually led to an early withdrawal from Vietnam and a more practical approach of containment, with a special emphasis on our backyard in the Western Hemisphere. In any case, regardless of the merits and rhetoric of that lengthy detour, the world changed dramatically with the fall of the Soviet Union, and Americans more or less remained aloof from and only mildly supportive of our activities overseas in the 1990s.

With the 9/11 attacks, like Pearl Harbor, Americans widely called for tribal revenge for our murdered countrymen. Bush and Obama both have misread the cause of this attack as the lack of American-style institutions overseas, and Bush in particular sought in its aftermath to make the spreading of democracy in the Middle East by force of American arms the central strategy, even when ordinary revenge attacks would have sufficed for his conservative supporters. Some conservatives, liberals, and moderates all eventually soured on the nation-building approach in Iraq in particular. Obama now has scaled back these ambitions, even as he desires to get foreigners and international institutions more involved in controlling America and its policies, whether on carbon output or the use of force and much else. His incoherence reflects this tradition of division between foreign involvement as “savior of the world” and its equally liberal counterpart in the form of deference to the UN and suspicion of American unilateralism of all types.

What neoconservatives and liberals both reject is the tradition of American non-intervenetionism. The distinct American tradition is one of avoidance of controlling and being controlled by foreigners. It stretches from George Washington’s Farewell Address and the Monroe Doctrine, to the so-called Know-Nothings, and more recently to Charles Lindbergh, Robert Taft, and Pat Buchanan. It has been the abiding idiom of American conservatism. It is the real exceptionalism because, in addressing the uses of American power, it does not seek domination of others whether from the will to power or the missionary impulse to transform the rest of the world. Its ideas on the use of force are largely defensive and focused on the preservation of the American way of life. It’s a view largely absent from both parties, yet it finds support in what is likely a majority of working class ethnic whites, business-oriented conservatives, many Vietnam veterans, as well as a swath of anti-war Americans who come from a variety of traditions.

The nationalist is against the proposed surge in Afghanistan (and was against saving the anarchy of Somalia or liberating the supposedly victimized Kosovars) not because such acts are an evil to these people–to them, they are probably on balance a good–but because such activity distracts us from our chief concern, which is our own flourishing as a people and the protection of a distinct way of life from foreign attack and excessive foreign influence. This older tradition has the benefit of being more just, less costly, and more consistent with free institutions and fiscal austerity than the so-called “American exceptionalism” of the bellicose neoconservatives.

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John Kerry was a man of his long-gone times:  the 1960s.  He admired the Western European social democracies, particularly that of the French, with their cinema, socialism, complexity, six week vacations, and mostly harmless student riots. 

Obama, by contrast, is a man of the multiculturalist branch of leftism, which emerged in the 1980s.  This group sees its heroes in the Sandanistas, Nelson Mandela, Black Panthers, and the Third World generally.  Its heroic events include the L.A. Riots and the expulsion of European “colonists” from places like Rhodesia.  So it’s not terribly surprising that Obama’s abilities as a diplomat have  consisted mostly of egregious displays of subservience to Third Worlders and non-white leaders in general, such as the Emperor of Japan.  Most important, his lopsided Third World focus has begun to create a minor rift with our civilizational forebears in Europe.

For the record, I thought that some of the conservative venom directed against Western Europe and France during the run-up to the Iraq War was ignorant and short-sighted.  I said so at the time.  John Kerry may have been anti-American in many important ways, but at least he remained rooted in Western Civilization for his models of good government. 

Obama is something different and more dangerous.  Obama doesn’t just want good social services and economic equality, which are the things a John Kerry might admire in Sweden.  Rather, it appears that Obama wants to see the white upper classes collectively brought low in dramatic and humiliating fashion.  Why else the repeated refusal to defend his putative people–his fellow Americans–from calumnies and insults and disrespect by foreigners?

Obama will hobble America and reduce its power and prestige not for spite, though that’s part of it, but also as an act of justice, rebalancing the scales relative to the Third World, in which he sees nations of nonwhite people who are chiefly defined by collectively having been oppressed one time or another by the mean white people of both the First and Second Worlds. 

Why else the snubbing of Nicholas Sarkozy and also Dmitri Medvedev?  Why else the obsequious bowing to the Saudi King and Japanese Emperor, while remaining cool to the British and Germans and Poles?  Why else the extreme unease with waging war in Afghanistan after having promised to do so? 

While Obama is a proud and even somewhat narcissistic man, he finds it very difficult and unnatural to stand up for the United States in the face of criticism that channels the rhetoric of multiculturalism and racist oppression.  When this happens, he is completely morally and psychologically disarmed from critics and will accomodate them to an extreme degree rather than assume the role of America’s first citizen.  Whey else his refusals to condemn Al Sharpton, Farrakhan, Professor Gates, or anyone else on the black left of the United States in his entire life, even when they act ridiculously? 

Obama is someone of an uncertain and also a self-chosen identity.  He made this choosing of his blackness completely in spite of his mixed heritage and white relatives.  This deliberate identification of the idealized people of his  idealized absentee father has always made the sting of “selling out” the worst, most painful cross for the “black” Obama to bear.  He’s insecure about his blackness, even after spending so many years at his crazy church, as a community organizer, and in the household of his more authentically African-American wife.  There’s no slaves in his family tree, unless they were owned by other blacks in Kenya.  This insecurity about selling out is equally vital wether the criticism is levided by a Bobby Rush or the Emperor or Japan or Daniel Ortega.  Having become the American President, far from aleviating this insecurity, makes him doubly determined to show everyone that he knows who his people are:   the multihued oppressed everywhere, not the America which is still 75% white, whose wealthiest and most long-established cohort for many years held “his people” in chattel slavery.

The justice that Barack Obama seeks, it is increasingly clear, focuses on the resolution of “north south conflicts,” or, in other words, whites versus everyone else.  This view of world history was spoken of until now mostly in late night dorm-room bull sessions.  Now it informs the President of the United States.   His foreign policy, in particular its symbolism, is the practical implementation of Jeremiah Wright’s condemnation of  “a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people.” 

Look at his words. Look at his deeds.  Little else but Obama’s racial psychodrama writ large and its associated and distorted concepts of “justice” explain his strange behavior.

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It’s been a heady few weeks for Obama’s foreign policy.  It has echoes of Carter all around.  It is animated chiefly by guilt and a lack of confidence.  Its big features in recent weeks are as follows:  (1) we will have more due process for al Qaeda detainees in Afghanistan; (2) we are going to give Russia a huge victory (and our allies a huge headache) without anything in return by dropping missile defense in Eastern Europe; and (3) we are going to meet unconditionally and bilaterally with North Korea, even though this marginalizes Japan, South Korea, and other important and interested parties in the region.

Foreign policy was a campaign prop for Obama, but it was not nearly  as important as it was to John Kerry, for whom getting the respect of the French was the most important thing in life.  Obama’s apparent belief that if we are “nice” to people that are critical of us, hostile to us, or competitive with us, they will back down. This is reminiscent of President Carter, who dropped the B-1 bomber program, abandoned the Panama Canal, defunded the MX Missile, and reduced military spending–all in an attempt to treat all countries as our equals, even when we were many times stronger, and also to placate the Soviet Union.  The end result was an emboldened Soviet Union that invaded Afghanistan, the toppling of the Shah in Iran, and the loss of the Panama Canal.  Obama takes this principle further, thinking that it is important not to be nice merely to potential competitors like Russia and China, but also to cultivate the self-respect of the Third World by treating weak dysfunctional countries like Egypt or Iran or North Korea, as if they were our equals.

It’s true the Cold War is over. Insofar as NATO should exist at all, it made sense after the Cold War to integrate the fundamentally western and friendly powers of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic into its command structure.  These countries were bullied by the Soviet Union and also by Tsarist Russia, and the would risk being bullied by an independent Russia after the Soviet collapse without western support.  That said, Russia is a great power, and there is no good reason today to antagonize a post-Soviet Russia through policies like missile defense or expanding NATO to countries on its border like Georgia.

Whether aimed ostensibly at Iran or in actuality at Russia, missile defenses in Eastern Europe were a mistaken policy of the last eight years, a product of the neoconservatives’ view that Russia was an intractable enemy as opposed to a manageable regional power with basic nationalist concerns for influence and security.

Even with these caveats in mind, the President and conservatives who applaud this decision, such as Daniel Larison, should recognize that the friendly countries of Central Europe have gone out on a limb for the United States in Iraq, and their governments whethered a great deal of pressure from domestic political factions and Russian saber-rattling for their friendliness to missile defense.  If this policy turned out to be counterproductive, the reward for their support of the United States should be something tangible such as conventional arms sales, and this substitution should have been public and showy.  Instead, for Poland in particular, insult was added to injury as the dropping of missile defense was announced on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Eastern Poland in 1939.  Nice optics there Obama.

It’s not so clear this policy will gain us anything from Russia on Iran, which was the ostensible purpose of this gesture.  Russia simply implied this would be an opening for more brinksmanship, viz., Putin was quoted as saying “And I hope very much that this correct and brave decision will be followed by others.”

Why did the administration do this in a way so insensitive to our partners in Eastern Europe? Well, first, I think Obama thinks the US was not such a great guy in the Cold War, and that our pig-headedness and myopia did much to increase tension.  Giving Russia respect is part of his concept of justice, therefore.  Second, he believes we’re much too concerned with Europe in general.  To him, part of global social justice requires the protection of the rights, independence, and sovereignty of the Third World from the machinations of the First World (US and Western Europe) and the Second World (former Communist Countries).  Keeping the First and Second Worlds’ conflict down to a dull roar allows him to focus on the Third World, with gestures like amnesty for illegal aliens, human rights reforms in our treatment of terrorists, increasing foreign aid, standing on the side of leftists in Honduras, and kowtowing to Muslims in Cairo.

Obama’s heart is in the Third World.  In the 1980s when he was in college, he was inspired by anti-apartheid politics and movements for domestic nuclear disarmament, not the heroic Contras of Nicaragua or the Poles of Solidarity. As he said in Dreams of My Father regarding a post-college trip to Europe, “[B]y the end of the first week or so, I realized that I‘d made a mistake. It wasn’t that Europe wasn’t beautiful; everything was just as I‘d imagined it. It just wasn’t mine.”   And love of the Third World, the Third World of his father’s national socialist Kenya, is the ideology of the Third World nonaligned movement. The Nonaligned Movement was led by countries like India, Indonesia, and Brazil to forge a new, independent socialist destiny.  It viewed the Cold War as an act of quasi-imperialism, which diverted attention from the Third Worlders’ nationalist interest in expropriating wealth from First World businesses and their interest in gaining independence from the influence of both the United States and the Soviet Union.  As Obama said in Cairo, “More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.”

In this view, Russia will not treated with exceptional respect, and it wasn’t on his recent state visit. Instead, it’s just a big hungry bear that needs to be appeased so the real business of radicalizing the home front and forging common cause with “oppressed peoples” at home and in the Third World can continue.

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Obama’s noises about abandoning nuclear weapons, his release of torture memos, and his sucking up to Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega, and Cuba at the Summit of the Americas all have the same source:  his belief that the U.S’s disproportionate strength, global perceptions of our arrogance, and our shoddy record all combine to make the rest of the world hate us.  If we only show that we understand them and are sympathetic, so this thinking goes, they will respond by scaling back their venom.

This is not completely unreasonable thinking.  There are times when gestures of humility and magnanimity are effective, particularly in certain kinds of interpersonal settings like the boardroom or in an academic environment, where give and take is the name of the game.  There is no doubt his sensitivity in this area had much to do with his electability.  However, when such a  technique is applied in a world with real and motivated enemies, competitors, hostile strange alien peoples, and Islamic terrorists who believe they are undertaking a religious mandate, it is a formula for disaster.  It may make us some friends, but more likely it will invite contempt by our enemies, and such easily bought friends with lack the respect and fear that the U.S. has always commanded and will instead be cowed by our enemies’ threats.

The standard leftist narrative of foreign policy excludes any acknowledgement that our military strength and the sometimes dirty deeds of our security forces are why we have been safe from major threats under Bush’s presidency, and that these actions are also the reason why the Cold War did not end at a summit or conference, but instead ended with the implosion of the Soviet Union after a decade-long and quite controversial arms race.

For someone who has spent as much time in Chicago as Obama has, I’m surprised that something like the following has never affected Obama’s view of human nature:  every single time that I gave a panhandler a dollar in a moment of Christian compassion, the response was never–NEVER—an appreciative thank you.  It was always a request for more money, a more greatly embellished tale of being down and out, or, sometimes, it was the prelude to a physical confrontation.  I learned.  Obama should have concluded from the hustling and violence all around him in Chicago that the response of the toughest of the street thugs to weakness is not to scale back, but instead to pounce. Indeed, didn’t his mentor Saul Alinsky teach him exactly that?

In dealing with our friends in Europe, it’s perfectly appropriate to engage in some bonhomie to restore these essential, centuries-old relationships.  In dealing with Latin America–a land of prickly poseurs and blowhards that are alternately envious of and fearful of our nation–a certain circumspection is called for.  Such jealous lands, with such different histories and values, cannot be completely trusted, especially when they’re indulging in their periodic flirtations with dictatorial caudillos. Any outreach must be tempered by self-respect and reminders of their own failures, crimes, and our relative even-handedness in places like Panama and El Salvador since the 1980s.  Finally, when dealing with lunatic nations like North Korea, Somali pirates, al Qaeda thugs, Iran, and other undeniable enemies, strength and clarity are what is called for.  It’s this last tool that Obama seems to lack appreciation for entirely, embarrassed as he is by our allegedly sorry history.

Obama is continuing to act out the 1970s psychodramas of the far left, a movement that scuttled its credibility during the Cold War.  If Bush looked at the world and mistakenly saw an inviting place where throngs of the oppressed were itching for the imposition of U.S. style government, Obama cannot imagine that if we are sometimes wrong, so too are our enemies.  Further, he does not see that while a nation such as ours may at times be selfish, short-sighted, ham-handed, over-eager, and a bit ignorant, other nations transcend these venial sins and can become positively satanic–hostile not only to us, but to civilization itself.  The coddled and charming Obama seems unequipped to learn that in dealing with such beasts, one must become the hunter not out of charity or an inflated sense of self-importance but from the primal duty of self-preservation.  Or, more ominously, perhaps he thinks some kind of golden mean of U.S. weakness and Third World invigoration can be found, and that in this newly balanced world, conflict will soon evaporate.

In spite of his “community organizin'” background, Obama is first and last a lawyer.  And lawyers, as a class, love procedure, words, meetings, resolutions, and all the rest.  They do a good job of restraining strong men and would-be tyrants in domestic matters.  But men that would become tyrants are also the men that would become generals, leaders, war heroes, and cut-through-the-bullshit problem solvers.  Obama and the Europeans are “arresting” pirates that should instead summarily executed.  They’re begging for North Korea to stop its provocative actions, when such compliance should instead be demanded and coerced.  They’re “reaching out” to Iran, when this crazy nation run by fanatic theocrats should instead be isolated, perhaps by throwing a bone or two to the far less troublesome Russians and Chinese, who share our Islamic extremism problem.

There is little sign that Obama can get beyond the procedural instincts of a lawyer and just do something by speaking in the unmistakable international relations language of force.  Diplomacy and alliance-building certainly have their place, and Bush should have shown these tools more respect.  But force is a tool too–the most fundamental and reliable in fact–and Obama shows little understanding of the times and places where it sends a message with the greatest eloquence.

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Foreign policy is a bit like insurance.  Most voters don’t think about it very much, and it doesn’t make the front page news, until something really bad happens. Foreign policy–in particular, foreign policy failures–have much to do with any president’s legacy.  Upon assuming office, Bush had a real passion for tax cuts, legalizing Mexican illegal immigrants, and moving Medicare and Social Security towards privatization.  Instead, after 9/11, he became a “war president,” and his deep unpopularity stemmed in large part from the long duration and indifferent results of the Iraq War.

Obama has never apparently thought much about foreign policy before becoming President.  His passions were personal and domestic:  a quest for identity through inner-city black power politics.  To the extent he has expressed thoughts about foreign policy at all, he has been vaguely anti-imperialist, anti-military, and pro-Third-World. Such views dovetail nicely, after all, with his domestic politics.  In addition, he fancied himself during the presidential campaign as the master of nuance, whose soft touch and appreciation for complexity stood in sharp contrast to Bush’s expressions of American exceptionalism.

How’s Obama doing? Well, perhaps still angry at his father’s treatment under British rule of Kenya, he recently, and without provocation, insulted the British Prime Minister, our long-standing ally in a great many wars and crises.

Now, in a story not widely reported, he’s formally committed to continuing American military support for Georgia, a nation run by the madman Saakashvili with whom we share few interests.  This action’s only strategic importance is that our presence there is considered extremely provocative by its Russian neighbor.  Everyone now pretty much acknowledges that Georgia started the war in South Ossetia last summer, that it is an indefensible country that must make peace with its large neighbor, and that any commitment thereto would further extend our thinly stretched military leading to a possible disastrous clash with the world’s second largest nuclear power.  No change to believe in here.

On his centerpiece concern of Afghanistan, for no apparent reason, Obama has publicly insulted its Prime Minister, Hamid Karzai, apparently shifting the blame for our lackluster results in Afghanistan to this unlikely scapegoat.  This kind of comment suggests someone unable to switch his tone from the variously permissive venues of academic hall, senior staff meeting, and public square.  In other words, you don’t think out loud when talking about other nation’s leaders. Further, the content itself evidences willful ignorance, letting Pakistan’s occasionally disloyal intelligence operatives off the hook, and, to be fair, not grappling with our own mistaken strategy and tactics.  Anyone genuinely concerned with U.S. counterinsurgency must notice that the U.S.’s extensive use of aerial bombs and penchant for heavy firepower routinely kills innocent rural Afghans and further alienates them from our goals and the Karzai government.

Finally, his economic policies have annoyed the Chinese, Germans, and French. Chicago politics did not require ideological choices rooted in principle, but rather chiefly consisted of payoffs to aggrieved ethnic constituencies. After leaving Chicago, as U.S. Senator, Obama focused on himself, the lunacy of the Iraq War, and uncontroversial projects like the Lead Free Toys Act. Now he must deal with genuine, principled, and likely irreconcilable conflicts regarding a complicated and worsening economic crisis.  I predict many more stumbles, some with real consequences.

How could this all be?  Even I’m a bit surprised. I would suggest that Obama is an example of what teenagers call “a legend in his own mind.”  He never really considered these issues deeply.  And his political life has been characterized by incubation in super-liberal Hyde Park, relatively liberal Illinois, nonideological Chicago ethnic politics, and a successful confrontation with an uninspiring GOP candidate in the general election.  Obama’s always been introspective, race-obsessed, and self-obsessed as evidenced by the tortured prose of his first book, Dreams of My Father. But foreign policy requires more than brains and self-knowledge, but empathy, perspective, good sense, a deep store of knowledge, a good decision-making process, and a sense of limitations.  For America, at this time, it calls above all for humility.  Nothing in Obama’s policies or personal story exemplify much of this, nor does he have the personal failures, setbacks, and chastening confrontations with disaster that gave men like George Bush Sr., Harry Truman, and Richard Nixon a great deal of foreign policy horse sense.

Obama’s a conventional and very lucky politician, surrounded until recently by a sycophantic press corps.  In his chosen arena, he has mostly faced opposition from weak and (with the exception of McCain) scandal-ridden competitors.  Throughout his adult and political life he’s been coddled in one way or another by the high hopes and guilty fears of liberal whites. This is bad training and has bred in Obama an overinflated ego and sense of ability.  This schtick won’t fly so much overseas, not least because, for the rest of the world, Obama’s simply the head of a very powerful nation with policies that many oppose for reasons of perceived interest rather than bad faith.  His words won’t soothe foreign nations and foreign peoples, because they are much more focused upon the ways obscure U.S. policies may harm their interests.  Worse still, a great number of foreigners want to see the U.S. fail because of lesser motives like pride and envy.  Obama thinks that he can get a pass on this last piece because he too is one of the erstwhile oppressed, but I would suggest that it’s pretty hard to play that card when travelling by Air Force One and commanding the still mighty wealth and power of the United States.

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One of Bush’s more asinine theories of foreign policy, a theory at the heart of much of neoconservatism, is the idea that everyone everywhere wants American-style freedoms and American-style democracy.  As he said in his 2007 speech on the surge:

The challenge playing out across the broader Middle East is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of our time. On one side are those who believe in freedom and moderation. On the other side are extremists who kill the innocent, and have declared their intention to destroy our way of life. In the long run, the most realistic way to protect the American people is to provide a hopeful alternative to the hateful ideology of the enemy, by advancing liberty across a troubled region. It is in the interests of the United States to stand with the brave men and women who are risking their lives to claim their freedom, and to help them as they work to raise up just and hopeful societies across the Middle East.

But is this really what a great many Iraqis want?  They surely want order, commerce, fair treatment, and the good of their individual tribes.  But freedom? And if they celebrated the fall of Saddam, hasn’t it been clear that for some this was a signal that they now could oppress their erstwhile oppressors?

The sorry history of liberal movements in 19th Century Europe and South America should give some pause to those who believe that people everywhere desire freedom.  That desire has often been fleeting or coexstensive with darker desires of envy, revenge, and license.  We’ve seen this in our own times, particularly in Eastern Europe, where misguided notions of freedom left a great many Russians, Poles, and others with unfortunate disrespect for free markets, borne by the rapidity of the social change and the inclusion of accidental aspects of free societies that could have been disregarded in deference to national cultures and other goods.

I recently read Tocqueville’s excellent work The Ancien Regime and the French Revolution and was struck by the relevance of the following passage:

I see quite clearly that, whenever nations are poorly governed, they are very ready to entertain the desire for governing thesmelves.  But this kind of love for independence, which has its roots only in certain particular and passing evils brought on by despostism, never lasts long; it disppearas along with the accidental circumstnaces which caused it.  They seemed to love freedom; it turns out they simply hated the master.  When nations are ready for freedom, what they hate is the evil of dependency itself.

At home and abroad, a desire for security by the lower classes above all is the main competitor of freedom.  Instead of looking to export this difficult to maintain good overseas by military force, America would be better served to cultivate its own national independence at home.  But instead of the Republican evils of imperial adventures abroad and the false freedom of unproductive financial gimmicks at home, Obama promises humanitarian interventions overseas and crippling debts at home in the name of economic stimulus.  Having replaced the old stawart American people with a newer breed through mass immigration, and having accelerated that old breed’s decadence at home with the welfare state begun in the 1930s, the various effects of liberalism have rendered the old American type that “hate[d] the evil of dependency itself” in short supply to say the least.

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I stumbled upon this interesting military intelligence report issued this week that identifies Mexico and Pakistan as potentially serious candidates for meltdown, viz.:

EL PASO — Mexico is one of two countries that “bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse,” according to a report by the U.S. Joint Forces Command on worldwide security threats.

The command’s “Joint Operating Environment (JOE 2008)” report, which contains projections of global threats and potential next wars, puts Pakistan on the same level as Mexico. “In terms of worse-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world, two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico.

“The Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its politicians, police and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels. How that internal conflict turns out over the next several years will have a major impact on the stability of the Mexican state. Any descent by Mexico into chaos would demand an American response based on the serious implications for homeland security alone.”The Joint Forces Command in Norfolk, Va., is a Defense Department combat command that includes different military service branches, active and reserves. One of its roles is to transform the military’s capabilities.

What has President Obama done or said that gives us any indication of what he would do in the event of either of these dangerous scenarios?  I have no idea.  Perhaps he’ll wing it, learn quick, and put his legacy and common sense above the knee-jerk pacifism of the Democratic Party.  Perhaps he’ll ignore the problem until it’s much worse.

The economy is very bad, and dealing with it should be a priority of individuals as well as our political leaders.  But the economy impacts international events; it destabilizes poorer countries even more severely than our own.  And these destabilizations lead such countries sometimes to take desperate actions that may or may not impact our interests, depending how such interests are defined.  Recall that debt service obligations by the various Gulf States were one factor in Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Obama, like Bush and McCain, has largely embraced the “international stability” agenda of international elites.  Unfortunately, this point of view does little to distinguish events that matter from those that are best left to be resolved naturally and without U.S. interference.  Coupled with the “citizen of the world” claptrap we heard in his inaugural address and his European-pandering decision to shut down Guantanamo, there is much cause for concdern.

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A depressing exposition by Srdja Trifkovic on the evil, interventionist consensus at the heart of both Democratic and Republican foreign policy views. Both are essentially rooted in a militant liberalism that has little in common with the old creed of George Washington about avoiding foreign entangelements:

It is incorrect to describe Wilsonianism and neoconservatism as two “schools” of foreign policy. They are, rather, two sects of the same Western heresy that has its roots in the Renaissance and its fruits in liberal democracy. Their shared denominational genes are recognizable not in what they seek but in what they reject: polities based on national and cultural commonalities; durable elites and constitutions; and independent economies. Both view all permanent values and institutions with unrestrained hostility. Both exalt state power and reject any political tradition based on the desirability of limited government at home and nonintervention in foreign affairs. Both claim to favor the “market” but advocate a kind of state capitalism managed by the transnational apparatus of global financial and regulatory institutions.Their shared core belief—that society should be managed by the state in both its political and its economic life—is equally at odds with the tenets of the liberal left and those of the traditional right. Far from being “patriotic” in any conventional sense, they both reject the real, historic America in favor of a propositional construct devoid of all organic bonds and collective memories.

The two sects’ deep-seated distaste for the traditional societies, regimes, and religion of the European continent was manifested in President Clinton’s war against the Serbs in 1999 and in their unanimous support for Kosovo’s independence today.

For the same reason, they share a visceral Russophobia, a soft spot for Chechen jihadists, and a commitment to NATO expansion. Both Wilsonians and neoconservatives are united in opposing democracy in postcommunist Eastern Europe, lest it produce governments that will base the recovery of their ravaged societies on the revival of the family, sovereign nationhood, and the Christian Faith. Inevitably, they have joined forces in creating and funding political parties and NGOs east of the Trieste-Stettin Line that promote the entire spectrum of postmodern isms that have atomized America and the rest of the West for the past four decades. From Bratislava to Bucharest to Belgrade, both present the embrace of deviancy, perversion, and morbidity as the litmus test of an aspirant’s “Western” clubbability. Ultimately, both sects share the Straussian dictum that the perpetual manipulation of hoi polloi by those in power is necessary because they need to be told what is good for them.

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David Frum has a good piece on how Obama’s convoluted rhetoric–the classic politician’s trick of trying to make everyone happy–will soon crash into reality in the Obama administration.

Consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  During the campaign, Obama like most U.S. politicians expressed the usual loyalty to Israel.  But he also suggested he’d be more hands on and effective than Bush in resolving the long-standing conflict.  The latter is highly unlikely, of course, not least because the demented Hamas leadership is in charge of the Palestinian Authority and the bitter grievances on both sides.  But now he must say something about who is chiefly at fault this time and whether the response to that fault is legitimate and proportional, and, in so doing, he risks alienating human rights activists and progressives who are typically critical of Israel’s tactics and the humanitarian problems they exacerbate and, on the other side, he risks offending supporters of Israel within and without the Democratic Party who represent a major source of domestic power.

My own nationalist position of strategic disengagement is clear, consistent, and far outside the mainstream.  But if it were widely adopted, we could judge an Obama on how he affects our own lives and not by how he sponsors one side or the other in complicated conflicts that have little to do with the United States halfway around the world, whether it’s a conflict of Russia in Ossetia, Israel in Gaza, or Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers for that matter.

From Blagojevich to Gaza, Obama is learning even before he takes office that it’s not quite so easy to govern as it is to give a speech.  But, hey, at least we have Change!

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Many of the 20th Century’s wars were ideological and would not likely have happened but for the internal politics of their participants: communism versus capitalism in the Cold War; competing nationalisms in the Third World’s Wars of National Liberation; and, most recently, the dramatic attempts to spread western-style democracy and institutions in the Middle East as an antidote to Islamic terrorism. A variety of worrisome trends, however, portend that the next wars may be a throwback to the power politics of the 19th Century: wars over access to resources in a world where they are increasingly scarce.

This terrain is not unfamiliar. The First Gulf War is a recent example through which western powers secured the flow of oil from friendly regimes in response to an unfriendly regional competitor. George Bush Sr.’s rhetoric of a “new world order” proved to be mostly window dressing. Russia throughout the 19th Century obsessed over access to a warm water port. The United States in the early 20th Century intervened in Central America to secure the Panama Canal and then to shore up Wall Street interests in the infamous Banana Wars. The British Empire served in large part as a free trade zone in which Britain had preferential access to the resources of its colonial subjects.

Americans have become used to decades of rising wealth through a variety of accidental and fragile developments. Cheap oil, comparative advantages in industrial organization and infrastructure, an educated work force, and our high levels of protection for property and contracts allowed the U.S. to be a dominant power for much of the 20th Century. Trade deficits created demands for dollar denominated government and business debt, further fueling a cheap-credit culture of consumption.

Today, however, competition and reforms overseas have driven up the power of competitors and the price of resources including oil, copper, tin, steel, and even corn. It’s hard to imagine that the U.S. will be able to preserve the same standards of wealth in the face of competition and the profligate use of energy in nations like China and India. Our manufacturers face the double burden of being outbid for raw materials and higher labor costs. One can imagine a nation like China or the United States demanding a monopsony buying power over oil or any number of other resources from weaker states, inviting strong-arm responses by others. China notably has already begun sending experts and diplomats to Africa and Iran to secure access to raw materials and oil respectively.

The developing economic crisis portends additional troubles, particularly in light of the government bailout of investors exposed to overpriced housing-related securities. The amount on the line is in the trillions, and the Treasury’s assurance of a big but manageable sum like $700B is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg. What will we do when GM seeks bankruptcy protection? What about other sectors like tourism, manufacturing, education, and agriculture? The current bailout (and its likely successors) put additional pressure on the Federal Reserve to inflate, while making dollar-denominated treasury bills more risky than previously. (Short-term T-Bills current spike only demonstrates the much higher risks of private commercial paper.) The music will stop one way or the other, whether in debt repudiation or hyper-inflation. The explosion of gold prices in the face of recent interventions is a signal that investors–both domestically and overseas–are more edgy about the fragility of fiat currencies and the reliability of related U.S. government promises. Any one-time repudiation of foreign-owned debt would undoubtedly expand natural friction with Russia, China, and Europe over resources by burdening them with the poisoned fruits of our recent inflationary and speculative housing bubble.

Conservatives have long warned against gratuitous adventures overseas. But resources are in a different class: even the most grizzled and stalwart isolationsits recognizes that resources and access to the same can be in the national interest. While we may not need the level of oil raw material imports that we have now, our relatively scant reserves of oil, our consumption culture, our consumption-based domestic infrastructure, and our competing demands with China and other nations may put us in a very difficult position. Technology may not bail us out, as it has in the past.

A forward-looking nationalist policy that emphasized national independence would look inter alia to some modest tariff to create a domestic economy less dependent on foreign trade, incentives for exploitation of domestic resources, strategic alliances with natural allies in our hemisphere (in particular Canada) to insulate ourselves from resource conflicts in other parts of the world, and an austerity policy to reduce our public and private spending (and cheap labor importation) from presently unbalanced levels. The current credit crunch might impose some of this pressure automatically, but so long as the goal is to resume business-as-usual globalism, the pressure to use military force to guarantee the big spending, low-saving domestic economy will remain, as will our hunger for resources.

The current crisis might be providential, but extremely painful. Whether that pain takes the form of something like the crises Argentina and Asia endured a decade ago or the Road Warrior remains to be seen, and its fallout depends in part upon how much the rest of the world is dragged down with us.

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I have to say, it didn’t inspire confidence.  She has the George W style of “gut” decision-making that disdains process, self-doubt, and inquiry, and I think this is coupled with a long tradition of how she tackled relatively straightforward business-style problems as governor and the evangelical tradition of anti-intellectualism. 

Further, she was as I suspected likely an empty vessel on many issues before a week long series of cram sessions with the likes of Joe Lieberman, Biegun, Mccain, and other uber-hawks.  They have filled her head with neocon talking points on Russia and Israel and Iraq. She didn’t even know Georgia attacked first and presented no coherent reason why Ukraine and Georgia should be set up as NATO tripwires.  Unfortunately, there’s no daylight between her and McCain.  I’m sure he considers foreign policy his strong suit, and she’ll naturally defer. (Of course, it wouldn’t be the worst thing if a limited government-oriented VP became his tsarina of economic policy.) She did say something frightful right out of the AIPAC play book:  that we could not and should not question Israel’s decisions in it’s own security. I don’t see why we can’t reign them in or at least protest in appropriate circumstances.  For example, if they attacked Iran by overflying Saudi or Iraqi airspace, that would be a major problem since our failure to shoot down those planes would amount to dragging us into supporting a perhaps unnecessary or unwise attack on Iranian facilities.

I did think Gibson was a bit unfair on his quotes from her earlier speeches and in his use of the ambiguous phrase “Bush Doctrine.”  I thought the doctrine meant nothing about preventative war, but rather the idea that terrorist-supporting-states will be treated no differently than terrorists.

That all said, politically I’m not sure it will matter. She appeared competent, and that will be the take-away of 70% of people who even bothered to follow it.  Further, her hawkishness is in line with the American exceptionalist view popular among at least a plurality of Republicans, including evangelicals.  Finally, there will soon be a mini-controversy on the unfairness of the “exact words” and “Bush Doctrine” questions.

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Fouad Ajami contrasts Obama’s wishful thinking internationalism with McCain’s American-exceptionalist neo-imperalism:

[During the Nixon-Kennedy election of 1960] The national consensus on America’s role abroad, and on the great threats facing it, was firmly implanted. No great cultural gaps had opened in it, arugula was not on the menu, and the elites partook of the dominant culture of the land; the universities were then at one with the dominant national ethos. The “disuniting of America” was years away. American liberalism was still unabashedly tethered to American nationalism.

We are at a great remove from that time and place. Globalization worked its way through the land, postmodernism took hold of the country’s intellectual life. The belief in America’s “differentness” began to give way, and American liberalism set itself free from the call of nationalism. American identity itself began to mutate.

The celebrated political scientist Samuel Huntington, in “Who Are We?,” a controversial book that took up this delicate question of American identity, put forth three big conceptions of America: national, imperial and cosmopolitan. In the first, America remains America. In the second, America remakes the world. In the third, the world remakes America. Back and forth, America oscillated between the nationalist and imperial callings. The standoff between these two ideas now yields to the strength and the claims of cosmopolitanism. It is out of this new conception of America that the Obama phenomenon emerges.

The “aloofness” of Mr. Obama that has become part of the commentary about him is born of this cultural matrix. Mr. Obama did not misspeak when he described union households and poorer Americans as people clinging to their guns and religion; he was overheard sharing these thoughts with a like-minded audience in San Francisco.

Nor was it an accident that, in a speech at Wesleyan University, he spoke of public service but excluded service in the military. The military does not figure prominently in his world and that of his peers. In his acceptance speech at the Democratic Party convention, as was the case on the campaign trail, he spoke of his maternal grandfather’s service in Patton’s army. But that experience had not been part of his own upbringing.

Ajami seems to think Americans like McCain because he’s the more competent imperial administrator.  While that is true of some, I think the fact that he wraps his imperial vision in the rhetoric of nationalism is why he’s effective.  Between an anti-American cosmopolitan, and a bellicose ideological neo-imperalist, Americans, particularly Americans of a conservative bent, will choose the latter.  Why?  Because for conservatives who are uneasy about imperialism, it is still better to be in charge, even if the endeavor is self-defeating than to let other people, with similar but opposing imperial visions, to be in charge of us.

The standoff that Ajami speaks of is a tragic one, an unfortunate consequence of the domination of the Republican party by the neoconservative vision of foreign policy, a vision that demands intervention, the continuation of American power, and the erasure of distinctions of the nation and the foreigner. 

Missing from both candidates’ views, and the political scene generally, is a true nationalist voice that is neither excessively indebted to nor overly influenced by the rest of the world.  A humble view that is aware of our limitations and jealous of our advantages.  A view that does not seek to manage or influence world with the exception chiefly of providing a good example to others and protecting what is ours. 

This tradition, stretching from George Washington and James Monroe, to the so-called Know-Nothings, and more recently to Charles Lindbergh, Robert Taft, and Pat Buchanan has been the abiding idiom of American conservatism.  It’s absent from both parties, yet it finds support in what is likely a numerical plurality of working class ethnic whites, business-oriented conservatives, many Vietnam veterans, as well as a swath of anti-war Americans who come from a variety of traditions.

The nationalist is against the continuation of the Iraq War not because it is wrong or an evil to the Iraqis, but because it distracts us from our chief concern, which is our own flourishing as a people and the protection of that people and our way of life.

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The blog Your Lying Eyes had a quite brilliant and nuanced essay on the politics of restraint:

So by crediting Putin/Russia with restraint, I’m hardly slabbering them with praise. But it is an indication of self-interest at work, and this is a very important thing to know about a country. When you can be sure a country is merely acting in its self-interest, you’ve got something to work with and a basis for negotiation and diplomacy. One of the scary things about the old Soviet Union was that it appeared to have some very big goals in mind besides what was best for Mother Russia, such as International Socialism. It often over-reached internationally and in its devotion to socialism at home starved and enslaved its own people. We pretty much had to take it at its word that it sought world domination, and thus the Cold War.

But the Soviet Union is long gone. Russia no longer shows any interest in fomenting revolution abroad and imposing totalitarian rule on its neighbors. It does not threaten the United States or Western Europe or even the non-Soviet Iron-Curtain nations of Eastern Europe. It would clearly like to have less hostile countries on its immediate border. Imagine Chavez’s Venezuela bordering the U.S. – I don’t think we’d put up with that, quite frankly (as, for example, with Cuba). Yet both Ukraine and Georgia are openly hostile and pro-American, yet both remain independent. This is hardly the behavior of a reckless, dangerous, rogue state.

In its actions in Georgia, Russia is clearly making a statement about Western influence on its borders, and appears willing to back off provided this message is heard and respected. Thus the restraint. Putin doesn’t want trouble with Europe or America, but he’s not willing to be boxed in by an expansionist NATO, either. It is critical that the U.S. not escalate tensions with continued talk of NATO membership and anti-missile installations*. We have nothing to gain from an antagonistic relationship with Russia, and very little to gain from friendly relations with her neighbors. Self-interest and self-assessment suggest one thing is required on our part: restraint.

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In a more rational world, any alliances the US made with anyone would be reciprocal and balanced in nature. We’d get something in return for our commitments, and that something would equal or exceed our efforts. For that reason, we’d be wary of getting in bed with hot-headed and geographically isolated nations like Georgia or Armenia or, for that matter, Taiwan.

This idea of reciprocity was the model of the old NATO partnership. The Western European countries had a common interest in allying against the Soviets, and they knew that together (along with the US) they were substantially more powerful than they were otherwise. It made sense to sign up smaller Western European countries, because the NATO nations’ collective power increased by using standardized weapons systems and other protocols. Every NATO nation was at risk, continguous, and perceived as a common bloc by the Soviet Union. If Belgium or the Netherlands did not join, they’d simply be “free riders.”

By contrast, today the model of NATO expansion and US security guarantees in general seems to be all about racking up numbers and looking for missions without regard to the risks that commitments to places like Lithuania or Georgia might entail. We’ve forgotten that foreign policy is ruled first and last by the law of the jungle. In post-modern fashion, we’re embracing alliances and adding people to NATO like we’re racking up connections on Facebook.  The currency of international relations, however, is force.  Just as you don’t befriend the “punk” in prison, you don’t stick your neck out for weak nations destined to be ruled by their neighbors.

Unfortunately for our new allies, we won’t realistically defend places like Georgia, Lithuania, or Moldova. Emboldened by an empty guarantee, they may bite off more than they can chew in a fit of pique, just as Saakashvili did earlier this month. Such nations’ gestures of alliance–sending a few thousand troops (highly dependent on US logistics) to Iraq–are sweet, but do not count for much. We’ve forgotten that alliances are not fundamentally acts of charity but are instead expressions of enlightened self-interest.  Broken promises may do more to create enemies than anything else the United States does in the years ahead.

We have enough abuse of welfare at home; we don’t need to bring this dead-end to foreign policy, encouraging schemers and perrenial losers to suck dry the life blood of a great nation with entangling alliances.

Any security relationship is quite unlike networking, where the rule is “the more, the better.” Rather, because of our relative power, it is an instance of letting people into an exclusive and potentially expensive club: friends the US will go to war for. Without such parsimony, we’ll be misled by sycophants and needy hangers on.  We are already weighted down by serious responsibilities in South Korea and Israel, persistent foreign wars such as we are fighting in Iraq, and the designs of self-interested charlatans like Ahmed Chalabi.

Pissing off the Russians for preserving the borders of a Caucasian County the size of Los Angeles in a small nation the size of South Carolina is the exact opposite of any self-interested concept of foreign policy.  McCain’s ridiculous assertion that “We are all Georgians now,” only highlights his dangerousness and inability to make necessary distinctions in this arena.

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