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Posts Tagged ‘Idealism’

The complete explosion of craziness in the Mideast, and Obama’s inconsistency with longtime allies like Mubarak and the leaders of Bahrain (where the US has a large military presence), suggests he’s torn.  But he’s torn between two equally ineffective “idealistic” approaches to foreign policy.  On one hand, he is like George W. Bush and supports democracy, as if it did not matter what type of leaders or government such democracies may elect.  This is the old style FDR/Wilsonian liberalism that informs much of America’s 20th Century foreign policy.  And, on the other, he is the leftist anti-colonialist of his youth, and thus finds it unseemly to criticize Third World movements of national liberation.  So one minute he supports the protesters, but then he realizes this may appear like cultural imperialism, so he says they must move slowly.  He has no idea what he really wants, nor does he know what to expect from his provocative speeches.  His thinking is incoherent, and his policy incoherence is the natural result.

The last realist US president was George H.W. Bush.  But he too had problems, as he was a realist, but believed strongly in US interventionism and the ideal of “unipolarity.”  Nonetheless, at least such an approach has some natural limits, as it does not aim to create instability in places where we benefit a great deal from stability, such as Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or Japan or South Korea.

America’s interests worldwide are narrow:  primarily, our people benefit from friendly and pacific regimes that do not aim to harm us, and secondarily we benefit from regimes that are liberal (if undemocratic) insofar as they support property rights, markets, the rule of law, and trade.  None of these goals are fostered by the two competing liberal idealisms that favor democracy alternately with Third World thugocracy, and nor too have these goals been well fostered by the do-gooder interventionism of the first Bush and Bill Clinton.

What is missing–what is always missing–from our national conversation is a sound policy of strategic disengagement.  A policy that asks seriously why we have 50,000 plus troops in Germany? A policy that asks why we care particularly how Egypt and Bahrain picks its leaders?  A policy that seriously questions if we are getting a good return on our enormous investment not in defense–though it is labeled as such–but rather military power projection and military presence worldwide?

Judging by Egypt’s unrest, the lackluster results in Iraq, and the relative lack of fallout from the departure of US troops from such varied locales as Iceland and the Philippines, it seems we can do without, and, indeed, would likely accomplish much more if we aimed for realistic, narrow, and achievable goals rather than messianic and idealistic policies such as “democratizing the Mideast” and “ensuring stability in Europe.”

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If Obama’s foreign policy is sometimes incoherent, Hillary’s is simply Bush-lite.  Her recent essay in Foreign Affairs reveals herself as someone who does not depart substantially from the globalist paradigm of Bush and President Clinton, with the main difference being her greater faith in “diplomacy.”  In a world where many nations’ interests involve knocking America down in prestige and power, this is simply wishful thinking of the worst sort.  It’s essentially the foreign policy espoused earlier by John Kerry.  It is vague about how she will fight terrorism, focusing instead on a policy of supporting the people that will clean up the pieces in the wake of an attack, the lauded “first responders.” 

The flaws in Hillary Clinton’s basic perspective are never more apparent than in her discussion of one of the major foreign policy failure of the last decade, the payoff deal given to North Korea to cease its nuclear programs.  This deal was brokered by Jimmy Carter and signed off by President Clinton and promised North Korea money to cease its nuclear arms programs after it had essentially threatened the West with its arsenal.  She writes: 

Like Iran, North Korea responded to the Bush administration’s effort to isolate it by accelerating its nuclear program, conducting a nuclear test, and building more nuclear weapons. Only since the State Department returned to diplomacy have we been able, belatedly, to make progress.

Actually, North Korea was undertaking all these programs after the deal when it promised it would not do so.  Nothing in Bush’s “axis of evil” remark could have set off such a massive undertaking.  The money paid off by the ’94 Clinton Deal enabled the North Korean regime by giving it much-needed financial and material support.  As I wrote earlier:

I can’t say I blame Clinton for not discovering North Korea violations and weapons plans earlier. The secret North Korean regime is notoriously hard for our spies to penetrate. But I do fault him for thinking he could bribe a criminal regime like this into behaving sensibly. The basic concept of the agreement was the problem, and the end result was more or less inevitable. Even the most minimally rationally black-mailer, once he’s been paid, has an incentive to seek more. And that’s exactly what North Korea’s been trying to accomplish ever since. Clinton’s plan was all carrot and no stick. Bush has been tasked with cleaning up a mess that he did not create, where he did not fail to negotiate real security guarantees, and under the threat of a far more substantial North Korean weapons capability.

On top of its flawed concepts, Clinton’s lengthy essay provides little guidance as to when and where diplomacy is necessary or unlikely to be of use, nor does it articulate when force is needed and under what circumstances she would use it.  For instance, does she embrace the “humanitarian wars” concept of President Clinton?  Does she think a UN mandate is always necessary (after all, her husband did not in Kosovo)? Does she recognize that certain irrational players on the world stage, such as A-Jod in Iran, may not respond to the same incentives as less ideological and religiously-tinged leaders?  Finally, does she recognize any inherent or at least structural tension between the Western World and the Islamic world?  She’s either silent or vague on these issues.  The world Muslim only comes up in referring to her support for “building a Muslim democracy in Afghanistan.”

Bush has been a disaster on foreign policy because he is a liberal.  He believes in spreading democracy, the universality of American values, and the necessity of idealism in our foreign policy.  He also has been incompetent, using tough talk without backing up words with appropriate action, alienating potential friends like Russia, using democracy as a substitute for the necessity of real security in Iraq, and being diffident and inarticulate about the need for intelligence-gathering against al Qaeda.  There is no reason to think Clinton will not be worse in all these respects, even if she is accepted more readily by the Europeans. 

Let’s not forget that it is al Qaeda, China, Iran, and Russia who matter most in the next President’s foreign policy.  On all four matters, the first President Clinton, embracing a very similar view as Hillary was a disaster.  Al Qaeda grew in strength and planned 9/11 during his watch.  China grew stronger military and economically under his watch, and its increasing trade with the West did not liberalize its internal affairs as promised.  Iran continued to support terrorism during Clinton’s more mild presidency and was linked to the Khobar Towers bombing without any retaliation on his part.  Finally, Russia grew increasingly alienated from the West during Clinton and Bush’s presidency because both presidents desired to expand NATO, criticized Russia on Chechnya (where it’s fighting al Qaeda and its allies), and both meddled in Russia’s internal affairs and elections.  Clinton may not be loony on foreign policy, but liberals and conservatives alike should expect many of the same problems as Bush has had, coupled with the likely disappointments that the deus ex machina of diplomacy will foster.  These problems will persist because both Hillary Clinton and Bush use liberal ideas–the importance of the UN, democracy (including among our allies), and human rights–as guides when hard-headed realism about diplomacy and the use of force is needed.

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While I don’t always agree with him, I do think Charles Krauthammer is one of the most articulate observers of foreign policy and often makes a great deal of sense, particularly when he’s adhering to realism and not getting distracted by his monomania on certain Near Eastern countries.  His discussion of why the Democrats persisted on their Armenian gambit is quite sensible:

So why has Pelosi been so committed to bringing this resolution to the floor? (At least until a revolt within her party and the prospect of defeat caused her to waver.) Because she is deeply unserious about foreign policy. This little stunt gets added to the ledger: first, her visit to Syria, which did nothing but give legitimacy to Bashar al-Assad, who continues to engage in the systematic murder of pro-Western Lebanese members of parliament; then, her letter to Costa Rica’s ambassador, just nine days before a national referendum, aiding and abetting opponents of a very important free-trade agreement with the United States.

Is the Armenian resolution her way of unconsciously sabotaging the U.S. war effort, after she had failed to stop it by more direct means? I leave that question to psychiatry. Instead, I fall back on Krauthammer’s razor (with apologies to Occam): In explaining any puzzling Washington phenomenon, always choose stupidity over conspiracy, incompetence over cunning. Anything else gives them too much credit.

It’s really true that many of the bad things that big organizations do can be explained conspiratorially, when really a combination of bad luck, group think, and sheer stupidity often turn out to be the real causes.

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