Archive for the ‘foreign policy’ Category

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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