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Archive for the ‘realism’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Doug Feith is a piece of work. Compare his recent attempts to pain himself as the Cassandra uttering realist warnings to Bush about Iraq in 2004 with his saccharine pro-democracy rhetoric uttered at the time. I agree with his criticism today that Bush’s rhetorical shift from WMDs to democracy confused the American public and resulted in a wrong turn by redefining the mission as “freeing Iraq.” Bush’s talk of liberation obscured the chief pre-war rationale for the war as a self-defensive action based on the reasonable view that Iraq had WMDs coupled with the reasonable reduction in tolerance for risks posed by troublesome and provocative nations like Iraq after 9/11. Bush’s rhetoric in 2004 almost exclusely emphasized the democratization efforts. Too bad for Feith–and Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rice, Rumsfeld, and Perle–all of the administration people were all sayings the same things as Bush at the time. It wasn’t lying per se. Democracy always made an appearance in lists of reasons to attack Iraq. But a tertiary rationale became the main rationale, and no one bothered to acknowledge this change in forthright terms. It’s as if “Elections for Bavaria” replaced “Remember Pearl Harbor” in May of 1943.

More important, whether or not the administration’s unacknowledged change in emphasis constituted ethical rhetoric, no one in the administration dissented about the idealist rhetoric’s major premise: that with or without WMDs, a democratic Iraq was a worthy and achievable goal that furthered American national security.

I confess, before the war, I thought all of this democracy talk was merely window-dressing to justify our realist motives. I only realized later that the Bushies were bona fide foreign policy idealists with general indifference to the welfare of Americans. For Bush and other liberals, fidelity to liberal principles is the chief mark of strategic success.

Feith is a liar and an Israeli spy. He belongs in jail, not on the pages of America’s newspapers. It’s one thing to make mistakes. Everyone does, particularly in the complicated world of foreign policy. But, like Sanchez, Rumsfeld, and George Tenet, his lack of character consists in his unwillingness to acknowledge his own barely hidden dual loyalties and consequent dual motives in promoting and managing a huge failure of an operation that rested on mistaken intelligence and sought to obtain ridiculous goals.

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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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