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Archive for the ‘International Relations’ Category

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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I’m sure glad that I didn’t recently write anything in praise of the surge, or the calm in Iraq, or the great progress we’ve made. I was even tempted at times to temper my earlier, very negative opinions of a year ago. My original suspicions are confirmed: violence is always just around the corner.  Iraq is still an unstable country of selfish tribes. There is no unifying principle, leader, or interest among its many peoples.

It’s not surprising that as soon as the Sunnis and Shias stop killing one another–in part because they’ve ethnically cleansed one another from mixed areas–that the various Shia factions start fighting over power and oil revenues. There is no hope for a stable Iraq without a strong leader or a winning tribe in charge of the others. There seems little prospect of either. If Basra’s Shias under Sadr come under control, some other faction will pop up. It’s a hopeless mess, and the patina of democracy and legality masks the enduring reality: the “insurgents” are Iraqi cops, Iraqi soldiers, Iraqi government officials, and others with ties to the pro forma institutions of government. There is no Iraq. Only tribes that ignore, employ, or attack Americans as it is to their perceived advantage. This goes for the Sunni Awakening folks, the Shias in the government, and the Kurds in the North.

McCain suggests national honor is at stake in whether America leaves Iraq. This charge is a reason for pause. But it’s not persuasive. It’s just a habitual response. I imagine that someone like McCain could never tell us when a war is worth quitting:  his soft-hearted and romantic notions of “doing right by the fallen” will be a disaster in a civilian commander in chief. Our honor is intact. It was there the day we handed over sovereignty, toppled the Saddam statue, captured Saddam, graduated the first class of Iraqi soldiers, painted the first school, etc. We tried. The folks who have worked with us have been paid handsomely. We tried too much, in fact, and gave the Iraqis too much credit. These people do not deserve American efforts, American lives, American blood, or American prestige, truly valuable and irreplaceable resources wasted every day in Iraq on some of the worst savages on Earth.

The war is a waste of time and resources. Now we know–as we should have known five years ago–Iraq has no nuclear weapons or nuclear prospects. Now we know–as we should have known three years ago–that no Iraqi democratic model is emerging to inspire its neighbors. Now we know–as we could easily see only one year ago–that the Surge has done very little to alter the permanent, political realities of Iraq; the country is still a chaotic, tribal dump, little better than Somalia. Now we know–as we could see in the 2004 Fallujah battle–that our very presence there increases the appeal and reach and recruiting efforts of al Qaeda, equally as much or more than it does anything to fight them on a strategic level.

The only reason the US should have gone to Iraq was to stop Saddam from getting nuclear weapons, scare would-be threats to the United States, and keep Iran and Iraq’s other neighbors from seeking the power that comes with Iraqi oil. We can do this more effectively today from aircraft carriers and troop ships in the Persian Gulf. It’s time to go, and this silly flare up of intra-Shia tensions is as good of a reason as any to tell the Iraqis that we’ve had enough of their moronic squabbling.

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