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Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

We are arming al Qaeda-aligned rebels in Syria.  We are doing this because Bashar al Assad is supposedly a bad guy and now we are told there is a cassus belli in that he may have used chemical weapons.

Was it OK, by contrast, when the rebels massacred a Shia village earlier this week or shot government soldiers in cold blood and posted it on youtube?  Under what principle is it worse for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons than it is for the rebels fighting that government to engage in numerous, intentional, very brutal violations of the law of war?

One or another side’s tactics does not logically tell us that we ought to choose a side and go to war.  It matters a great deal what each of the sides are fighting for.  And it is even more important to assess whether assisting one or the other side is in our interest.  There is always the option of neutrality.  It should be adopted in the vast majority of cases.

Assad is no great guy.  He, like most Middle Eastern dictators, has little regard for the rule of law, has enriched himself at the expense of the public, has used disproportionate violence against his opponents, supported our enemies in Iraq, and has associated with Hezbollah, which is undeniably a terrorist group.  That said, he has led a moderately prosperous, orderly, and tolerant regime that is multireligious, protective of Christians, and otherwise stable and predictable. We’ve seen in recent years similar dictators deposed in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt with totally unpredictable results that are clearly worse than the status quo ante.  We can deal with dictators; we cannot manage anarachy.  Even if Assad deserves to be toppled–and I am doubtful of this–what business is it of ours to sign on with a rebel group that is even more hostile to our nation and its principles?

One may wonder why Russia has become so involved with this conflict, supplying sophisticated arms and a great deal of diplomatic support to Syria.  Two reasons seem clear.  Russia, like the US, has carried on some of its Cold War alliances out of habit, such as its friendly relations with Cuba and North Korea.   More important, Russia  is acting as the protector of Orthodox Christians throughout the world.  This is in line with Samuel Huntington’s thesis in Clash of Civilizations and explains at least a portion of Russia’s foreign policy. This was the chief reason for its support of Serbia during the Kosovo affair, for example.

Why this would be so in Syria is not readily apparent, as the Alawite minority ruling group is a subgroup of Shia Islam.  But there is a pretty obvious explanation.  The Alawaite Ba’athist regime in Syria, like Saddam’s Ba’athist regime in Iraq, grew out of a secular ideology and historically has found its greatest support in a hodgepodge of ethnic and religious minorities. These minorities are all scared of the numerical majority Sunnis and their increasing extremism.  In Syria, the Sunni extremists are part of the broader Salafist/Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam that finds its most militant expression in al Qaeda.

Thus, we have a war with secular and religious minorities (Christians, Shias, Alawites, Druze etc.) on one side, who favor law and order and the devil they know, and, on the other side, fanatical Sunni extremists aligned with increasingly irrelevant secular enemies of the regime. The rebel platform is essentially one of genocide and religious totalitarianism.  This is what we are supporting, and this is undeniably worse than what Assad has delivered throughout his time as leader, in spite of himself, because of the coalition nature of his minority support and the type of governance that flows naturally from such a coalition.

America and Reagan were criticized for “arming bin Laden” during the fight against the Soviet client state in Afghanistan.  This criticism always struck me as pretty stupid and facile.  It’s like saying we were incredibly wrongheaded in World War II to support the Soviet Union, whom we later opposed, in order to defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.  Things change.  Coalitions come and go. There was no easy way to predict what exactly would come of the anti-Soviet rebels back when there was no Taliban or al Qaeda and, more important, it was worth it at the time to contribute to the devolution of the Soviet regime, even when some risks were apparent.

Whether that criticism of US policy has any merit, it surely is absolutely ridiculous to arm al Qaeda-aligned rebels simultaneously when we’re fighting a war with such people. There is no need for a crystal ball, unlike the 1980s support of the Afghan mujaheddin.  The better analogy would be if the US had adopted a schizophrenic policy during World War II of  aligning with Nazi Germany, while we were fighting Imperial Japan, even as the two remained allies themselves.

Let’s not forget what the real Benghazi scandal is.  Libya spun out of control after the US and European powers in 2011 undertook a totally lawless campaign there, a campaign without UN Security Counsel or Congressional authorization.   The rebels killed Qadaffi in cold blood, when they were not killing black Africans allied with the government.  Soon Libya, like Syria today, became a magnet for the “jihad tourists,” who undoubtedly could not resist the American target. Learning nothing of the very recent past, we’re now going to arm al Qaeda rebels because the regime they are fighting against used one among many nasty weapons in what is invariably the most nasty of wars:  a civil war.

The law of war is important, as is respect for the rights of civilians and other noncombatants.  But violations of the law of war alone are not a reason to go to war.  This is doubly so when the so-called good guys are just as guilty of violating the law of war as those whom we now aim to oppose.  Most important, the people we are proposing to support with arms, in addition to fighting atrociously, are fighting for a goal that is fundamentally atrocious:  Islamist totalitarianism and mass murder of  the Assad regime’s supporters. 

For a guy who appeared to have some sensible, nonideological instincts to oppose a great deal of military intervention during the 2008 campaign, Obama has shown himself to be as deeply wedded to the Washington DC interventionist consensus as anyone before him.  Indeed, he has apparently doubled down in his recent elevation of the interventionist Samantha Power to the post of UN ambassador.

We find the answer to this apparent contradiction in Obama’s lifelong leftism.  Obama is not essentially a pacifist, but rather an anti-American leftist.  He most favors wars that have nothing to do with America’s interest. In the liberal imagination, such wars are far preferable to wars where strategic goods like oil or commerce may be affected, as these interventions are marked by purity of intention.  Thus, he proposed to fold up the tents and scale back the war on al Qaeda earlier this week, even as he propels our forces into messy civil wars in Libya, Egypt, and Syria.  Worse, Obama is willing not only to ignore America’s interest in these cases, but to work directly contrary to it by arming al Qaeda-aligned rebels in the name of “humanitarian war.”

This is more than misguided do-gooderism.  This is treachery that knows no bounds, as it is no ordinary betrayal of the common good, but rather a treachery that imagines itself as a cosmopolitan, universalist morality that transcends parochial and discriminatory notions of mere national interest.

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Obama’s Time Warp

George Will writes today about Obama’s strange “time warp” focus on the START Treaty with Russia.  Indeed.  If there is one problem not significantly affecting the world, it’s the dormant arm’s race with Russia.

But Obama does this often.  He is obsessed with 60s era racial gripes and thus struck out against a Cambridge cop last summer. He views the Third World, which has mostly made peace with free trade and capitalism, through the lens of the Cold War’s socialist nonaligned movement.  He pushed health care full steam ahead when it was very much the centerpiece Democratic issue of 10 years ago and irrelevant to our current economic problems.  In short, he is a kind of idealist, pushing the liberal ideas of his youth, and he apparently does not adjust very quickly or very well to a changed landscape.

On arm’s control this is particularly apparent, as he was writing about the “deadly” nuclear arm’s race back in college, and it’s one of the few insights into the standard-issue liberal views Obama had at that time.

The problem with all this, in addition to the poverty of his imagination, is that the modern presidency is very much reactive, defined by events, and required to rearrange priorities based on changed circumstances.  Bush, who campaigned for a more “humble” foreign policy, quickly realized how dramatically the 9/11 attacks changed the world.  Clinton, for all his faults, was a genius at “triangulation,” pushing smaller and noncontroversial policies after the dramatic failure of healthcare in ’94. 

Considering the scale of our current economic and foreign policy problems, Obama’s lack of agility and his impoverished vision do not portend well for success either politically or as a matter of policy.

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Excellent Video of Russian Navy sorting out Somali Pirates.

America, before the left tried its damndest to destroy our military power with a web of unrealistic rules and regulations and anti-American indoctrination in the public schools, had the same style as these Russian sailors:  brash, contemptuous of the superficial, and willing to mistreat enemies of the human race the way they deserved.  That is the American way of General Patton, Theodore Roosevelt, and Andrew Jackson.

Now we have an entire cottage industry devoted to the world’s worst people at GITMO, even though in no previous war were enemy combatants allowed to interfere with the war effort by getting entangled in U.S. courts that were built and designed for loyal U.S. citizens.

America and Britain destroyed piracy in the late 17th and 18th Century by capturing and killing pirates wherever they were found.  Now we practice “catch and release.”  It’s sad that we have to take our cues from Russia to see how it’s supposed to be done.

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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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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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