Eunomia · foreign policy

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This WSJ poll is about six weeks out of date, so it is pretty useless for tracking the presidential race.  There are some other results that have more lasting relevance.  58% say that the globalisation of the American economy has been on the whole “bad,” with just 28% saying the opposite and 11% declaring it a wash.  That is pretty clearly bad news for the party most closely identified with globalisation at present.  The number for those saying globalisation has generally benefited “the American economy” has dropped 14 points from a poll 10 years ago.  There are as many dissatisfied with their financial circumstances (33%) as there have been since the wake of the ‘01-’02 recession.  52% said that immigration “hurts more than it helps” the United States, up eight points from last summer and back at the same levels two years earlier.  As of mid-December when the poll was taken, 56% said that victory in Iraq was not still possible.  All of the pro-”surge” talk affected the respondents over the course of 2007, but as of last December 44% said it had made no difference and 14% said that it had made things worse.  57% agreed with the statement that most American soldiers should be withdrawn from Iraq by the start of 2009.  Except for immigration, obviously, the Republicans are on the unpopular side of every one of these questions.    

The poll also has two interesting figures on anti-Mormonism.  59% could correctly identify that Romney was a Mormon, and 26% “felt uncomfortable” about Romney’s  Mormonism and its possible effect on his presidential decisions (this was how the question was phrased), which was slightly higher than the percentage “uncomfortable” about his religion in the abstract. 

It’s like this, James: if you push for more neoliberal policies in Latin America, that will magically reduce the popularity of the “false populism” that has flourished on account of the backlash against the last round of neoliberal policies pushed by Washington, whereas if you don’t support those policies “false populism” will run wild.  That’s clear, isn’t it?

Compassionate conservatism was, in practice, nothing more than spin and a vague gesture at a higher-order justification for corruption. ~Matt Yglesias

Speaking as someone who viewed “compassionate conservatism” as something more than spin, I would note that from a conservative perspective the first term proposals of “compassionate conservatism,” whether NCLB or the “faith-based initiatives” or something else, were a form of corruption all their own–a corruption of schools on the one hand, and a corruption of churches and charities on the other.  But to divide the high Gersonian rhetoric from the corruption and policy disasters of the Bush years is a mistake that allows both to escape from real censure much too easily.  Gersonism facilitates corruption, because it breeds a sense of entitlement and a loss of restraint in how power and resources are used.  Gersonism almost has to lead to policy disasters, because its assessment of ends and means is horribly wrong.  Fundamental to the entire project is an unreflective optimism and self-confidence that says, “I know I’m trying to save the world (and I will save the world), and anyone who doesn’t appreciate that is a moral monster.”  The obvious danger with self-appointed revolutionary transformers of the world is that the only thing they see more clearly than the rightness of their own view is the depravity of their foes, which makes for the perfect recipe for fanaticism and abuse of power.

This is the trouble that both cynics and progressives have in trying to make sense of Bush.  People will assume that he is using “compassion” and “democracy” talk as cynical cover for something else or that he’s cloaking his allegedly deep right-wing commitments (ha!) beneath a lot of talk about government moving to assist hurting people.  What is difficult for Bush’s critics, myself included, to appreciate is just how obliviously sincere they are that they think they really are caring for people and helping people by laying waste to their countries, imposing absurd unfunded mandates on their schools, frittering money away on feel-good foreign aid projects that leads directly to more corruption abroad, etc.  They feel they are doing good, and so the consequences do not concern them, which is probably why they apparently give so little thought to consequences and the possibility that things will go awry.

Romney told the crowd of roughly 150 at the Jorge Mas Canosa youth center that he ‘’would never give money to Fidel Castro'’ — prompting a swell of cheers. ~The Miami Herald

Perhaps I haven’t been following Florida politics as closely as I thought I was–is there a live controversy about subsidies for Castro that has eluded my attention?  Now that Liz Cheney is advising him on foreign policy, perhaps he can also pledge that he will not fund Bashar Al-Assad.  Before Cuban-American voters get too swept up in these bold promises of not funding Castro (that’s some bold leadership for America, Mitt!), I would remind them that this is the same master of the pander who insisted that patria o muerte, vinceremos! was a wonderful, patriotic message that free Cubans should “reclaim” as their own.  Who let the dogs out, indeed. 

Watch out, Romney supporters: Liz Cheney, fresh from badly advising Fred Thompson on foreign affairs, is backing your candidate.  It’s only a matter of time before the cold, creeping touch of Matalin follows and brings political doom with it.  In the endorsement race, McCain has picked up nods from two popular Floridian politicians who endorsed him out of annoyance with Romney’s sleeve-tugging, and Romney has the support of…Liz Cheney.  Those who have proposed that Romney represents some meaningful break with the Bush administration in foreign affairs might want to reconsider that view.

Despite this, Mandell Ganchrow, a former Orthodox Union president and longtime leader of a major pro-Israel political action committee, recently posted an item on his Web site suggesting Obama’s early exposure to Islam could make him a danger to Israel.

“In the Jewish religion when someone is far away from observance, however at a certain time he has a spark of Jewishness, we call it a ‘pintele Yid’ — a smattering, or a deep-seated unconscious attachment to one’s roots,” Ganchrow wrote. “With a Muslim father, and being surrounded in his early youth in a Muslim environment, is there such a thing as a ‘pintele Muslim,’ with deep-seated feelings which could color decisions re: terrorism and the Middle East?” ~The Jewish Week

Via Sullivan

This wouldn’t be quite so ludicrous if Obama had ever shown the slighest hint of disagreeing with most U.S. policies in the Near East and had ever gone beyond beyond standard left-liberal criticisms of the treatment of Palestinians.  Of course, except for Iraq (which a rather large number of non-Muslims who actually knew something about the Near East also opposed), he hasn’t.  I have argued before that this perception of an affinity for Muslims or attachment to the Islamic world would hurt him politically, and that it was crazy for him and his supporters to keep emphasising his foreign roots and attachments.  Whatever else you want to say about this, it really isn’t a vote-getter. 

I would like to use some of my personal history to explore just how ridiculous this line of criticism of Obama is.  First, as any long-time readers know, I am not a fan of Obama and I think he would make a terrible President.  The problem with his foreign policy views is not that they are too passive or “friendly” (or whatever counts as a grave sin in the eyes of such people) to Near Eastern and Islamic countries, but that he is essentially indistinguishable from the foreign policy consensus views of Washington, except when he overcompensates out of fear of looking “weak” by proposing sending American forces into Pakistan whether or not Islamabad agrees.  In other words, when he isn’t being merely conventional, he may be more dangerous than the people we have in power now.  This is not the result of his family background or upbringing, but a result of his inexperience and his misguided ideas about the U.S. role in the world that many of his colleagues share. 

As has been brought up elsewhere, for a very short time (about six months) I professed Islam (albeit pretty idiosyncratically–I doubt if my “conversion” would have ever been recognised as a proper one), mostly out of an attraction at the time to a somewhat coherent monotheism that was neither Jewish nor Christian, since I had been raised with no real religious education and had been conditioned by my multiculti private schools to an aversion to Christianity about whose teachings I knew relatively little and which I understood even less.  After a few years of syncretistic dabbling in various religious literatures, I came to Islam, mostly through the English translations of Rumi and the like, but rather like the dabbling before it this was not, on reflection, a serious conversion and it was one I could never enter into fully.  (Incidentally, anyone who would like to make more out of this than that is wasting his time.)  In a way slightly similar to Obama’s conversion to Christianity, I approached Orthodoxy at first intellectually that then became more firmly grounded in a practicing Orthodox parish.  So while I have no sympathy with Obama’s politics, I have found the persistent effort to label him falsely as a Muslim or crypto-Muslim, when he very definitely decided, as I did, to become a Christian (however liberal a denomination he may have joined), and the credulity of stupid voters to believe this falsehood, to be obnoxious.  There are dozens of reasons not to support Obama.  But the problem is not that he was raised for a few years in Indonesia with an Indonesian step-father or that his grandfather was a Muslim, but that he actually claims that living for a few years in Indonesia in his youth and having a Kenyan grandmother still living in a village in Kenya give him relevant foreign policy experience.  The problem is not where he grew up, but that he is substituting a kind of symbolic capital for expertise.   

As for the effect of my brief time as a self-described Muslim on my policy views, my attitude towards the world overseas had been poisoned much more by reading The Economist and The Wall Street Journal than by reading the Qur’an.  I had far more sympathy for Bosnian Muslims and Chechens as an ignorant American teenager than as a putative Muslim thanks to interventionist agitation on their behalf.  By the time of this brief Islamic phase, I had stopped thinking of foreign policy as a morality play in which other countries could be simplistically portrayed as incarnate evil.  Indeed, perhaps this kind of thinking only really works for thoroughly secular people who must find their great moral struggles in politics rather than in asceticism and worship.  Who knows?  In any case, Western media reported incessantly that the perpetually evil Slavs were the villains of the story, and that  it was as simple as that, and, young, foolish kid that I was, I believed them.  Mujahideen in the Balkans?  Why worry?  Truthfully, as a result of reading Chronicles more regularly, becoming better educated in European and Near Eastern history and becoming more familiar with Christianity, I began to move away from the pro-jihadist positions of the WSJ, Weekly Standard and the like, while the war against Yugoslavia and its aftermath finally brought me around to the non-interventionist views that I have held ever since.  I base my current views on what is in the American interest and how justice obliges us to act towards other nations.      

If there were anything to this idea that Obama’s experience of growing up around and among Muslims (for a relatively shot period of his life in his earliest youth) would have an effect on his policy views, he would have to have policy views that were not virtually identical with every other conventional Democratic hawk.  

P.S.  Ross, Yglesias and Ambinder talk about Obama and the Muslim charge.

Mike Huckabee recites from the warmonger hymnal, plus weird references to Jordan!  Why hawks have a problem with Huckabee, I will never understand.  Opponents of the war are the ones who should find Huckabee to be unacceptable.

The Republican field (save Ron Paul) marches in support of the war to their eventual political doom. 

Huckabee likens WMDs to easter eggs–Pinkerton, call your office!

“A superpower, if you will,” Romney says of jihadis.  It makes Huckabee’s easter egg remark seem informed.

By the way, whatever you think of Paul’s monetary views, his statement that wars produce inflation is absolutely right and pretty much irrefutable.  At some point, you have to be either pro-dollar or you can be pro-war.

Dennis Kucinich has dropped out of the race, and so departs the last consistent antiwar Democratic candidate for President.  It has puzzled and dismayed me that so many Republican antiwar voters have backed McCain in defiance of all logic, but at least there is a core of voters in the Republican primaries that has rallied to the real antiwar candidate on the right.  Meanwhile, Democratic antiwar voters mostly divide among those candidates who would bomb Iran and those who would invade Pakistan, all of whom endorsed the war against Lebanon in 2006.  By all rights, Kucinich ought to have been able to pull together 10% of the vote in every vote, but instead was usually drawing less than half the support given to Ron Paul on the other side.  However bad you think the GOP is, and I think it is pretty bad, don’t ever let anyone tell you that the Democratic Party is a party opposed to needless and illegal wars. 

Prof. Bainbridge preaches ashes and sackcloth:

Coupled with losing Congress in 2006, losing the presidency in 2008 will provide a pair of defeats that surely will prompt “attentiveness” on the part of the GOP leadership and the intellectual base of think tanks and academics who helped lay the foundation for the Reagan and Gingrich revolutions.

But attentiveness to what?  There is something frustratingly vague about Bainbridge’s complaint, just as there was always something frustratingly vague about Thompson’s campaign message.  Going back to first principles is a fine idea (assuming that you have sound first principles), but Thompson never made clear how he would differ from the current administration in those areas where it was most ruinous for the reputation of the party and the name of conservatism.  There is reason to think, given what he has said and who is advising him, that Thompson would have been worse and more prone to the same mistakes of this administration on foreign policy than would Romney or Huckabee.  In other words, in the one area where a return to first principles seems most necessary, Thompson plainly failed to deliver.    

2006 should have been a deafening wake-up call to the GOP that most of the country was not with them on Iraq, but that wasn’t the lesson they learned at all.  They decided to hang it all on corruption and overspending, as if Indiana ousted three Republican incumbents and New Hampshire turned into a Democratic state because of Abramoff and earmarks.  Depending on the nominee, the aftermath of an ‘08 defeat will result in slightly different conclusions, but whatever explanation “the intellectual base” gives to account for the defeat they will remain oblivious to the party’s blind spots on the war and foreign policy, and so will be unable to fix what is wrong.  Remarkably, many of the same people who have winked and nodded at executive usurpation and infringement on civil liberties, the ones who mock Paul’s constitutionalism as hopelessly antiquated, are all the more rigidly, inflexibly adhering to the memory of “the Reagan coalition,” as if conservatism existed for the sake of the coalition rather than the other way around.          

As America marks the first anniversary of the troop escalation in Iraq, at least one thing has become clear. Although the “surge” is failing as policy, it seems to be succeeding as propaganda. Even as George W. Bush continues to bump and scrape along the bottom of public approval, significantly more people now believe we are “winning” the war.

What winning really means and whether that vague impression can be sustained are questions that the war’s proponents would prefer not to answer for the moment. Their objective during this election year is simply to reduce public pressure for withdrawal, which is still the choice of an overwhelming majority of voters. ~Joe Conason

This is pretty much in line with what I argued in one of my TAC columns last month (sorry, not online).  As others have noted, the real political goal of the “surge” seems not to have been to stabilise a viable Iraqi government, but to shore up collapsing support for the war here.  Even so, the domestic political effects have mostly been limited to Washington.  Public opinion remains as resolutely against the war as it was a year ago.  Three quarters of Americans do not want a “large number” of troops in Iraq two years from now, and half the country wants most of our forces out in less than a year. 

Ross agrees with James on the foreign aid debate: 

I might even go further than this, though, and suggest that even when these sort of efforts turn out to be ineffective at fostering the sort of order we ought to be concerned with, their effectivness as public diplomacy shouldn’t be underestimated.

Ross is right about the effect on foreign public opinion of even limited assistance, especially in cases of disaster relief, whether it is the Kashmir earthquake he refers to or the assistance for the Southeast Asian tsunami over three years ago.  In this respect, foreign aid to Africa has made Africa into an unexpected success story, if you measure success by how favourably many African nations view the U.S. relative to the rest of the world.  Then again, there also seems to be a general correlation between how much Washington generally ignores a part of the world, except to give aid packages, and how much the people in that region view America favourably.       

However, unless these programs really do help to foster some order and unless the goverments of the countries receiving aid are capable of maintaining some basic order on their own, I don’t think I have to tell you that American public opinion will sour on giving money to these governments over time.  There was a strong and understandable reaction here to the chaos in Pakistan after Bhutto’s assassination, which was actually much less pronounced and grave than the civil strife going on in Kenya, and to the extent that the American public thinks about aid to Pakistan I would guess a large plurality, if not a majority, was asking itself, “Why are we giving them all this aid?  What’s the point?”  In the case of Pakistan, there are good answers to that question, but the damage done by civil disorder to American support for this kind of aid, even when it may be strategically justified (as I doubt it is in many parts of Africa), should not be underestimated. 

Thank goodness it’s Friday–there must be another insipid Michael Gerson column to read!  And indeed there is.  This week, he’s complaining about mean, ol’ Fred’s remarks on government funding for AIDS in Africa:

While he is not an isolationist, he clearly is playing to isolationist sentiments. 

It is now “isolationist” to oppose foreign aid for disease prevention on a continent where the United States has negligible interests, because apparently our resources are as infinite as the ever-multiplying “interests” that the Gersons of the world discover for us in every problem around the world.  More than that, Gerson tells us, Fred has revealed his lack of “moral seriousness.”  For Gerson, governing isn’t a matter of making choices and setting priorities in the American interest, but of unburdening his conscience about suffering on the other side of the world with someone else’s money.  I can understand why Gerson is annoyed–this kind of foreign aid was one of his favourite administration policies–but the reasoning here is beyond laughable:

America is engaged in a high-stakes ideological struggle in Africa, where radicals and terrorists seek to fill the vacuum of failed and hopeless societies. Fighting disease and promoting development are important foreign policy tools in this struggle, which Thompson apparently does not appreciate or even understand.  

Now the overwhelming bulk of the foreign aid in question goes to sub-Saharan and East African countries, where there are not actually very many of these “radicals and terrorists.”  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t violent, brutal militias and governments, and it doesn’t mean that there isn’t political instability in some of these countries, but it does mean that the political woes of these countries do not figure in to any larger, much less “high-stakes,” ideological struggle.  Uganda, one of the recipients of our current aid, suffers from a long-running insurgency in the north, but this is not connected to a broader “ideological struggle,” unless you assume that the “ideological struggle” is being waged everywhere on the planet and can be used to retroactively justify any do-gooding overseas that comes under reasonable scrutiny.  If health-related foreign aid is a weapon in this “ideological struggle,” shouldn’t we at the very least be targeting it at countries that are more strategically significant?  But no, Thompson must be engaged in some kind of “isolationism” because he doesn’t favour frittering away resources on what are frankly, from the perpsective of the American interest, low-priority issues.  

Reading Gerson’s moral hectoring, you have to conclude that there is no logical limit to the outpouring of state-funded compassion that he would support, since to limit it would be to declare someone, somewhere, less of a priority for the U.S. government than someone else, and that would be evidence of a hardness of heart rather than responsible government.  In trying to lay a guilt trip on Thompson for expressing what I have to assume is the view of a substantial number, if not a majority, of Republicans, Gerson reminds us why so many of us on the right are instinctively averse to foreign aid proposals: the arguments used to advance them are usually loaded down with this self-important moral preening that says Americans must be concerned with the problems of people on the other side of the planet and that they are necessarily shameful and despicable people if they prefer primarily to help their own.  This is not simply an insulting way to make the argument, but it suggests a frankly deranged set of priorities in the one making the argument.  Gerson, like Mrs. Jellyby of Bleak House, seems to be able to see nothing closer than Africa.

The requirements of charity do call us to help the sick and the poor (which Thompson never denied, but rather took for granted), but what Gerson is talking about is almost the opposite and negation of charity.  Invoking the tradition in Christendom of public authorities providing for the poor, Gerson implicitly takes for granted that the United States government has the same obligation to provide for the poor of other continents that it may have for its own citizens, which suggests that he thinks that our government is the public authority for all the world.  Abandoning persuasion, the redistributionist resorts to coercion to send money to whatever cause he believes is most deserving, and here Gerson is no different.  This is his “heroic conservatism,” which does not conserve much of anything but fancies itself very heroic for wasting things that belong to other people.  As sure as public money always tends to drive out private money, foreign aid spending, when it is not misappropriated by the receiving government, will tend to reduce and limit the extent of private philanthropy dedicated to a particular country or problem.  It might just be that the public policy Gerson supports will ultimately hamper the development of private institutional and charitable support and so perpetuate dependency on this aid indefinitely.  As with so many proposals of state support, the helping hand of government, even when offered in good faith and with the best of intentions, can have a long-term crippling effect on the recipients who are “benefiting” from the aid.  

Update: James makes the much more cogent case for ths kind of aid on the grounds of promoting or preserving stability and social order in these countries.  It still seems debatable to me that doing this is the U.S. government’s responsibility or that the stability of Uganda or other such African nations should be a priority of our government, but this is the only kind of argument for this aid that will persuade and it is the just about the only kind of argument for it that can be defended coherently.  That said, Peter makes the good pragmatic case against the actual aid program that the government has.  Before throwing money to corrupt governments, it would be wise to know whether the money will ever assist the people for whom it is being donated.  Americans generally and conservatives in particular would have far fewer objections to foreign aid if there was much confidence that the money would not be wasted or stolen, and that it would accomplish the things that the government says that it will.  In principle, containing the spread of disease strikes me as a far more useful and humane use of our resources than invading and occupying other countries that pose no threat to us, but there need to be cogent arguments as to why we should focus on one region rather than another and why our government is the one that should be doing this.  Given the current state of the federal government’s finances, I’m not sure that we can afford to keep throwing good money after mostly bad on programs that are being minimally effective. 

Roger Cohen repeats a meme that has been getting on my nerves, especially since McCain did better among antiwar voters than among supporters of the war, who voted for Romney in both New Hampshire and Michigan:

McCain was politically dead six months ago, his campaign undone by his backing of President Bush’s Iraq policy. His remarkable resurgence, which has put him in the lead among Republican candidates, according to recent polls, is one measure of the Iraq shift.

This first sentence is a complete media fantasy.  His campaign was undone by his support for the immigration bill last summer.  Opponents of the war in the mainstream press don’t like McCain’s position on the war and so conclude that this must be what has brought him down, but they are judging the war’s popularity by the entire population, continually neglecting to note that most Republicans still support it.  It wasn’t as if he was terribly popular with conservatives before the immigration bill, but that pushed a lot of people away from him and destroyed his status as the “next-in-line” nominee.  Also, his “remarkable resurgence” was tied to his victory in New Hampshire, which had to do with his personal popularity in New Hampshire that has endured since 2000 and his ability to attract independent voters.  Public opinion about the success of the “surge” hasn’t changed very much, so it is difficult to trace McCain’s resurgence to anything Iraq-related.  If his resurgence were a result of getting credit for his position on Iraq, he ought to be winning most of the war supporters rather than a plurality of the opponents, wouldn’t you say?

An agreement spanning hard-line Shia Muslims, secularists and Sunni representatives set the outlines for a broad-based alliance capable of mounting a parliamentary challenge to the ruling coalition led by the prime minister Nouri al-Malaki.

A shared platform welded together the radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the moderate former prime minister Ayad Allawi and even a Sunni leader, Salah al-Mutlak.

A statement said the parties would resist proposals to grant regional governments control over oil resources and push for the abandonment of a referendum on the disputed city of Kirkuk. ~The Daily Telegraph

When the administration has pressed for Iraqi political reconciliation, I do not think this is what they had in mind.  Now, in addition to the fractiousness within the government and the reluctance of Maliki to press very hard on these measures, there is an organised bloc dedicated to thwarting the legislative agenda that the “surge” was supposed to make possible. 

On MTP Clinton reasonably questioned Obama’s self-serving story about his allegedly bold and consistent opposition to the war, noting that he has built his reputation in foreign policy on opposition to the war when his opposition has been, at least since he entered the Senate, largely rhetorical and bereft of leadership before he started running for President.  This is true, even though Hillary Clinton has said it.  If you want a real antiwar Democratic leader, you might look to someone like Russ Feingold, who has actually consistently opposed the war by, well, voting against it and voting to end funding for it. 

It is all very well that Obama spoke against the war when he was at no political risk as a state senator in one of the most liberal districts in a Democratic state.  He then subsequently distanced himself from that opposition when the war was initially popular and it seemed that being antiwar was a political loser for an ambitious politician and embarrassing to someone chosen to give the keynote address at a convention that was nominating two war supporters, only to rediscover his previous ”superior judgement” once the country had turned against the war and he was gearing up to run for President.  Because Hillary Clinton is so deeply unpopular with so many political observers, many do not want to credit these criticisms, but they are pretty accurate.  On this specific point, it is, dare I say it, Obama and his campaign that have played the part of the Clintons and the Clintons who have (for entirely self-serving reasons, of course) opted to tell the truth.

I just heard Fred Thompson berate Huckabee for his complaint that the Pakistanis misappropriate our aid money to their military for purposes other than combating Al Qaeda.  Of course, what Huckabee was actually referring to, unless I am very much mistaken, was the problem that Pakistan has been using military aid funding to bolster their military strength on the border with India.  Contra Quin Hillyer, Thompson came off sounding like a buffoon.  Remind me again why we’re supposed to think Huckabee is weak on foreign policy and Thompson is not?  Because he’s advised by the Vice President’s daughter?  Not much of a recommendation.

P.S. I think I have been a bit too hard on Huckabee’s foreign policy views because of his NIE blunder.  He has been improving in this area over the last couple of months.  As I said before, his Foreign Affairs essay did show some decent understanding of Pakistan, and tonight’s performance confirms that.  As for Fred, anyone advised by Liz Cheney is going to make foolish statements.

Update: Thompson really is desperate to go after Huckabee tonight.  He knows that he has to tear the man down to survive in South Carolina, but it’s just not working.

Second Update: Via Ambinder, Joe Scarborough makes it clear that he doesn’t like Fred Thompson’s debate performance.  I think that invite to Chuck Norris’ ranch won him over to Huck’s side.

In the wake of New Hampshire, I know we’re all supposed to ignore polls and pretend that they tell us little, but it seems useful to look at the most recent Iraq war polling again in response to this Jennifer Rubin piece.  Rubin wrote:

To look ahead to the general election, the surge may also have changed the landscape for the Republicans as a whole. If progress continues, the GOP will not face searing headlines and escalating body counts. The traditional image of the GOP as the more responsible and less skittish party in national security may be restored somewhat and the Democrats’ willingness to “cut and run” again becomes a viable campaign issue.

So the lessons of the surge are familiar ones, but ones repeatedly forgotten by politicians anxious to seek safer ground in any controversy. Short-term political gain does not always translate into long-term electoral success [bold mine-DL]. The public in the end will reward political courage — in part because it is so rare.

With all the usual caveats that the election is still ten months away and many things may change, I confess that I don’t see where Rubin is getting this impression that the “surge” stands to benefit the GOP.  Obviously, “surge” supporters hope that it does, and anything is possible, but there is little reason to think that it has had any meaningful impact on public opinion about the war.  On the surface, yes, McCain is doing better (because he won in a state he had won eight years ago, though with almost 30,000 fewer voters this time), while bizarrely losing to Romney among strong supporters of the war 44-23%.  Huckabee has probably temporarily benefited in the GOP primaries from being unequivocally for the “surge” while Romney was more skeptical about its success, but this may, in fact, prove to be a liability should he win the nomination.  It is worth noting that Romney’s very modest skepticism and caution actually put him closer to the majority of the country than does McCain’s mantra “we are winning.”  McCain’s best electoral asset seems to be that he wins the votes of Republican war opponents, as he did in New Hampshire, in spite of his close identification with the war–this is probably a function of the weakness of Republican war opponents’ opposition rather than McCain’s ability to appeal to those on the other side of the debate.  It seems implausible that non-Republican war opponents will be as willing to support him.

In the NBC/WSJ poll from Dec. 14-17, opposition to the war remained as strong as ever.  63% disapprove of Bush’s handling of the war.  That would have to include, as of last month, the “surge” as well as everything that came before.  56% believe victory is not still possible.  44% believe the “surge” has made no difference, and 14% believe that it has made things worse.  These numbers are virtually unchanged from earlier months.  57% want to remove most troops by 2009.  In a Dec. 16-19 ABC News poll, 62% say they believe was not worth fighting.  More recent polling by Rasmussen from Jan. 2-3 tells us that 51% believe the war will be judged a failure in the long-term, and only 34% believe that things will improve over the next six months (this group includes 61% of Republicans, but only a fifth of Democrats and a quarter of “other”).  Barring fairly major shifts in public opinion in coming months, the relative military gains of the “surge” seem to have had no effect whatever on opinions about the war.  Since several polls last month showed that the public had more confidence in the Democrats on the Iraq war, it is not at all clear where anyone would get the idea that the “surge” is helping the GOP electorally.

Jim Antle has a very good article on “The Paleocon Dilemma” in the current TAC, and he outlines three tactical approaches that dissident conservatives have been pursuing:

Some paleoconservatives prefer to work within the mainstream movement, hoping to take it back from those they view as squatters.  Others believe that movement is either too far gone, or was fatally flawed from the beginning, and instead seek to forge a “real Right” that will supplant mainstream conservatism.  A third group believes that changing American foreign policy should take precedence over all other ideological concerns and therefore favors the creation of a Left-Right anti-neoconservative coalition.

Ron Paul is the obvious candidate for paleos, and, as Jim notes, in Paul’s campaign ”there are elements of all three approaches—each of which has obvious flaws.”  It remains an open question whether Paul’s campaign is the beginning of a new effort to “recapture” the movement from within, or marks the last attempt to work within the party and the movement before paleos completely reject this first approach.  I have some thoughts on this question, but I am saving them for my next column.  I am personally most inclined to the second approach, even as I am acutely aware of the limitations and problems of that route.  I can see some ad hoc value in the third, but the third approach has a number of even more serious problems. 

Depending on the degree of one’s disaffection, the Bush Era has either transformed the movement into something awful or it has simply revealed internal flaws that have been there for a long time.  Certainly, I think the administration has done grave, probably irreparable, damage to the movement and to the reputation of conservatism in this country.  As I think Sullivan said recently, Bush has managed to betray and discredit conservatism at the same time, which is far worse than his father’s indifference to the movement’s priorities and his moderate Republican proclivity to make deals with the left.  Unlike his father, Bush effectively redefined conservatism in the eyes of most Americans as center-left meliorism at home and Wilsonian interventionism abroad.  Depressingly, it has mostly been the first part of this redefinition that has generated the most movement opposition, while it is the latter that has probably done more damage to our country and more harm to the credibility of conservatives on vital policy questions.  However, I also think that Bush could never have done what he did had the movement and party not been so acquiescent and willing to yield.

If foreign policy is the area in which the most damaging changes have occurred, it would seem reasonable that an alliance to counteract neoconservative influence on foreign policy would be most urgent and desirable, at least in the short term.  That is the rationale for the third approach mentioned above, and it is initially an attractive one.  But the third approach has two problems beyond the one that Jim mentioned (”all organizations that are not explicitly right-wing become left-wing over time”).  The first is that it has very little chance of succeeding.  Divorced from some significant power base and/or voting bloc, a coalition organised around a foreign policy agenda would be extremely unstable and would would not be able to draw much support beyond the relatively small numbers of progressives and conservatives who have found some way to cooperate in opposition to this particular war.  If it grew it numbers, it would become increasingly fissiparous because of the limited number of goals holding the coalition together.  As a generically anti-neoconservative coalition, it would have a broader appeal and could conceivably include realists and internationalists of various stripes, but within that coalition you would continually have friction between those internationalists and the non-interventionists.  The latter would not see many sharp distinctions between the “multilateralists” who supported Kosovo but opposed Iraq and the neocons (perhaps because there are not many real distinctions), while the former would continually be frustrated by right non-interventionists’ opposition to the U.N. and any international treaty that was seen as a threat to national sovereignty.  The candidacy of Obama is a good case in point illustrating this divide: many progressives who are against the Iraq war are nonetheless not terribly concerned about the insane, overreaching, hubristic nature of Obama’s overall foreign policy or his support for Israel’s war in Lebanon, while the antiwar Right sees very little about Obama to admire.  Where some starry-eyed antiwar progressives (and perhaps even a few conservatives) see Obama representing a dramatic change in how the world will see America, we see someone who believes the U.S. has the right and indeed obligation, justified by our limitless security interests that are “inextricably” linked to everyone else’s security interests, to intervene anywhere and everywhere, guaranteeing more of the same disastrously arrogant treatment of other states. 

The second and perhaps more significant problem is that it subordinates all domestic policy priorities and disputes to the goal of agreeing on changing U.S. foreign policy, which most of the constituent parts of this coalition would find deeply dissatisfying in many ways.  It seems improbable that people who aready dislike the compromises required by the current Democratic and Republican coalitions would be likely to ally with others even farther from them in domestic politics.  Personally, I see some substantial common ground between paleos and greens, but the number of paleos and greens who see this same common ground is even smaller than the already rather small numbers of both groups.   While most right non-interventionists see their foreign policy views as the logical extension of their general anti-statism and constitutionalism, which puts them at odds with the welfare state, many of the progressives in this coalition would want to pursue expansions of the state in the name of social justice.  Those on the right who chafed at the conservative movement’s acquiescence to a massive federal bureaucracy during the Cold War and in the decades since 1991 are unlikely to want to tolerate a similar bargain with progressives in the name of thwarting hegemonism.  One of the reasons that most of us will ultimately not be able to go along with such an alliance is that we assume that there is something fundamentally progressive and left-wing about the neoconservative project (and further that this is one of the reasons why it so pernicious), and that it is because of its progressive, leftist origins that neoconservatism misunderstands human nature, society and politics so badly.  We also assume, I think correctly, that as soon as the Iraq war is over neoconservatives will regain, or perhaps will never have lost, their reputation on the left as the “reasonable” and “respectable” Right, the sorts of people that “decent liberals” can work with and not feel guilty.  Once the Iraq war is over, progressives will resume (not that they have ever really stopped) their denunciations of the “nativists” and “isolationists” on the right whom they will always make a point of loathing more than the mainstream Republicans whose policies we all oppose (albeit obviously for different reasons in most cases).        

Here’s a perfect example of what I was talking about earlier today (via Yglesias):

When asked about a Palestinian state, Gov. Huckabee stated that he supports creating a Palestinian state, but believes that it should be formed outside of Israel. He named Egypt and Saudi Arabia as possible alternatives, noting that the Arabs have far more land than the Israelis and that it would only be fair for other Arab nations to give the Palestinians land for a state, rather than carving it out of the tiny Israeli state.

Huckabee’s frequent references to “Islamofascism” and now his adoption of an ultra position on the Palestinians are meant to placate the critics who believe that his foreign policy agenda is either too thin, too naive, too weak or too liberal (or some combination of these).  “Transferring” (a.k.a. forcibly expelling) Palestinians to various Arab countries is a curious way to have U.S. foreign policy ”change its tone and attitude, open up, and reach out.”  Who would have guessed that this meant adopting a harsher tone and attitude towards Arabs?  Perhaps that will be Huckabee’s new mantra: Reach out and strike someone.  Huckabee has taken this rather dreadful position of his own accord–just imagine what he would be willing to embrace once “national security” conservatives started supporting and advising him.  Not only would a position like this make him a natural fit for the “new fusionist” alliance of social conservatives and neocons, but in its injustice and hubris it is actually even worse than the current administration. 

Apparently the cover of the latest TAC has annoyed some Giuliani supporters.  That is distressing.  How will we get on without the approval of David Frum and Martin Kramer?  We’ll probably manage somehow. 

There has been an excessive deployment of the term fascist in our political discourse over the last ten years or so, almost all of it coming from neoconservatives and their allies, especially in the context of foreign policy arguments.  I argued late last year against the nonsensical nature of the term Islamofascism, which neoconservative writers use on a regular basis, which belongs to the subtitle of Podhoretz’s latest volume and which forms a central part of neoconservative “analysis” of the threat to this country.  Podhoretz, as you will recall, is an advisor to the Giuliani campaign, so there is something more than a little rich about other Giuliani advisors complaining about the reckless and inappropriate use of references to fascism.  Their entire foreign policy view is little more than an elaborate version of shouting, “The new Hitler is coming!”  Yet they have the temerity to complain when we portray an aggressive, authoritarian, jingoistic nationalist as somehow akin to aggressive jingoistic nationalists?  Remarkable.

In America and Europe in the last fifty years or so, the term fascist has normally been used against traditional conservatives and rightists who value national sovereignty and who want to avoid foreign wars whenever possible.  Apparently unaware of the irony, Republican admirers of FDR, architect of American state capitalism, have been glad to fling the f-word at the heirs to his Old Right enemies, because we respect the non-interventionist principles of America Firsters.  The depiction of Giuliani in brownshirt seems more apt than not in that he has publicly stated his willingness to leave open the first-strike use of tactical nukes against another country, he has made a joke out of torturing detainees and he is on record (along with most conservative pundits) endorsing the aggressive invasion of another country.  Giuliani is nothing if he is not a nationalist who believes in exerting strength through war and using the power of the state.  According to a proper, specific definition of fascism, Giuliani is not a fascist, because fascism died in 1945 and as a phenomenon it has ceased to exist, but then Giuliani and his supporters long ago abandoned any such proper definitions of the term. 

Meanwhile, on a related note, Michael has been a blogging up a storm during my absence from the old tubes. 

Benazir Bhutto’s assassination yesterday in Rawalpindi deserves some comment, and actually deserves much more than I will be able to give in the short time I have today.  Djerejian has interrupted his hiatus and said much that needs to be said.  In short, I am still convinced that Musharraf is a liability to the stability of Pakistan, as I have argued twice before in TAC, and I agree that it would be wise to watch what Kiyani does in the coming weeks.  With no disrespect intended to Bhutto, I think we have (as usual) personalised our view of Pakistan policy far too much and many now seem to assume that Bhutto’s death makes civilian government in Pakistan unfeasible.  That strikes me as a mistaken conclusion.  If the structures of Pakistani civil society, such as they are, are so weak that a single assassination can so badly undermine them, they will not be prepared for the task of a return to civilian rule in the next many years.  I think this places far too much importance on one party leader and stands as an example of how we routinely misunderstand the politics of other countries by investing hopes for reform, democratisation or Westernisation in a single person, who then is either killed or badly disappoints the people who foolishly placed so much emphasis on one leader.  That said, the current situation in Pakistan is unstable enough that any elections held in the next few weeks would be plagued with violence and be the cause of still more outbreaks of civil unrest. 

On the effects of the assassination on our presidential politics, Ross makes an interesting point:

Our Pakistan problem is a vexatious question, ill-suited to being addressed in sound bites and press releases. But it’s precisely because it’s so impossibly vexatious, and likely to remain so no matter who occupies 1600 Pennsylvania, that the news from Rawalpindi fleetingly inspired me to greater sympathy not for “ready to lead” politicians like John McCain or Hillary Clinton, but for the “come home, America” candidacy of one Dr. Ron Paul.

To the extent that most pundits and journalists are not reacting this way, but are instead playing up McCain and Clinton, any effect this assassination will have on our politics will be determined by the willingness of our media to accept at face value the campaign narratives of these candidates.  As it happens, McCain was saying some uncommonly sane and sober things about Pakistan yesterday in an interview with Laura Ingraham, swatting down Obama and Huckabee’s Kaganesque lunacy of ordering American soldiers to go inside Pakistan. 

If the events in Pakistan have any impact on caucus-goers and primary voters, which I very much doubt in light of the extremely limited attention most will have been paying to foreign affairs, much less Pakistani affairs, they will benefit candidates who appear to understand Pakistan and who have not made provocative or dangerous statements about Pakistan policy.  (Huckabee’s provocative statements cancel out his surprisingly well-informed grasp on Pakistan’s internal politics.)  By all rights, Paul, Biden and, indeed, McCain ought to gain if the late-deciding, uncommitted voters are actually moved to make their decision based on what happened on the other side of the world.  That is almost certainly not the case.  What it will change is the relative kid-glove treatment that all the major candidates have received concerning their foreign policy ideas.  The candidates coming out of Iowa who will likely have prevailed on their domestic policy agenda, namely Edwards and Huckabee, will have to demonstrate some competence on foreign affairs if they are to avoid even more intense criticism.   

The war remains enormously unpopular and major political liability for the Republican Party. The new ABC-Washington Post Poll finds Democrats favored over Republicans on the war by a 16 point margin, slightly higher than the Democratic margin earlier this year and last year.

The claim that public opinion has shifted on the war appears to be based almost entirely on a small uptick on one measure–opinion about how the war is going. There has been a small improvement on this question, presumably in response to reports of decreasing violence and, most importantly, decreasing U.S. casualties. But this shift is not indicative of any broader shift in public opinion toward the war. Opposition to the war remains as high as ever as does support for a withdrawal timetable. And Iraq clearly remains the most salient issue in the 2008 election. ~Alan Abramowitz

Maybe something drastic has changed in public opinion in the last four weeks, but I don’t think so.  If there are larger liabilities for the GOP than the war in Iraq, they are in even worse shape than I think they are, since that would mean that they have at least two huge electoral liabilities.

I’m the last person to say that this administration is subject to an arrogant, bunker mentality that is counterproductive here and abroad. ~Mitt Romney

Where was it again, James, that Romney was “offering a greater departure from Bush’s foreign policy than any Republican save Ron Paul”?  This is someone who wants to try Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention for giving his anti-Israel speeches.  He prattles on about incipient caliphates just as the President does.  On any issue where he has put forward his own view, it is usually an endorsement of the principles of the current administration.  Most of Romney’s proposed changes to the status quo are improvements in managing and implementing Bush’s broken foreign policy vision. 

His attacks on Huckabee are also rather remarkable.  In his actual essay, his concrete proposals are almost all the same in principle as Huckabee’s, and his essay is much more deficient in addressing Iran and Pakistan or indeed much of the rest of the world.  Does Romney really want to get into a fight in an area where his experience is no greater and his ideas, especially on Iran, are demonstrably worse?  What Republicans seem to dislike the most about Huckabee’s essay are the unprofessional language and the attacks on Bush.  Certainly, serious foreign policy arguments might stand fewer references to Brer Rabbit, but you’d be very unwise as a candidate to tie yourself as closely to the President as Romney is doing.  Republicans apparently love this, but the other almost two-thirds of the country might have different ideas. 

I suppose one can say that Giuliani also offers a “departure” from Bush’s foreign policy, in that it is entirely, and not just mostly, divorced from the real world.

The news story covering Huckabee’s FA essay has taken his opening lines about the administration’s ”arrogant bunker mentality” and made them half of the entire story.  The blog right is, predictably, throwing a fit, with more than a few declaring that they cannot support Huckabee.  It probably cannot help Huckabee in the early voting that the only person I have seen praising the essay is…Joe Klein.  The remarkable thing is that Huckabee’s essay, while I have problems with a lot of it, does some of what the Republicans need to do politically (balance GOP support for the war with a broader break with at least some of the more egregious flaws of Bush’s foreign policy) and it demonstrates some reasonably good understanding of Iran and Pakistan.  Some of his proposals (launching attacks into Pakistan, remaining in Iraq, etc.) seem terrible to me, but they are exactly the kinds of things that Republican voters should appreciate about this essay. 

On the GOP’s largest general election liability and its worst policy position, the war in Iraq, Huckabee remains a loyal yes-man, so what do they really have to complain about?  His opposition to the Law of the Sea Treaty is red meat for the base, while his general interest in more robust diplomacy otherwise should satisfy more moderate Republicans.  Most of the opposition to the essay, I suspect, has been driven by a visceral reaction against the knock on the administration, as if criticising Mr. Bush were some unpardonable error.  If Republicans are going to make criticism of the current administration’s foreign policy completely off-limits and punish the candidates who make those criticisms, they are going to lose and they will deserve to lose.  My guess is that Huckabee’s foreign policy, whatever its substantive merits and problems, will sound reasonable and it will provide a refreshing departure for Republicans who don’t want to give up on the war but who also don’t want another four years of blustering militarism.  It isn’t the foreign policy I would prefer, but for a lot of disillusioned Republican voters it might be just right. 

Nonetheless, if he wants to shore up his reputation here, he really has to stop analogising international relations to family quarrels.  There is a way to make the argument he wants to make on Iran that doesn’t involve referring to reconciling with your estranged brother or what-have-you.

Update: James thinks the “arrogant bunker mentality” line has everything backwards–it is the administration’s enthusiasm muck about in the rest of the world that is the problem.  That’s true, but it doesn’t entirely rule out something like the mentality to which Huckabee is referring.  If I understood him right, the mentality in question is one that believes that the world is unipolar, we are indispensable and must be involved in everyone else’s business, but which also thinks that we are under dire threat from tinpot dictatorships on the other side of the planet.  The first part is the arrogance, and the second is the bunker mentality, and the administration displays elements of both.  Indeed it justifies its activist foreign policy in terms of its paranoia about overblown foreign threats.  Obviously, there must be a much, much better way to say it than he did (as with so many things Huckabeean), but there is something to this critique.

Philip Klein is also right that there is something in the essay to alienate all factions (conversely, there is something in the speech to reassure most factions).  It is true that it is incoherent, but that is what you will get when you are a candidate trying to shore up a pro-war base with a foreign policy that isn’t simply a reiteration of what we have now.  When every feint in the direction of realism is greeted by hostility, it will not be surprising that the would-be realist has to keep zig-zagging with promises to invade Pakistan and reject the Law of the Sea right after he denounces arrogance and the “bunker mentality.”  Also, the critique that he is proposing “a foreign aid program that would make Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society look like a trivial domestic initiative” must also be aimed at Romney, who proposed something very similar in his FA essay:

 I envision that the summit would lead to the creation of a Partnership for Prosperity and Progress: a coalition of states that would assemble resources from developed nations and use them to support public schools (not Wahhabi madrasahs), microcredit and banking, the rule of law, human rights, basic health care, and free-market policies in modernizing Islamic states. These resources would be drawn from public and private institutions and from volunteers and nongovernmental organizations.  

Huckabee’s Foreign Affairs essay appears to be a rehash of the speech he gave at CSIS several months ago.  The people who hated that speech because it talked about containing Iran (one of Huckabee’s better ideas) will probably also hate this essay.  As I said about that speech, there are a few things that interventionists will reject (but they will reject them fiercely), a few things realists might find acceptable and virtually nothing that a non-interventionist would like. The entire essay is something of a grab-bag and reads very unevenly.  It has its moments, and it remains the case that his foreign policy views are much more substantive than conservative media outlets have acknowledged, but it still needs some work.  (The sections on Russia are not nearly detailed enough, and there is no attention paid to China, India or Latin America.) 

Once again, he supports the Powell Doctrine.  He also mentions Shinseki by name, which is one of those things that Republican loyalists hate.  

Huckabee said:

The first thing I will do as president is send Congress my comprehensive plan for achieving energy independence within ten years of my inauguration. We will explore, we will conserve, and we will pursue all types of alternative energy: nuclear, wind, solar, ethanol, hydrogen, clean coal, biomass, and biodiesel. 

I am reminded of Brownback’s pledge to cure cancer in ten years.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with this proposal, but you have to know that it’s going to take longer than ten years to develop our own sources to replace all foreign sources of energy.  That said, this is a big step up from his “no more valuable than their sand” line that he always uses about the Saudis, which is probably a great crowd-pleaser but which confirms in the minds of an informed audience that he is trivial.  Like Romney, he wants to expand the intelligence services and the armed forces. 

He admits the obvious about the strain on the military:

We still do not have enough troops in Afghanistan and are losing hard-won gains there as foreign fighters pour in and the number of Iraq-style suicide attacks increases. Our current active armed forces simply are not large enough. We have relied far too heavily on the National Guard and the Reserves and worn them out.

He then promises a huge increase in government spending:

Right now, we spend about 3.9 percent of our GDP on defense, compared with about six percent in 1986, under President Ronald Reagan. We need to return to that six percent level [bold mine-DL]. And we must stop using active-duty forces for nation building and return to our policy of using other government agencies to build schools, hospitals, roads, sewage treatment plants, water filtration systems, electrical facilities, and legal and banking systems. We must marshal the goodwill, ingenuity, and power of our governmental and nongovernmental organizations in coordinating and implementing these essential nonmilitary functions.

His views on Iraq are standard, party-line stuff:

Seeing Iraqi Sunnis in Anbar, Diyala, and parts of Baghdad reject al Qaeda and join our forces, often at tremendous risk to themselves, has been a truly extraordinary shift. Those who once embraced al Qaeda members as liberators now see them for what these radicals are: brutal oppressors who want to take Iraq back to the seventh century. And this development is serving as a model for turning Shiite tribes against their militants. Despite what the gloomy Democrats in the United States profess, reconciliation is happening in Iraq, only it is bottom up rather than top down, and since it comes directly from the people, it can end the violence faster. Benchmarks are being reached in fact, if not in law. As Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, told Congress last September, oil revenues are being distributed, de-Baathification is being reversed, and the Shiite-dominated government is giving financial resources to the provinces, including Sunni areas.

Not surprisingly, he is against withdrawal.  His remarks on Iran are, once again, unusually sane, and then he says this:

I support going forward with the current plan to set up ten missile interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic to protect Europe from Iranian missiles.

This is a pointless proposal, and one that has been nothing other than a provocation to the Russians. 

Huckabee does seem to show some understanding of the situation in Russia:

But I see him [Putin] for what he is: a staunch nationalist in a country that has no democratic tradition. He will do everything he can to reassert Russia’s power — militarily, economically, diplomatically.

His fears of Russian imperialist ambitions (outside of its near-abroad at least) are unfounded, and I would have been interested to hear him say more about his views on what our policy towards former Soviet republics should be and whether he supports continued NATO expansion.  Finally, his views on Pakistan are some of the best and most informed I have heard from a candidate.  That may not be saying much, but it’s something.  Except, that is, when he borrows a line from Obama:

Rather than wait for the next strike, I prefer to cut to the chase by going after al Qaeda’s safe havens in Pakistan. 

This is a very dangerous proposal.  His rationalisation is worrisome:

The threat of an attack on us is far graver than the risk that a quick and limited strike against al Qaeda would bring extremists to power in Pakistan.

Actually, no.  If an American attack inside Pakistan brought about that result, it would be far, far worse than almost any attack.   

Those who have been spreading the idea that Huckabee’s foreign policy is that we “be nice” to everyone have basically been lying to the public.  There are sections where he talks about using American power in a less arrogant and self-defeating way, and he does want to engage Iran, but his foreign policy has much more to it than his establishment foes are allowing.  Arguably, Huckabee is starting to appear as the closest thing the Republicans have to a realist.  He is still locked into supporting the war in Iraq, but unlike his major rivals he occasionally displays some understanding.  In many other places, though, he is also just pulling together ideas that have no logical relationship. 

The word is that Huckabee will be getting a big foreign policy endorsement tomorrow that is supposed to shore up his (non-existent) credibility on national security and foreign affairs.  If it’s anywhere as surprising and incomprehensible as the Gilchrist endorsement, I think we should fully expect to see Henry Kissinger up there in the snows of New Hampshire alongside him.

P.S.  The Kissinger bit was a joke, of course, but now that I think about it more it occurs to me that the recent Chafets profile may have given us the answer.  The profile said something about how Huckabee had ”visited” with Richard Haass once.  So, for lack of any plausible alternative, I am going to guess that it will be Haass.  That would be something of a feather in Huck’s cap, but it would also reinforce the loathing for him in the party.  Just consider–Huckabee consorting with realists!  Then again, a Haass endorsement would deflate a lot of the ill-informed “his foreign policy is just like Jimmy Carter’s” garbage that establishment voices are spreading around. 

This is a pretty memorable section from Zev Chafets’ profile of Huckabee:

The price of oil took us to foreign affairs, which Huckabee knows is not his strong suit. He quoted Pat Buchanan’s crack from the 1992 presidential campaign that Bill Clinton’s foreign-policy experience came from eating at the International House of Pancakes. But Clinton circa 1992 — who had worked briefly for Senator William Fulbright and studied the ways of the world at Georgetown, Yale and Oxford — was Prince Metternich compared with Huckabee.

Then the horror washes over you when you read this:

At lunch, when I asked him who influences his thinking on foreign affairs, he mentioned Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist, and Frank Gaffney, a neoconservative and the founder of a research group called the Center for Security Policy.

Insipid and dangerous!  What a combination!

Appearing on National Public Radio’s light-hearted quiz show “Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me,” which aired over the weekend, Perino got into the spirit of things and told a story about herself that she had previously shared only in private: During a White House briefing, a reporter referred to the Cuban Missile Crisis — and she didn’t know what it was.

“I was panicked a bit because I really don’t know about . . . the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Perino, who at 35 was born about a decade after the 1962 U.S.-Soviet nuclear showdown. “It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I’m pretty sure.”

So she consulted her best source. “I came home and I asked my husband,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Wasn’t that like the Bay of Pigs thing?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Dana.’ ” ~The Washington Post

Via Isaac Chotiner

Not exactly the best messenger for delivering warnings about Iran’s nuclear program and the dangers of WWIII breaking out, is she?  It’s enough to make you miss Tony Snow.

Audio here.

P.S.  She said later, “I feel like I’m in school everyday.”  I’m sure that’s true. 

My personal attitude, wholly consistent with that of my Church, is that I believe in peace on earth, good will to men, and that no country has a right to interfere in the internal affairs of any other country. I recognize the right of no church to ask armed intervention by this country in the affairs of another merely for the defense of the rights of a church. ~Governor Alfred E. Smith, c. 1927

Via Ross

The rights to which he was referring were those of Catholics in Mexico being persecuted by the revolutionary government.  Quite apart from anything else relating specifically to the “religious issue” Smith was addressing, I thought this statement deserved special attention.

He restates this conviction again at the end of the article:

I believe in the principled noninterference by this country in the internal affairs of other nations and that we should stand steadfastly against any such interference by whomsoever it may be urged.

“The Republicans as a whole lose because of these revelations,” said Steve Clemons, senior fellow and director of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington. “If Chuck Hagel were running, he would be the beneficiary, but there’s no one like Hagel on the Republican side.” ~Helene Cooper

Yes, we get it.  Steve Clemons really likes Chuck Hagel.  A lot.  Remarks such as these are part of the reason why I am frequently so hard on Chuck Hagel: the man is built up by his admirers into a champion of a foreign policy vision that he has never, well, actually championed.  There is nobody like “Chuck Hagel” in the Republican Party, including the Senator from Nebraska named Chuck Hagel, because the Chuck Hagel you hear about from his boosters doesn’t really exist.   

Clemons also seems constitutionally incapable, both here and on his blog, of noticing that there is an antiwar Republican candidate in the race who has argued against targeting Iran, who has argued against illegal treatment of detainees, and who has argued against the entire aggressive foreign policy approach that Clemons also deplores.  Based on his policy views, Ron Paul is the most obvious political beneficiary of these revelations, but you would never know that from listening to coverage of the last week.  It is true that there’s no one like Chuck Hagel on the Republican side this cycle.  While Chuck Hagel was voting for the PATRIOT Act and the Iraq war resolution, Ron Paul was voting against them.  While Hagel was making critical remarks, Ron Paul was actually voting against failed policy.  While Hagel was making quips about “tough jobs” and shoe-sellers, Ron Paul was about to start running for President and providing a challenge to the GOP establishment on foreign policy.  While Chuck Hagel made jokes about being Mike Bloomberg’s running mate and appeared on the covers of men’s magazines, Ron Paul was representing the dissenting view in the Republican primary debates. While Hagel dawdled, Ron Paul spoke out and acted, and when Hagel started finally to speak out more forcefully Ron Paul started running his insurgent campaign to protest all the abuses that Chuck Hagel helped to create.

Iran is the most striking example. As recently as June, a debate question for GOP candidates was whether they would use tactical nuclear weapons to stop Iran from getting nukes. That none of the major ones ruled it out now looks excessively hawkish in light of the latest intelligence estimate that Iran ended its atomic weapons program in 2003. ~Michael Goodwin

Now it looks excessively hawkish?  What did it look like back then?  The voice of reason?

No reasonable and reasonably informed person could have missed that the persons most involved in whipping up anti-Americanism were Gerhard Schroeder, Jacques Chirac and  Jean Chrétien, all of whom were replaced by leaders far less corrupt and far more sympathetic to American positions than their predecessors. ~Clarice Feldman

Schroeder, Chirac and Chretien were the ones “most involved” in whipping up anti-Americanism?  I guess that means that public approval of the United States must be soaring worldwide now that they are gone.  Or not.  Is that why Turkish public opinion is more anti-American than at any time in post-war history?  Because Jean Chretien said some critical things?  To put it mildly, someone who thinks that a mildly critical Liberal Prime Minister of Canada is one of the greatest sources of anti-U.S. feelings in the world is not in a position to lecture anyone on being out of touch with current affairs.  By all means, oppose Huckabee, but please don’t base on such a bizarre view of international affairs. 

During the Cold War, you were a hawk or a dove, but this new world requires us to be a phoenix, to rise from the ashes of the twin towers with a whole new game plan for this very different enemy. Being a phoenix means constantly reinventing ourselves, dying to mistakes and miscalculations, changing tactics and strategies, rising reborn to meet each new challenge and seize each new opportunity. ~Mike Huckabee (from his official campaign site, no less)

Via Alex Massie

So Mike Huckabee promises us a foreign policy that will make sure that America repeatedly bursts into flame for all of eternity.  That’s the kind of bold, new thinking you don’t get from just any candidate.  You do almost have to admire how this strained metaphor sits awkwardly beside the call for a “whole new game plan,” while said plan is, of course, nowhere to be found.

Meanwhile, Sweden should be concerned:

When I make foreign policy, I want to be able to treat Saudi Arabia the same way I treat Sweden, and that requires us to be energy independent.

Implicit in this statement is that he would really like to treat Saudi Arabia badly (on behalf of, as he says, “the good guys,” who remain conveniently unnamed), but cannot because of oil dependence.  What did Sweden ever do to Mike Huckabee?

P.S.  Lost in the jungles of Huckabee’s rhetoric are at least a couple reasonable views (e.g., support for the Powell Doctrine in the event of military action).  Unfortunately, I fear that Huckabee’s national security and foreign policy ideas are as muddled and incoherent as his domestic policy proposals.  One moment he will say something refreshingly sane, and then start barking about Islamofascism.

Maybe there’s a better reason than I thought that others haven’t taken Mike Huckabee seriously on foreign policy.  It doesn’t help that the man is apparently oblivious to one of the biggest foreign policy news stories of the last year:

Kuhn: I don’t know to what extent you have been briefed or been able to take a look at the NIE report that came out yesterday …
Huckabee: I’m sorry?

Kuhn: The NIE report, the National Intelligence Estimate on Iran. Have you been briefed or been able to take a look at it —

Huckabee: No.

Kuhn: Have you heard of the finding?

Huckabee: No. [bold mine DL; ed.-doesn’t he read the newspaper?]

Kuhn then summarized the NIE finding that Iran had stopped work on a clandestine nuclear program four years ago and asked if it “adjusts your view on Iran in any sense.”

Kuhn: What is your concern on Iran as of now?

Huckabee: I’ve a serious concern if they were to be  able to weaponize nuclear material, and I think we all should, mainly because the statements of Ahmadinejad are certainly not conducive to a peaceful purpose for his having it and the fear that he would in fact weaponize it and use it. (He pauses and thinks) I don’t know where the intelligence is coming from that says they have suspended the program or how credible that is versus the view that they actually are expanding it. … And I’ve heard, the last two weeks, supposed reports that they are accelerating it and it could be having a reactor in a much shorter period of time than originally been thought. [bold mine-DL; ed.-this ought to discredit him utterly, and maybe it will.]

Wow.  There goes my idea that Huckabee could exploit the NIE to demonstrate that he has the more sober, responsible approach to U.S. foreign policy.  He literally had no idea what it was or what it said.  Obviously, it’s out of the question that he would have had any idea how this might have reflected well on remarks he had made in the past.  This makes Huckabee’s rise take on a new, fairly horrifying dimension: he is wedded to Gersonism, seems to be just as clueless about foreign policy as Bush was and is, and people are starting to take a real liking to him (he now leads the Rasmussen daily tracking poll 20-17%). 

Update: Huckabee has an excuse that is almost worse than the original blunder:

I had been up about 20 hours at that time, and I had not even so much as had the opportunity to look at a newspaper. We were literally going from early in the morning until late that night and talking to guys like you. And so I had not had an opportunity to be briefed on it. There are going to be times out there on the campaign trail, Wolf - you’ve been on the trail, you know - that candidates are literally driven from one event to the next. And it would have been nice had someone been able to first say here’s some things that are going on, that are taking place. That didn’t happen. It’s going to happen again.

That’s great, except that the NIE story broke on Monday.  Essentially, Huckabee is saying that a long, gruelling day of public and media appearances prevented him from remaining informed about one of the more significant policy issues of the day.  If that is supposed to increase confidence in his ability to be President, it isn’t working.  

Ediitor and Publisher (via Sullivan) has a round-up of some of the more egregiously wrong statements on Iran’s nuclear program from various prominent pundits and think tank “experts.”  Somehow one of the most ridiculous of them all seems to have faded into obscurity.  It was such a gem of hysterical alarmism that it deserves to be brought to our attention again.  I mean, of course, Bernard Lewis’ warning of the coming Apocalypse (which, as you may have noticed, did not arrive).  He already took it as a given that Iran had or soon would have nuclear weapons:

It seems increasingly likely that the Iranians either have or very soon will have nuclear weapons at their disposal, thanks to their own researches (which began some 15 years ago), to some of their obliging neighbors, and to the ever-helpful rulers of North Korea. The language used by Iranian President Ahmadinejad would seem to indicate the reality and indeed the imminence of this threat.

You would think that no one would take what Ahmadinejad said as an indicator of the reality of anything.  Yet that was a significant part of the basis for Lewis’ speculation.  The rest of the article explained why the regime’s apocalypticism was so intense that traditional nuclear deterrents would not be enough to stop Iran from using its weapons…three years after Tehran had apparently yielded to the far more intimidating powers of the IAEA.

Back on the fateful day when nothing happened, I wrote:

Of course, in Iran’s case there is a real possibility of using a civil nuclear program to create a weapons program, and Iran has strategic interests that make acquiring these weapons understandable and even, in a sense, rational.  They might, like Pakistan did, be playing the world for fools, buying time and waiting for the moment to unveil their nuke program.  But what is so amazing about the entire debate going on in the West is that none of us–including the government that supposedly “knows more than we do” as the delightfully servile phrase has it–has any reliable information to confirm this theory, except that we think their President is looney, our government despises theirs and many of us actually believe that Iranians–and we’re talking about Iranians here–are some set of wild-eyed, suicidal maniacs who will just as soon annihilate themselves in some kamikaze nuclear war as look at us.  In just the same way that the government railroaded the country into a war in Iraq on premises that were always preposterous, the administration and a sizeable part of the population of this country are once again positive that they know what Iran intends, when we are merely supposing and guessing–just as we did with Iraq.  In fact, what is going on is the making of policy based in paranoia and fear, which is by definition not all together rational or well considered.

Of course, as long as we have an establishment preoccupied with the supposed “Iranian threat,” we will never have a rational Iran policy, because perceiving Iran as a threat to the United States is grossly mistaken and leads to all manner of wrong conclusions about what our policy should be.  So long as our government considers Iran our enemy, when it is not our natural enemy, we will keep pursuing the wrong course of action.  On the question of Iran’s nuclear program, Peter Hitchens made some appropriately skeptical comments for TAC after visiting Iran:

I am not equipped to judge such things technically. I could not tell uranium from plutonium or a centrifuge from a capacitor. But I have been subjected to enough state-sponsored panics about evil dictators and weapons of mass destruction to have become a little dubious when I am told that a Middle Eastern state is plotting my imminent death or a first strike on Tel Aviv. And I have become aware that many real, well-informed experts are highly skeptical about Iran’s ability in this field. The Tehran government appears to exaggerate the number of centrifuges it has in operation. Its capacity to enrich uranium is pitifully short of that needed to produce weapons-grade material. Its elderly nuclear reactor at Bushehr has yet to produce a watt of electricity after more than 30 years. Iran’s claim to need nuclear energy may not be false. This supposed energy superpower imposes frequent power blackouts, as I can confirm from personal experience.

The Iranian state is, in any case, famous among its own people for being very bad at delivering grand projects. Tehran’s new Khomeini Airport has just opened after 30 years under construction. A supposedly ultra-modern TV and telecommunications tower stands unfinished on the capital’s skyline after 20 years of work. Several cities, promised metro-rail systems years ago, have yet to see a single train run. Tehran’s metro, sorely needed in that traffic-strangled megalopolis, is operating a few lines, but they opened years late, and there are far too few of them.  

The latest news about the apparent suspension of any weapons program suggests that there may be a new opportunity for taking the first steps in rapprochement with Tehran, which could provide a way out of Iraq for us as well.

This post makes an important point that has been lost in the back and forth over the NIE and the reaction, mine included, focused on who benefits from the news: the latest report simply confirms what reasonably well-informed citizens could have gleaned from basic news reports over the last several years, and so long as an interventionist mentality grips Washington and so long as Washington persists in portraying Iran as a threat to our national security no intelligence report, no matter how bluntly it contradicts the claims of those who want to promote conflict with Iran, will change the inclination of supporters of launching military strikes.  (Indeed, the President remains open to such strikes against Iran.)  Those of us who remember just how shoddy and wrong the 2002 NIE on Iraq was should be very cautious about waving around intelligence reports that happen to favour our view (though there is some reason to think that the latest report was more rigorously and responsibly sourced and checked than previous reports). 

Fundamentally, the question in 2002, like the question today, was not really one about what a weak government of a small state on the other side of the planet was able to build, but whether you believe that such a state posed a threat to the United States even if it had been able to build all of the things that interentionists claimed and had, in fact, built them.  Concerning Iraq, the answer was pretty transparently that it didn’t, and the answer about the “Iranian threat” should have been the same all along.  In the present political climate, conceding the claim that a given regime poses a threat to U.S. national security is to concede the entire argument about what should be done–it yields the initiative to those inclined to a military response and hamstrings the opposition, just as the pre-war opposition was hamstrung during the Iraq debate.  The opposition seemed trapped into beginning every sentence with the caveat, “Yes, Hussein is a monster and poses a grave threat to our country, but…”  Any debate on Iran policy that starts with the assumption that Iran is a threat and an enemy of our country will usually have just two possible ends: war or a punitive sanctions regime.     

Remember how the administration used uncertainty and lack of information about Iraq’s WMD programs to conjure up the worst possible scenarios and present these scenarios as if they were reasonable and plausible?  This was one of the most consequential arguments from silence made in recent times.  Then there was, of course, the technically correct and rhetorically unethical line from Rumsfeld, “The absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.”  Those who are intent on stirring up conflict with these states as a matter of policy and as a means of overthrowing their governments will take whatever information they may find and exaggerate its importance, or they will take a lack of information as proof that the other government is hiding something and “deceiving the world.”  Once it is taken as a given that the other government is a purely malevolent player on the world stage and one that cannot be checked by the creation of incentives and disincentives, every action or any lack of action on the part of the other government will be fitted into a story that portrays the other government as a danger.  Even when it is confirmed beyond a doubt that the weapons programs of a regime were dismantled or inactive, as we discovered them to be in Iraq, you will still have people who will invoke some vague, future potential danger from the regime.

Romney seems eager to tie himself to the administration position on Iran:

Acknowledging some good news in a recently released National Intelligence Estimate saying Iran stopped actively pursuing nuclear weapons in 2003, Mitt Romney said the country remains a threat, even with only a peaceful nuclear energy program. “They, of course, are continuing making the ingredients which would be used in a nuclear weapon,” Romney told Politics Nation today. “If they had stopped both I would feel a great deal more confident about their intentions. But their continuing to produce enriched uranium is of great concern to the world.”

Essentially, Romney’s position is that sanctions have worked, so he concludes that continuing to engage in punitive sanctions is obviously the thing to do.  In other words, Iran should be punished when we think they’re developing nuclear weapons, and Iran should be punished when we know with some confidence that they aren’t.  Apparently, Iran should always be punished.  That pretty well sums up Romney’s views.  You can imagine that he would say the same thing if Iran gave up the fuel cycle all together: “They might start up a program in the future, so they’re still a threat, if only in my mind.” 

Romney made clear that the NIE would not have too much influence on his thinking about Iran:

My perspective on matters of importance is that you don’t look for a homogenized view. You look for people who have different perspectives and you want to listen to the debate between them and see the basis of their thinking.

In short, he will listen to more accurate information as well as listening to nonsense as if they were equally valid sources.

Ross may be right that the NIE causes the issue of Iran policy to recede into the background during the election next year, but it seems to me that it still pretty badly compromises several of the leading Republican candidates.  In fact, the one leading Republican candidate whose foreign policy ideas on Iran aren’t completely absurd, and the leading candidate who stands to be vindicated the most by the NIE on the Republican side is (yes, that’s right) Mike Huckabee.  Certainly, Ron Paul has taken the most unequivocal (and correct) line that Iran does not pose a threat to the United States, so he may also benefit from this news, but Huckabee is in the best position to take advantage of his relatively more sane Iran position.  Like the others, he assumed that Iranian proliferation was happening and posed a threat, so he cannot be credited with some great prescience or insight on the proliferation question itself, but unlike his leading competitors he had a very different view of how to treat Iran.  In his CFR speech, Huckabee said of the Iranian regime:

While there can be no rational dealing with Al Qaeda, Iran is a nation state looking for regional power, it plays the normal power politics that we understand and can skillfully pursue, and we have substantive issues to negotiate with them. 

Negotiate!  No wonder neoconservatives were uninspired by his remarks.  He has since been derided for his “naive and unconvincing” foreign policy ideas by those most invested in the idea that Iran is not a rational state actor, but rather an apocalyptic land of crazy people.  They appear to have been demonstrably wrong in their judgement, while Huckabee and other more “realist” observers appear to have been right.  Compared to John “Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran” McCain, Mitt Romney, who is apparently on a mission to indict Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention, and Giuliani, whose campaign is advised by the likes of Norman Podhoretz and who has said  that we need to stay “on offense,” Huckabee’s recommended approach to Iran is a picture of sanity.  You will object that this may not be saying much, but it’s still the case that the one currently leading Republican candidate who espoused containment of Iran (albeit combined with continued support for the war in Iraq) was Huckabee.  He was the one whose foreign policy credentials were supposed to be non-existent and whose ideas were supposed to be unacceptable to “national security conservatives.”  Huckabee comes away from this latest news looking more responsible and competent–at least on Iran–than the other leading candidates.

Update: I keep forgetting that Republican voters don’t like responsible and competent foreign policy ideas.  60% of Iowans, according to Pew’s latest, choose one of the four other leading candidates as the best candidate on Iran, and 11% select Huckabee (graphic on page 8).  Of the top five, Huckabee is tied for fourth here.  The crazy guy leads the pack on Iran, followed by McCain.  Sometimes I just really don’t understand this party.  It’s even worse in New Hampshire (page 10)–69% select Romney, Giuliani or McCain as the best candidate on Iran, while Huckabee and Paul together get 8%.

Putin’s reelection, Larison says, “is a fact that should be viewed with some dispassion.” (Er, why exactly?) ~Michael Moynihan

Since Putin himself wasn’t being re-elected yesterday (it was the election for the Duma, and Putin headed United Russia’s list), as Moynihan knows, this sentence is strange enough, but the implication that non-Russians should have something other than fairly dispassionate reactions to an entirely unsurprising (and, yes, obviously rigged and inflated) United Russia election is stranger still.  The original article’s thesis didn’t really merit comment in my first post, because the thesis, particularly as it related to international affairs and Russian politics, was ridiculous.  I addressed his characterisation of Laughland’s TAC piece, because it seemed quite misleading and the article is not available online where it can be easily checked.  Here’s Moynihan’s opening line to his original article:

On December 2 voters in Russia and Venezuela will go to the polls, choosing to either accelerate the Sovietization and Sandinistaization of their respective societies or—an eventuality that seems less likely—to curtail the centralization of power in the hands of increasingly villainous chief executives. 

But a vote for United Russia wasn’t a vote for an accelerated “Sovietization” of Russian society.  Call it the entrenchment of Putinism or populist authoritarianism, or call it proof of illiberal democracy, but one thing it was not was an acceleration of “Sovietization.”  “Sovietization” is what you might expect from the Communists, who are now the lone opposition party.  The use of the word “Sovietization” in this context is absurd, and the statement in the concluding paragraph isn’t much better when he says, “Both Chavez and Putin are attempting to reset the clock on the Cold War…”  This takes symbolic use of Soviet nostalgia as proof of “Sovietization,” and seems to assume that this supposed “Sovietization” makes Russia into a threat and Putin into a villain, whom, it practically goes without saying, we are supposed to oppose.  The assumption behind the article seems to be that developments in the domestic politics of Russia and Venezuela pose some sort of threat to the West, presumably comparable to those posed by the USSR and its satellites.  This is basically fearmongering of the kind that has clouded our debates on foreign policy for years.  The generally awful results–for both America and the “beneficiaries” of our policies–of marrying power projection and “freedom agenda” meddling speak for themselves. 

We should view the Russian election results from yesterday with “some dispassion” for many reasons.  First of all, it is really none of our business and railing against it will change nothing, but more than that the proper approach to Russia that is clearly dominated by Putinism is to try to find some way to cultivate good relations with Russia, since it is obviously in the American interest to have good relations with a Eurasian power with which we have common security interests and whose continued political and economic stability we have an interest in supporting.  Continually lecturing the Russians on the deficiencies in their political system seems a good way to promote anti-Russian sentiment at home and give the impression that Westerners are intent on meddling in the internal affairs of Russia, which gives the Putin regime many pretexts for claiming that the West is trying to subvert and weaken Russia through the promotion of liberal political forces.  If Russian liberals are closely associated with the West and receive vocal support from Westerners, as they now are, they will never gain any traction inside Russia, and the attempted promotion of Russian liberals by outsiders will simply strengthen anti-Western attitudes within Russia that are also detrimental to the cultivation of good U.S.-Russian relations.  One of the points I was trying to make is that articles that try to revive Cold War mentalities, or articles that pretend that a new Cold War is upon us, as Moynihan’s certainly seemed to do, partake of an imprudent alarmism and vilification of other states that have very real damaging effects on the quality of foreign policy thinking in this country.  There are already voices in Washington who would like to imagine Russia as our enemy, and those who would like to avoid renewed confrontation and tension between our two countries should all do what we can to challenge what these voices are saying. 

Moynihan cites Laughland’s past works, which I was not defending in my post, but which he takes as vindication of his claim that Laughland is  writing as an apologist in this particular case.  Indeed, he can’t be bothered to find the article he was criticising.  The article in question was not an apology for Putin.  It was a corrective against the steady stream of vilification that we have become used to (and to which Moynihan’s article was another contribution), for the reasons I laid out before.  Moynihan needed to cite someone in the West as a “supporter” of Putin’s regime to show some relevance, and so he read into Laughland’s TAC piece the support he wanted to see in it.     

Another TAC piece from earlier this year by an author Moynihan will have a harder time trying to demonise was this cover article by Anatol Lieven:

And in contrast to the launching of the Cold War, for the U.S. to take these risks is not remotely justified by vital American interests. In the late 1940s, the Soviet Union was the heartland of a revolutionary ideology that threatened to suppress free-market democracy, freedom, and religion across the world and, by dominating Western Europe and East Asia and fomenting revolution in Latin America, to pin the U.S. within its own borders, surround it, and eventually stifle it.

Today’s Russia is like many U.S. allies past and present: a corrupt, state-influenced market economy with a partly democratic, partly authoritarian system. Russia has no global agenda of ideological or geopolitical domination but mainly wants to exert predominant influence (but not imperial control) within the territory of the former Soviet Union and the centuries-old Russian empire [bold mine-DL]. Moves by the state to dominate the oil and gas sector are unwelcome to Americans but entirely in line with world practice outside the U.S. and U.K. Russian corruption is extremely serious, but on the other hand, the fiscal restraint of the Putin administration holds lessons for the present U.S. administration, not the other way around. Like India, Turkey, and many other democratic states, Russia has used brutal means to suppress a separatist rebellion.

Like Turkey for several decades when it was a member of NATO, Russia combines an increasingly independent judiciary and respect for the rule of law with selective repression (both formal and covert) against individuals seen as threats to the state or the ruling elite. The media scene is rather like India until the 1980s—a combination of state domination of television with a free and vocal, but much less influential, print media.

Above all, when it comes to the main lines of its foreign and domestic policy, the Putin administration has the support of the vast majority of ordinary Russians, while the Russian pro-Western liberals we choose to call “democrats” are supported by a tiny minority—mostly because of their association with the disastrous “reforms” of the 1990s. Thus, far from rallying democratic support in Russia, American attacks on Putin in the name of democracy only foment the anger of ordinary Russians against the United States.  It does not help when criticism of Russia’s record on democracy and freedom comes from that notorious defender of human rights Dick Cheney or when these statements are immediately followed by warm and public American embraces of even more notorious ex-Soviet democrats like President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan.

Russia today is by no means a pretty picture, but to compare it in terms of repression and state control with the Soviet Union—or indeed with contemporary China—is grotesque [bold mine-DL]. We should remember that as late as the summer of 1989, a Soviet leader who envisioned Russia as it now exists would have been received with incredulous joy by the West as representing a future beyond our most optimistic dreams. And at that time a Western policymaker who advocated such megalomaniacal, horribly dangerous projects as drawing Ukraine and Georgia into an anti-Russian military alliance, and taking responsibility for their security, would have been regarded as completely insane.

That is the voice of intelligent realism speaking.  It is worth noting this last point about comparisons with the USSR being grotesque, since this is exactly what Moynihan was doing.  It was against just such grotesquerie, and the hostility to the Russian government that it represented, that I was objecting.

P.S.  Later in the piece, Lieven said this, which is especially relevant to the Laughland piece, since it was Putin’s pragmatism that Laughland was trying to stress:

In fact, we should be very glad that the Putin administration is as pragmatic as it is in its international policy and as relatively law-abiding at home. During the 1990s, given what was happening to both Russian living standards and Russian national power and prestige, I and many other Western observers in Russia feared an eruption of outright fascism, with catastrophic results for Russia and the world.

This is one reason that present U.S. attacks on the Putin administration are so over the top. The other is that the post-Cold war era should have begun with a presumption of Russia’s innocence on the part of the West. After all, two years before it collapsed the Soviet Union had already withdrawn peacefully from Eastern Europe on the informal promise that these countries would not be incorporated into NATO. This withdrawal removed the original casus belli of the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West, which began not because of anything that the Soviet state was doing within its own borders but because of its domination of European states beyond its borders in ways that were clearly menacing to Western Europe and vital American interests there.

This last sentence drives home the point that the success of United Russia on Sunday likewise has nothing to do with a restart or return of the Cold War, since the Cold War, if we are to be precise about what the name means, referred to U.S.-Soviet great power rivalry centered in Europe. 

It’s good news for Venezuela and good news for the general sanity of outside commentary on Venezuela that the constitutional referendum in Venezuela did not pass.  Perhaps now we can start to shelve silly talk about the “Cold War’s return”?  As Alex Massie notes, this was an unexpected outcome.  I certainly expected the referendum to pass.  I assumed that if Chavez could do one thing right, it would be to rig his own power-enhancing referendum to make sure that he wins the chance to keep being re-elected (and that those “re-elections” would also be thoroughly rigged).  However, I had to remind myself, as I have written in the past, that Venezuela really is a democracy.  Unlike some, I do not bestow this label as a form of praise, but as a description.  Venezuela is a populist, illiberal democracy, but a democracy all the same.  Sometimes demagogues and populists overreach and do not receive the popular support they expect, and this seems to be one of those times. 

I would add that this makes the prospects of the Venezuelan-Bolivian military threat to Argentina and the rest of South America, feared by some, less likely, but I suppose there isn’t much point in discussing the changing likelihood of an impossibility.  

Keeping Alex Massie’s caveats about Economist editorials in mind, this part of the latest Lexington column on Obama seems right to me:

He sometimes looks more like the junior professor he once was than a political heavyweight, and his policies are sometimes half-baked, as when he contemplated sending troops into Pakistan, a sovereign state, and a particularly fragile one, to kill or capture al-Qaeda chieftains [bold mine-DL].

My view is that most of his foreign policy is half-baked, and even when it is complete it is filled with all manner of unappetising ingredients.   

Yglesias captures the frustration with Hagel quite well:

But of course he is a Senator from Nebraska, and instead of finding myself admiring his work in that capacity I find myself thinking that Hagel would make a damn good “reasonable conservative” blogger.

In the past, I have been pretty relentless and unforgiving in my criticism of Hagel’s relative inaction.  Certainly, for the first three years of the war he was far too complacent.  But I think that both Hagel’s boosters and his critics, including myself, have invested the man with much more power and influence than he really has as a Senator.  Granted, he could have probably done more than he has, and he could have at least stayed for one more term, and he could have followed through on his criticisms of the plan to invade Iraq and voted against the authorisation resolution, but even if he were doing more than he is doing there is painfully little that he can do so long as the Senate Republican caucus remains wedded to the perpetuation of the war and the general deformation of U.S. foreign policy.  On most things pertaining to Iraq, Hagel has voted with the Democratic majority, and he has publicly said fairly intelligent things about negotiating with Iran.  If the Democratic majority in the Senate has been unable to move antiwar legislation, the blame cannot be laid at Hagel’s door.  Calling on him to run for President, as many did, was always bound to end in disappointment one way or another.  If he did run as an independent, he would get little traction with Republicans disaffected over the war, because he has never been unambiguously against the war despite having foreseen so many of the calamities that have happened, and he has voted with the White House so often in the last several years that he could not credibly represent an alternatve to Bushism as a whole, much less be a “more credible version” of Ron Paul. 

Yglesias refers to Hagel’s missed opportunity “to offer the country a more credible version of Ron Paul’s efforts to break the Bushist orthodoxy,” but on so many of the things that conservatives and independents find offensive about “Bushist orthodoxy” Hagel has generally been right alongside the President.  Opponents of Bush shower Hagel with praise because he, too, is an opponent of the President in a few very select areas–this is unfortunately a mirror image of the way that Republicans shower Lieberman with praise because he agrees with them in a few very select areas.  There are worse things to be than the anti-Lieberman, but this is not the basis for a “more credible version” of an effort to break Bushism.

Hagel is a ”more credible” anti-Bush than Paul in the way that establishment figures dub various experts or politicians “serious” more or less arbitrarily: Hagel is ”more credible” as an anti-Bush figure, but he is, in fact, very rarely anti-Bush and very rarely anti-Bushist.  If we measure credibility in this way, Michael O’Hanlon is a “more credible” antiwar voice than people who actually oppose the war and Rudy Giuliani is a “more credible” opponent of abortion than the pro-life candidates.  That is, someone is dubbed credible when he is actually quite content with the status quo in most respects and is sufficiently unthreatening that he is considered the acceptable face of opposition or criticism.  

Take notes, Obama: Condi Rice dug deep into her bag of tricks and…recycled her “childhood in Birmingham as source of foreign policy insight” argument that she has used far too many times already:

Rice began by saying she did not want to draw historical parallels or be too self-reflective [bold mine-DL], but as a young girl she grew up in Birmingham, Ala., “at a time of separation and tension.”

She noted that a local church was bombed by white separatists, killing four girls, including a classmate of hers.

“Like the Israelis, I know what it is like to go to sleep at night, not knowing if you will be bombed, of being afraid to be in your own neighborhood, of being afraid to go to your church,” she said.

But, she added, as a black child in the South, being told she could not use certain water fountains or eat in certain restaurants, she also understood the feelings and emotions of the Palestinians.

“I know what it is like to hear to that you cannot go on a road or through a checkpoint because you are Palestinian,” she said. “I understand the feeling of humiliation and powerlessness.”  

“There is pain on both sides,” Rice concluded. “This has gone on too long.”

She knows what it is like to hear that you “can’t go through a checkpoint because you are Palestinian”?  Did she have trouble making it through checkpoints on the interstate?  What is she talking about?  She says she doesn’t want to ”draw historical parallels or be too self-reflective” right before she draws historical parallels and reflects on her own childhood as a window onto the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.  Does this mean, despite her insistence that she wasn’t drawing historical parallels, that she was making a comparison between segregation and the treatment of the Palestinians?  Was she (gasp!) implying that there is some kind of apartheid system over there? 

Michael Moynihan’s article, framing Chavez’s power-grab and the upcoming Russian elections as evidence of “the Cold War’s return,” wouldn’t merit much comment, except that he makes this claim as he tries to tell his audience why they should care about what happens in the domestic politics of other countries:

Despite their obvious contempt for democratic institutions, both leaders still command a disturbing, though hardly overwhelming, level of Western support; defenders who will doubtless welcome a Chavez or Putin electoral victory and retrenchment.

He cites John Laughland’s TAC article on Putin (not available online) and a couple HuffPo columnists.  I’ll leave the latter until another time or perhaps to someone else, because the columns are available online and can be judged for themselves.  Moynihan attributes to Laughland “support” for Putin that would make him “welcome” electoral victory and retrenchment for United Russia, when Laughland’s article is an attempt to provide some balance and perspective about Putin’s regime, about which there have been more than a few breathless and hysterical Reason articles in the past.  There was no question of welcoming or dreading United Russia’s victory, since every informed person knows it is certain to happen and is a fact that should be viewed with some dispassion.  For some people, attempting to understand foreign governments and leaders in a sober way–free of provocative references to the start of another Cold War–is evidence of endorsement and support and “defense” of a foreign government.  To the extent that these observers want to avoid hostility and conflict between the West and these other governments, they will try to get past the (frequently self-serving) propaganda that would seek to make every insufficiently (or, in the case of Russia and Venezuela, arguably excessively) democratic government around the world into a dire threat or villains to be opposed. 

We should be clear about a few things.  No one needs to applaud Putin’s authoritarian populism (and no one is applauding it) to understand why it prevails in Russia and will continue to do so, no matter how many hectoring Western articles are writtenn against it, and that it is part of the political reality of our time.  We can respond to it rationally and according to our interests, which dictate that we do not get into another escalating confrontation with Russia, or we can respond to it viscerally and stoke such fruitless confrontation by making the internal politics of Russia our business. 

Since Laughland’s article isn’t online, it is difficult for non-subscribers to check Moynihan’s claim that it offers support and defense of Putin.  It seeks to get past caricature and vilification, yes, but the article is generally descriptive, not apologetic.  It allows Putin to speak for himself, rather than having Western pundits impute motives to him based on their own preoccupations with curtailing Russian power and backing U.S. hegemony in Eurasia.  If I were someone preoccupied with vilifying a foreign government, I might also find this “disturbing,” since it interferes with the generally unified message from Western media that we must fear and loathe Russia under Putin.   

Laughland starts by noting the excessive demonisation that seems to be focused on certain Slavic nations (typically when their governments do not play ball with Washington):

Is there such a thing as Slavophobia?  To be sure, not all Slavic nations are vilified in the West, but the recent demonization of the Serbs and Russians has an especially vicious quality….the Western mind attributes to them the most sinister of motives, as  if they were the embodiment of evil itself.

He then describes a meeting he had with Putin, noting:

The contrast between the image of Putin in the West and Putin in the flesh could hardly be greater.

This would almost have to be true, since the image promoted by many Western pundits is that of Stalin risen from the grave. 

Laughland says later:

Lack of ideology is the new Russian ideology, and Putin has a lot to be non-ideological about.  In his eight years in power, Russia has gone from being a semi-bankrupt state to having the largest gold reserves in the world and some $300 billion in foreign currency reserves besides….The Putin boom cannot be reduced to oil and gas revenues alone, for it has lifted many sectors and many different regions of this, the largest country in the world….Putin specifically referred to the abandonment of ideology during his long talk with us [bold mine-DL]Asked what Russia’s role should now be in the world, he replied that neither the Tsarist model of support for Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire nor the Soviet model of support for socialism were remotely appropriate for Russia today.  Lenin, he said, had cared nothing for Russia itself but only for world revolution.  Putin spoke firmly to as he told us, “I have no wish to see our people, and even less our leadership, seized by missionary ideas.  We need to be a country that in every way has a healthy self-respect and can stand up for its interests but a country that is at the same time able to reach agreements and be a convenient partner for all members of the international community.”  Putin sees it as his mission to make Russia a normal country.

Again, this is not “lauding”–it is describing what has happened and quoting what Putin says.  Now you can be skeptical, and we should always be skeptical when politicians say any of these things, but the point of Laughland’s article is to report what Putin said at this meeting, to try to understand the current Russian government as one that is not nearly so far removed from modern Europe as its critics would make it out to be and to appeal to people in the West to be more reasonable in their attitudes towards the Russian government.  As both Moynihan and Laughland would acknowledge, the current form of regime in Russia is not going anywhere anytime soon.  It is realism and common sense to see Putin and Russia as something other than “villainous” (Moynihan’s word for Putin) enemies to be thwarted and checked.  Putin and Putinism will remain, so it is probably wiser to seek a modus vivendi rather than endlessly provoking and perturbing Moscow.  If that constitutes a “defense” of Putin, we have watered down the meaning of apologetics pretty thoroughly. 

For the record, I don’t approve of Putin’s squelching of independent media and most of his so-called “managed democracy,” and I don’t approve of Saakashvili and Musharraf’s declarations of emergency rule and everything that goes with them, but what ought to matter most in determining our relations with all these states are our interests and theirs and the points of agreement between them.  Where Putin’s rule has been promoting stability in Russia, Saakashvili and Musharraf have promoted instability and have in the process jeopardised real U.S. interests in their respective regions.  It seems to me that Americans should be a great deal more concerned with what our feckless client states are doing that may harm U.S. interests, and we should be much less concerned with what a very powerful potential ally does within its own borders.  Most pundits and politicians in America seem to have this exactly backwards.

To hear the pronouncements about Ukraine that issue from that establishment’s nodes every time the country makes it through another election without mass violence, you’d think this was Switzerland. Brussels and Washington pat Ukraine on the head for its ‘maturity’ and its ‘evolving democracy’. The smart locals know they live in a klepto-oligarchy, and that the West will trumpet Ukraine’s ‘robust democratic culture’ as long as capital keeps flowing in and out of the country. It’s meaningful that every time populist Ukrainian politicians have made noises about renationalising industrial properties stolen by oligarchs, the screaming from the West has been such to make you think a return to Stalinist terror had been proposed.

And it’s telling to watch Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the Orange revolution’s villain restored now to power, smiling a thousand-watt smile as he consorts with sheepish Western leaders. He knows where his bread gets buttered. Ukraine has achieved that sine qua non of the second-tier country whose elite wants to prosper in the global order — it’s managed to unlink politics from the economy. ~Andrey Slivka

I used to like Josh Trevino, too, and I was unaware that my views–which haven’t changed an iota since I started writing this blog–seemed so terribly false and misguided to him.  They apparently weren’t so false when he invited me to participate in our now-defunct group blog, Enchiridion Militis, for whose successor, What’s Wrong With the World, I am pleased to still be a contributing member.  Something changed, but I don’t think I was the one who changed.  Ron Paul really does bother these people, doesn’t he?   

In fact, I had no idea that Trevino supported attempting to starve and expel monks from their monastery (the treatment that has been afforded to the monks of Esphigmenou for their refusal to commemorate the Patriarch of Constantinople), nor did I realise that he favoured constitutional usurpation.  Evidently, he does, or he has strong objections to those who are opposed to both.  For the record, I have linked to the site of Holy Esphigmenou Monastery because I have found it disgraceful that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has resorted to the use of state coercion and violence to impose its authority over the monks there.  I have not written about it on the blog before, but I feel compelled now to say something.  If the monks of Esphigmenou are in the wrong canonically and legally, as they may be (it is actually not my place to say), the way they have been treated has nonetheless been a scandal and an embarrassment.  Even if I did not regard ecumenism as an error, I would think that the treatment meted out to the monks of Esphigmenou would merit the sympathy of Orthodox Christians, even if they disagreed with the monks’ stand.  Until I had been (it seems to me pretty baselessly) accused of sympathy for schism, I have never once written a single word disparaging the Patriarch of Constantinople or lending support to the monks of Holy Esphigmenou Monastery, and I will not say more against the Ecumenical Patriarchate now.  I am obviously such a proponent of schism that I have written many posts against attacks on the bishops of the Russian Church Abroad for their willingness to reunite with the Patriarchate of Moscow, and I am such a fan of the “dead purity of antiquity” that I have been a vocal supporter of the reunion of the separated parts of the Russian Church.  If I were what Mr. Trevino claims that I am in the sphere of religion, I would have broken with the Russian Church and joined a splinter group by now.  Mr. Trevino is simply wrong here, and he has to have known that he was grasping at straws when he made this charge.  This is all the more sad because it is pretty obviously spurred on by political and policy differences.

Trevino writes:

Too many Orthodox Christian converts in America — and especially those who participate in the public square — seem pulled toward perceived originalism or anachronism in the political realm. This has the appearance of being motivated by the same aesthetic sensibility that appears to draw them toward Orthodoxy: the sense of a necessary fidelity to the foundational faith is basically the same, translated from the religious to the political sphere. But in both spheres, it leads them to falsehood.

Mr. Trevino’s objections to my and others’ support for Ron Paul are no more credible.  If there are cases where Ron Paul’s constitutional views are not perfect, his willingness to adhere to the Constitution according to strict constructionist and originalist interpretations–the interpretations conservatives are supposed to respect and follow–is so much greater than that of his rivals that it seems absurd that someone could find fault with him for lacking in fidelity to the Constitution.  Which candidate can Trevino find who is more faithful to more provisions of the Constitution?  Of course, there is none.  It is not as if Trevino has found himself a more faithful constitutionalist whom he can support–his complaints against Paul on this score are basically groundless.  Not that it matters, but my affinity for strict constructionism and constitutionalism predated my conversion to Orthodoxy by many years.  My embrace of Orthodoxy was a result of coming to recognise, through the working of the Holy Spirit, that it was the fullness of Christian revelation.  It has nothing to do with being drawn toward the “dead purity of antiquity,” and no one should know that better than a fellow convert to Orthodoxy.  

Trevino’s appeal to living Orthodox tradition is all very well and good, but then he has no evidence whatever that I disagree with this understanding of Orthodoxy.  I find it more than a little bizarre that he opts to attack fellow Orthodox in this fashion over what appears to be primarily a political disagreement.  The implication inherent in his remarks that we should also embrace some “living Constitution” interpretation of our fundamental law is a perfect example of what is wrong with conservatives who strive to evolve and adapt with the times. 

He cites the Carlton quote on foreign policy that has been harmful to our fellow Orthodox around the world and calls it “ridiculous.”  He does not actually dispute that U.S.-backed policies in Kosovo and Israel-Palestine contribute to persecution and hardship for our brethren, but simply dismisses it.  Perhaps the churches and monasteries that have been destroyed by the KLA do not concern him?  He does not dispute the reality that Iraqi Christians were better off before the invasion, because he cannot dispute this.  In short, he has no rebuttal.  He speaks of an “abdication of moral sense” concerning the governments of Serbia and Russia, when it is nothing of the kind. 

My opposition to meddling in Serbian and Russian affairs comes, and has always come, from a non-interventionist and realist-informed view that their affairs are none of our business and that American interests are best served by not interfering and destabilising the Balkans still more and by not provoking and threatening Russia by meddling in its “near-abroad.”  I am fully aware of and opposed to the repression that has taken place in Milosevic’s Serbia and Putin’s Russia, but I am also aware that it is not in our national interest to quarrel with these states over their internal affairs.  For that matter, we should stop meddling in Georgian affairs and leave the Orthodox in Georgia well enough alone as well.  Trevino again has no evidence that either Prof. Carlton or I have abdicated our moral sense.  He takes our opposition to hegemonism as proof that we are somehow endorsing every practice of the foreign governments in question, when our responsibility as citizens is to challenge the misguided policies of our government.

In tonight’s debate McCain lambasted Ron Paul for “isolationism” of the kind that “led to caused WWII.”  Since the topic in question was the war in Iraq, James notes that this was an absurd comparison.  But leave aside how far-fetched the comparison was.  Just consider the thinking behind this.  Interventionists routinely complain that their opponents “blame America first,” but there is no more obvious attempt to blame America for something for which our country was not responsible than the outrageous lie that our “failure” to ratify the Treaty of Versailles or our “failure” to join the League of Nations–the usual charges against American “isolationism”–led to caused WWII.  If this were a true charge, that would be one thing, but it isn’t even accurate. 

Let’s be very clear about this: WWII in Europe came out of revanchism stoked by resentments over the post-WWI settlements and in both Europe and Asia resulted from the territorial revisionism of second-tier powers as they tried to become great powers.  The way that WWI ended and the way the effectively losing side was treated had a significant impact on interwar political developments inside Germany that had nothing to do with U.S. foreign policy during the 1920s and 1930s.  To the extent that America was involved with German affairs during this period, we were attempting to lighten the burden of the reparations and ameliorate the radicalising effects of the Treaty on German public opinion.  Had America belonged to the League of Nations, it would not have made the League any more effective at deterring Japanese aggression in Asia, Italian aggression in Africa or German aggression in Europe.  Furthermore, it is a caricature and a distortion of interwar U.S. foreign policy to refer to it as “isolationist.”  Our government was regularly involved in diplomatic activity, international relief efforts and international renegotiations of the terms of reparations under Versailles.  The Dawes Plan was not the product of an “isolationist” government, whatever you might think of its merits.  The Kellogg-Briand Treaty that “outlawed war” was quite stupid and pointless, but it was not the product of “isolationism.”  When hawks such as McCain complain about “isolationism,” they are complaining about a refusal to send Americans to fight and die in wars that usually have nothing to do with the United States.  By that standard, then, America was “isolationist” in this period, and we should be proud of it.  But by any honest assessment of U.S. foreign policy during this era, “isolationism” is a complete misnomer for what happened under the Harding, Coolidge and even Hoover administrations. 

Update: Via Cilizza, I see that McCain also said something else to Ron Paul, which I must have missed at the time: “We allowed Hitler to come to power with that kind of attitude and appeasement.”  Of course, “we” did not “allow” Hitler to come to power, since Hitler came to power by being appointed Chancellor following elections in which his party won a plurality.  The attitudes and views of foreigners were utterly immaterial to Hitler’s rise to power.  Practically everything McCain said was just plain wrong.

But Georgia, on the other hand, presents a set of dilemmas which are lesser in scope, which have a smaller impact on U.S. policy because of the willingness of much of the U.S. media to ignore developments in Georgia which do not suit dominant U.S. paradigms and ambitions. Of course, objectively speaking, the geopolitical risks and moral embarrassments involved in supporting the Saakashvili regime in Georgia should be condemned more than those involved in supporting Musharraf because they are to a great extent gratuitous: they are not compelled by truly vital U.S. interests.

The risks for the U.S. in Georgia are essentially twofold. The first is already occurring: the Saakashvili administration could become so authoritarian at home that it will reduce the entire U.S. democracy promotion agenda in the former Soviet Union to a farce. The second is much more serious: It is that faced with growing domestic discontent, Saakashvili will seek to rally the nation behind him through an attack on one of the two Russian-backed separatist territories, Abkhazia or (more likely) South Ossetia. The president could gamble that faced with the humiliation of seeing a favored client crushed by Russia, the U.S. will feel impelled to come to Georgia’s aid.

If Saakashvili ever does make that grave decision, it will be the last one he makes as Georgian president. For in practical military terms, there is almost nothing that the U.S. could or would do to help Georgia in these circumstances. Nonetheless, this would indeed represent a humiliation for the U.S., as well as a very great and totally unnecessary crisis in U.S.-Russian relations. It would also have serious implications for Russian behavior in other areas of truly vital U.S. interest, like Iran.

Fortunately, in the case of Georgia the danger of this happening is to some extent mitigated by the fact that—at least judging by the remarks of European officials—recent events have made it much less likely that Georgia will join NATO. Therefore one reason for Russian hostility to Georgia will fade, or at least not grow further.

Above all, Georgia illustrates a fundamental historical truth about client states: a great power should only adopt them when it has no other choice to defend vital interests, or when they are strong enough to act as an effective buffer against a real enemy. Pakistan meets the first of these criteria; Georgia meets neither. Georgia might qualify as at least an important interest if there were a real chance of the energy of Central Asia (and not just Azerbaijan) flowing through Georgia to the West. But for a long time to come, a mixture of geographical reality, legal ambiguity, and Russian, Iranian and Chinese power seems almost certain to prevent this from happening. ~Anatol Lieven

Via James Poulos

James has his own thoughts on Georgia here.

I’d say that the fall of the Soviet Union discredited several ideas on the left and the right: on the left, the idea that the state should own most of the means of production; on the right, the idea of isolationism, or non-interventionism. It is now patently obvious that if the US had not drawn a proverbial line in the sand through Germany, the Soviets would now own large blocks of Western Europe that would be struggling in the same way that Eastern Europe now does. ~Megan McArdle, responding to Bryan Caplan

Yet it is the fall of the Soviet Union on account of its own internal weaknesses that suggests just how unnecessary interventionist policies really are from the perspective of the American interest.  Had it been taken over by the USSR after the war, western Europe would have been more, not less, indigestible than eastern Europe and might well have hastened the break-up of the Soviet empire.  One might say that it is “patently obvious” that had the United States not entered WWI, at least one of the great totalitarian nightmares of modern history would probably have never come to pass.  Looked at this way, U.S. interventionism hasn’t really been a credible foreign policy since its inception, and the upheavals of the end of WWI and the interwar period ought to have made it disappear forever.  However, even if it were the case that the Cold War was exceptional and required a different response, the Cold War ended twelve years before the invasion of Iraq.  It isn’t as if the ’90s offered overwhelming proof of the efficacy and wisdom of intervention.  Furthermore, our experience in the Cold War argued for continued containment of Iraq rather than an adaptation of the irresponsible doctrine of rollback.  In short, there is almost nothing about the Cold War or post-Cold War experience that explains why some libertarians supported an aggressive  invasion of a Near Eastern country ruled by third-rate dictatorship.  If libertarians were wrong to be non-interventionist in the ’70s and ’80s (I don’t think they were, but let’s just suppose), it is remarkable how a good number of them could then turn out to be wrong by becoming supporters of intervention in Iraq. 

James Forsyth’s view of the prospects for the Annapolis peace conference make a good deal more sense than making comparisons to MunichThe Economist also thinks it will probably lead to very little.  Bret Stephens is pretty clearly vehemently opposed to the idea, but at least grants that the gathering, or meeting, or whatever it is, is “pointless.”  That is why the crazed reaction of Melanie Phillips (linked above) that talks of the “betrayal of the Jewish people” is particularly bizarre.  You can’t betray an entire people with a photo-op, no matter how freighted with significance it is supposed to be.  Granted, Ms. Phillips has been getting awfully agitated of late about Annapolis and Israel, but what puzzles me is why she is so bothered by a conference that will almost certainly change nothing at all.  Cal Thomas joins the chorus that the conference represents the “selling out” of Israel, which is absurd.  Andy McCarthy’s objections to the participation of the Syrians may be misguided, but at least it has a certain coherence by comparison. 

McCarthy and Phillips seem to agree that Syria’s participation renders the Bush Doctrine void, which would have to be a relief for sane people everywhere.  A foreign policy doctrine that insists that Syria is our mortal foe makes no sense.  To the extent that this conference helps weaken this idea about Syria, it may have done some good after all.  If it finally drives home the obvious–Secretary Rice really doesn’t know what she’s doing–we might be grateful for the clarification.   

Rasmussen’s latest polling on the war again shows strong pro-withdrawal sentiment: 63% want American soldiers out of Iraq within a year, which nearly matches a mid-October result of 64%.  Public opinion about the war in November 2007 is virtually unchanged, despite many fluctuations back and forth, from where it was just after the midterms.  Whatever else it may have done, the “surge” has not changed public opinion about staying in Iraq. 

Some notable things compared with the most recent weeks: 28% now want immediate withdrawal, slightly higher than last week (26%); 41% of Republicans now want the soldiers brought home either immediately or within a year, as opposed to “staying until the mission is complete.”  The latter still commands a small majority of Republicans (53%), but this is the lowest level of Republican support for staying in Iraq that there has been since Rasmussen started taking this poll.  It is ten points lower than last week, six points lower than two weeks ago and four points lower than the mid-October poll.  Since last year at this time, Republican support for staying in Iraq has dropped five points.  Support for immediate withdrawal is limited on the GOP side and fluctuates a bit (17% favoured it two weeks ago, 10% last week, 16% this week), but there is now a combination of increased support for immediate withdrawal and withdrawal within a year among Republicans at the same time (25% of Republicans want out within a year this week) and .  Republican support seems to be trending back downward gradually after it had increased during the “surge.”  71% of Republicans wanted to “stay until the mission is complete” in late September.  This week’s result among Republicans marks an 18-point drop since then.  For a bit of perspective, last November’s poll using the same questions showed 58% of Republicans supported ”staying until the mission is completed.”   

So over the last year we have seen a firming up and strengthening of the pro-withdrawal position with some slight erosion of Republican support for remaining in Iraq.  The percolation of information about improved security conditions has not weakened support for withdrawal, but may have instead started to undermine what little support for the war that remained.   

Probably the strongest experience I have in foreign relations is the fact that I spent four years living overseas when I was a child in southeast Asia. ~Barack Obama

I forgot this is supposed to be reassuring and make us want Obama to be President.  I’ve been reading The Economist since I was 10–do I get to be Secretary of State? 

So his strongest experience isn’t the work that he’s done with Sen. Lugar on Russian nukes, or his time on the Foreign Relations Committee–it’s a four-year period in his childhood.  It’s bad enough that he’s made this silly claim before, but it’s just sad that he’s making it into a sort of centerpiece of his foreign policy credentials.

P.S.  Living overseas offers a different perspective, I grant you, but how it could be his “strongest” experience really is a mystery. 

I must have turned off the debate, or perhaps I was simply overwhelmed by stupefying boredom, by the time Chris Dodd gave a bad answer at last week’s debate.  He said (via Sullivan):

Secondly, this doesn’t mean — elections are only one note, as they say, in the tune of democracy. Be careful what you wish for. If there were totally free elections, in many of the countries we’re talking about today, the Islamic Jihad or the Islamic Brotherhood would win 85 percent of the vote.

This post is a pretty good summary of what was wrong with this statement, but let me just add a couple more points.  The question Dodd was answering was about Pakistan, where the specific groups Islamic Jihad and Al-Ikhwan do not exist.  There are Islamist parties in Pakistan and there are jihadists in Pakistan, as we all know, but in the context of talking about Pakistan Dodd’s answer was even more awful than it appears to be out of context.  Here I definitely agree with Hamid that Dodd is just lumping together every kind of Islamist no matter the country, which is the same sloppy analysis that gives rise of the nonsense term “Islamofascism” that I wrote about for my column in the 11/19 TAC.  Worse still, his answer contributes to this general sense of looming disaster that Washington cultivates to justify supporting Musharraf indefinitely, regardless of how destabilising Musharraf’s own rule has become.  If many Republicans have been obsessed with Tehran 1979 and “Iran’s 28-year war” against America, as the more fanatical of them see it, leading Democrats this year are not above invoking the spectre of the Shah to scare people into paralysis and an acceptance of aimless, dangerous Pakistan policy.  Call it “Carter’s Revenge.”    

Critics of democratisation, including myself, generally have a few reasons for urging caution and skepticism about democracy promotion as a foreign policy tool and as a foreign policy goal.  One is the argument from national interest, which is quite clear: promoting democratisation in a country that will lead to an increasingly hostile or uncooperative government is unwise.  Another is a pragmatic argument that tries to consider the welfare of the people in the country: democratisation can empower those forces in the society that are most likely to turn the instruments of mass politics into the power base of an illiberal and repressive system.  A related concern is that democratisation will be forced on a society too rapidly and it will end up falling back on pre-existing family and communal structures in political organisation, fragmenting and dividing the country along ethnic, sectarian or other lines.  Yet another is that democracy promotion in practice has little to do with cultivating institutions of representative government and civil society, but very often involves propping up hand-picked lackeys whose purpose is to align their countries with Washington’s economic and political objectives in a given region.  Unfortunately for many nations, this is frequently what democratisation actually means.    

I still think it makes no sense, but here is Paul Weyrich’s explanation of his endorsement of Romney.  The section on Romney’s foreign policy views strikes me as the weakest in the defense of the endorsement.  On the life and gay marriage questions, there are obviously going to be social conservatives who believe Romney is now sincere in his very newly discovered beliefs and those who think he cannot be trusted.  It seems futile to rehash all the reasons why Romney isn’t credible on those questions, since many people simply take him at his word that he just happened to change his mind at the same time that he was contemplating higher office.  Those who are already willing to look past the man’s naked opportunism, or who see it as a genuine conversion, will not be persuaded by another round of the same arguments. 

However, it is on foreign policy where there seems to me to be the greatest gap between the views of someone inclined towards a non-interventionist or even realist foreign policy and those of Romney.  First, Romney’s foreign policy receives fairly faint praise:

In the defense arena, Mr. Romney is a strong supporter of missile defense. I believe he would make President Reagan’s vision of a strategic defense initiative come true. I also believe he would be far more cautious than the current administration when it comes to nation-building. He is much more realistic than those who believe in making nations safe for democracy.

This last part may be true, though it is a little hard to discern from what Romney has said publicly.  What can be said is that Romney’s understanding of the Near East is both ignorant and incoherent, and his hostility to Iran is well-known.  What is striking about this section is that these are presumably the best things that Mr. Weyrich can say about Romney’s foreign and defense policy views.  We get no sense of what Romney’s views on the war are (for one thing, he doesn’t think that the war is a “disaster,” as Messrs. Weyrich and Lind have correctly described it), nor will the audience hear about his loopy idea of indicting Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention.  We hear only about missile defense and a soothing claim that Romney is much more “realistic” about nation-building and democracy promotion without any particulars to support this.  The trouble is that Romney is otherwise not terribly “realistic” in the rest of his foreign policy views, and doesn’t really see a meaningful distinction between ”realists” and “neoconservatives.”  As he said in his FA essay:

More broadly, lines have been drawn between those labeled “realists” and those labeled “neoconservatives.” Yet these terms mean little when even the most committed neoconservative recognizes that any successful policy must be grounded in reality and even the most hardened realist admits that much of the United States’ power and influence stems from its values and ideals.   

You couldn’t ask for a more typical Republican establishment interpretation than this.  Romney believes that “even the most committed neoconservatives” understand that policy must be grounded in reality–those are the words he and his campaign have used.  That seems irreconcilable with the record of many leading neoconservatives, whose grasp on reality was and remains tenuous. 

Later, Romney makes clear that he thinks that large-scale post-1991 demobilisation and defense reductions (which were actually begun under a certain Defense Secetary whose name begins with C and ends with -heney) were mistakes.  He evidently believes that maintaining the size of our Cold War-era military was something that we needed to do in the early ’90s, even though there was no rationale for having such a large force.  Indeed, unless one thinks that we should be engaged in multi-year occupations of other countries with no clear end in sight, a larger military makes little sense even today.  There is relatively little that an antiwar conservative or simply a foreign policy realist could find in Romney’s views that would be reassuring.

George Ajjan had additional comments on Romney’s essay at the time.  

Foreign Policy’s Joshua Keating laments the possible break-up of Belgium:

Belgium may indeed be held together only by “the king, the football team, and a few beers” as would-be prime minister Yves Leterme has said, but I’ll take that over a country held together by race and religion any day. Bonne chance and veel geluk to those working to keep the place together.

Not to be too severe, but I think that what Joshua Keating or any non-Belgian foreign policy observer would “take” or accept should have no bearing on the situation.  Nation-states that have no meaning for their inhabitants are not boons for humanity–they are artificial constructs that the people who live in them regard as injurious to their own interests.  The real point is that whatever Mr. Keating would “take” is completely unrepresentative of what most people, whether in Europe or elsewhere, will actually ”take.”  In the end, the break-up of Belgium along ethnic and linguistic lines is a function of democracy and self-government itself.  If a European identity is at odds with these political values, that European identity will receive very little respect among the people.     

Now the balance has tipped. Unleashing riot police on demonstrators, leaving dozens in hospital, then declaring a state of emergency, seem an inexplicable overreaction to protests that posed no threat to public order. Blanket bans on demonstrations and on anti-government radio and television are tactics that would raise blushes even in the Kremlin [bold mine-DL].

Mr Saakashvili claims his country was facing a putsch organised by outside provocateurs. Though Georgia has certainly suffered much from Russian mischief-making, he has produced no convincing evidence that it has played a decisive part in recent days. Having cried wolf, he may find it harder to win outside attention when his country faces a genuine threat. ~The Economist

Wow.  When even The Economist criticises Saakashvili this bluntly, you have to know that he has fallen pretty far from grace.  Then again, Saakashvili’s entire foreign policy consisted of little more than yelling in his most shrill voice, “The Russians are coming!  The Russians are coming!”  His latest excuse-making is just more of the same.  That suited Washington well enough since 2003, and apparently still does.  It’s interesting to see that it has been enough to embarrass some of his most vocal Western supporters.

Still, it wouldn’t be The Economist if it didn’t have this:

This is not just about salving Western governments’ wounded feelings. Failure to criticise Mr Saakashvili’s mistakes will undermine the West’s cause throughout the region.  Russians will wonder whether outside support for Georgia in recent years was a cynical bit of Kremlin-bashing and energy politics, rather than good-hearted help for a country yearning for security and freedom.

Gosh, why would anyone have come to that conclusion?

Insanely, The Economist still favours bringing Georgia into NATO at some point.  So, in short, they have learned nothing from the last two weeks of Saakashvili’s misrule.

But why isn’t the U.S. standing up for Pakistan when we need it most? Is America even listening to us? We are calling them Busharraf now. They are the same man. ~Parveen Aslam

Having Musharraf step down would be the appropriate move.  The fact that this plays into the hands of the cynical Bhutto is unfortunate in some ways.  Even though she is self-serving, she also happens to be right that Musharraf will continue to destabilise and worsen the situation in Pakistan.  The most dangerous thing about Musharraf right now is that he genuinely seems to think that emergency rule is helping combat the forces in western Pakistan, when this is not the case.  As the article says, emergency rule is apparently distracting the government from real security threats by focusing so much attention on domestic political opposition.  That would make this emergency rule doubly foolish, making Pakistan both more vulnerable to internal attacks and less politically stable at the same time.

I have more to say about Pakistan in an upcoming TAC column, so I will leave it there.

If the globe can’t vote next November, it can find itself in Obama. Troubled by the violent chasm between the West and the Islamic world? Obama seems to bridge it [bold mine-DL]. Disturbed by the gulf between rich and poor that globalization spurs? Obama, the African-American, gets it: the South Side of Chicago is the South Side of the world. ~Roger Cohen

You know, the South Side has its share of problems, but this is ridiculous.  Obama “gets” the problems of globalisation because he lives on the South Side?  Or does he “get” it because of his ancestry?  Do all people living on the South Side possess such special globalisation-understanding powers? 

Also, what is all this talk about Obama bridging the “violent chasm” between the West and the Islamic world?  How does he do that?  By saying, “I used to live in Indonesia, but by the way, in case you were wondering, I am not and never have been a Muslim”?  Perhaps he bridges the chasm by reminding inattentive foreign audiences that he supported the bombing of Lebanon, has proposed sanctions and divestment schemes aimed at Iran and has vowed to launch strikes on Pakistani territory without that government’s permission.  How’s that bridge looking now? 

The other problem with this talk of Obama as a bridge-builder with the Islamic world is that people might take it rather too seriously and see him as being too close to the Islamic world.  The logic of “only Nixon could go to China” applies here as well.  Someone who is already seen, rightly or wrongly, as personally close to or understanding of the ‘other’ has much more difficulty engaging in the kinds of negotiations or contacts that Obama proposes to have.  This may seem like an absurd aspect of domestic politics, but if Obama’s supporters were interested in his chance at being a viable national candidate they would stop saying these things right now.  Having combated the false reports that he was a Muslim as a child, Obama has also been conflated or associated with two major hate-figures in the American mind, namely Hussein and Bin Laden.  To portray him as the natural bridge-builder with the Islamic world unwittingly reinforces the negative associations that various chain-mailers, bloggers, pundits and candidates have been making.  Above all, it stresses how dissimilar and to some extent unique Obama’s background is for most Americans, which makes for interesting magazine copy and punditry but does very little for a candidate’s electoral prospects.  “Vote for Obama–he’s not like you in so very many ways” is not a winning slogan in a mass democracy.  Identitarianism is one aspect of democracy that is one of its most deplorable features and one of its most basic and unavoidable.  Being able to identify with a candidate is essential, and anything that weakens this hurts the candidate.  Selling a candidate who already has a reputation for being a bit aloof and “above it all” by referring to his ability to understand other parts of the world makes the candidate seem even more removed and distant from the crowd.  (Today’s lesson: democracy typically produces poor leadership for sound foreign policy–which is not to say that Obama’s foreign policy is sound.) 

Michael Ignatieff, never tired of being absurdly wrong about matters outside Canada’s borders, is quoted saying:

Outsiders know it’s your choice. Still, they are following this election with passionate interest. And it’s clear Barack Obama would be the first globalized American leader, the first leader in whom internationalism would not be a credo, it would be in his veins.

It seems to me that this is a very tricky and potentially politically suicidal line of argument to use if you actually want Obama to win any of the primaries.  When Obama advances this idea, he does it in a smarter way by stressing that “his story” is an “American story.”  Most Americans are souring on certain aspects of globalisation, so what makes anyone think that portraying a candidate as a ”globalised leader” is a good idea?  Obviously, Obama is embracing the “nation of immigrants,” “diversity is our strength” rhetoric that we hear all the time, and for a sizeable portion of the population this is an attractive or at least unobjectionable message, but even here he is on potentially treacherous ground. 

What Ignatieff said, and what Cohen is arguing, exposes Obama to a rather fierce backlash if people begin to believe it: having “internationalism in the veins” may imply some kind of hybridity that reduces the person’s connection to his country (this is the “vaguely French” attack against Kerry taken to the nth degree), and simultaneolusly identifies a policy perspective with ‘otherness’, which unwittingly hints that this “internationalism” is not really fully American.  Many of the arguments advanced in Obama’s favour along these lines are rather recklessly identifying in Obama things that I am not sure that he would even say about himself.  Armed with quotes about his being a “globalised leader,” you can just imagine what his opponents would say in a tough general election fight.  Obama’s actual policy positions on immigration, for example, will be hard enough for him to overcome in a general election (should it somehow come to that) without foreign observers taking about how agreeable he is to foreigners.  The attack ads write themselves. Remember Kerry’s ill-fated boast about all of the foreign leaders who supported his election? This does not play well in most parts of America.

Then there was Mexico’s foreign minister, in what I have to assume is an unwitting display of irony:

My sense is the symbolism in Mexico of a dark-skinned American president would be enormous. We’ve got female leaders now in Latin America — in Chile, in Argentina. But the idea of a U.S. leader who looks the way the world looks as seen from Mexico is revolutionary.

A U.S. leader who “looks the way the world looks” is supposed to have great symbolic resonance.  That’s the other side of Obama-as-international-wonderworker argument.  It is necessarily a superficial and rather insulting thing to say about the rest of the world: you cannot identify with America because we just haven’t elected the right symbolic candidates, and now you can!

There is also the small matter that Obama’s foreign policy, which does stress interdependence to the point of insanity (”the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people”), is one of the craziest, most hubristic and dangerous foreign policies on offer in this election cycle.  If the rest of the world is hoping for Obama to win, maybe they should think again.    

Yes, the sectarian government in Baghdad is the main obstacle to political progress in Iraq and a major impediment to the success of the “surge,” as some of us foresaw when this entire charade began.  The “surge” of brigades did what it could and made some gains in improving security.  It was of necessity a temporary fix to “buy time” for the alleged reconciliation and security training that would make the Iraqi state reasonably viable and self-sustaining.  The time has been bought at great price, and it is being frittered away.  That is why the overall plan  As Ricks reports:

A window of opportunity has opened for the government to reach out to its former foes, said Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the commander of day-to-day U.S. military operations in Iraq, but “it’s unclear how long that window is going to be open.”

And again:

Indeed, some U.S. Army officers now talk more sympathetically about former insurgents than they do about their ostensible allies in the Shiite-led central government. 

And again:

The latest news of declining violence comes as the U.S. troop contingent in Iraq has reached an all-time high. This week, the U.S. troop number will hit 175,000 — the largest presence so far in the 4 1/2 -year war [bold mine-DL] – as units that are rotating in and out overlap briefly. But those numbers are scheduled to come down rapidly over the next several months, which will place an increasing burden on Iraqi security forces and an Iraqi government that has yet to demonstrate it is up to the challenge, senior military officials said.

Now this presents an occasion to make realistic assessment of what the U.S. can actually accomplish in the absence of coordinated Iraqi political efforts.  It seems to me that the U.S. can achieve very little.  If that’s right, this offers an opportunity for many war supporters to say, “We did what we could, we tried to do the right thing by these folks, but we can’t fix their country for them and we can’t achieve anything if their government isn’t entirely on board.”  This offers them a way out of the cage of the “Pottery Barn” thinking that has trapped them.  The question is: do they want to take that way out?

Also, here’s something to keep all of the recent “surge” boosterism in perspective:

Indeed, after years of seizing on every positive development and complaining that the good news wasn’t being adequately conveyed, American military officials now warn against excessive optimism. “It’s never as bad as it was, and it’s not as good as it’s being reported now,” said Army Maj. Gen. Michael Barbero, chief of strategic operations for U.S. forces in Iraq.

One should always be wary of optimism, whether excessive or not.  More often than not, it sets you up for a nasty fall.

Update:  As for that “bottom-up reconciliation” you’ve doubtless heard so much about, Ricks’ report has some reasons to be skeptical about its long-term value:

Also, some outside experts contend that U.S. officials still don’t grasp how their empowerment of militias under the bottom-up model of reconciliation is helping tear apart Iraq. Marc Lynch, a George Washington University expert on the Middle East, argued recently on his blog, Abu Aardvark, that partly because of U.S. political tactics in Iraq, the country is drifting “towards a warlord state, along a Basra model, with power devolved to local militias, gangs, tribes, and power-brokers, with a purely nominal central state.”

Then there is the refugee crisis to bear in mind:

Officials identified other potential problems flowing from reductions in violence. Military planners already worry that if security continues to improve, many of the 2 million Iraqis who fled the country will return. Those who left are overwhelmingly Sunni, and many of their old houses are occupied by Shiites. How would the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army and police handle the likely friction? “Displaced people is a major flashpoint” to worry about in 2008, said Fetter.

Ross is right that the war in Iraq is a political albatross for the GOP.  The damage from 2006 to public support for the war has been done, and much of it is not going to be undone.  The middle 20% of Americans has shifted against the war.  54% said as of two weeks ago that winning is not possible, which is roughly the same as in April.  Those are the “good” results on support the war from this year in that poll.  Security in many parts of Iraq has improved, at least temporarily, and this has actually been reported with increasing frequency for a good two months now.  The change in public opinion has been minimal.  This 54-55% seems locked in to the assumption that the war cannot be won in any meaningful sense, and while the numbers on the other side fluctuate they remain trapped at 40-42% or below.  I point all of this out to say simply that whether the war begins to ”go well” or “get worse,” the verdict on what U.S. policy should be has been handed down long ago: get most, if not all, of our people out. 

The political class has either decided to ignore this verdict or part of it has been unable to change policy.  The deadlock over war policy between Congress and the White House is probably frustrating the public (and this frustration will increase with another Bush veto of an Iraq-related bill), which will persuade enough of them to risk unified government one way or the other.  Given the majority’s views on the war and the views of most GOP voters and candidates, we can guess that the unified government they select will not be a Republican one.  That bodes ill for talk of a Republican “comeback” in Congress and for the hopes of the ‘08 nominee. 

One of the crucial problems with the internal debate within the GOP on Iraq, to the extent that there is now a debate, is that a large majority of Republicans are the same people who want to “remain until the country [Iraq] is stable,” as this 11/1-11/5 NBC poll put it.  They are therefore likely to nominate a candidate who thinks the same, or who at least mouths the appropriate phrases.  But that is decidedly not what most Americans want.  Most Americans (55%) want “most troops” out of Iraq by 2009, so you can bet that they are unlikely to turn around and elect a President who cannot or will not promise large-scale withdrawal within the first two years or so.  They are even less likely to back a Republican who continues to make a long-term commitment of a large number of soldiers to Iraq when there is relatively less violence.  So long as the mayhem was nightmarishly frequent, it could be used to instill fear of worse things that might happen when we left (which, I would add, probably will happen), but as it subsides, at least in some areas for the next little while, the fear of post-withdrawal disaster recedes and it is more difficult to paint apocalyptic scenarios that will sway the public. 

What happens in Iraq in the next year will be less important to voters than the reality that our soldiers are still in Iraq in large numbers and that at least one of the major parties is committed to keeping them there for God knows how long.  The other party may at least make gestures towards withdrawal, and that may be all that is needed.

P.S.  Which party the public trusts more is also going to be a major factor next year.  In the 10/29-11/1 Post poll, 50% trusted the Democrats more on handling Iraq, while only 34% trusted the GOP.  That’s obviously a huge gap, and it represents the loss of trust that the Republicans have suffered on their signature foreign policy position.  The point is that even with dramatic improvements in Iraq over the next year (and I am skeptical that these will materialise), the public isn’t going to trust the GOP to be a good steward of U.S. foreign policy.  It is probably not the best way to rebuild that trust by nominating either an extremely bellicose candidate who seems intent on starting new conflicts (Giuliani) or one closely identified personally with the war (McCain).  Also, when 63% are saying that the war wasn’t worth it, that represents a huge obstacle to a party that overwhelmingly still believes that it was. 

P.P.S.  Remarkably, public opinion on the effectiveness of the “surge” seems to be nothing like the growing elite consensus that it has made some gains, i.e., which has to be very narrowly defined as having ”made things better” than they were at the start of the year.  In a 10/12-10/16 CBS poll 54% thought that the “surge” had either had no impact or had made things worse, while only 33% believed that it had made things better.  In short, people who think there is no possibility of winning aren’t buying the pro-”surge” rhetoric (which, as I noted at the time, was overselling the gains of the “surge” early on and talking it up far too soon in the year), or at least they weren’t as of a month ago. 

Ukraine is pressing to have the United Nations recognise the Holodomor as genocide, and has called on Israel’s support for the resolution.  Though I am no fan of Yushchenko himself, I wish them luck.  The Ukrainian famine, the result of deliberate state starvation of millions of people, is one of the great genocides of the 20th century and should be called what it is.    

I await the outpouring of commentary that declares that the Ukrainian genocide is a matter that should be left to historians and kept out of politics, as all of Ankara’s apologists have argued for so long.  Somehow I don’t think we’ll be hearing from many of them this time, since they are presumably not working for the Kremlin as well.  Perhaps some will maintain a kind of grim consistency and talk about how the kulaks provoked the authorities into starving them, but I doubt it.  Making apologies for Talat and Enver is one thing, since most people have no idea who they are or what they did, but not too many people want to stand up for Stalin these days.  It would, of course, be no more outrageous and dishonest than what some have said about the Armenian genocide.  Obviously, when the perpetrator was the Soviet regime and the modern-day successor is a government that Washington disapproves of, it suddenly becomes much easier to speak of past genocides and point out the internal repression by the regime.  It suddenly becomes much less “controversial” to state the obvious.   

The tactics of denial are the same in Moscow as they are in Ankara: claims of genocide are deemed “propaganda” and the province of a particular ethnic group.  Yet both official denials of genocide are equally wrong and equally pernicious.  I applaud Ms. Shymko for her article.   

Ms. Shymko writes:

It’s time for Russia to make peace with its past, by showing a willingness to make peace with its neighbors. Acknowledging Stalin’s genocidal complicity in the 1932-33 state-sponsored Famine in Ukraine would be an important first step.

Note that this article is calling for the Russians to acknowledge the famine as genocide, which is a far more “provocative” step than calling on our own President to do so.  Moscow should acknowledge the Ukrainian genocide, but I think we all know that it will not.   

Fatima Bhutto reminds us that the cover girl for democracy in Pakistan was awful in her own right when she was in power and remains an utterly cynical politician who will try to manipulate everyone for her own advantage.  Both of these claims are true.  I think she is also right that if Bhutto were to come to power the democracy that she would be promoting there would be as farcical as it has been in the various “colour” revolution states.   

Only people bewitched by the myth of “People Power” could think that given Georgia’s disillusionment any good come from another coloured-coded revolution endorsed by the same journalists and “human rights” activists who have praised Georgia as a model for change. Many of the Western groups who funded and trained the so-called “rose revolutionaries” in Georgia in 2003 have been behind the scenes of the “saffron revolution” in Burma. If Burma’s military rulers should go the way of Eduard Shevardnadze will Burma fall through the floor into the same politics of corruption, drugs smuggling and backstabbing which have pock-marked Georgia’s tragic post-Soviet history.

Proponents of “People Power” from the Caucasus to South-East Asia ignore the poverty, oppression, disease and death which have followed events like the “Rose Revolution.” Western media like The Economist and so-called human rights watchdogs like the Council of Europe have a lamentable record of fellow travelling with successive corrupt and cruel regimes in Tbilisi since 1991. It is not too much to say that there isn’t any bad situation which the nexus of Western intelligence agencies, media and human rights agencies cannot make worse, while singing their own praises as the proponents of a new dawn of human happiness.

The infighting and mutual accusations of crime, corruption and killings among the Rose Revolutionaries is the starkest case yet of the reality of a post-People Power country contrasting with the myth peddled abroad in the Western media. No journalists who painted a rosy picture of the new rulers of Georgia has yet come forward to correct, let alone apologise for their myth-making under the guise of reporting. ~Mark Almond

Mr. Almond has an extremely long, but very important post detailing how things have come to the current pass in Georgia.  He also had this to say:

However disillusioned Georgians and other long-suffering people around the world may be with the West’s cult of revolution, so long as bogus revolutions to suit geo-strategic purposes can be passed off as the work of the people, then Georgians will have to suffer another false dawn of freedom and prosperity.

My thoughts exactly.

For it was not merely predictable that Georgia would somehow go wrong, it was a certainty: Just about all revolutions, even peaceful ones, somehow go wrong. In the decade following 1989, for example, communists were elected to power in pretty much every Central European country. ~Anne Applebaum

Ms. Applebaum notes that it is a “disgrace” that the President has said nothing about Georgia all week.  Well, until she published her column, the Post hadn’t said anything either, and even then it wasn’t much.  Most Western papers have kept shtum on the colossal embarrassment that is their social engineering project gone haywire.  Consider the quote above.  Yes, it’s true that communists, or “ex-communists” and “reformed” communists as they have been called by journalists, took power in many eastern and central European countries after the initial enthusiasm for full-on democratic capitalism, but in most former Warsaw Pact and ex-Soviet countries they didn’t send policemen on baton charges against civilian protesters. 

This sort of excuse-making for Saakashvili is particularly embarrassing, since it reduces what he has done to some inevitable outcome of the revolutionary process, which ignores the fact that many other former communist states have adjusted without anything like Saakashvili’s heavy-handed rule.  Saakashvili’s failure was not determined by geography or geopolitics, but by the nature of his “revolution” from the beginning. 

P.S.  There was no “counter-revolution,” because the “revolution” was a scam all along.  A “revolution” doesn’t become a “counter-revolution” just because it turns ugly.  The ugly government of Saakashvili was there from the start.

NRO blogger Tim Graham has a stunning piece of news: FoxNews isn’t the jingoistic party-line conduit for pro-administration spin that you think it is, because Judge Napolitano gave a positive blurb to a non-interventionist book.  (The book actually looks pretty good.) 

Yes, that sure throws me for a loop.  After all, what are years of shameless warmongering and administration loyalism compared with a book blurb?  The premise of Graham’s “observation” is silly.  Judge Napolitano, author of The Constitution in Exile (not exactly Cheney’s bedtime reading), is probably one of the last people still associated with FNC who speaks publicly about civil liberties in defense of them (rather than seeing them as obstacles on the path to Victory), so he is not exactly representative of the network’s news and commentary.  FoxNews also still employs Alan Colmes, which must similarly prove that there is no pro-war, pro-administration bias at the network generally. 

P.S. By Graham’s standard of political analysis-by-book-blurb, Sean Hannity’s blurb for Napolitano’s book would represent some actual sympathy with the argument that the federal government has overreached in the PATRIOT Act and detaining citizens without charge, when we all know that this is absurd.  Hannity’s blurb, meanwhile, is just two blurbs away from Alan Colmes’ blurb.  A product of media consolidation or an elaborate ideological web that unites both Hannity and Colmes?  You decide.

Turkey’s strategic interests are much more dependent on good relations with the United States than vice versa. If we tolerate Turkey’s blackmail, we actually weaken our position in the strategic relationship and embolden others in the region to blackmail us. ~Roxanne Makasdjian

This is pretty much my view of the matter as well.

Like many failed regimes dependent on foreign aid and playing one power off against another, Georgian politicians learned to pre-echo what Uncle Sam and the Eurocrats think. Some of it they meant. Our knee-jerk Cold War suspicion of the Kremlin made their Russophobia seem natural. But playing up nationalism even when it has a real emotional basis is not the way to stabilize a society, not [sic] to stabilize its regional relations. 

Anti-Armenian and anti-Azeri rhetoric worried the near neighbors. Saakashvili demolished both the neo-classical building that had housed the Imperial Russian gendarmerie and a district of Armenian houses to make way for his new palace.

Georgians noted the contrast with his claims in 2003 that he only needed a “three room apartment,” but the neighboring nations heard his apologists say that the new government’s massive re-ordering of old Tbilisi only “affect Armenians, Azeris, Kurds and foreigners.”

Whereas the authoritarian Aliev clan running neighboring Azerbaijan has enough oil revenue to fund a stable state system and many Azeris have jobs, Georgia’s much-praised reforms have boosted unemployment and mass migration. The only surviving industry from Soviet days seems to be massaging the statistics.

The oil pipeline across Georgia to Turkey from the Azeri oil fields in the Caspian has been a nice cash cow for the Georgian government and its appointees, but it hasn’t provided any boost to the rest of the economy. In fact, now that the Baku-Ceyhan project is finished, lay-offs - not new jobs - are the result. Part of the political infighting in Tbilisi is to control the transit fees. ~Mark Almond

Almond’s basic message is that we should stop meddling in Georgia’s affairs.  I couldn’t agree more. 

How are the mighty fallen! President George Bush, the crusader king who would draw the sword against the forces of Darkness and Evil, he who said there was only “them or us”, who would carry on, he claimed, an eternal conflict against “world terror” on our behalf; he turns out, well, to be a wimp. A clutch of Turkish generals and a multimillion-dollar public relations campaign on behalf of Turkish Holocaust deniers have transformed the lion into a lamb. No, not even a lamb – for this animal is, by its nature, a symbol of innocence – but into a household mouse, a little diminutive creature which, seen from afar, can even be confused with a rat. ~Robert Fisk

It is still a little strange to find myself agreeing with Robert Fisk as often as I have in recent years, but on the subject of the Armenian genocide he has been absolutely right.  Fisk makes many of the points that I did in my column on the genocide last month (10/22 issue).  We have all heard the arguments claiming that “no one denies” that what happened to the Armenians was genocide (I have heard another one of these today), when there is a small industry dedicated to just this kind of denial and our government evidently cowers in fear of them.  Some people, who have gotten their history from some of the denialist historians, come to the debate misinformed and so react very strongly against charges of denialism, since they think (erroneously) there is some legitimate doubt about what happened.  There really isn’t.  Some who are better-informed, but apparently still unaware of the denialists, think it is redundant to say yet again what they believe everyone already acknowledges.  Yet the absurdity of the situation is clear: if “no one” denied the genocide, there would be no controversy over acknowledging it as genocide, since no one would have any stake in preventing recognition.  Clearly, some interested parties are very intent on preventing that recognition, or else there should scarcely have been much attention paid to a House non-binding resolution. 

Speaking of the Turkish threats against our supply lines, Fisk correctly notes: “In the real world, this is called blackmail…”  Exactly so.  And the administration yielded to it without hesitation.    

But we will not do it under anyone’s instruction. I want to tell both our friends and ill-wishers – I will not take orders from anyone. Because I have responsibility not towards a foreign minister of any foreign country, but I have responsibility for the country’s future historical legacy for the next thousand years [bold mine-DL]. ~Mikhail Saakashvili

It’s tough out there for a egomaniacal demagogue.

Update: Here is some loyalist propaganda for the glorious leader, emphasising his courage!

But McCain-Lieberman, Thompson-Lieberman, Romney-Lieberman, Huckabee-Lieberman–those sound like winning tickets to us [bold mine-DL]. It’s true, given the behavior of the congressional Democrats, the GOP nominee might well win with a more conventional running mate. But why settle for a victory if you can have a realignment? ~Bill Kristol

This seems unhinged to me.  Realignment?  Because of Joe Lieberman?  In the context of a presidential election, realignment implies a landslide with 40+ states lining up behind a ticket, a dramatic, sudden shift in the balance of power from one party to another.  1932, 1968, 1980 are often given as the elections where major realignments occurred, which involved the building of broad electoral coalitions.  What Kristol proposes is that nominating Lieberman would create the conditions for such a massive victory for the Republicans, when the woes of the latter are closely tied to the foreign policy decisions that constitute the chief reason why Kristol admires Lieberman and thinks he should be a VP nominee.  In short, the very things that make Lieberman attractive to interventionists in the GOP are the things that make the rest of us want to run screaming from the room.  Adding Lieberman to a ticket that already included a candidate who blathers about ”Islamofascism” or takes an ueber-hawkish line on Iran would be the closest thing to a deliberate act of self-destruction by a party that we would have ever seen. 

On another note, I look forward to Fred Hiatt declaring his outrage at the fraudulent democracy in Georgia, since he was so deeply concerned about Kocharian’s one-man rule in neighbouring Armenia that he felt the need to trivialise the Armenian genocide and efforts to recognise it for what it was.  Hiatt’s enthusiasm for Caucasian democracy being what it is, I’m sure the ringing denunciations of Saakashvili will be forthcoming any day now.  Still, somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen, since the Post was nearly as egregious in its Saakashvili-boosterism in the past as the WSJ has been.

While I’m thinking about Georgia, readers will remember that Saakashvili, the demagogic despot who had civilian protesters beaten and power-hosed down in Tbilisi last week, was an occasional contributor to The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed page, and the editors of the WSJ were ardent supporters of Saakashvili’s government.  The editors of The Wall Street Journal have so far stayed unusually quiet about the embarrassing antics of their favourite Caucasian strongman over the past few days, and it’s no wonder.  Just four weeks ago they named him on their list of deserving recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize:

Or to Presidents Viktor Yushchenko and Mikheil Saakashvili who, despite the efforts of the Kremlin to undermine their young states, stayed true to the spirit of the peaceful “color” revolutions they led in Ukraine and Georgia and showed that democracy can put down deep roots in Russia’s backyard [bold mine-DL].

How are those deep roots looking now?  It’s not as if the WSJ couldn’t have known that Saakashvili’s rule was increasingly brutal, authoritarian and corrupt, since this has been a mark of his government for years.  Yet they published the cited editorial on October 14!

The point of the editorial was to complain about the awarding of the Noble Peace Prize to someone whom the editors believed undeserving.  The standard complaint on the right against the Nobel Peace Prize is that it always goes to someone undeserving, but this editorial takes the whining to a new level by proposing nominees for next year, which in this case reveals a lot about what the WSJ thinks peace, democracy and human rights mean: they mean whatever the editors want them to mean if they advance the editors’ preferred geopolitical goals. 

The company in which they lumped Saakashvili is notable for just how radically different they are from the megalomaniacal lawyer: Burmese monks, Morgan Tsvangirai, who has suffered torture and persecution for his resistance to a tyranny far more brutal than anything Saakashvili ever had to face, dissident Catholics in Vietnam, women’s rights activists in Saudi Arabia, Chinese bloggers, Ayman Nour and many others.  They also list that other WSJ favourite Kasparov, who has more right to be on the list than these two.  I don’t much care for Kasparov’s promotion of hostility towards his own country, nor do I find his political associations (both inside and outside Russia) of late terribly attractive, but even I would not class Kasparov and Saakashvili together in anything except their antipathy to Putin.  Even Uribe, whatever you think of his government, doesn’t deserve to be lumped in with such characters.  To include Saakashvili or the criminal oligarch Yushchenko with these others, most of whom really are genuine patriots and heroes, is an insult to all of the latter.  That the editors could seriously include Saakashvili on this list a mere four weeks ago shows how cynical their use of the causes of genuine dissidents and democrats actually is.

P.S. Here was another exercise in Journal agitprop for their boy, dated August 25 2007.  The Journal and its contributors were loyal Saakashvili-boosters until last month, despite the evidence growing over the past several years that he was not the democratic hero and Georgia not the “shining star” his apologists claimed.  One assumes that they have remained his supporters until now.  I expect that we can expect some two-faced editorial in the near future declaring their disappointment with Saakashvili, who supposedly had so much potential.  Here was an earlier contribution from the same Melik Kaylan, who was enthusing about the “Prague Spring”-like atmosphere of Tbilisi in those halcyon days following Mr. Bush’s insane Second Inaugural.  The folly of the democratists in this case is a matter of record.

Another reason the WSJ may be unusually reticent when they have an occasion to try to stir up anti-Russian hysteria as they like to do is the pending acquisition of DowJones by NewsCorp, which has just had one of its local networks shut down by the local tinpot dictator champion of freedom.  Murdoch and company may not be very happy with the situation right now.  Also, Patarkatsishvili, the co-owner of Imedi, the network in question, has been accused of being behind the alleged attempted “coup” against Saakashvili, which probably also doesn’t endear NewsCorp to the current government.  They probably don’t like having their business partners accused of treason. 

This weekend, the Bush administration dispatched an envoy to Tbilisi to probe Georgia’s use of tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and truncheons to disperse demonstrators Nov. 7, its shutdown of two television stations and its imposition of a state of emergency that put troops on the streets of the Georgian capital. ~The Chicago Tribune

The cynic in me would say that the administration was looking for tips on how to handle the protests and media coverage at next year’s national convention. 

There was also this:

“I don’t feel any improvement; things have just gotten worse,” says Irina Khurashvili, a mother of two who makes about $300 a month selling clothes at a Tbilisi market. “Corruption is worse now than it was during Shevardnadze’s time. We weren’t satisfied with Shevardnadze, and Saakashvili has proved to be no better.”

As I have said before, Saakashvili and Putin share many things in common.  They seek to eliminate independent media, marginalise or jail opponents, cultivate nostalgia for the Soviet and pre-revolutionary past and generally govern in an authoritarian fashion. One difference is that hardly anyone in the West cared that Saakashvili was doing this until it became so blatant that no one could afford to ignore it, while Putin was supposed to be Stalin reincarnated, and another is that Saakashvili has been able so far to stay in the West’s good graces by adopting a “pro-Western” and explicitly anti-Russian stance.  All of this employs the logic of Cold War geopolitics, but without the overriding rationale of containing an actual threat.

Walter Shapiro reiterates this artificial division between the allegedly combative Obama of the Jefferson-Jackson dinner and the meek Obama of the following morning.  The differences between these two performances are deceptive.  Obama’s use of “code words” and circumlocutions to criticise his opponents is not really any more pointed or combative than what he said this morning.  If virtually the only people who understand Obama’s references are journalists and insiders, he has accomplished nothing, except to generate media coverage in which observers ridicule his supposed “uneven” and “zigzag” campaigning.  Instead of tearing down his opponents, he has simply exposed himself to another round of critical commentary and missed another opportunity to wear down Clinton’s lead.   

Of course, Saakashvili’s “Rose Revolution” never was a democratic movement.  That much is obvious.  It would be deeply mistaken to describe the continued U.S. backing of Saakashvili as a contradiction or betrayal of the “freedom agenda”–the “freedom agenda” has always been aimed at the empowerment of local oligarchic stooges who will align their governments with ours, and Saakashvili has certainly fit the bill.  That is the whole point of the “agenda,” and how these lackeys rule at home has never been Washington’s concern.  The internal affairs of other states concern Washington in inverse proportion to those states’ alignment with the United States. 

In this way, we can understand why Washington continues foolishly to back Musharraf and will persist in its hostility towards Venezuela’s Chavez, despite the marked similarities in their styles of government and the clear destabilising effects all three rulers are having on their respective countries.  Chavez doesn’t play ball, Musharraf occasionally does what Washington (again often foolishly) calls on him to do, and Saakashvili is a reliable lackey, and they are treated accordingly.   

Cross-posted at Blog

Okruashvili said opposition parties would likely agree on a candidate in the next several days. But he said the early election day and the intimidation of potential candidates and their financial supporters all but ensure a victory for Saakashvili.

“There will not be a competitive environment and he will have a 100 percent chance to keep power,” Okruashvili told AP Television News in Germany. ~AP

As I noted before, nothing dramatic would change if one of Saakashvili’s opponents took power, but it would be fitting for Saakashvili to be voted out. 

This story from Reason’s interview with Matt Taibbi was worth noting:

Taibbi: People are steadily growing disenchanted with red state versus blue state—this really aggressive storyline where if you’re conservative you have to hate liberals, and if you’re liberal then you have to hate conservatives. For the first time on the campaign trail that I’ve seen, people are saying, “I haven’t spoken to my liberal brother in years but we’re actually talking now because we’re both disappointed in our respective parties, and we’re both getting behind Ron Paul.” There’s more on-the-ground energy for Ron Paul than there is for the rest of the candidates combined.

I think Paul is simply tapping into these different constituencies that have had much more in common with each other all along than any of them realised.  Distracted by party affiliation and the absurd tribalism that it encourages, at least a few people from right and left are recognising the bankruptcy of the old alliances and the compromises they have had to make as part of their respective coalitions.

Until now, Mr. Saakashvili has been something of a hero in Washington for his championship of free markets, his unabashedly pro-American foreign policy and his forthright resistance to Russian meddling in Georgia’s affairs. ~The New York Times

This should be a reminder for years to come that the Washington establishment’s judgement of the merits of foreign political leadership is badly wrong with frightening frequency.  It’s also a reminder that the hero-worship treatment shown to Saakashvili by the West was a real factor in enabling his abusive government.

Shorter Wall Street Journal: Because other people have come to the right conclusions about Pakistan for prudential reasons and we didn’t, that must mean that our wrong, ideologically-driven conclusions about Georgia, Lebanon, Ukraine and Iraq (which have all gone up in smoke) make sense.

P.S. The absurdity of the WSJ preaching the good word of democratism while sneering at realism in the same week that their golden boy Saakashvili has put 500 civilians in the hospital is obvious, but really needs to be stated once more.

Glenn Greenwald makes the obvious and right point:

If the violence in Iraq continues to decrease — and even if one accepts the most dubious of premises in order to see it all in the best possible light (the decrease will endure, it’s because of the Magical Surge, the de facto ethnic cleansing can reverse itself, etc.) — that rather obviously doesn’t mean that the war has achieved anything positive, either in that country or for our own. It just means that we have begun to contain some of the monstrous harm which our invasion unleashed there.

As I have said before, returning violence in Iraq to its late 2005 levels is hardly a clear-cut triumph.  It’s as if to say, ”Well, we’ve stopped the bleeding from this gaping wound, so that means that the other seventeen wounds will also soon heal.”  It is an accomplishment as far as it goes, but hardly one that changes anything fundamental about the overall futility or injustice of the war.

While I’m talking about polls today, the Pew survey from the end of last month has many interesting pieces of information.  On party ID, including leaning independents, the Democrats have a 14-point advantage, and the Democrats win every comparison between the two parties on questions of ethics and competence.  As the summary says:

And the Democrats’ advantage over the Republicans on party affiliation is not only substantially greater than it was four years ago, but is the highest recorded during the past two decades.  

The survey reveals extensive demoralisation in the GOP as well. 

In a Clinton/Giuliani match-up, Clinton wins 51-43%.  Broken down by region, Giuliani gets only 43% of the vote in the East.  Giuliani’s best region is, strangely enough, the West, where he manages to get 45%.  Giuliani loses every region, every age group (among 18-29 year olds, he gets trounced 59-40), and every education level.  Despite being the most liberal Republican on immigration on the national stage he only receives 38% support from Hispanics (perhaps we can lay the old chestnut of liberalising immigration policy for votes to rest now?).  Despite his nominal Catholicism, he loses the national Catholic vote by 6 points, though he does prevail among white Catholics.  He is underperforming among men (49%) relative to past GOP candidates, and he does far worse among women (37%) than Bush ever did, reducing the GOP share of women’s votes to Dole-esque levels.  So much for social liberalism broadening the party’s appeal.  Giuliani actually performs worse than Bush did among both urban and rural voters, and loses to Clinton among both urban and suburban voters.  Surely one of the rationales for Giuliani’s candidacy is that he would improve the GOP’s standing with urban voters, but it doesn’t seem to be the case.  As I’m sure has been noted elsewhere, Giuliani supporters are largely voting against Clinton rather than for Giuliani, and I don’t blame them.  Who could actually be for Giuliani anyway?  

Some of the results on the Democratic presidential race are also worth noting.  Clinton actually does better among voters who want immediate withdrawal from Iraq (50%) than she does among proponents of staying and supporters of gradual withdrawal.  Simultaneously, two of the most outspoken antiwar candidates of this cycle, Edwards and Richardson, actually lose support the more antiwar the voters are.  In other words, the more fiercely antiwar Democratic voters are, the more irrational their voting patterns become, in that they are supporting the objectively least antiwar candidate in the field at a greater rate than their less antiwar fellows.  And then they wonder why the Democratic Party is dominated by people who don’t take them seriously.

They are inclined to see international problems as a result of America’s engagement with the world and are viscerally opposed to the use of force – the polar opposite to the self-confident and idealistic nationalism of the party I grew up in. ~Joe Lieberman

Take away some of the polemical edge, and what you have here is someone who seems to have missed out on the internal political evolution of his party for the last four decades, only discovering it recently thanks to Ned Lamont and the gang.  You’d think that he had been in a coma during the ’70s and ’80s.  If you qualify his statements a little so that they resemble a view that actual human beings in America hold, many people are viscerally opposed to unjustly using force and think that repeated unjust or unwise uses of force have contributed significantly to many problems.  Are there some people who simplistically attribute everything that’s going awry in the world to the U.S. government?  Maybe, but no one of consequence holds this view. 

Yglesias makes some good points, and I see what he means when he says that Bush and Lieberman aren’t internationalists.  If you defined internationalism by a very weak standard of whether someone supports projecting power overseas, they would be, but this is really what interventionism or hegemonism is.  Lieberman’s move is to collapse them all together into one.  Internationalism and hegemonism are, however, connected in that the former provided all of the tools and assumptions that the hegemonists have used to pursue their agenda, and there is a more or less straight line from Truman’s universalised containment doctrine to Kennedy’s hawkish anticommunist New Frontier to the Vietnam hawks who eventually became disillusioned with the Democratic Party over Vietnam and other matters and broke off to become neoconservatives.  More old-fashioned liberal internationalists, such as Michael Lind, recoil at what is being done and said in the name of liberal internationalism in the Democratic Party today (by plenty of people other than Joe Lieberman, I hasten to add), but the seeds of the current madness were always there within liberal internationalism.  They can be found in Wilson and Kennedy.  Where the modern jingoes have gotten even worse is in their embrace of the latter-day equivalent of rollback and their denigration of the idea of containment.  

No one will confuse me with a fan of Kevin Drum, but I share his annoyance at this response to this post.  Responding to an observation about rising opposition to the war despite changing opinions about the fortunes in the war, the NYT Opinionator’s Tobin Harsaw said:

It’s a good point, but I suspect some will feel Mr. Drum shows a bit too much pleasure in making it.

Drum objects, rightly, to the roundabout, weaselly invocation of “some” as the move of someone who refuses to take ownership of his own words and claims, and rejects the claim that he was showing any pleasure in making the observation.  He was, in fact, making an observation about polling trends that he found interesting because they were, well, interesting and noteworthy.  It actually is interesting that opposition to the war is going up despite “improved” attitudes about progress in the war, because it seems to show that public opinion is not so easily swayed by a few months of positive trends after years of catastrophic mismanagement.  That’s a compliment to the American public, if you ask me. 

There is, of course, also the implication that war opponents must never derive satisfaction of any kind from the overwhelming support of the public for their position, but must always cower in the shadow of respectable elite opinion that says that war must go on indefinitely no matter what.  “Some” might call this view obnoxious, and I would be one of them.

Alex Massie notes Obama’s relatively more sane approach to Cuba policy and Steve Clemons’ enthusiasm for any candidate who gets Cuba policy right.  (Clemons reiterated his preference for Obama’s Cuba position over that of Clinton just this week.)  Any candidate, that is, except for the one who has been calling for a complete end to the embargo for years and years, and the same one who generally opposes counterproductive and ineffective sanction regimes.

Incidentally, Cuba policy stands out as one of the more obvious examples of where Ron Paul favours engagement and Washington has preferred futile isolation.

Ross makes the argument why Ron Paul should run as a third party candidate:

Second, if it wasn’t clear already it should be clear now: Paul ought to run as a Libertarian in the fall. Those Republicans who say that Paul is too far outside the party, ideologically-speaking, to be running for its nomination aren’t that far wrong: I suspect that if the Democrats take the White House, certain elements in the GOP will rediscover their 1990s-vintage fealty to a Quincy Adams foreign policy, but for now at least Paul’s positions are at once popular enough for him to run a well-funded campaign and almost completely unrepresented in the mainstream of either party.

Stop for a moment and think about the claim that Paul is “too far outside the party, ideologically speaking,” and reflect on how bizarre that is.  I’m not saying it isn’t a correct assessment about the party, but it is a remarkable transformation (or rather deformation) that has taken place in the last decade.  Twelve years ago, there was a freshman House class whose ideas about sovereignty, foreign policy and most other major policy questions were an awful lot closer to Ron Paul than to the modern Bush-afflicted GOP, and seven years ago (as Paul never ceases to remind us) the Republican nominee, old what’s his name, ran at least as a foreign policy realist with limited ambitions overseas.  On issue after issue, Ron Paul espouses the strict construction constitutionalist line that other Republicans pretend to believe when it’s election-time, while also defending objectively popular positions opposing illegal immigration and free trade agreements and also affirming his opposition to abortion.  Social conservative, economic conservative, populist, libertarian–you would think that he has something for all of them, and ought to be winning support from most factions of the party.  Of course, the war trumps everything and drives these potential supporters away, and so we have the strange spectacle of possibly having a pro-abortion social liberal as the nominee while imposing a litmus test on whether we should perpetuate an aggressive war and occupation of another country.  The endless pursuit of the “real” conservative candidate continually disappoints voters, because they seem intent on ignoring the one candidate who actually agrees with conservatives on everything where modern conservatives don’t radically abuse the Constitution (particularly relating to war and civil liberties).

Okay, so given that the majority of the GOP is pretty much completely hostile to Paul and his message, should Paul break away and run on a third-party ticket?  Certainly, he could serve as a pro-life protest candidate if Giuliani were the GOP nominee, but if that were going to work it would also be necessary for him to gain the Constitution Party’s nomination to keep the two “third parties” of the right from splitting that protest vote and thus maximise the protest’s effectiveness behind one candidate.  However, as he keeps telling us, Ron Paul has no intention of running on a third party ticket or as an independent, and I think this is the right judgement.  It is also entirely consistent with how Paul has campaigned to date.  

Throughout the campaign, Paul has stated that his foreign policy views belong to the tradition of the Republican Party and that Bush Era interventionism is a departure from that tradition.  He has made what I think is much more than a tactical appeal to Republican Party political fortunes, insisting that the GOP has to embrace non-interventionism (or at least turn against the war) if it is going to fare well in the future.  He has cast his candidacy as the one that represents the best of Republicanism and the one that will make the GOP the most competitive.  Whether or not you find these claims convincing, he wouldn’t have made the claims if he didn’t mean them (this is one of the fairly refreshing things about Ron Paul).  Besides, to split off into a third-party campaign and guarantee a Democratic victory that is likely to happen anyway will simply provide the militarists with an excuse for their repudiation at the polls and will change nothing.  The campaign more likely to steal Ron Paul’s issues would be the Democratic one, especially if Clinton is the nominee, as this would be a way of neutralising the threat of disaffected antiwar progressives who will be unhappy with a Clinton nomination defecting to a third party.  A third party run would make sense only to the extent that it could realistically force the Democratic nominee to become seriously antiwar and less belligerent on Iran.  Both of those seem unlikely. 

George Ajjan writes about his panel (which included my Scene colleague and polymath Reihan Salam) at the Arab-American Institute conference, complete with video of his remarks and notes on the other presidential candidates’ appearances. 

As promised, George Ajjan has written up his meeting with Ron Paul at the Arab-American Institute conference in Dearborn and has a video (here are parts 2 and 3) and transcript of Rep. Paul’s speech.

Trita Parsi, who is also an occasional contributor to TAC, has a smart article in The Nation on Iran that employs that rare element in Iran policy debate, common sense:

Creating a new regional order, in which the carrot of Iranian inclusion is used to secure radically different behavior from Tehran, is neither a concession to Iran nor a capitulation of American (or Israeli) interests. Rather, it is a recognition that stability in the region cannot be achieved and sustained through the current strategy of pursuing an order based on the exclusion of one of the region’s most powerful nations. To change Iran’s behavior, we must change our own.

The Atlantic has an informative article on Pakistan (I believe it is subscription only) that provides some interesting exchanges with members of the Pakistani military.  This part seemed most relevant to an American audience:

“Major Khaled,” as I’ll call him, grew up in northern Punjab—the “martial belt” that has traditionally provided the vast majority of soldiers and officers in the army—and he received his training at the Pakistan Military Academy. His career mirrored that of many other ambitious young Pakistani officers, and until recently, he had followed his orders without questioning them: He had participated enthusiastically, for instance, in the 1999 invasion of Kargil. All of that changed after Pakistani troops were deployed in the tribal agencies along the border to put down local insurgents and foreign fighters.

“I’ve met people of all ranks, in the line of fire, and nobody is happy with this way of solving the problem in Waziristan,” he told me. “The terrain is hard. It’s difficult to hold the ground. The insurgents know every inch of the area.” Major Khaled told me he resented the implication, which he felt the U.S. government had fostered, that Pakistan was serving as the main refuge for Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. “The terrain around Kabul is similar, so why do they say that the only hideouts are in Waziristan?” he said. “Why is Pakistan singled out? Pakistan has suffered a lot. I’ve lost colleagues in ambushes, to time bombs, to improvised explosive devices. The Pakistan army is bleeding for you people.” I asked Khaled if his doubts about the mission had ever caused him to disobey the commands of higher-ups. He shook his head. “I’m not a policy maker. We just have to follow the orders, but people down below don’t go into battle from their hearts. There could have been other options. This is not our battle. This is your battle, and we’re paying the price.”

Bear this in mind the next time you hear some pundit complain about Islamabad’s “appeasement” in Waziristan.  (In principle, their deal with the tribes was fundamentally no different from the deal we have struck in Anbar, with the main difference being that we cajoled Musharraf to resume using failed tactics against the tribes.)  The article is a smart, balanced one that makes it clear that Musharraf and the latest bout of militarisation of Pakistani politics have become a liability to Pakistan and America.  I had hinted at how we should start looking beyond Musharraf in one of my early columns this summer (sorry, not online).  Obviously, with the state of emergency that Musharraf declared, the dangers of sticking with Musharraf have become clear for all to see, but it may now be too late to remedy the error of putting virtually all of our chips, so to speak, on Musharraf.

While I’m on the subject, the idea that Obama has “the right allies on foreign policy questions” and the “right enemies,” too is a strange one when you consider that his foreign policy has received praise from Robert Kagan, Marty Peretz, The Washington Post editors and the occasionally encouraging word on Obama’s bad ideas about Pakistan from Rudy Giuliani and The Wall Street Journal.  It’s a Who’s Who of people you don’t want endorsing your foreign policy proposals, and Obama has them all.  Obviously, Obama can’t necessarily be held responsible if people with horrible ideas say that they agree with him, but it should be very worrying that they agree with him.  This would be less troubling if Obama’s foreign policy weren’t a hyper-ambitious disaster waiting to happen, but it is just that.

Sullivan’s essay on Obama is now up, and for those who want still more discussion of Obama’s special qualities this is the essay for you.  It’s an interesting read, but this line of argument still puzzles me:

There is simply no other candidate with the potential of Obama to do this. Which is where his face comes in.

Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man—Barack Hussein Obama—is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.

(Side note: are we now assuming that the average Pakistani youth is our enemy?)  Not to dwell on the point too much more, but even supposing that a young Pakistani Muslim responds favourably to the appearance of a candidate who threatens to launch strikes at his country against his government’s wishes, it is not at all clear that this will outweigh the objections to U.S. policies around the world, almost all of which Obama pledges to continue.  Obama is simply less belligerent towards Iran than his rivals, and he backed up the bombardment of Lebanon virtually without qualification, and we’re supposed to think that his “phased redeployment” plan is going to inspire goodwill? 

It seems to me that all this does not give much credit to the audience that Obama is supposed to be so good at reaching, and it seems as if this endorses the idea that anti-American sentiment is to some significant degree a product of packaging and the perception of “who we are” and that anti-Americanism derives from hatred of “who we are” (or who we are perceived to be).  Obama’s advantage, then, seems to be that he changes the perception of “who we are,” and thus reduces anti-Americanism by saying, “Yes, well, you hated us in the past, but you had it all wrong–we weren’t really like what you thought we were.  Just look at the President!”  But anti-Americanism in particular does not generally derive from opposition to “who we are,” but pretty clearly derives from what we do.  When it comes to “what we do,” Obama is not terribly different from the other candidates, so again I don’t see how he really brings about a major change in this area. 

For good or ill, this formulation of Obama’s ability to appeal to the rest of the world, assuming that it is true, becomes a huge domestic liability for him, despite what his well-wishers and advocates of sane foreign policy everywhere might believe.  If “only Nixon” could go to China, Obama is actually the last person who could effectively make rational foreign policy towards Syria, Iran or any other country, because any concessions or moves made in their direction would be interpreted as showing that he is too comfortable with the rest of the world.  For goodness’ sake, just remember how easily vilified Kerry was for having French relatives, and then consider what Obama would be facing.       

Via Yglesias, James Traub talks about the alleged differences between the foreign policy groups advising Obama and Clinton and the candidates’ respective views:

As Ivo Daalder, a former National Security Council official under President Clinton who now heads up a team advising Obama on nonproliferation issues, puts it, “There’s a feeling that this is a guy who’s going to help us transform the way America deals with the world.” 

Note that this is Ivo Daalder who is saying this.  I wouldn’t have thought that this would need to be pointed out, since we’re all well aware of what Daalder thinks, but it is not at all encouraging that Ivo Daalder and the like have a feeling that Obama will “transform the way America deals with the world.”  Their idea of how America should deal with the world is generally terrible, so why should we want someone to make it a reality?

Greg Djerejian is a very sharp guy, so when he said that Obama’s foreign policy remarks in this NYT interview were worth looking at I decided I had to read it.  Djerejian is not necessarily backing Obama here, but he says that Obama offers a relatively better foreign policy vision than the rest.  Let’s say that I was less impressed. 

His support for phased withdrawal is something, but I agree with one of my commenters on another post that the “we must withdraw so that Iraqis can reconcile” argument is not persuasive.  It isn’t persuasive because it is very likely untrue that this will happen.  At first glance, it seems at least remotely possible, but then you ask: what incentive do the stronger factions have to reconcile at that point?  No incentive at all.  That is not to say that reconciliation is going to happen with a large U.S. presence in the country, because the factions likewise have little incentive to reconcile, because the presence of U.S. forces is simply delaying the inevitable. 

Supporters of withdrawal in the Obama mould are trying to make withdrawal seem like the hopeful, optimistic option, when it really cannot be that.  Perhaps this is a calculation that Americans only respond to optimistic plans, and so withdrawal has to be cast as a “problem-solving” alternative.  Yet the underlying assumption in favour of withdrawal from Iraq is that the problems of Iraq are either not ours to fix or they cannot be fixed by us.  We cannot claim simultaneously that we cannot referee their civil war and that our willingness to depart will more effectively bring their civil war to an end and forge a political settlement.  It really is one or the other, and if the first is true we have to take into account that withdrawal means that the civil war goes on, and may get worse.  The response to the ”we broke it” argument at this point is that we are continually re-breaking the country, like someone who went into a china shop and began knocking off more and more pieces from the shelves in a harried, clumsy effort to clean up the original broken pieces already knocked to the ground.  If we “own” much more of what we have broken in Iraq, we might as well annex the country outright and keep it in perpetuity.  The other response to this objection is that we cannot actually ”pay for it” or “fix it,” and eventually we will withdraw, at which point the same dynamic of political rivalries inside Iraq will still be there. 

One place where Obama does seem to be on the right track is when he says this:

But what I don’t want to do is to make our withdrawal contingent on the Iraqi government doing the right thing because that empowers them to make strategic decisions that should be made by the president of the United States.

It has to be one of the greater ironies of this irony-laden administration that the “tough” nationalists and unilateralists, who claimed that America had to be able to act alone if necessary, have been the ones to give us foreign policy outsourcing and entrusting what they believe to be vital national security matters to dysfunctional foreign governments.  Obama does make some sense here.  However, I still find his broader foreign policy vision not pertaining to Iraq deeply troubling.

The Commentary symposium on Podhoretz’s World War IV is not pleasant reading, at least not if you value sane reflection on the affairs of the world, but it does serve as a helpful summary of what leading neoconservatives and their allies actually claim to believe in their own words.  This can serve later as a useful resource should you need a quick refererence to explain what the dangerous interventionists hold to be true.  This is useful, since they will probably later try to say that their views have been distorted by their enemies.  

Here’s a taste of what I mean from Claudia Rossett:

In this context, Islamofascism is clearly the most virulent and immediate danger. But the threat hardly ends there. If I have a criticism of Podhoretz’s superb tour and analysis of the hot front in this new world war, it is that he underestimates the damage done to us in this war by some of the major non-Islamic despotisms, which in their own efforts to deflect democracy are only too pleased to strike back-scratching deals with Islamofascist regimes.

Along with such obvious candidates as the totalitarian munitions-merchant North Korea, or our near-neighbor Venezuela [bold mine-DL], these regimes include the two great powers of Russia and China. Lest that list sound too alarmist, or simply too overwhelming, let me add that I agree with Podhoretz’s warning that we cannot simultaneously tackle every villainous government on earth. But in understanding why we had to topple Saddam early on, and why democracy is the only real answer, I think we must keep in mind that behind Islamofascism is a brew of interests that, however disparate, have this in common: they shun democracy and in various ways tend to support each other in fighting and subverting its spread. Thus do we find China and Russia, our erstwhile allies against Islamo-terrorists, blocking one U.S. attempt after another to shut down or stymie the regimes that produce these killers and their medieval creeds [bold mine-DL].  

Naturally, Venezuela leaps to mind as one of the great threats of our time.  But she neglected Bolivia, which I think is a wildly irresponsible oversight.  When will we begin to fight the coca masters of La Paz?*   

This is almost as complete an expression of everything that is wrong with democratism and interventionism as you can get in two paragraphs.  The added hostility to Russia and China is what tops it off so well, since it is, of course, Russia and China that are doing the most to prop up the House of Saud and President Mubarak.  Oh, wait.

The symposium also shows a remarkable general consensus (with perhaps one or two mild dissents, including one actually from Bill Kristol) about the name “World War IV,” which virtually everyone contributing to the symposium thinks is either an acceptable or excellent name.  Even those who do not accept the name accept the basic assumptions about the war so described, which is just as unfortunate.  The amazing thing to me is that literally no one questions the word included in the subtitle, Islamofascism.  This word seems far more ridiculous than “WWIV,” which is saying something, so it is a far more damning statement about the paucity of neoconservative foreign policy thinking that not one of the participants raised an objection against such patent nonsense.  In my next TAC column I explain why it seems ridiculous and misleading to me.

* This is as close to a Ledeenesque vilification of Bolivia as I could get. 

The Hebrew prophets have a political vision and it is not neoconservative.  ~David Klinghoffer

You have to laugh at Klinghoffer’s description of a prospective attack on Iran as “aggressive defense.”  What’s next?  Peaceful violence?  Charitable hate?  Lawful crime?  (Klinghoffer must be an expert in stating absurdities, since he is a fellow at the Discovery Institute.)

You do have to admire Klinghoffer’s intellectual contortions to justify the moral abomination of the “new fusionism.”  Aggression and moral reform marching side by side is a hard thing to defend, but he gives it his best shot. 

Then again, Klinghoffer never wrote (probably unwittingly) truer words than these:

Idolatry manifests itself in every age.  Its essence lies in setting up moral authorities in competition with, or to the negation of, God.

Quite.  That might be a powerful lesson on which the various warfare state-lovers could reflect and meditate.  Of course, it is precisely the neocons surrounding Rudy Giuliani who embrace the idolatry of nationalism, and it is those religious conservatives who ignore their own convictions in the name of fighting “Islamofascism” who are complicit in the same error.   

There was also this:

Yet the prophets had little to say against Assyrofascism or Babylofascism.

I wonder why.  Maybe because they weren’t morons.

I have been a pretty relentless critic of Obama, whose foreign policy generally strikes me as being dangerously similar to that of Mr. Bush in a number of ways.  Nonetheless, I have to give him some credit when he says things that make some sense:

Senator Barack Obama said he would “engage in aggressive personal diplomacy” with Iran if elected president, and would offer economic inducements and a possible promise not to seek “regime change” if Iran stopped meddling in Iraq and cooperated on terrorism and nuclear issues.

It’s not actually that much in terms of substance, but it is a huge departure from his heretofore rather pathetic belligerence against Iran.

Some people are complaining that 52% of Americans support a military strike on Iran.  While I am entirely sympathetic to the laments about public ignorance and the gullibility of the average citizen, and I find it appalling that a majority would support such an obviously horrible idea, I would hasten to point out that this is actually a slightly lower percentage than we have had in the past.  Crazy anti-Iranian jingoism is somewhat less persuasive than it used to be almost two years ago, and that seems like marginally good news to me.   

Ross writes:

However, something like the reverse is also true: Just because the initial invasion was almost certainly a mistake doesn’t necessarily mean that the continued presence of U.S. troops is a mistake as well. And I detect some goalpost-shifting here among the partisans of immediate withdrawal.


But given that only six weeks ago he [Yglesias] was throwing out “4 or 5 more years” as a timeline for when Iraq might start to settle down, I think it’s also “at least plausible” that when we look back on the last year of American military operations in Iraq, we’ll judge them to have played a major role in putting the worst behind us earlier than most people anticipated.

I suppose I must chime in with my usual dose of pessimism.  The “continued presence of U.S. troops” would only not be a mistake if there were reason to think that the changes that have yielded some marginal, temporary improvement in security were going to continue and serve as the foundation for some enduring security.  As Prof. Bacevich has said:

The general has now made his call, and President Bush has endorsed it: the surge having succeeded (so at least we are assured), it will now be curtailed. The war will continue, albeit on a marginally smaller scale. 

This goes to the heart of Prof. Bacevich’s criticism of Gen. Petraeus, which is that the plan that seems to be producing some results is being brought to a close because it was not politically viable under the current circumstances to keep it going, much less expand it.  Bacevich again:

Petraeus has chosen a middle course, carefully crafted to cause the least amount of consternation among various Washington constituencies he is eager to accommodate. This is the politics of give and take, of horse trading, of putting lipstick on a pig. Ultimately, it is the politics of avoidance. 

And again:

Yet Petraeus has chosen to do just the opposite. Based on two or three months of (ostensibly) positive indicators, he has advised the president to ease the pressure, withdrawing the increment of troops that had (purportedly) enabled the coalition to seize the initiative in the first place.

This defies logic. It’s as if two weeks into the Wilderness Campaign, Grant had counseled Lincoln to reduce the size of the Army of the Potomac. Or as if once Allied forces had established the beachhead at Normandy, Eisenhower had started rotating divisions back stateside to ease the strain on the U.S. Army.

Having achieved modest gains with a half-measure, Gen. Petraeus counsels us to go back to our trusty quarter-measures.  As I have said earlier, the “surge” is necessarily temporary in its application and in its effects.  Its temporariness is implicit in its official propaganda name of “surge” and in the stated policy of the U.S. government, in that the “surge” was always going to come to an end.  Its purpose was to buy time, which it seems to have done.  However, this time is basically worthless–though bought at too high a price in American blood–if it is not going to be used well.    

We have seen temporary increases in force levels before, and they did not ultimately halt Iraq’s downward spiral.  The ”surge” was, by the account of its own backers, supposed to be completely different from these earlier efforts. This time, there would be political reconciliation, and this time Iraqisation would happen, and this time the lambs would lay down with the lions.  Okay, they didn’t say that last part, but the other two were just as likely to happen as the third.  Unsurprisingly, none of them has come to pass, nor does any one of them seem likely to happen anytime soon. 

During the “bad, old days” of “clear, hold and build” you would read stories about how one neighbourhood of Baghdad would be secured, life would begin to resume and then the U.S. deployment would be shifted to another part, whereupon the stabilising neighbourhood reverted to violent chaos.  What is supposed to be different when force levels drop and whatever pressure that the “surge” did exert weakens?  

Now the paired element with the “surge” of brigades was always the old “Iraqis standing up” bit.  We don’t hear a lot about this part of the plan, because this is the part–the fundamentally more important long-term part–that isn’t working very well.  We all know that the political reconciliation part is a farce.  If anything, I’d have to say that Yglesias’ estimate of 4-5 years before Iraq “settles down” may be unduly sunny and positive, because there is nothing to keep things from unraveling again once the “surge” ends.  There was never going to be anything to keep things from unraveling once the “surge” was over, which is why the “surge” was a mistake in the beginning.  It perpetuated the worst-of-both-worlds approach that Mr. Bush has applied to Iraq for years: too few soldiers to properly stabilise the country, but too many to avoid all the costs and burdens of being an occupier.  There are two coherent positions that can be taken (huge increases in force levels or large-scale withdrawal), and one of them is politically and practically feasible.  Or we can continue to muddle through as we have done until some calamity throws Iraq into a new round of upheaval. 

I have given Chuck Hagel a lot of grief over the past year, but today I’m willing to give him a lot of credit.  Via Steve Clemons, I see that Hagel has apparently called on the President to consider “direct, unconditional, and comprehensive talks with the Government of Iran.”  Common sense is infiltrating the Washington Iran policy debate!  No doubt, the administration will file this in the trash can, but it is significant that someone in government is arguing for direct talks with Iran.

So Karen Hughes has had enough and is going home.  (Mark down another departure, James.)  It has been easy to give Karen Hughes a hard time, and it hasn’t really been fair to her.  The administration has made an art form out of cronyism, and the President has chosen some of the most inappropriate people for fairly important tasks based on their close relationship with Mr. Bush.  Rather than a former ambassador or someone accustomed to the work of diplomacy, Mr. Bush thrust Karen Hughes into a role for which she wasn’t terribly well prepared and which was already going to be monstrously difficult for the most qualified person.  It is some consolation for Ms. Hughes that administration policy had already done so much damage to our international reputation that there really was little that she could do, and so perhaps it is not very surprising that she didn’t try to do very much.

And on yet another level, that issue highlights the way the West, including the U.S., has been preoccupied with the killing of 1.5 million Christian Armenians by mostly Muslim Turks and Kurds. ~Leon Hadar

Certainly, there has been some attention drawn to the genocide in the West over the last 90 years, though the attention tended to be greatest when it was happening and has since settled into the background or vanished from collective memory.  But preoccupied?  The West has been anything but preoccupied with the Armenian genocide.  But for active lobbying by Armenians, scarcely anyone would give it a second thought.

Ron Paul once again reframes the idea of “isolationism” in his discussion of Cuba policy:

Our isolationist policies with regard to Cuba, meanwhile, have hardly won the hearts and minds of Cubans or Cuban-Americans, many of whom are isolated from families because [of] this political animosity.

This echoes his statements in his response to the Union-Leader’s attack on him.

Kagan manages to put together an entire column in which he never once shows that he understands the difference between “liberal autocracy” a la Singapore and illiberal democracy.  For the truncated democratist imagination in which there is liberal democracy and everything else lumped under “tyranny,” this oversight is typical.  No one, or at least no one of any consequence, thinks that Putin, Hu Jintao (or whoever will succeed him) or Chavez represent “liberal autocracy,” and only committed opponents of Putin’s and Chavez’s regime prefer to call their political systems autocratic.  I’m prone to throw around the word autocracy to make a polemical point, too, but it is plainly imprecise and does not describe the form of government that prevails in these countries.  

In China, the government is oligarchic and authoritarian and still significantly party-based.  Russia’s government is oligarchic and authoritarian and based in the security services, but retains a number of formal democratic and constitutional features.  Venezuela’s government is a much more straightforward illiberal democratic one, whose claim to being democratic has been denied by many American observers because the government is illiberal and quasi-socialist, which is to show that these observers cannot make basic distinctions in political theory. 

So it is difficult for “autocracy” to be resilient in a place where there isn’t actually an autocracy.  The authoritarianism in Russia and the populist demagoguery in Venezuela are both products of the very elections Kagan boosts.  The fact is that liberalism has a small constituency in both countries (outside of a very few western European, Anglophone and North American countries, this has often been the case), and when put before the electorates of Russia and Venezuela liberalism fares very poorly.  Some of this has to do with the fact that relatively liberal politics was associated with the wealthy elite and tycoons, and the effects of policies carried out in the name of liberalism were generally poor or even disastrous for the people who now back authoritarian populist leaders.  There will be objections that Russian elections in particular are not fully “free and fair,” but against this I would note that even with fully free and fair elections the overwhelming majority would still want nothing to do with the Russian liberals.  This is hardly surprising: in mass democracy, the politics of liberty tends to lose and lose badly, while one form of demagoguery or another (be it nationalist or revolutionary socialist) usually prevails. 

Update: Ross has more.

One of Ross’ commenters makes what I assume he thinks is a clever remark:

This is really important work you’re doing. Thanks. Now that we know Venezuela is not an “autocracy” I can go to sleep tonight, comfortable that my children will not improperly label the various oppressive governments around the world.

Very droll.  Of course, one might observe that misunderstanding the nature of a regime and then building an entire argument off of that misunderstanding will lead to the wrong conclusions.  One might suppose that sloppy and inaccurate use of language reflects poorly on an argument.  Suppose that someone thinks that the answer to the problems of Russia and Venezuela is a lack of elections, when the current regimes are at least partly the product of elections, and then that someone opts, whether out of laziness or sloppiness, to label these elected governments autocracies.  Suppose that he also has a record of promoting confrontational policies against other such “autocracies.”  Might it matter then that we give things their proper names and try to address the world as it is, rather than as it appears in the democratist comic book version?

Second Update: I have written on Kagan’s autocracy talk before.

Something very strange has happened.  Christopher Hitchens writes about the Armenian genocide resolution and actually makes sense:

If the Turks wish to continue lying officially about what happened to the Armenians, then we cannot be expected to oblige them by doing the same (and should certainly resent and repudiate any threats against ourselves or our allies that would ensue from our Congress affirming the truth).

This has generally been my view since the debate heated up again this autumn.  I have more to say along these lines in my next column in TAC.

Via Djerejian, I see that Kakutani of The New York Times reviews Podhoretz’s World War IV:

Instead of trying to produce a reasoned argument for a forward-leaning foreign policy, he has served up a hectoring, often illogical screed based on cherry-picked facts and blustering assertions (often made without any supporting evidence), a book that furiously hurls accusations of cowardice, anti-Americanism and sheer venality at any and all opponents of the Bush doctrine, be they on the right or the left.

In other words, it’s a typical piece of modern neoconservative argumentation.

P.S.  It occurred to me after it showed up in the news that Mr. Bush made a very careless reference to “World War III,” which obviously was not part of the script.  As Podhoretz would tell us, WWIII has been over for some time, and now is WWIV, which means that Bush was actually meaning to warn us about the outbreak of WWV.

Looking at the relationship between the GOP and Arab-Americans, it is remarkable how much has changed in just seven years.  The time was when Candidate Bush was the one opposed to “secret evidence,” and he actually ended up getting 44.5% of the Arab-American vote in 2000.  He had Spence Abraham in his Cabinet.  The appeal to Arab-Americans was actually the only example of early Bush Era “minority” outreach that really worked come election-time.  Since most Arab-Americans are Christians from Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant backgrounds, and many of them are middle-class, it was fairly natural that there would be a Republican constituency among them.  Fast forward to the present, post-Iraq, post-Lebanon, and it is fairly amazing that there still are sizeable numbers of Arab-American Republicans.  Of course, many Arab-Americans are thoroughly assimilated, and those inclined to vote Republican are probably less prone to think in identity politics terms about policy quiestions, but it can hardly have helped the image of the GOP to be the leading force in support of the invasion of one Arab country and the excessive, indiscriminate bombing of another. 

This year Steve Clemons reports on the Arab-American Institute’s National Leadership conference, finding that no leading presidential candidates appeared there in person, with only Ron Paul, Gravel, Kucinich and Richardson making appearances.  Here is another example where Ron Paul is keeping the Republican flag flying in communities where it would otherwise be missing.  Of course, it probably helps with this group to be a candidate who opposed both the PATRIOT Act and the invasion of Iraq.  The three leading Dems sent representatives and taped messages, but no leading GOP campaigns were represented (Michigan “native” son Romney had a few brochures available). 

Clemons finds this absence of the major candidates ”outrageous,” and as these things go I suppose it is.  I think it is representative of a general disdain for Arabs and Americans of Arab descent, and it is a function of the ignorance about the Arab-Americans here that is just as appalling as the ignorance about the Christian communities in the Near East to which many of these Americans trace their descent.  In an odd dynamic, the very policies that are uprooting these communities in the Near East are bringing more Arab immigrants to America.  They are in turn going to be ignored by our political class here just as they were in the Near East, but I think this will ultimately be to the detriment of the party that adopts the most aggressive and hawkish policies in the Near East. 

Then again, if I were someone being advised by a Podhoretz or Pipes (Giuliani), a Liz Cheney (Thompson), or a Max Boot (McCain), I wouldn’t expect a favourable reaction to attending such a meeting, because if I were any one of these candidates I would end up saying things that the assembled audience would find either laughable or horrifying.  Romney could go on his riff on how ”it’s about Shia and Sunni” and be laughed off the stage.  All of the leading GOP candidates hold policy views that I assume must be very offensive to large numbers of Arab-Americans, so this may be an instance, like McCain ducking CPAC, where the campaigns saw no upside and a lot of potential problems.  Of course, no one in serious contention for the GOP nomination wants to be associated with this event, because I suspect they fear it would hurt their fundraising and their public image with core voters.  I assume Tancredo and Hunter didn’t go as a matter of some principle or other.  Besides, Tancredo is on the record having said multiple times that we should threaten nuclear strikes on Mecca and Medina as a way of “deterring” nuclear terrorism.  Even though most of the audience at this gathering was probably not Muslim, the idea itself is so awful that it is hard to see Tancredo getting anything other than a hostile reception.

Clemons has an interesting observation on the proceedings:

The room seemed majority Republican — but one could feel the tectonic shift of the community to the Democrats — or to Ron Paul — and away from the Republican frontrunners in a number of cases.

This is natural.  When the leadership and leading representatives of a party choose to adopt destructive, wrong-headed policies that harm both Arab-Americans and Arabs, it is only a matter of time before that translates into political changes in domestic party affiliation and support.  At least Ron Paul offers the audience an alternative face of the Republican Party, even if it is one that most Republicans don’t like. 

Obviously there is going to be a vast difference between the influence and draw of AIPAC and the Arab-American Institute.  One can bestow great favours and inflict serious political damage on a candidate, while the other simply hasn’t the clout to do either.     

On Thursday, a suicide car bomber hit a truck carrying Frontier Constabulary troops through a crowded area of Mingora, killing 19 soldiers and a civilian, and wounding 35.

The devastating attack underlined the worsening security situation in Pakistan, particularly in the conservative region near the border with Afghanistan where militants linked to the Taliban and al-Qaida increasingly hold sway. The rise of militancy in the region has shaken the authority of President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in its war on terror. ~AP

Andy McCarthy throws a fit:

Can someone explain to me what is “conservative” about a revolutionary movement that seeks, by mass-murder, to overthrow the established order and set up a tyrannical sharia state?

First of all, McCarthy has read something that isn’t in the story.  The story refers to the “conservative region near the border with Afghanistan.”  As those even a little familiar with these Pashtun borderlands know, the society there is very conservative, certainly by the standards of local tribal customary practice and religion.  According to their traditions, they are the conservatives in Pakistan.  The story was not even describing the Taliban or Al Qaeda.  It was describing the region.  Perhaps McCarthy might argue that its customary conservatism or lack of it is irrelevant to the story and should not have been included, but a good argument can be made that it is precisely this local traditionalism and adherence to patterns of loyalty that take priority over ties to the state that make this region such a valuable area in which pro-Taliban and Al Qaida forces can operate.  Interestingly, later versions of the story have eliminated the designation “conservative” from the relevant sentence, though they have applied it to another, neighbouring region.

Charles Kesler wrote:

[T]he GOP has its own looming problem. Sticking with the surge buys time but little else. What comes after the surge? The answer is the 2008 elections, which the party will lose, and deserve to lose, if it doesn’t separate itself from the administration’s stand-pat case for the war…. Conservatives have to prove that they can reason their way to an improved policy on Iraq, as on other issues. And they need to do so soon, before the primaries are over effectively in February or March.

Wehner at Commentary’s Contentions blog responds:

Professor Kesler insists that “sticking with the surge buys time but little else.” But how does he know?

Most of Wehner’s post is a detailed demonstration that he doesn’t actually understand what Kesler meant by this.  When Kesler refers to ”time,” Wehner takes him quite literally, as if the time being “bought” were somehow separate from improved security.  He takes him so painfully literally that you have to wonder whether this is another exercise in the new Contentions blogging habit of deliberately misconstruing others’ statements and then reacting vehemently against the falsified version that the Contentions blogger created out of thin air.  

I imagine that Prof. Kesler knows this because “buying time”–for political reconciliation, training of Iraqi security forces and reconstruction–through moderately improved security was the entire rationale of the “surge.”  If there are some additional benefits arising from the “surge,” they were unexpected and unintended.  (If unrelated things happened, such as the Anbar Awakening, that’s all very well, but is something quite distinct.)  Buying time was the goal of the “surge.” 

In other words, even if you credit that the “surge” has succeeded, you have to have something with which you can follow the “surge,” because the “surge” was necessarily a temporary, stopgap measure designed to shore up a deteriorating situation.  Improved security (the “calmer and safer nation” bit of Wehner’s response) is the temporary benefit that is what actually buys time.  Because the improvements are going to be temporary, the time that has been purchased at great price needs to be used constructively and wisely.  What is the standard response to this?  It is: the “surge” is working!

Wehner then thinks that he has somehow undermined Kesler by saying that the latter probably did not anticipate the Anbar Awakening, but then essentially no one in America anticipated this “Awakening,” which was why it was especially remarkable.  He then demonstrates that he doesn’t know what the word strategy means:

But of course the administration does not have a “stand-pat” policy; the Petraeus strategy is a significant break with the Rumsfeld-Sanchez-Abizaid-Casey strategy that preceded it.

He is referring to plans of tactical deployments and operations.  He is not referring to different strategies.  His response is a perfect embodiment of what Prof. Kesler calls the “stand-pat case for war” and a good example of the kind of thinking that will sink the GOP come next year.

We remain surprised that the U.S.-Turkey relationship is thought to be so fragile that this non-binding resolution or other verbal acknowledgements appear to pose a problem. ~Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian

Oskanian went on:

“Armenia has been careful not to voice an opinion on the resolution. We have maintained that this is a matter between those in the U.S. Congress and their constituents [bold mine-DL],” he said.

“But when Turkey and its lobbyists dragged us in, implying that such a resolution would hurt some non-existent bilateral process between Armenia and Turkey, then we spoke up.”

“We’ve held out our hand for more than a decade. Turkey has kept the door shut tightly. Worse, Turkey has become more radical and extreme in its denialist policies.”

This is a helpful corrective to the story being told by some opponents of the resolution that its passage will “set back” efforts at Armenian-Turkish reconciliation.  Ankara isn’t engaged in reconciliation efforts.  For there to be a “setback” there would actually have to be a process that is being set back. 

Here it is again.  There is the idea circulating out there, it seems mainly among neoconservatives and interventionists, that Huckabee’s foreign policy is simply unacceptable.  Krauthammer:

Yes, I know. I’ve left out Huckabee, whom some of my colleagues are aggressively trying to promote to the first tier. I refuse to go along. Huckabee is funny, well-spoken and gave a preacher’s stemwinder that wowed the religious right gathering in Washington last Saturday. But whatever foreign policy he has is naive and unconvincing. In wartime, that is a disqualification for commander in chief.

Now that you’ve stopped laughing after seeing Krauthammer describe someone else’s foreign policy as naive, I’ll continue.  He thinks Huckabee would be a good Interior Secretary.  That’s the harshest backhanded compliment I’ve seen in a while.  This is frankly bizarre.  Does Krauthammer mean to say that Mitt ”It’s About Shia and Sunni” Romney is a more serious candidate than Huckabee on foreign policy?  I’d be glad to throw the lot of them out, but this rejection of Huckabee seems very odd.

Opposition is cropping up more and more now that he has become a semi-serious contender (who also still has next to no money).  John Fund at The Wall Street Journal doesn’t like his claim to be a conservative (no surprise there).

Come to think of it, Huckabee occupies some of the same foreign policy space that Candidate Bush did in 2000 in that he is a “compassionate” conservative governor with no real foreign policy experience.  Where Bush tried to play the role of a Republican realist during the campaign, Huckabee has simply adapted to the more belligerent and interventionist ideas prevalent in the party today.  Just as McCain was The Weekly Standard’s candidate of choice in 2000, the leading candidates, all of whom are being advised by neoconservatives or interventionists, have been deemed acceptable on foreign policy.  It is that the “inexperienced” governor who seems to have at least a few foreign policy ideas that aren’t terrible, unlike his top-tier competition.  Of course, he still has many ideas that are terrible, but this is why I find it hard to understand why he is being shunned by the people who specialise in terrible foreign policy ideas. 

I’d like to see Giuliani and Clinton square off because she can beat him given how narrowly he is defining his candidacy. And the fact that David Frum, Norman Podhoretz, and Daniel Pipes are advisors to Giuliani makes folks like me salivate.

Whether the Republican Party knows it or not, a Romney/Hagel ticket or Romney/Huckabee ticket would be much harder for Hillary Clinton to tackle.

Steve Clemons here makes the mistake that is always a danger for all observers of the political scene (I have made this mistake myself more than once): confusing the objectively horrible quality of the candidate and his advisors with his electoral viability.  According to this thinking, candidates who are being advised by loopy militarists will never get elected in a presidential election.  What makes me think this is untrue?

If we trust the head-to-head matchup polls as much as we trust the nationwide primary polling, Giuliani is one of the more competitive candidates and more of a threat to the Democrats than most of the others.  I think both sets of polls are probably misleading and are still driven by name recognition, which is why McCain and Giuliani consistently outperform their rivals, but if we are going to grant Giuliani the status of frontrunner on the basis of such polls we have to acknowledge that he is polling as one of the better-performing Republicans vs. Clinton.  According to the current polling, every Democratic matchup against Romney means a Democratic landslide (against Edwards, the margins have gone from an amusing 15 or so to the ridiculous 25+), while Giuliani is supposed to be reasonably competitive against any Democrat.  We really should not trust much of this national polling on the candidates, but given what evidence we have it seems positively crazy for a Democrat to hope for a Giuliani nomination to avoid the terrible threat of Romney. 

Commenting on the weird internecine fighting between fiscal and social conservatives that leaves the neocons unscathed, Ross said:

It’s true: As in the Cold War, foreign-policy hawkishness has become the glue holding the fragile GOP coalition together, even as Iraq has made foreign policy a general-election liability for the Right, instead of the asset it was in the Reagan years.

One of the reasons why hawkishness held together the coalition during the Cold War was in part a shared belief in anticommunism, which animated all parts of the coalition for different reasons, but the coalition was also held together by the related fear of appearing “weak” towards the Soviets.  It was also an asset because the form of that “hawkishness” was significantly different from the hawkishness of today.  Then hawkish rhetoric served some rational purpose in helping to provide the leverage for the negotiation of bilateral disarmament agreements and the gradual de-escalation of the Cold War.  Today advocates of hawkishness are devoted very simply to riling up the country to start wars, rather than providing for a strong defense for the sake of deterrence and preventing the outbreak of conflicts.  Such are the things done in the name of a “neo-Reaganite foreign policy,” as some interventionists dub their monstrosity.  

No more do you hear of peace through strength, and instead you hear a great deal about “Strength Through Willpower” or “Showing Our Resolve” and other morally dubious, vitalist phrases.  It isn’t just because Iraq went badly that hawkishness has become a political liability, but that the militarism the new hawkishness has created is fundamentally unwise and dangerous.  Key parts of this problem for the GOP are the exaggeration of the threat and the general hysteria about the extent of the threat, which has induced a kind of panic-stricken bunker mentality among many conservatives, which in turn gives off a disquieting air of desperation and anxiety.  Where a foreign policy of containment and strong defense seemed both eminently feasible and reasonable, expressing steady, sober confidence in America’s endurance and success, and the threat seemed sufficiently great to most to justify the costs of the policy, the modern equivalent of rollback-through-perpetual-war seems crazy and unsustainable, and seems all the more bizarre given that the jihadi threat is nowhere near as dangerous as the Soviets actually were.     

Today, there is also more or less a shared belief in anti-jihadism, but the embrace of hawkishness has become a mechanism for policing the coalition as much as it is an actual stance on policy.  Your fitness to belong to the coalition is called into question if you do not jump through the requisite hoops of declaring your abiding support for the warfare state–even Mike Huckabee, who never misses a chance to mention suicide bombers when he talks about the culture of death, has been branded as being potentially too “soft” and “weak” on foreign policy (perhaps because he shows signs of having a brain).  Hence the increasingly common fashion among Republican leaders, including Huckabee, to bow before the stupid idol of the term “Islamofascism” and the use of rhetoric about an “existential threat.”  These are not things that you say when you wish to describe the enemy and his capabilities accurately, but when you wish to build yourself up as clear-eyed, anti-fascist saviours, instill fear of ideological deviation among your peers and breed loathing of the “unpatriotic” ones who oppose you.  Even more than during the Cold War, when it was still at least remotely possible to carry on an intelligent conversation about foreign policy, today hawkishness is part of a statement of political identity even more than it is an approach to policy. 

According to Iraq’s Ministry of the Interior, violence in Iraq as a whole since the end of June has declined 70%.  (One might point out that the media that allegedly never report “the good news from Iraq” have been…reporting some good news when there has been some to report.)  If correct, that’s good news for Iraqis, though it only returns the situation to its 2005-level misery.  Had someone said to you, “In late 2007, we will just be getting back to the awful situation we had in late 2005,” would that have inspired confidence in you to be willing to remain in Iraq?  It has taken two years to go nowhere, and this is now being described as “progress.”   

The problem with the jingoes isn’t that they want America to succeed, since that is actually what all of us want (for most of us, the sooner the better so that we can bring our people home), but that they are so chronically optimistic that they are also still expecting Sisyphus to get his boulder to the top of the incline and keep it there.  Perhaps when the boulder rolls back down the hill, they will find a way to blame it on the “MSM” and the antiwar movement. 

In other words, they always believe that there is progress and good news, and would believe it no matter what.  (This is why I consider optimism to be a species of mental illness.)  Once in a great while, there actually is a little good news (it was bound to happen sooner or later), and from their braying about it you’d think these people possessed oracular powers.    

A large part of the decline seems to be the changed situation in Anbar, where “violent deaths” declined 82%.  Assuming that all of these figures are basically accurate (that’s a big assumption), that means that much of the “progress” (a.k.a., getting back to where we already were) being touted derived from the Awakening in Anbar, which, as we have had to say over and over, was incidental to and not part of the “surge.”  Good news?  Certainly.  A vindication of the “surge”?  Not nearly so much as crowing jingoes would have you think.  The “surge” has had some modest and perforce temporary success, but it has yielded no political results and cannot conjure up a professional Iraqi police force or independently effective Iraqi Army by sheer willpower. 

As we know, the police force is a shambles, and the army remains still largely inadequate to the task of providing security on its own.  The elements needed for long-term stability and victory, such as it is, are not present, and there is little that has happened in the last ten months has made them more likely in the coming year.  The “surge” was intended to “buy time,” and so it has bought a little–only in this very narrow sense can it be declared successful.  As most of us already know, and all of us should know, that time bought with American lives will be frittered away to no good purpose by the different factions.  Of course, if Turkey invades Kurdistan, all bets are off anyway.  

The part of the story that doesn’t seem to be getting nearly as much attention is this:

However, in the northern province of Nineveh, where many al Qaeda and other Sunni Arab militants fled to escape the crackdown in Baghdad and surrounding region, there had been a 129 percent rise in car bombings and a corresponding 114 percent increase in the number of people killed in violence.

While the figures confirm U.S. data showing a positive trend in combating al Qaeda bombers, there is growing instability in southern Iraq, where rival Shi’ite factions are fighting for political dominance. 

This really is not an exercise in being a naysayer.  This is to keep in mind that every time we have been told that there has been progress in Iraq, some other part of Iraq has soon enough started going to hell after one part had seen a modicum of order restored.  This is not a coincidence, and we have seen the same pattern since the first battle of Fallujah: success in one place simply pushes insurgents and bombers to some other part of the country, where they begin their attacks anew.  As Nineveh province goes to pieces, we are being told about success in Anbar and Baghdad.  As soon as forces are shifted to face the problem in Nineveh, where they will be at least moderately successful, Baghdad or Diyala or somewhere else will probably start deteriorating again.  This is the very definition of running around in the circles, and there is a large part of the population that sees this abuse of our military as a policy that treats them with respect and honour.  Excuse me if I don’t buy it. 

The fundamental flaws of the “surge” that have been criticised since the beginning have always been: 1) insufficient numbers of soldiers to accomplish the counterinsurgency task assigned to them, and 2) a hopeless local political mess that shows no real sign of resolving itself.  The deeply compromised and sectarian nature of the “Iraqi government” has always been at the heart of the latter problem.  The “surge” will at some point come to an end, as has always been the case, which means that the old evils that the “surge” was meant to combat will return once the “surge” has ended.  As Prof. Bacevich pointed out a couple weeks ago, ending the one thing that might have been doing some good on the security front makes no sense by the standards of the supporters of the “surge”–yet this is what Gen. Petraeus has recommended. 

It is the manipulative propaganda of the administration and the hopelessly confused nature of the strategic planning of this war that make it unsustainable and indefensible.  No doubt, our military can execute very smart, effective tactical plans until the end of time (I believe that is the unofficial target date for ending the war at this rate), but if it is in the service of no larger, coherent, feasible plan it is a waste of lives, money and resources.  The strategic goals have remained unchanged for the duration of the occupation (the frequent talk of the “surge” as a “new strategy” has revealed just how few understand what strategy is), and they remain just about as far-fetched and distant as they have ever been.  It is high time to end the war.

Cross-posted at Blog

Heads were turned, for instance, when Giuliani suggested expanding NATO membership to Singapore and Israel. Unfortunately for the mayor, heads were turned because British Tories were thinking, “Is he mad?” not “What a capital idea.” ~Alex Massie

Even when confronted with how wrong he was, Schoenfeld presses on undeterred with still more dishonest descriptions of James Fallows’ position:

But I am still wondering: why does he arrogate to himself and to his faction the right to determine what American interests are? And why does he cast aspersions of disloyalty on those with whom he disagrees about what constitutes those interests, saying of an American Jewish organization, for instance, that in pressing for a “military showdown” with Iran, “it is advancing its own causes at the expense of larger American interests”?

It could be that it is pretty obvious that war with Iran is not in the interest of the United States and those who think that it is are badly mistaken, but let’s step back a bit.  Fallows at no point cast aspersions on the loyalty of anyone.  He made no claims that anyone was being disloyal; he has made the far more powerful charge that these lobbies are mistaken and wrong in the things for which they advocate.  Neither, for that matter, have Mearsheimer and Walt questioned anyone’s loyalty.  They also go out of their way to distinguish sharply between pro-Israel activists and the American Jewish community.  The two authors object to certain policies and criticise the influence of the people who argue in favour of those policies, because they think those policies do not serve the national interest.  It takes a pretty strange mind to turn that into an accusation of disloyalty. 

In other words, the authors (and, I suppose, Fallows also) accuse these activists of misunderstanding what the American interest really is, when this is what these activists say about their opponents on a regular basis.  That’s the state of the argument, which only one side confuses with a great deal of hand-wringing about alleged prejudice. 



This is the DCI Counterterrorist Center’s logo.  I didn’t realise that bayonets now came in scimitar form, or that all terrorists were, in reality, the black-goo creature Armus from Star Trek: The Next Generation:


Via Yglesias

You have to appreciate the kind of fierce dishonesty that allows the people who routinely try to delegitimise opposing perspectives with smears to complain (incorrectly at that!) about their opponents’ attempts to delegitimise them.  At no time, of course, did Fallows question anyone’s loyalty or their legitimacy, but denying the legitimacy, loyalty and patriotism of others (usually because they are unwilling to cheer on the unprovoked slaughter of foreigners) is what the jingoes do to others all the time.  In fact, apart from stoking the flames of war, that’s just about all they do. 

In response to this reasonable Fallows post, in which he observed that many different interest group and ethnic lobbies, including the Armenians and Cubans in his example, can have significant and undesirable effects on U.S. policy to the detriment of American interests, you get the following nonsense:

But why is this game played only one way, with America’s Jews the primary target?

It’s simply baffling to me how anyone believes a word such people say.

James Fallows makes some good observations about the influence of ethnic and interest group lobbies and the legitimacy of criticising the potentially adverse effects of their recommended policies on American interests.  He is correct that opposition to the genocide resolution doesn’t make someone anti-Armenian.  Then again, I would make a point of noting that no one who supports the resolution has made such a stupid charge.  That’s one place where there seems to be a significant difference in the treatment of different lobbies. 

Of course, the chief difference between the Armenian lobby, so called, and the Cuban and “pro-Israel” lobbies is that the latter two actually get concrete policies enacted that they want to see enacted in the face of the obvious costs and disadvantages those policies involve.  According to the harsher critics, the “pro-Israel” lobby has enough influence to propel America into regional wars or at least to acquiesce in Israel’s own excesses, helping to alienate us from most of the world and contributing to security threats to our own country.  The Armenians can’t even get a symbolic resolution through one side of Congress, the only consequence of which would be the irrational overreaction of one ally.  Does anyone really think that Armenian-Americans could effectively shape U.S. policy in the Caucasus or our relationship vis-a-vis Azerbaijan?  Could they get Washington to recognise Karabakh?  Of course not, and therein lies all the difference in the magnitude of the influence of different lobbying groups.

The supposed right of secession is a part of the imagined right of self-determination, a fantasy drawn from the absurd political theories of Locke and Rousseau and given immortality by Jefferson’s utterly fatuous platitudes with which he began the Declaration. Applied universally, it means Montenegro–backed by foreign interests–had the right to secede from Yugoslavia, the Brda region on the border with Serbia to secede from Montenegro, and any three-man pro-secession village to secede from the Brda, until the Russian Mafia owned every square inch of the county. To speak of rights, in such circumstances–that is, when American corporations are busily breaking up nations and federations into weak little entities they can exploit–is not only nonsense but dangerous nonsense. ~Thomas Fleming

Meanwhile, after our government has pathetically yielded to Turkish threats over the genocide resolution, Washington has utterly failed to take seriously enough Turkey’s genuine security concerns about the PKK, which have just become more acute with the latest attacks inside Turkey.  A Turkish invasion now seems very likely, which will do vastly greater damage to efforts to stabilise Iraq and will endanger our forces in Iraq far more than anything that might have resulted from Ankara following through on its threats over the resolution. 

Washington has yielded to moral blackmail and simultaneously failed to avert potential strategic disaster.  Mr. Bush has effectively been protecting PKK terrorists while lending cover to a policy of genocide denial.  He has not managed to shore up U.S.-Turkish relations, which his administration has done so much to ruin over the years, and has managed to take the most dishonourable and dangerous positions available to him.  The mind boggles at how the administration’s toleration of both terrorism and genocide denial can be confused with wise and prudent statecraft.

I gave up on the dreadful Florida GOP debate before they ever got to foreign policy, but apparently Tom Tancredo had the nerve to attack the genocide resolution at one point.  Nothing new there, you might think, except that Tancredo was one of the original co-sponsors of the bill.  He very quickly abandoned it once it became controversial.  Quoth Tancredo:

We can’t continue to go back to the dust bin of history to condemn actions by empires that no longer even exist.

It seems to me that this is what we do all the time.  We pore over the “dust bin” and dwell on the crimes of the Nazis and Soviets, and repeatedly, endlessly talk about those crimes and compare our present-day enemies with the perpetrators of these crimes.  Earlier this year, the President went to the Holocaust Museum and condemned the actions of an empire that no longer exists.  American politicians condemn the evils of Soviet communism as a matter of course, and are not concerned that this might hurt relations with the Russians.  Of course, there is usually an assumption that post-Soviet Russia is in significant ways still quite different from the old Soviet Union, which means that criticism of the latter need not extend to the modern successor state of the criminal regime. 

Yesterday I said in another post:

I suspect, but I cannot definitely prove, that another element is a weird, unseemly desire to keep the Nazis in the public imagination as the fons et origo of genocidal killing (which would also have to conveniently ignore the genocide of the Ukrainians) to sustain the mythology surrounding the entire WWII period.

Part of my point here was to make the point that the mythology about WWII to some extent requires holding up the Nazis as uniquely and especially evil in some unprecedented way.  They must remain the ultimate villains to better reinforce the memory of WWII as the ‘Good War’.  Part of the novelty and uniqueness of Nazi evil, according to President Bush’s own description, is that the Nazis allegedly introduced state-planned genocide:

Yet in places such as Auschwitz and Dachau and Buchenwald, the world saw something new and terrible: the state-sanctioned extermination of a people — carried out with a chilling industrial efficiency of a so-called modern nation.

To argue that there was actually a precedent and a previous state-sanctioned, organised and planned extermination of a people is effectively to deny the newness and uniqueness of the Nazis’ crimes.  To acknowledge the Armenian genocide as genocide, then, endangers a key part of a certain narrative about WWII, because it means that there had already been something similar in nature to the Nazis’ genocidal killing.  For some bizarre reason, there really does seem to be a need on the part of Armenian genocide deniers to resist acknowledging that the Armenian genocide was the “first genocide of the 20th century,” which would at the very least make the Holocaust the second, as if some special or superior status were attached to being the first one.  The distinction is obviously chronological, not moral.  Later genocides do not matter less because they came after others, nor are earlier ones more significant.  However, the debate over this resolution seems to take it for granted that some are more important than others and some are more worthy of commemoration than others. 

The San Francisco Chronicle sullies its op-ed page with more of Bruce Fein’s denialist prattle.  Armenians in the Republic are taking a keen interest in the resolution’s fate.  Jay Tolson in U.S. News and World Report makes the obvious, but necessary point:

The question is whether Turkey will ever enter a debate in which the consensus of scholars holds that the killings and mass deportations of Armenians did indeed constitute a genocide. According to the International Association of Genocide Scholars, the historical record on the Armenian genocide is “unambiguous”: In the years approaching World War I, a new breed of Ottoman officials, the Young Turks, heirs to two centuries of imperial decline, saw themselves as the defenders of the Turkish remnant state in the Anatolian core of the empire. Embracing an ultranationalist and supposedly secular ideology, Young Turk leaders of the Committee of Union and Progress pointedly excluded non-Muslim minorities, particularly Armenians, from their vision of Turkish purity. The outbreak of war allowed these leaders to paint all Armenians as pro-Russian fifth columnists (which only a small number were) and undertake organized and widespread massacres and deportations that led to further deaths from starvation and disease.


The resolution is opposed by the Bush administration, not necessarily because it disagrees that genocide occurred nearly a century ago, but because such a resolution will inflame passions at a time when there are passions enough in the neighborhood. ~Cal Thomas

Via Sullivan

That must be why the White House said, “the determination of whether or not the events constitute a genocide should be a matter for historical inquiry, not legislation.”  It doesn’t take a genius to come up with the formulation, “Yes, it was a genocide organised by a state that no longer exists, but this resolution is badly timed, provocative and strains an important alliance in wartime.”  That is not the White House’s position.  In fact, that is a fairly rare position in this debate–it is a view held, shockingly enough, by none other than Charles Krauthammer.  Meanwhile, the White House is taking the Ahmadinejad “we need more research” view of the question.  We call Ahmadinejad’s maneuver the tactic of a Holocaust denier.  The same standard should apply to the administration.

For those who value their sanity and general peace of mind, NRO has long since ceased to be part of their regular reading, but recently there has been a small hubbub over the objections raised by Mark Shea to this effort at promoting softcore pro-Israel propaganda.  For what it’s worth, the ad ought to be as distasteful to Orthodox Christians, who find any trivialisation or denigration of the Theotokos to be something deplorable.

In response to the criticism, Shea has written:

Now the amazing thing to me is that, of all the things NRO could be doing, they chose to go to bat for *this*. And not just go to bat for it, but claim that criticism of it is an attempt to “turn us against a brave ally”. Because, of course, anything less than uncritical acceptance of anything the Israelis might choose to do–right down to a blasphemous jiggle ad–is endorsement of the idea of pushing Israel into the sea.

Shea is beginning to understand how many of the people at NRO see things. 

In his original post, Shea wrote:

This is the sort of thing that makes me wonder how long American Evangelicals (and even some Catholics) can be snookered by the notion that Israel is something other than a secular nation-state.

That is the real question.  If it is really just a secular nation-state with all that this entails, the religious enthusiasm about it at some point becomes absurd.  That was the point of Shea’s original observation.  The point was not to ”turn us against a brave ally fighting a just war.”  The complete inability to distinguish between critiques of sleazy or offensive “pro-Israel” P.R. and attacks on “a brave ally” is one of the reasons why many so-called “pro-Israel” pundits seem less and less credible all the time.   

He [Huckabee] also hit on the right subject areas – abortion, gay marriage, immigration, appointment of federal judges — and was the only candidate to drop the word “Islamofascism” into his speech this weekend. ~Kate Sheppard

Clearly, Huckabee is quite happy to use crazy neocon and Santorumesque rhetoric in making his pitch.  In the end, despite his occasionally reasonable statements, Huckabee is definitely not a candidate for foreign policy realists and non-interventionists.  Anyone who uses the word Islamofascism without irony cannot be taken seriously, and should never be entrusted with any policymaking responsibilities.

The new advocacy of containment may stem from a substantial gap between Russian and U.S. aspirations. U.S. diplomacy seeks to transform what Washington considers “nondemocratic” governments around the world, reordering entire regions in the process. Russia, with its experience with revolution and extremism, cannot subscribe to any such ideologically driven project, especially one that comes from abroad. The Cold War represented a step away from the Westphalian standard of state sovereignty, which placed values beyond the scope of intergovernmental relations. A return to Cold War theories such as containment will only lead to confrontation. ~Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Matt Continetti notes economic and business conservatives’ wariness about Huckabee, but then goes on to add that Huckabee’s foreign policy may actually be insufficient for “national security conservatives.”  As Continetti puts it, these people have “reason to doubt Huckabee’s seriousness in prosecuting the war on terror and carrying the Bush Doctrine into the next administration.”  Since Huckabee’s feints in the direction of a “humble” foreign policy have never seemed very compelling to me, I confess that it had never occurred to me that he could have exposed himself as weak in the eyes of interventionists.  What terrible things did the man say that have apparently put him in such a bind? 

At the CFR CSIS he said:

This Administration’s bunker mentality has been counter-productive both at home and abroad.  They have done as poor a job of communicating and consulting with other countries as they have with the American people.   

This seems to be a basically true observation.  Huckabee could very easily be making these criticisms as a hawk who thinks that the administration has failed to “name the enemy,” to use a favourite jingo phrase, and has failed to “explain to the people” the stakes and costs of the war.
It’s true, he did say this:

We don’t merely tolerate diversity, we embrace and celebrate it. 

But he is making his drippy remarks in the context of talking about how different we are from “Islamic extremists.”  Huckabee went on to say:

It takes an enormous leap of imagination to understand what these people are about, that they really do want to kill every last one of us and destroy civilization as we know it.   

This should put him right at home with the people Continetti is talking about.  The man name-checks Sayyid Qutb and talks about the need to understand the thinking of the enemy.  Granted, for some interventionists any call to understanding is painful and alien, but it’s not clear how Huckabee has failed the “seriousness” test as seriousness is defined by these folks.  He even comes back to his favourite theme of linking the jihadis to the culture of death–it’s new fusionism in action!  (In case I need to make it clear, I don’t think this is a good thing.)  Where did Huck go wrong?

Huckabee talks about the failure of European integration of its Muslims while praising the wonders of assimilationism here.  This stuff was supposed to be music to the ears of “national security conservatives.”  But, wait, I think I am seeing a weakness in Huckabee’s otherwise solid jingo wall:

We have to understand that while educated Muslims in Europe may not be materially deprived, many of them feel socially and emotionally deprived by a lack of acceptance. 

Anytime you use the phrase “emotionally deprived,” your favourability with the voters Continetti is talking about is going to go down.  This sort of language veers dangerously towards the idea that policies have some relationship to terrorism and the prevention of terrorism.  It also sounds a little too therapeutic for most people on the right.  Then there was this:

We can’t ‘export’ democracy as if it was Coca Cola or KFC, but we can nurture native moderate forces in all these countries where Al Qaeda seeks to replace modern evil with medieval evil.

Er, who’s the “modern evil”?  That’s a bit of a puzzle, but otherwise Huckabee is on potentially solid ground as far as “carrying the Bush Doctrine into the next administration” goes.  He expresses some greater skepticism of democratisation, but doesn’t seem to fundamentally disagree with the assumptions of the Bush Doctrine.  Instead of Second Inaugural-style lunacy, Huckabee proposes a milder form of madness:

My goal in the Muslim world is to correctly calibrate a course between maintaining stability and promoting democracy.  It is self-defeating to try to accomplish too much too soon, you just have elections where extremists win, but it’s equally self-defeating to do nothing. 

He accepts the indictment against realism that the pursuit of stability is unacceptable, which is one of the reasons why I continue to find Huckabee unacceptable. 

Huckabee may have gotten himself into some trouble here:

First, we have to destroy the terrorists who already exist, then we have to attack the underlying conditions that breed terror, by helping to improve health and basic quality of life, create schools that offer an alternative to the extremist madrassas that turn impressionable children into killers, create jobs and opportunity and hope, encourage a free press, fair courts, and other institutions that promote democracy. 

“Underlying conditions” sounds an awful lot like “root causes,” which usually receive such mocking from the people Continetti calls “national security conservatives.”  On the whole, however, this doesn’t sound that far removed from what Romney has been saying.  However, he summons up an association he might have wanted to avoid:

As for the underlying dispute between them that’s been going on for almost fourteen hundred years, we don’t have a dog in that fight. 

References to dogs and fights grate on neocon ears, since this is the language used by James Baker about Yugoslavia (and he was right) and usually belongs on the indictment of realism.  But when you look closer, you can see that Huckabee is no realist (far from it!):

Our enemy is Islamic extremism in all its guises. 

Apparently that includes every “extremist” on earth, no matter whom he’s fighting or why.  Of course there’s no conceptual coherence to any of this–he belittles the Saudis for backing “Sunni extremists” while praising our efforts to support…Sunni extremists in western Iraq.  He does nonetheless occasionally say strangely intelligent things:

I’d rather have more people in Langley, so we can deploy fewer in Baghdad.   

Then he says things that must really annoy them over at the Standard:

The difference in America’s mission is that Al Qaeda must be destroyed as a movement, while Iran just has to be contained as a nation.

Obviously Huckabee didn’t get the memo that containment is for losers.  By mentioning containment, despite his perfect willingness to launch attacks on Iran, he has made himself seem less “serious” to the hawks, which is some evidence that he is at least not as irresponsible as they are.  Not to worry, though, he’s still sticking to the main points of the script:

To contain Iran, it is essential to win in Iraq. 

But then he goes and “ruins” it all by talking about robust diplomacy!  He then quickly “saves” himself with a pointless call for divestment from Iran.  But then he really hurts himself with the “national security conservatives” when he says:

While there can be no rational dealing with Al Qaeda, Iran is a nation state looking for regional power, it plays the normal power politics that we understand and can skillfully pursue, and we have substantive issues to negotiate with them. 

This sounds unusually sensible.  It will probably completely undermine his reputation with the Persophobes who think that there can never been any real negotiations with Iran, but it might just make him seem remotely sane enough to be entrusted with power.  He seems to be leaving the door open to restoring diplomatic relations with Tehran, while also stating his willingness to bomb them.  This is a terribly split-minded view of things, but it might be just the right balance of hawkishness and sanity to win over a good number of voters.  But, before anyone gets too excited, Huckabee really does go off the rails and begins making an extended argument for launching strikes into Pakistan without Islamabad’s approval.  As foolish as I think this is, Huckabee does also manage to say some sensible things about Musharraf that need to be said.  Then he turns around and recites the talking points about the “surge” and “bottom-up reconciliation.” 

There are a lot of things there that ought to satisfy interventionists, a few lines that realists will like, and very little to generate enthusiasm among antiwar conservatives.  Frankly, whatever you think about his policy proposals, his CFR speech is one of the most substantive addresses on foreign policy this year.  Any knock on Huckabee that he is “light” or weak on foreign policy seems plainly wrong to me.

Returning to Lerner for another response, I will try to explain how flawed the article is.  As an earlier commenter has noted, Lerner has already tried to stack the deck rhetorically by making a comparison between an exterminationist party and ideological movement and an entire nation:

We must do it, Armenian genocide proponents [sic] tell us, because the Armenian tragedy was the original Holocaust: Armenians in World War I were like the Jews in World War II; Turks in 1915 were like the Germans in the 1940s. Thus, the only moral choice is to condemn the Turks, as we condemned the Nazis.

In fact, it was not “the Turks” who filled the role of genocidaires during WWI, but leaders and members of the CUP, Kurdish irregulars and some Ottoman soldiers.  To make blanket statements about “the Turks” is to go down Goldhagen’s road of collective guilt and engage in precisely the kind of reckless identitarian vilification that, as Kuehnelt-Leddihn has argued in another context, leads to the dehumanisation of an entire people and thus makes it easier to wage campaigns of annihilation against them.  Lerner has phrased things in such a way as to endorse Ankara’s portrayal of the efforts to recognise the genocide.  In this view, it is not just a recognition of crimes committed by agents within the Ottoman government and military, but an indictment of the entire Turkish nation.  If that was what we were talking about, I would also have to object to it, but it isn’t.  “The Turks” as a whole were not responsible, just as “the Turks” today are not responsible for what was done in those years, but it was rather specific groups of Turkish nationalists and Kurdish tribesmen who were responsible for what happened.  So, right away, Lerner clouds the issue by inaccurately describing the terms of the debate.

Lerner says:

The only enemies at home [in Germany in WWII] were the Jews, and they were never a real threat. They were scapegoats, not objective enemies, and they were being methodically eliminated, without exception, in all German-controlled territory.

The implication is that all Armenians in eastern Anatolia were an “objective enemy,” because there were some Armenians who raised rebellions or fought with the Russians, which somehow makes the genocidal campaign against the civilian Armenian population of eastern Anatolia less than genocidal.  In Lerner’s world, it’s only genocide if there are literally no members of the targeted population engaged in subversive or rebellious activity.  In framing things this way, Lerner has already conceded the morality of collective punishment of civilian populations in retaliation for the activities of guerrillas.  Presumably, as she sees it, there was also no genocide attempted against the Serbian population under German-Croat occupation, either, because “the Serbs” were an “objective enemy” engaged in resistance.  For Lerner, deliberate exterminationist campaigns are something other than genocide when they take place in a war zone, which I’m pretty sure is the exact opposite of the way most people understand the term.  Organised killing of a particular group of civilians bound by ethnic and religious ties is not genocide for Lerner if it comes as a “punishment” for the rebellion of a minority of the population.  It’s certainly a different kind of view, but it certainly isn’t moral.

She then obscures the issue by describing the Dardanelles campaign thus:

Fighting there was fierce, and continued until January 1916, but, on this front, there were relatively few civilian casualties, and no massacres.

There were relatively few civilian casualties because the front was largely static and confined to the narrow strips of land near Gallipoli.  There were no massacres because the Ottoman forces had their hands quite full with British and ANZAC forces.  There was also no sizeable Armenian population in the immediate vicinity of the Dardanelles, which makes the comparison seem almost pointless.

While Lerner acknowledges that Armenians fought on the Ottoman side, being subject to the general mobilisation conscription, she does not mention that Armenians in Ottoman units were disarmed after the Ottoman defeat at Sarikamis.  They were then executed. 

Of the aftermath of Sarikamis, Akcam writes on p. 143-44:

The defeat at Sarikamis was a turning point in the treatment of the Armenians, especially those in the army and labor batallions, who were no longer mistreated but frequently murdered.  In many regions, propaganda claimed that the Armenians had stabbed the Turks in the back.  Enver Pasha himself attempted to attribute the defeat to Armenian treachery, and referred to Armenians as a “threat.”….the first measure taken after the Sarikamis disaster was the order sent to army units on 25 February 1915, instructing them to disarm all Armenian soldiers….Reports followed, claiming that the annihilation of Armenians serving in the army had begun. 

Akcam writes more on page 144:

German missionary Jakob Kunzler, who worked with the medical personnel at the Urfa missionary hospital, recounts that the Armenians taken into the labor batallions were killed in March 1915, and that, “mostly knives were used, because the ammunition was needed for the foreign enemy.”  Something similar was related by Ambassador Morgenthau:

In almost all cases, the procedure was the same.  Here and there squads of 50 or 100 men would be taken, bound together in groups of four, and then marched out to a secluded spot a short distance from the village.  Suddenly the sound of rifle shots would fill the air, and the Turkish soldiers who had acted as the escort would sullenly return to camp.  Those sent to bury the bodies would find them almost invariably stark naked, for, as usual, the Turks had stolen all their clothes.  In cases that came to my attention, the murderers had added a refinement to their victims’ sufferings by compelling them to dig their graves before being shot.

Other eyewitness accounts by foreigners serving in the area corroborate the fact that the murder of the labor batallions began only after the defeat at Sarikamis.

Sounds an awful lot like scapegoating to me. 

She also has nothing to say about the leading Armenians of Constantinople who were arrested on April 24, 1915 and subsequently executed.  She has nothing to say about these episodes because these would all point to an organised campaign of extermination.  In the end, Lerner cites the presence of Armenians fighting for the Russians (many of whom hailed from Russian Armenia all along, since the country was, as it has often been, divided between different empires) as if their possessing the same ethnicity gave the CUP or anyone else license to slaughter other, entirely unrelated Armenians.   

The only thing that Lerner can credibly claim is that the situations of the Armenians and Jews were very different.  The differences do not prove that there was no genocide, but only shows that genocide can take place under a number of different circumstances. 

Akcam has a passage on page 126 that happens to address the thrust of Lerner’s article directly:

It was not a coincidence that the Armenian genocide took place soon after the Sarikamis disaster and was contemporaneous with the empire’s struggle at Gallipoli.  As a rule, the acceleration of the process of a country’s decline and partition helps to strengthen a sense of desperation and “fighting with one’s back to the wall.”  As the situation becomes increasingly hopeless, those who have failed to prevent the collapse become more hostile and aggressive.  When the crisis deepens, they resort to increasingly barbaric means, and come to believe “that only an absolute lack of mercy would allow one to avoid this loss of power and honor.”  A nation that feels itself on the verge of destruction will not hesitate to destroy another group it holds responsible for its situation.

Update: Just to make another thing clear, there were also deportations of Armenians from western Anatolia and Thrace following the deportations from eastern Anatolia.  Those who would like to cast this as an eastern front wartime measure and leave it at that have no way to account for this. 

And why on earth should these public bodies lecture historians as to what they should be saying? ~Norman Stone

This is a standard line that I have heard a lot of these past few days.  Never have you encountered so many new passionate defenders of the independence of professional historians as in the last couple of weeks–the concern is truly touching.  Very clearly, Stone has never read the text of the resolution in question, or he would know that it has absolutely nothing to do with lecturing historians. 

The invocation of what we magical historians do bothers me most when someone talks about a matter “best left to historians” as another way of saying, “Let’s please stop talking about this subject publicly and leave it to those ghastly academics to worry about.”  Huckabee has done it before when it comes to debating the merits of the beginnings of the Iraq war (”it’s a question for historians to decide”), and it has now become the favourite refrain of the denialist.  Naturally, the denialist is not interested in proper historical research, nor does he care about interference with that research by “public bodies.”  The denialist complains about “political” interference with research when official bodies recognise the blatantly obvious, but will just as readily denounce as hopelessly biased any research that comes to conclusions that he dislikes.   

No one says that governments are “lecturing” historians when they commemorate the Holocaust or V-E Day or the Armistice or any other major historical event.  Governments commemorate things all the time, lending a certain sanction or authority to this or that reading of history.  As the Turkish government has shown, governments can use this power for distorting and corrupt ends.  That does not mean that we cease all commemorations and public acknowledgements of the past, but that we strive to be scrupulous in how we remember the past.  Certainly governments should not interfere with academics or dictate to them what they ought to say–that is fundamental.  That’s yet another reason to draw attention to the offically sanctioned denialism of the Republic of Turkey.  It is rather amazing to me how so many Westerners became so exercised over the threatened free speech rights of the people at Jyllands-Posten, but have suddenly lost all interest in free speech when it comes to Turkish academics and writers.  Many Westerners were put off by the idea that Muslims should apply the standards of their religion to everyone else and demand that others abide by those standards, but when it comes to abiding by the revisionist propaganda coming from Ankara they are more sanguine.        

It is not the government’s official approval or recognition, to address a concern my colleague James has raised, that adds any truth or significance to the event, and the historical reality would be the same whether or not it was ever officially acknowledged.  The genocide happened, whether or not Ankara and its small army of American and other lackeys will ever accept that reality.  But what we choose to commemorate and acknowledge does reflect on the kind of government one has and the kind of historical memory the citizens of a country have.  Refusal to commemorate and use the proper names for things also reflects on us. 

To cast the current (almost certainly now dead) resolution as a lecture to historians, as Stone does, is especially galling, since the main (indeed technically the only) intended audience of the resolution is the President, who is as much of an historian as I am a jet pilot.  The resolution is entitled: “Calling upon the President to ensure the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian genocide and for other purposes.”

Were the resolution to pass, not one historian would be obliged to do anything.  No historians will have been lectured by a public body.  Most historians of the subject, who already acknowledge the genocide, will be unfazed by the terrible burden of a non-binding resolution.  The only historians who would be troubled are those who have, for whatever reason, chosen to deny the genocidal nature of the events.  In any case, they have not yet been persuaded by evidence or conscience to recognise and speak the truth–a vote by the House of Representatives will not weigh heavily on them, either.

Stone invokes Lewy, whose arguments are pretty effectively undermined here, while ignoring the work that directly contradicts that of Lewy.  The Inside Higher Ed refers to a future Akcam work that will reportedly make the case even more clear.  From the article:

To those like Lewy who have written books saying that there is no evidence, “I laugh at them,” Akçam said, because the documents he has already released rebut them, and the new book will do so even more. “There is no scholarly debate on this topic,” he said. 

P.S.  Note to Cohen: the text of the resolution itself includes mention of Lemkin’s views on the Armenian genocide.

The Economist covers the resolution in an editorial and discusses Turkish-Armenian relations in an article.  Naturally, I don’t agree with the editorial, but I’ve already said plenty on that subject for now.  The article is a good overview of the state of affairs in Turkey.

Via Massie, I see that Fallows wrote:

The Armenian genocide was real; many Turks pretend it wasn’t. They are wrong, and we should stand for what’s right. But it’s hard to think of a more willfully self-indulgent step than lecturing Turkey’s current government and people 90 years late.

Er, so it’s willfully self-indulgent to stand up for what’s right?  What do you call it when you permit those in the wrong to prevail?  Virtuous self-sacrifice?  As the last couple of weeks has made quite clear, it isn’t just “many Turks” who deny the genocide, but a small army of water-carrying American apologists as well.  Is it “self-indulgent” to try to defeat willing collaborators in genocide denial?       

There is something deeper wrong with Fallows’ response.  He is not alone in making this kind of argument, so this isn’t aimed just at him.  There is the idea that unless you simultaneously condemn every act of genocide or anything that might reasonably be defined as genocide in the history of the world, you really shouldn’t say anything about one particular genocide.  This is a very strange view to take.  Rather than strengthening the case against recognition and drawing attention to the particular genocide, it simply reminds us of how many such exterminationist campaigns most people never give a second thought.  It reminds us how lopsided and arbitrary our commemoration of past genocides has been up till now, and underscores how poor and limited our historical memory is.  There is something particularly strange about those who actually know about these other slaughters and wish to cite them as reasons for not acknowledging this or that genocide.  They might cry, “What about the Ukrainians?”  But should it ever come time to commemorate the Holodomor, they will turn around and cry, after having belittled the Armenian genocide resolution and the history that it represents, “What about the Armenians?” 

The odd thing is that this push to recognise and acknowledge an historical event requires very little of a nation.  Americans are not being called on to intervene in someone else’s conflict, nor are we being asked to take sides in complex, little-understood struggles on the other side of the world.  The only costs that we might incur derive from the threats of a putative ally.  Americans are being asked to acknowledge, through their representatives, the basic and obvious truth about a terrible, state-organised act of terror and violence against innocent people, and in response their representatives are being intimidated with invocations of the importance of this so-called ally in the “war on terror.”  The absurdity of it is plain for all to see.         

The liars are out in force these days.  Does National Review really want to be known as a venue for genocide deniers? 

She seems to think that a people cannot be made into a scapegoat when things at home are going badly, but only when they are going relatively well.  This is a very unique understanding of what scapegoating is.  It is rather stunning that so many hacks and amateurs can confidently deny what honest scholars of genocide studies and history affirm.  As for those who “excel” at propaganda, Ms. Lerner does not need to look very far, since her article is a classic example of that very thing. 

P.S. Incidentally, it is articles just like this one that confirm my view that passage of the resolution is highly desirable.  Every day that this resolution is blocked is another small victory for these genocide deniers.  Whenever someone argues that the resolution is redundant or “gratuitous” because no one questions that the Armenians experienced a genocidal campaign against them, I will simply point to this article and others like it to show that denialism is flourishing. 

Like Cohen’s shambles of a column the other day, Lerner’s article insists on defining what genocide is based on its identity with the circumstances of the Holocaust.  Since no other genocide in modern history has ever been identical to the Holocaust, this style of argument implicitly denies all the other acknowledged genocides of the 20th century by emphasising dissimilarity of circumstances.  Lerner’s article is a blatant example of “blaming the victim,” pinning the blame for the actions of a relative few revolutionaries on an entire population.  And of course the trials of guilty officers were conducted by the non-CUP elements of the Ottoman government, yet Lerner uses these trials as exculpatory evidence to the advantage of the CUP leadership. 

I don’t know how many times one needs to say this: there was a deliberate and organised campaign of extermination authored by the leaders of the CUP and carried out in a series of massacres and death marches on their orders.  As Akcam has shown, the CUP leaders would send our duelling sets of orders, with one set ordering humane and decent treatment of the deportees and the other ordering their annihilation.  These are obviously war crimes–that much hardly anyone will seriously dispute–and they very clearly meet all but the most peculiar definitions of genocide.  It’s not clear to me what could actually motivate someone to engage in Lerner’s morally abhorrent contortions. 

I have seen a lot of dishonest cheerleading for Ankara, but this Houston Chronicle piece is right up there when it says:

The country’s leaders have been single-minded in building a new national identity that sets religious and ethnic differences aside [bold mine-DL].

That’s absurd, as anyone with a scintilla of knowledge about Kemalist Turkey knows.

Denialism is alive and well on the Web.  Here is a specimen of the type, complete with references to Kevorkian and “crafty” Armenians.  Naturally, this brave character does not publish his name–nor would I if I were in the business of spewing filth.

To recapitulate those tenets one last time: (1) Our struggle is moral, against an evil enemy who revels in the destruction of innocents. Knowing this can help us assess our adversaries correctly and make appropriate strategic choices [bold mine-DL]. Saying it convincingly will strengthen our side and weaken theirs. (2) The conflict is global, and outcomes in one theater will affect those in others [bold mine-DL]. (3) While we should always prefer nonviolent methods [bold mine-DL], the use of force will continue to be part of the struggle. (4) The spread of democracy offers an important, peaceful way to weaken our foe and reduce the need for force [bold mine-DL]. ~Joshua Muravchik

Via Ross

Ross notes that there is nothing uniquely neoconservative about these tenets, and he’s right.  A great many people share these tenets, several of which are misguided or confused.  That is one of the reasons why the foreign policy of any future administration will be generally unchanged from the current administration–a depressing thought, I know, but true nonetheless.  There is a lot wrong with several of the tenets, and even more wrong with the way in which actual neoconservatives and internationalists employ them.  If these tenets represent the “only game in town,” as Muravchik claims, the country is in serious trouble.  In this post I will try to sketch out why these tenets aren’t, or don’t have to be, the “only game in town.”  The troubling thing is that most people ”in town” are only too happy to keep playing the same, losing game. 

First, the moral struggle.  No one disputes that the methods employed by jihadis are vicious and evil, and virtually no one would deny that their ultimate goals are essentially contrary to our vision(s) of the Good.  Where the language of moral struggle becomes a liability is when it actually clouds our discernment and causes us to associate all manner of cruel or repressive regimes and groups with our specific enemies.  Indeed, this moralising tendency often causes us to make the wrong strategic choices, making us focus on a cruel or despotic regime that may not, in fact, pose any meaningful or uncontainable strategic threat.  The moralistic-legalistic streak, as Kennan called it, in our foreign policy thinking leads many of us to exaggerate the threats from such regimes and groups because we reduce them to forces of unreasoning malevolence.  The more we reduce these other regimes and groups to veritable embodiments of evil, the greater will be the temptation of an annihilationist or total war campaign against entire populations.  The “moralising” tendency has led our government, and will keep leading the government, to undertake policies of aggression that are immoral and indefensible.  To draw on Prof. Schroeder’s recent arguments in TAC, the problem with the Iraq war wasn’t that it went wrong, but that it was wrong, and this fundamentally morally wrong war derived from the rhetoric of “moral clarity” and “an end to evil” espoused by Muravchik’s confreres.       

One of the problems in ceding, or appearing to cede, the language of morality in foreign policy to those who have weak moral imaginations (for whom virtue entails willpower and violence combined with good intentions) is that it has made it more difficult to distinguish between a moral foreign policy and an unjust, domineering foreign policy that wears the mantle of morality. 

Second, the dimensions of the conflict.  Though I have also sometimes referred to the conventional phrase “global counterinsurgency” approvingly, I have to say that the conflict is not really global.  It is international, or rather transnational, and there is an important difference.  The conflict is not limited to just one country and it involves non-state actors, but it is not a struggle that encompasses the entire globe.  The Cold War was the closest to a complete global conflict or rivalry that has ever unfolded in modern history, in that it significantly affected every part of the world and, of course, had the potential to obliterate human life on this planet.  Right away we see the difference in scale and scope with the present conflict, which has neither the potential for destruction nor the fully global dimension that the “WWIV” crowd claim.  To grant that the conflict is in a meaningful sense “global” is to grant one of the interventionists’ dangerous assumptions without giving it much consideration.  Conceiving of the conflict as “global” makes it easier to engage in the aforementioned conflation of our specific enemies in Al Qaeda and their allies with any or all other despotic regimes.  The now unfortunately widespread language of “Islamofascist” or “Islamic fascist” that has gained currency among the presidential candidates and their advisors also serves to further this notion of a global threat, since the word fascist carries with it ideas of world mastery and conquest.  Applying it to the jihadis, while absurd on so many other levels, also exaggerates the extent and nature of the threat posed by them, since it suggests that they have it within their power to dominate the globe.

This brings into question the entire language of “theaters” and their interrelationship.  If we are fighting non-state actors, whose organisation is almost by definition loose and decentralised, it is as much of a mistake to talk about theaters as it is to talk about “fronts.”  If jihadis make up a transnational insurgency, there are no fronts and to the extent that we can speak of “theaters” they are going to be only very indirectly connected.  Indeed, the main thing connecting the “theaters” of fighting some handful of jihadis in Anbar and jihadis in eastern Afghanistan is our military, by which I mean that they are theaters in the “same” conflict only to the extent that we are engaged in a conflict in both places.  Otherwise, the “theaters” are not connected, and our relative failure or success in one will have negligible, if any, effects in the other.

We should always prefer nonviolent methods, which is how we can tell that this tenet has nothing to do with the neoconservatives.  These are the people who hardly ever prefer nonviolent methods when they are available, and are always looking for some way to justify recourse to violence.  One of the few nonviolent methods neoconservatives will prefer, at least rhetorically and superficially, is democracy promotion, which has resulted time and again in the strengthening of those forces that the neoconservatives in particular regard as our enemies.  It has certainly strengthened Islamists in essentially every part of the Islamic world where it has been introduced under the auspices or influence of the “freedom agenda.”  Perhaps someone could propose another justification for democracy promotion, since democracy promotion has not resulted in the weakening of “our foe” and the reduction in the need for force.

Mr. Krikorian is correct when he says:

First of all, it is simply inarguable that the Ottoman Empire tried to eradicate the Armenian people under the cover of World War I.

Why then do so many prominent Americans keep arguing against it, hedging their statements or tying themselves into knots to trivialise the events?  Of course, it is, or rather ought to be, inarguable, but so long as Ankara’s apologists are able to retain any credibility and cast doubt on the matter there will be a continuing “debate.”

He’s also right when he says:

Our policy toward modern Turkey should have nothing whatsoever to do with acknowledgement of the Armenian Genocide. But caving to Turkish pressure never to use “Armenian” and “genocide” in the same sentence is what has given the current resolution its impetus.

Critics are right that Congress has no business weighing in on historical controversies. But there is no controversy here [bold mine-DL]. This isn’t even a matter of the polite fictions necessary to international diplomacy. Denying the Armenian Genocide is simply a lie, and a lie propagated at the behest of a foreign power. It’s unworthy of us.

Amen to that.

“They have focused on the idea of objectivity, the idea of ‘on the one hand and the other hand,’ ” he said. “That’s very attractive on campuses to say that you should hear both sides of the story.” While Payaslian is quick to add that he doesn’t favor censoring anyone or firing anyone for their views, he believes that it is irresponsible to pretend that the history of the period is uncertain. And he thinks it is important to expose “the collaboration between the Turkish Embassy and scholars cooperating to promote this denialist argument.”

To many scholars, an added irony is that all of these calls for debating whether a genocide took place are coming at a time when emerging new scholarship on the period — based on unprecedented access to Ottoman archives — provides even more solid evidence of the intent of the Turkish authorities to slaughter the Armenians [bold mine-DL]. This new scholarship is seen as the ultimate smoking gun as it is based on the records of those who committed the genocide — which counters the arguments of Turkey over the years that the genocide view relies too much on the views of Armenian survivors.

Even further, some of the most significant new scholarship is being done by scholars who are Turkish, not Armenian, directly refuting the claim by some denial scholars that only Armenian professors believe a genocide took place. In some cases, these scholars have faced death threats as well as indictments by prosecutors in Turkey. ~Inside Higher Ed

Via Cliopatria

Well, there goes any respect I might have had for Bruce Fein (who works, it should be noted, for the Turkish Coalition of America, founded in that august, ancient time of February 2007):

Like Benito Mussolini, Armenians believe truth is an assertion at the head of a figurative bayonet.

Yes, don’t you see–the Armenians are deceitful and treacherous.  You can’t trust them.  Sound familiar?  Note that any similarly gross overgeneralisation about another group of people would be met with fierce denunciations from all sides.  The upshot of Fein’s article is that lots and lots of Turks died in the same period (true), there were atrocities carried out by Armenians in eastern Anatolia (also true) and there have been many Armenian terrorist attacks against Turkish targets in the 20th century (true again).  The purpose of the article, of course, is to make light of the genocide and to equate the organising massacring and death march of over a million civilians by their own government (it is, of course, the intent and organised extermination, not the number, that ultimately matters) with the devastating consequences of near-total war between sovereign governments.  Sounds curiously like arguments that go something like, “Lots and lots of Germans died fighting in WWII, so state-run genocide isn’t that big of a deal.” 

My favourite bit is the accusation of religious bigotry (that would be bigotry against the Muslims, you see), the praise of the notorious genocide denier Shaw for his “academic courage,” and the immediate invocation of none other than Bernard Lewis.  Of course, it was in no small part religious bigotry and supremacism on the part of the perpetrators that fueled the genocide, as Akcam has made clear, and I suspect that it has been the fact that the Turks are Muslim and the Armenians Christian that has kept the genocide from being more widely publicised and recognised for what it was.   

Update: The Turkish Coalition of America takes mendacity to all new lows.  Consider this description of H. Res. 106:

[it] targets Turkish history and heritage, hurts US-Turkish relations and the US national interest.

Impressive how they hardly ever mention anything about the substance of the resolution.  That might make the “Turkish history and heritage” bit a little too hard for some folks to swallow.  This “Action Alert” section is also quite hilarious in a depressing, sickening way:

Sadly, our voice has mostly been absent in this debate.

If you believe that, they have a bridge in Istanbul to sell you. 

Query: what is the position (at the moment) of the magnificent dancing fraud (i.e., Romney) on the genocide resolution?  This is, after all, someone who wants to indict Ahmadinejad under the Genocide Convention because of his menacing remarks towards Israel.  Surely someone so deeply concerned about genocide as Romney would be a vocal proponent of the resolution’s passage.  What’s that, you say?  He’s never talked about it?  He was “largely indifferent” to Armenian-American concerns when he was governor in Massachusetts?  That’s strange.  It’s almost as if he were taking his positions on a purely opportunistic basis!

Almost a dozen lawmakers had shifted against the measure in a 24-hour period ending Tuesday night, accelerating a sudden exodus that has cast deep doubt over the measure’s prospects. Some made clear that they were heeding warnings from the White House, which has called the measure dangerously provocative, and from the Turkish government, which has said House passage would prompt Turkey to reconsider its ties to the United States, including logistical support for the Iraq war. ~The New York Times

Here’s a true champion of the moral high ground:

“We simply cannot allow the grievances of the past, as real as they may be, to in any way derail our efforts to prevent further atrocities for future history books,” said Representative Wally Herger, Republican of California.

That’s a good one.  Acknowledging genocide is now just a matter of ”grievances of the past.”  This is what people are reduced to saying.  What else can they possibly say?   

Rep. Sherman, a resolution supporter, took the words right out of my mouth:

Since when has it become fashionable for friends to threaten friends?

Alex Massie is right on the mark again:

But of course Lemkin himself deliberately cited the suffering of the Armenians when he first wrote about genocide. He didn’t seem to share Mr Cohen’s belief that there is only one kind of genocide.

I appreciate Mr. Massie picking up on this point.  After all, if someone confronted with the horrors of the Holocaust had been looking for precedents of coordinated state extermination of its own population the Armenian genocide would have been an obvious example in the 1940s.   

What strikes me as so strange about all this is that virtually no one in the Washington political or media establishment has ever applied this same level of skepticism to talk about genocide in Darfur, to say nothing of the much more dubious case of Kosovo.  I expect that I will look in vain for Cohen’s citations of Lemkin from the spring of 1999.  All that needed to be said in 1999 was the word “Balkan” and suddenly everyone who was anyone was convinced that genocide was about to happen again (not that any of the people who wanted to “crush Serb skulls” ever gave a second thought to the genocide of Serbs during WWII at the hands of the forerunners of our good friends and allies in Zagreb). 

Pundits and pols are very free with the word when the regime being accused is one that they don’t much like, which is why I have tended to be very skeptical about people who describe something as genocide in the present.  It has frequently become a one-sided and tendentious political weapon that seems to be deployed for other reasons.  Yet in this case, when the evidence is clear, the government responsible is long gone and all that is being asked of anyone is to recognise the obvious, everyone becomes terribly anxious and reticent.     

Massie also notes a ridiculous Hiatt op-ed:

Then there’s Fred Hiatt, the WaPo’s editorial page editor  who thinks the resolution should be spiked because, well, modern Armenia isn’t properly democratic. Or something like that.

I had seen Hiatt’s op-ed, and my first response was simply to move on to something else.  Then it occurred to me that Hiatt’s column quite unintentionally helps explain why the resolution is necessary.  Hiatt’s argument, such as it is, is that the Armenian Diaspora could have used their time and resources for much better purposes than lobbying for this resolution.  Think of what all that money and attention could for Armenia, Hiatt exulted!  Armenia is a poor and corrupt state with a dysfunctional government, and the Diaspora could work to change that. 

Not that Fred Hiatt has ever, to my knowledge, given a fig for what happened to the Republic of Armenia, mind you, but his tiresome lecture did make me think of something important.  It was, as some of us will remember, Hrant Dink’s argument that the Diasporans should stop fixating on the genocide and work to build a better Armenia.  Dink, a great man, argued that the preoccupation with the genocide would become “poison in the blood” for the people who continued to focus on it so intently.  Dink was actually arguing for the Armenians to move on and try to build a better future for the independent Armenian state that Armenians finally did have–the very thing that Hiatt has suddenly discovered as the right answer–and for his wise counsel he was indicted by the Turkish government for “insulting Turkishness.”  How could that be?  Well, his remarks about “poison in the blood” were taken entirely out of context and turned into an attack on Turks.  When he was talking about poison, according to the government, he was referring to Turks.  This was a malicious and obvious lie, as the government there must have known, but the hysteria in the press that the charges generated led in short order to Dink’s assassination by a Turkish nationalist. 

Dink was right–the genocide should not be an all-consuming passion, and Armenians should work to improve Armenia.  For his efforts to de-emphasise the focus on the genocide (while also insisting on the reality of the genocide), he was prosecuted and then murdered.  His son has since been indicted under the same charge and sentenced to a year in prison.  That is the government for whom the apologists are carrying water. 

Yet here is another reason why recognition of the genocide is important–without widespread recognition and pressure on Ankara to acknowledge the reality of the genocide, the Diasporans will never be able to let go and start the necessary work of building up Armenia.  Not, of course, that Turkey has had any interest in aiding the improvement or reform of Armenia, since they have kept the border sealed in solidarity with the Azeris.  The poverty, corruption and bad government of the Republic have more than a little to do with that situation, which Washington tacitly endorses with its alliances with Turkey and Azerbaijan.  Hiatt has quite unwittingly helped the argument for the resolution, by making clear that Armenia’s development depends in part on the Diasporans’ being able to turn their attention to other things besides this.

Richard Cohen started out all right, but then goes into the ditch:

Of even that, I have some doubt. The congressional resolution repeatedly employs the word “genocide,” a term used by many scholars. But Raphael Lemkin, the Polish-Jewish emigre who coined the term in 1943, clearly had in mind what the Nazis were doing to the Jews. If that is the standard — and it need not be — then what happened in the collapsing Ottoman Empire was something short of genocide. It was plenty bad — maybe as many as 1.5 million Armenians perished, many of them outright murdered — but not all Armenians everywhere in what was then Turkey were as calamitously affected. The substantial Armenian communities in Constantinople, Smyrna and Aleppo were largely spared.

Not every Tutsi in Rwanda was “affected,” either, but we don’t quibble about that.  Of course, the Armenian elite in Constantinople was not spared, and tens of thousands of members of the Armenian community in Smyrna was massacred when Kemal’s forces took the city in 1922.  Frankly, this line of argument is a bit like saying, “Well, since there were some Jews left at the end of the war, it wasn’t that bad.”

Cohen is trying hard to reach moral equivalency:

Among them were the Armenians, an ancient people who had been among the first to adopt Christianity. By the end of the 19th century, they were engaged in guerrilla activity.

How nice it must be to sit back and talk about what “they,” the Armenians, all did.  Some Armenians were involved in guerrilla activity, but virtually the entire Armenian population of eastern Anatolia was “punished.”  The actions of a relative few neither explain nor justify the murderous response of the CUP.

Cohen says:

Within Turkey, Armenians were feared as a fifth column.

Set aside the obnoxious dismissal of the Armenians’ reputation as the “loyal millet.”  Unlike many members of the Rum millet, the Armenians typically did not engage in separatist or subversive activities.  Of all the Christian subjects of the Ottomans, the Armenians had given the least cause for offense, yet they were the ones who suffered the full wrath of the empire to whom the overwhelming majority remained loyal.  Sound familiar?  Need I point out the obvious problem with talking about the nationalist delusions about minorities as if they were mitigating or justifying?  Nationalists and genocidaires routinely treat their victims as collaborators with an enemy, whether real or imagined.  Collaboration is often not happening in any form, but it is assumed by the ideologues for whom “those people” are all inherently treacherous and disloyal.  Sound familiar?


So contemporary Turkey is entitled to insist that things are not so simple. If you use the word genocide, it suggests the Holocaust — and that is not what happened in the Ottoman Empire.

Yes, the past is so very complicated!  Especially when the people who were butchered don’t have anything to do with you.  It’s much easier to talk about context and ambiguity when the humanity of the victims doesn’t really matter as much to you.  If you use the word genocide, it also suggests Rwanda, Cambodia, the Ukraine in the ’30s.  None of these is directly identifiable with the methods employed in the Holocaust, but each is a genocide.  It need not be done in organised camps with gas to count as the same crime.

Cohen then goes deeper into apologist mode:

Its modern leaders, beginning with the truly remarkable Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, have done a Herculean job of bringing the country from medievalism to modernity without, it should be noted, the usual bloodbath.

Except for the bloodbaths that made a more homogenous Turkish state possible, and except for the ongoing repression of the Kurds.  By all means, give Kemal his due for modernising Turkey, but let’s not pretend that it was all done through some pleasant and humane process.  It was brutal, coercive and, more often than his admirers like to recall, quite violent.

Cohen finally comes around, after all of this, to declare Turkey’s threats over the resolution and its efforts to suppress the truth to be unacceptable, but he took such an appalling route to get there I’m not sure that it matters.

A Sullivan reader writes about “Gen-X Conservatives”:

I’m a young, newly-minted assistant professor here at a large state school in Mississippi and I’ve got to say I’ve had just had an interesting conversation with one of my more conservative students. As far as I can tell he’s a pretty ‘die hard’ Republican. He’s really big into state and local politics and is even participating in a big way in a statewide campaign - and not for the first time. He is bright, sophisticated, and probably a future power in state and local politics here in Mississippi.

What surprised me was both his anti-war attitude and, moreover, his positive view of Obama versus Hillary. Though I did not ask, as it was not my place, who he intended to vote for, it seemed clear to me that he recognizes that 2008 is going to be a disaster for the GOP outside of the deep south and that Obama was probably the best the Democrats had to offer in terms of leadership potential. What most impressed him, he said, was that Obama was against the war from the beginning - giving credence to the effectiveness of the ‘Obama has superior judgement’ meme that is being put out by Obama’s campaign.

The meme may be effective, but, like many memes, its ability to reproduce itself has nothing to do with its actual merit.  In memetics, as it’s called, the race is not to the good or the wise, but simply to the trendy and the catchy.  I heard Dennett lecture to this effect at a philosophy conference once.  The meme that Obama has superior judgement is catchy because the country is desperate to have somebody, anybody with good judgement in a position of power.  It has been so long since we’ve had such a thing that most of us have literally forgotten what it looks like, which is why it seems remotely plausible that Obama might just possess such good judgement.  The meme, however, does not contain that little something I like to call “truth.” 

As has been shown in his fantastical foreign policy speeches, his blunders on Pakistan policy, his appalling position on the war in Lebanon and his support for anti-Iranian policies, Obama’s judgement is hardly superior, if by superior we mean “likely to reach sensible and intelligent conclusions.”  It is certainly far from unconventional.  Antiwar conservatives, especially younger antiwar conservatives, should not be fooled by Obama’s rhetoric of “change” and his use of his Iraq war opposition.   

He opposed the Iraq war in a district and a state where it was exceedingly easy to oppose it.  No one will confuse Hyde Park and South Side Chicago with the jingo capital of the world, to put it mildly.  (Ours is a neighbourhood where you can readily find the fairly amusing bumper sticker, “I’d rather be smashing imperialism.”)  He happened to be right about Iraq, but there is little or no evidence that he has applied the same sober judgement to other foreign policy matters, and there is really not much evidence that he would retain his previously good judgement under intense political pressure.  There is no evidence because, until this campaign, he has never really been under intense political pressure.   

Goodness knows that I, too, look forward to a day when the clapped-out, wasteful politics of the Boomers disappears from the scene.  I believe that 2008 probably represents the last hurrah of that generation’s own preoccupations and their continual refighting of the same dreary fights, at least as far as foreign policy and cultural debates are concerned.  (Obviously, the inter-generational political fight that is brewing over entitlements and pensions is just getting started.)  I was born in 1979, so I believe this entitles me (not that I want the dubious honour) to some claim to belong to Generation X or the “13th Generation” as it has sometimes been called.  For my part I do not see the leadership potential in Obama that everyone keeps raving about.  Clinton and Obama are both quite dangerous and have terrible policy ideas, and it is not at all clear to me that Obama is necessarily the better of the two.  People of “my” generation should not buy into the Obama hype simply because they are tired of Boomers screwing things up.     

Jeffrey Goldberg, as some may recall, was the enterprising New Yorker writer who wrote up Kurdish propaganda a report on Ansar al-Islam and its alleged ties to Iraqi intelligence.  These claims were naturally entirely bogus, and this ought to have been obvious at the time.   

As noted by A Tiny Revolution, Goldberg also made some amazingly foolish statements five years ago this month, such as:

The administration is planning today to launch what many people would undoubtedly call a short-sighted and inexcusable act of aggression. In five years, however, I believe that the coming invasion of Iraq will be remembered as an act of profound morality [bold added].

At least he didn’t say six months!  That last line is remarkable, but this was my favourite one:

Their [i.e., opponents of the war] lack of experience causes them to reach the naive conclusion that an invasion of Iraq will cause America to be loathed in the Middle East, rather than respected. 

Those silly, inexperienced cretins!  They’ve certainly learned their lesson.

Wolcott has additional comments.

Alex Massie gets it:

Ultimately it’s pretty simple: you either treat genocide as genocide or you don’t. But if you don’t at least have the decency to stay quiet about it rather than offering weasel excuses about the national interest and all the rest of it.

Besides it is humiliating to give in to Turkish bullying. To wit:

A top Turkish official warned Thursday that consequences “won’t be pleasant” if the full House approves the resolution.

“Yesterday some in Congress wanted to play hardball,” said Egemen Bagis, foreign policy adviser to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “I can assure you Turkey knows how to play hardball.”

Screw them.

Spengler also has a number of good points, including this one:

The sorry spectacle of an American president begging Congress not to affirm what the whole civilized world knows to be true underlines the overall stupidity of US policy towards the Middle East. It is particularly despicable for a Western nation to avert its eyes from a Muslim genocide against a Christian population.

Thanks to commenter tcowan for the link to Spengler’s article.

During my few days in Toronto, I happened to visit St. Anne’s Anglican Church for the concert I mentioned earlier.  In St. Anne’s, which was inspired in its design and decoration by Hagia Sophia, there is a traditional war memorial to the war dead of WWI and WWII.  The phrasing of the memorial was worth mentioning, in light of the arrogant bluster of a certain American presidential candidate.  Referring to those from the parish who had fallen in battle, the plaques read:

In loving memory for those who gave their lives for the world’s freedom [bold mine-DL] in the Great War of 1914


In loving memory for those who gave their lives for the world’s freedom [bold mine-DL] in the Great War of 1939

You can say what you will about the exaggerated claims of these memorials.  In any case, the point is that the people who dedicated these memorials believed that their departed compatriots were shedding their blood for the freedom of the other peoples (indeed, for the freedom of the whole world).  They deserve respect and honour.  This isn’t hard to understand.  Unless, of course, your name is Fred Thompson. 

Coming to this debate a little late, I second Ezra Klein when he says of Roger Cohen:

These are not arguments. They are smears. They are attacks aimed at degrading the credibility, rather than the beliefs, of the coalition that opposes the Iraq War. And in intent and effect, they are indistinguishable from Bill Kristol’s worst columns, save for the possibility that they are more effective, because they ostensibly come from within the Left, rather than outside of it.

Sullivan has replied to it, saying of Klein’s post:

It’s an attack on any independent thought outside of the situational demands of a political coalition. It is a full-throated and not-even-regretful support for the subjugation of free inquiry and free ideas to the demands of political organization. It makes Sidney Blumenthal seem intellectually honest.

Clearly, Sullivan and I are reading two very different Ezra Klein posts, and I might add that nothing can make Sidney Blumenthal seem honest.  For Sullivan, Klein’s post is “chilling,” while I find it quite congenial and sensible.  First, Sullivan employs this language of suppression and subjugation, when it is clear that Klein is resisting Cohen’s attempt to denounce and delegitimise criticism of ”liberal hawks” and the war.  Someone is trying to suppress dissent, but it isn’t Ezra Klein. 

It is Cohen who speaks of conspiratorially-minded loonies who supposedly mutter darkly about Jews, while Klein points out Cohen’s tendentious (one might even say dishonest) prattling about anti-Semitic conspiracy.  It is Cohen who is engaged in anything but “independent thought” and “free inquiry,” instead preferring the comfortable cell of the war supporter who continued to support his ideal Form of the war in spite of the way it has actually been waged.  Rarely has a more predictable liberal defender of aggressive war appeared on the stage. 

Klein’s distinction is quite right: Cohen’s self-identification as a “liberal hawk” is highly subjective and based on a need to distinguish himself, at least superficially, from the even more morally obtuse people who have led the charge for the war.  Using the name “liberal hawk” is a way to say, “Yes, I’m for aggressive war, but not like the neocons are.  I’m in it for the right reasons!”  Indeed, I would go further than Klein to say that such people are in some ways actually considerably worse than the neocons, for whom talk of freedom and democracy is at least partly tongue-in-cheek or at least expendable in the last resort, because they actually do believe this garbage and seem to think that murdering liberating people leads to the improvement of mankind.  Neocons often say things like this, but it is not always clear whether they are simply having us all on.

Sullivan defends Cohen up to a point by insisting that Cohen is sincere, but he seems to miss Klein’s point that Cohen’s sincerity or lack of it doesn’t matter to the end result of how Cohen’s commentary affects the debate.  Yes, every writer has a duty to his conscience to say what he thinks is right.  The problem, as I should think would be obvious, is that Cohen thinks that aggressive war is right and regards those who think otherwise as somehow morally compromised or lacking in seriousness.  That ought to be enough to discredit him, but unfortunately it is not.  It is precisely the content of what Cohen says that is Klein’s target.  Cohen’s motives and sincerity are, by Klein’s own admission, irrelevant to the significance of Cohen’s echoing of pro-war talking points.  Cohen serves his function by covering the left flank of the War Party, and even helps to consume antiwar energies in internecine quarrels about our respective attitudes towards Roger Cohen.  The fact that opponents of the Iraq war are spending any time at all fighting with each other over Roger Cohen’s support for the Iraq war is an indirect confirmation of the very phenomenon that Klein is describing.  Above all, his function is to run interference, muddle the issue and throw in distracting references to Kosovo.  If there was ever anything farther removed from free inquiry, I don’t know what it would look like.

Update: Klein responds to Sullivan here.
Incidentally, it is astonishing that Sullivan could read Klein’s response to Cohen as proof that Klein is the apparatchik.  Perhaps neither deserve that label, but it is an enormous stretch to say that Klein has delved here into some fetid den of partisan lackeydom.  He is calling b.s. on Cohen’s blustering op-eds that denounce the left-wing critics of “liberal hawks” on the grounds that said op-eds are, well, b.s.  He is refusing to let Cohen define the terms of the debate and write out everyone to the left of Friedman as intolerable.  Sounds good to me.

Only Turks question this history. ~Ralph Peters

There, of course, Mr. Peters is laughably wrong.  If “only” Turks questioned this history, there would be no debate whatever in any academic circles outside Turkey over “whether” there was a genocide.  You would not find academics readily spouting the official Ankara line, nor would you find pundits and hacks mouthing denialist rhetoric.  The truth is that there are a great many willing, non-Turkish collaborators who help cover up or apologise for this “questioning.”  At least Peters has the integrity, so to speak, to acknowledge that his opposition to the resolution is motivated out of his fidelity to the Iraq war.  He is quite happy to quash the resolution and tacitly abet genocide denial if it allows the war to continue.     

Michael Crowley raises a good point that the genocide resolution is providing hay for conservative talk show hosts, who would like to turn the entire question into a debate over national security and the war.  This angle had occurred to me, but Pelosi doesn’t strike me as  being nearly so clever as to engineer such a roundabout, indirect way of making the continuation of the war untenable, and attacks on her along these lines will not persuade anyone who isn’t already steadfastly behind the war.  Actually, if pro-war talk show hosts wanted to go down that road I think it could help the antiwar cause in one respect: it closely links support for the Iraq war to supporting, tacitly or not, genocide denial.  They can keep saying, in effect, “Genocide denial is essential to victory.”  I’d be interested to see how many people buy into such a corrupt bargain.

On a different point, when Pelosi says, “this is about the [former] Ottoman Empire,” she is clearly trying to distiguish between the condemnation of a genocide in the past and the perception that recognising this for what it is somehow entails equal condemnation of the current government or the Republic of Turkey.   

Update: Here is a roll call of the committee vote.

Here we go:

A congressional panel approved a resolution calling for the U.S. to designate the World War I-era killings of 1.5 million Armenians as genocide, amid warnings that the measure would harm relations with Turkey.

Yglesias refers to a section on Habsburg history in the second part of Paul Schroeder’s article on Iraq in TAC as an “annoying detour,” which I suppose it might be for some people, were it not for the fact that the “annoying detour” was a central part of explaining Prof. Schroeder’s key insights into the essential flaws of the Iraq war.  Here is Prof. Schroeder:

Austria’s leaders were convinced that it was defending not just itself but the rights of all of Europe against international outlaws and that every decent government in Europe, understanding this and appreciating their stand, would support them even if it led to war. This moral hubris, the absolute value they assigned to Austria’s just cause, closed their minds not merely to political and strategic realities but also to competing moral values and judgments. Many Europeans understood Austria’s grievances but placed a higher value on peace, recognized other rights besides historic and legal ones, and understood the necessity and inevitability of change.

The same three strategic errors—a refusal to recognize when a position has become untenable, a reliance on military victory and power to achieve unattainable ends, and moral hubris leading to political and strategic miscalculation—have also brought the U.S. into its current mess in Iraq. 

It might also be worth noting at this point that Prof. Schroder is a modern European history professor who probably has relevant insights into lessons from the history of defunct empires.  Those would be some of those “annoying detours” Yglesias mentioned. 

A conservatism that warns against utopianism and calls for cultural sensitivity is useful. When it begins to question the importance or existence of moral ideals in politics and foreign policy, it is far less attractive. ~Michael Gerson

In other words, conservatism is acceptable to Gerson when it doesn’t get in the way of projects that he supports, but becomes annoying when it points out the moral bankruptcy of the policies he endorses.  I am sick to death of the idea that apostles of aggression and warmongering have some claim to representing “moral ideals in politics and foreign policy.”  Theirs is a fundamentally immoral position through and through, and their pose–and it is a pose–of moral superiority is the most infuriating of all.  It isn’t a question of idealism vs. pragmatism, but one of corruption vs. decency.  Gerson is a happy apologist for the former.

Gerson self-righteously writes:

It demands activism against sexual slavery, against honor killings, against genital mutilation and against the execution of children, out of the admittedly philosophic conviction that human beings are created in God’s image and should not be oppressed or mutilated.

What of the conviction that human beings should not be slain in wars of aggression, nor children ripped to shreds by cluster bombs (the “execution of children” is perhaps less abhorrent when the children are Lebanese or Iraqi), nor ancient communities uprooted and decimated by fanatics unleashed by ignorant meddlers?  The victims of Mr. Gerson’s preferred policies are no less the children of God.  Let him justify, if he can, the strange calculus by which he trades their lives and dignity for his abstract commitment to human dignity.

Gerson burbles still more:

Without a firm moral conviction that independence is superior to servitude, that freedom is superior to slavery, that the weak deserve special care and protection, the habit of conservatism is radically incomplete.

Yes, independence is superior to servitude, which is why conservatives deeply resent the immoral infringement on the sovereignty of other nations.  The weak deserve special care and protection, which is why the Machtpolitik of hegemony is abhorrent to us.  The only thing worse than the arrogance of power is the presumption that the possession of that power gives one a right to dominate the affairs of other peoples.  A “moral vision” is necessary, and it is high time that Gerson and his allies acquired one that did not involve the shedding of other people’s blood.   

Has it occurred to anyone that Bill Kristol is extremely aware of the role he plays in public life, and that he calls for military action against Burma not because he is a war-mad kook but because he wants to broaden our sense of what we can realistically accomplish there? ~Reihan

I have to say that it had not occurred to me, but let’s consider the idea.  First of all, would military action of any kind accomplish anything except to exacerbate and worsen the situation for the people of Burma?  I don’t think so.  Second of all, does this sound like the voice of someone concerned about “broadening our sense” of what can be realistically accomplished:

But given our weak history of pressuring China on anything, and the number of excuses there will be for not making this a priority, no one should hold his breath waiting for real consequences to follow for China [bold mine-DL].

This takes for granted that “real consequences” ought to follow for China, as if China is the pupeteer and the junta its easily controlled toy.  Those who have real expertise in the area claim that this is incorrect, and that Beijing does not have the kind of control that Sinophobes attribute to the Chinese government.  Given Kristol’s longstanding enthusiasm for antagonising China, I suppose I can’t say that I am surprised, but how does hoping vaguely for threatening China with undefined “consequences” broaden anything good?

Kristol continues:

Couldn’t we tell the generals who are ordering and the soldiers who are carrying out this crackdown that they are being watched, that their names are being recorded — and that the day will come when there will be plenty of evidence to hold them personally accountable for their deeds?

Yes, we could, but Kristol knows as well as I do that this would be so much bluster unless Washington were prepared to carry out the kind of intervention needed to apprehend those officers.  The “day will come,” no doubt, when they are held accountable–it will be Judgement Day, but likely no sooner.  Such an intervention makes absolutely no sense from the perspective of American interests, but Kristol knows that, too. 

Kristol concludes:

Couldn’t the Bush administration do more to give that just God a helping hand?

The impiety of this sentence speaks for itself.

Young Zeitlin doesn’t like Ron Paul’s remarks throwing the pejorative term isolationist back in the faces of those who use it all the time.  For the whippersnapper, it’s clunky and outdated international institutions or nothing at all.  Working through bilateral relations is apparently not supposed to be an option.  This objection got me to thinking about different foreign policy schools. 

The liberal internationalist seems to prefer a faculty meeting approach to international relations–hence the enthusiasm for international institutions.  International institutions really are surprisingly like faculty meetings: people who don’t like each other gather, get very little done and trade unpleasantries and thinly-veiled slights when any two of those in the room might come to some mutually beneficial collaborative arrangement on their own.   

The neoconservative and generic interventionists are very much opposed to their own “isolation,” preferring instead to isolate and occasionally strike others.  This is the international relations-as-prison facility approach.  Naturally, the interventionists have a condition for running things this way–they get to be the warden and the guards.  When the “prisoners” (i.e., other countries) react badly, they are in need of discipline and punishment, which the interventionist seems only too keen to mete out.

The non-interventionist has a radical and “kooky” notion that international relations ought to work much more like an engaging conversation for the purpose of mutual benefit.  Instead of sacrificing interests and sovereignty to generally useless, but sometimes actually dangerous, talking shops or trying to treat the rest of the world like the inhabitants of a jail, the non-interventionist imagines that America’s international relations might return to the way our government ran them for close to a century and a half.   

It is not we non-interventionists who are isolationsists. The real isolationists are those who impose sanctions and embargoes on countries and peoples across the globe because they disagree with the internal and foreign policies of their leaders. The real isolationists are those who choose to use force overseas to promote democracy, rather than seek change through diplomacy, engagement, and by setting a positive example. ~Rep. Ron Paul

Commenting on this, Alex Massie writes:

I’m as glib as the next clown but this just seems, well, glib and just another opportunistic stick with which to beat the Bush administration.

Mostly, Sullivan’s post seems to be a criticism of European governments rather than Bush.  I agree that Sullivan’s claim that Turkey is “[p]erhaps our most important ally” is strange.  The British don’t seem to get a lot of credit these days for their solidarity with us.  Turkey certainly remains a strategically important ally, but the current stance of its government on a possible U.S. troop withdrawal into Turkey would suggest that it is not our “most important ally.”  The worsening of U.S.-Turkish relations is lamentable in some ways, and it will be one of the long-term costs of the invasion of Iraq.  Some of the worsening of relations was the fault of our government and entirely avoidable, and some of it comes from internal political changes in Turkey.  Turkish opinion of the U.S. is extremely unfavourable right now, and that is going to shape Turkish politics and their regional policy for years to come.  Turkish interests will also continue to diverge from our own if we insist on confrontation with Iran while Turkey and Iran pursue bilateral trade and energy cooperation.  We can either begin adjusting to such realities of a post-invasion Near East, or we can watch previously solid allies drift away from us.  Washington’s enthusiasm for Turkish EU entry, meanwhile, has simply stiffened the spine of the opponents of such a move and associated the issue with the projection of American influence.  

However, delaying EU entry for Turkey is hardly “myopic.”  It is at the very least an example of prudent caution, especially after member states have been absorbing the costs of the last rounds of expansion.  Yes, accession talks have been going on for years, decades even, and they may well continue for years and decades more if all parties still want to pursue it, because there remain many serious problems with the way Turkey is governed that preclude its membership in the EU.  I have no affection for the EU, but it does have its standards and it means to keep them–that is the reality of the situation.  One also need not subscribe to theories of Muslim takeovers of Europe to recognise what a huge political change in the makeup of the EU it would be to bring in a nation of 60 million people.  Extending an even-more expanded Europe’s borders to Iraq and Iran also presents security risks that a great many Europeans reasonably don’t want to take on. 

There is some hint of criticism for Bush in Sullivan’s remarks that Turkey has been “left hanging in Iraq,” which is odd since Washington has tried to placate Turkey as much as possible on the question of the PKK.  As the article Sullivan links to shows, the AKP government has been gaining in popularity in Kurdish areas and has taken a more conciliatory stance towards expressions of Kurdish identity, which in turn has made the PKK less of a real political threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity.  The rise of the AKP has fortunately to some extent blunted the issue of the PKK presence in northern Iraq, and its election victory has chastened the military and undermined the latter’s influence in the country.  That may or may not be to Turkey’s ultimate benefit, but it has reduced somewhat the tensions over a possible military incursion. 

Well, I guess everyone can change his mind over time, but what a change the last column was from this (via Yglesias):

The Bush folks, at least when it comes to Africa policy [bold mine-DL], have learned from centuries of conservative teaching - from Burke to Oakeshott to Hayek - to be skeptical of Sachsian grand plans. Conservatives emphasize that it is a fatal conceit to think we can understand complex societies, or rescue them from above with technocratic planning [bold mine-DL].

So people in the administration are deeply immersed in the wisdom of the conservative intellectual tradition when they’re working on Africa policy, so they must just forget about it the rest of the time.  That makes sense, right?  Er, no.

Then again, maybe Brooks has a point.  There certainly never was any extensive “technocratic planning” done by this administration, and no one would accuse them of even trying to understand complex societies.  There are some who would love to attribute this to the mythical conspiracy whereby anti-government conservatives govern badly to prove that government can’t work, but it really is a case of this administration not knowing what they’re doing.  (It would also help this theory if there were a lot of conservatives in the administration.)

In the forthcoming TAC, Prof. Schroeder continues his essay on Iraq that he started in the last issue.  To my mind, the second part is even better and offers more of his typically excellent analysis.  Here’s a small sample:

A credible American commitment to real withdrawal both removes those incentives and restores traditional rivalries–Turk versus Kurd, Shi’ite versus Sunni, Iranian versus Saudi, Iranian nationalism versus Iraqi–while still permitting general co-operation against the Islamic radicalism that threatens all.

There is a more challenging section towards the end:

We also need a changed American public, one that in regard to world affairs is both smarter and better (the two qualities go so closely together in international politics as to be almost indistinguishable)–a public better informed, more honest and open to the truth, less self-preoccupied and self-centered and therefore able to discern and willing to follow better leadership and make more exertions for better long-range goals.

Michael Crowley has been doing good work keeping track of the politicking and lobbying surrounding the Armenian genocide resolution, and he has a round-up of the latest news.  Most ridiculous (and depressing) line comes from the White House: “the determination of whether or not the events constitute a genocide should be a matter for historical inquiry, not legislation.”  This comes from the same administration that has felt no compunction about labeling the conflict in Darfur a genocide and the House joined the administration in declaring it as such, whether or not that really is the most accurate term for it.  Mr. Bush has no problem invoking the Cambodian genocide in a tendentious and dishonest revisionist account of the end of the Vietnam War.  Yet the administration and its allies in the House are utterly spineless when it comes to properly describing the genocidal crimes of a regime that no longer even exists because it will offend an allied state.  This is all another very helpful reminder that for all together too many people that the recognition of a genocide that occurred in the past depends heavily on whether it serves or harms present political interests. 

Do you suppose that PM Erdogan would be received in the same way that Ahmadinejad was last month?  I doubt it.  He would be welcomed, cheered as a “moderate” and “reformed” Islamist and a strong ally of the United States, and so on.  He denies a genocide about which relatively few people care, and his government is allied with Israel, which makes his government’s affront to moral and historical truth rather more acceptable to a lot of the very same people who wanted to bar Ahmadinejad from setting foot on U.S. soil.  Erdogan is the head of government in a state that prosecutes people for engaging in just such “historical inquiry,” which is why Turkish historians who wish to speak truthfully about the genocide, such as Taner Akcam, have had to leave Turkey.  When Bush says that there should be more “historical inquiry” into the matter, what other politician does he sound like?

Finally, via Yglesias, a sensible, critical and intelligent response to Mearsheimer/Walt by Daniel Levy.  This is exactly the kind of thing I have been hoping to see, and I applaud Mr. Levy for it.  It will certainly not satisfy the book’s critics over here, but neither is it a full endorsement or apology for every claim the authors make.  Levy makes some excellent preliminary remarks in this post that also includes his book review:

Some of the commentary, by the way, has just been plain shoddy – a word hurled too often at Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer. Leslie Gelb, reviewing the book in the NY Times is the most disappointing and inexcusable example of this [bold mine-DL]. Gelb for instance claims that the official American policy against settlements and in favor of a Palestinian state proves the limitations of the lobby. Hardly! If anything it suggests the opposite – 40 years and over 400,000 Israelis living beyond the green line later – there is perhaps a disconnect and might this not require an explanation.

Quite.  I’m glad Mr. Levy drew attention to the Gelb review, since it is considered by more than a few of the book’s critics to be some gold standard of serious engagement with the book’s arguments.  Levy also draws attention to what is actually very confused terminology in the entire debate, namely the designation “pro-Israel”:

Without himself being an Israeli, my friend MJ Rosenberg probably captures the essence of this position best when he writes: “There is nothing pro-Israel about supporting policies that promise only that Israeli mothers will continue to dread their sons’ 18th birthdays for another generation.”

To which one might add parenthetically along the same lines that there is nothing pro-American about foreign policy decisions that continually expose us to increased hostility overseas and put our soldiers into unnecessary wars.

He makes an important point on the Iraq war:

Understandably, Walt and Mearsheimer’s chapter about the Iraq war has drawn the most fire and ire – and with no small degree of justification. Yes, as Leonard Fein argues, the book does go too far in conflating the Israel lobby with neocons. But that act of conflating does not exist only in the minds of Walt and Mearsheimer.  As I argue, the mainstream lobby allowed itself to be co-opted and it moved so far to the right and made such dubious alliances, that the co-option gave the impression of being almost seamless [bold mine-DL].

In his Haaretz review Levy notes:

Their more shrill detractors have either not read the book, are emotionally incapable of dealing with harsh criticism of something they hold so close (certainly a human tendency), or are intentionally avoiding a substantive debate on the issues.

As Levy makes clear from the beginning, his review is going to be very different, and it is.  He also cuts to the heart of the question of Israel-as-strategic liability:

It is not Israel per se that is a liability, but Israel as an occupier: “If the conflict were resolved, Israel might become the sort of strategic asset that its supporters often claim it is.” The distinction should be on the radar screen of Israel’s strategic planners.

Levy makes a number of good points, and you should read the entire review, and he makes a subtle but, I think, basically correct distinction here:

Walt and Mearsheimer place them four-square inside the Israel lobby. The reality seems more complicated than that. Many leading neocons, by their own admission, care greatly about Israel, but they want to impose their policy, not follow Jerusalem’s. Unlike, for instance, AIPAC, which takes its lead from the Israeli government, and then tends to give it an extra twist to the right, the neocons adhere to a rigid ideological dogma and are not afraid to confront a government in Jerusalem they view as too “soft.”

This is another place where the general term “pro-Israel” obscures too much, since it can include both those, like the neocons, who support Israel-as-it-ought-to-be (or as they imagine it to be), and those who support the policy of the existing state.  However, Levy does say (as he also suggested in his post):

It is more likely that the neocons co-opted the Israel lobby, and Israel itself, to their own vision of regional transformation. Still, most of the Israel lobby were willing accomplices, and this represents their historic error.

And again:

The picture is complete when the role of Ariel Sharon, then Israeli premier, is added. Sharon was a hawk, but no neocon. He viewed dreams of regional transformation, democratization and regime change with scorn and disdain, but he could spot a useful political ally when he saw one. The neocons would be his bulwark against being dragged into a negotiating process with the Palestinians or Syrians, as America re-calibrated its approach to the Middle East post-9/11. Negotiations were Sharon’s “Room 101.” The Dov Weissglas-Elliott Abrams channel saved him the trouble. Walt and Mearsheimer describe a damning end product, policies that are a disaster for America and Israel alike, but in over-conflating the neocons with the Israel lobby they overlook a dynamic and nuance that might have implications for the future.

As Mr. Levy argues, disastrous Near East policy of the last few years was the result of a combination of factors:

Another way to look at it would be: This is the first Republican administration since the Christian evangelical Zionists emerged as a potent force in the GOP; since the mainstream pro-Israel community planted itself firmly on the Likud right, and with an executive that contained a sizeable and senior neocon presence. At the same time a hawk was ensconced in the Israeli Prime Minister’s residence (Sharon). Then came the shock of 9/11, followed by the swagger and hubris that followed an apparently easy military victory in Afghanistan. This was a potent mix. These actors can all be described with some accuracy as pro-Israel, but they are also all different, and charting a future course is helped by recognizing that difference.


As it happens, the opposition party in Burma, the one getting shot, is called the National League for Democracy. Not the National League for Stability, but Democracy. ~Daniel Henninger

That’s a really profound observation.  Very good.  Henninger has the critics on the ropes now!  Of course, the government calls itself the State Peace and Development Council, and it is clearly interested in neither peace nor development.  I don’t assume that the opposition is quite as dishonest in its choice of names, but obviously any dissident movement that wants Washington’s attention and support will invoke the magic d-word.  Every corrupt oligarch around the globe who wants to overthrow his government knows that much.

Henninger says later:

Instead, it’s that the president’s critics felt compelled not only to refute Iraq but every jot of the Bush foreign policy, including its espousal of democracy and freedom. They have come very close to displacing the Bush Doctrine with the idea that promoting democracy in difficult places is, very simply, a mistake.

But it is a mistake.  It was a mistake when JFK promoted it, and it will be a mistake should Obama continue to promote it in the future.  In its substance, it is actually a bad idea.  The Near East’s woes brought on, or rather exacerbated by, democratisation have sobered up people who just two years ago were saying silly things about an Arab Spring.  The attempt is misguided, and in most cases it is also likely to cause still more suffering.  It is certainly a mistake as it concerns American interests in almost every case, at least when the elections reflect the opinions of the people in the country, and it is also very likely a mistake for most of the countries proposed as “beneficiaries” of this great gift.  These are not things for us to promote, but they are instead things that we should practice and offer as examples.  If they are to have any meaning and to have legitimacy in many of these countries it is imperative that their promotion be indigenous and has nothing to do with us. 

Here’s the real gem:

Nations with freely operating political parties are likely to be centripetal; their energies bend inward, fighting with each other. In places without real politics, they sit in cafes plotting how to kill innocent civilians 2,000 miles outside their borders.

Which is, of course, why we didn’t invade Iraq (and Panama) and never bombed Yugoslavia–we were too busy fighting one another over school vouchers and Social Security reform!  In places without so-called “real politics” (whatever that means–politics are just as “real” when they are authoritarian, as people in Burma know only too well), people are usually preoccupied with targeting the government that denies them those “real politics.”  Or did I miss the Karen bomb attacks in Beijing?  The overwhelming majority of people in such countries does not engage in far-flung terrorist conspiracies against distant countries.  Instead, they endure and occasionally rise up against their own governments to attempt to free themselves, which is the only sort of liberation that ever truly lasts.

Beyond that, neocon has morphed into an all-purpose insult for anyone who still believes that American power is inextricable from global stability and still thinks the muscular anti-totalitarian U.S. interventionism that brought down Slobodan Milosevic has a place, and still argues, like Christopher Hitchens, that ousting Saddam Hussein put the United States “on the right side of history.” ~Roger Cohen

Has ’neocon’ really become such a thing?  He says it is used to describe Paul Berman et al., but when did this happen?  Examples would be useful at this point, and Cohen provides none.  There may some people who use the term indifferently these days to mean “crazy militarist,” but then they are actually making more sense than they realise.  On foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Near East and Russia, the differences between Tomasky’s “mainstream liberals,” liberal interventionists and neoconservatives are far more of degree than kind.  

Here’s Tomasky:

We recognized further the difference between a comparatively low-risk air war, as in Kosovo, and the far more momentous decision to commit 140,000 troops to the ground, and we understood that the latter was not to be undertaken lightly (especially when the top military man in the country was saying we’d need at least 300,000 soldiers to do the job).  

Kosovo was, in his words, a ”proper, balanced and admirable” kind of intervention.  Proper and balanced, it would seem, because that aggressive war posed few risks to us.  Why it was admirable will always remain a mystery.

The neocon taste for American empire is not the liberal hawk’s belief in the bond between American power and freedom’s progress. ~Roger Cohen

But the neocon “taste for American empire” (a characterisation that many neoconservatives would, of course, actually vehemently reject) is bound up with their equally ideological belief in “the bond between American power and freedom’s progress.”  Neocons were once “liberals mugged by reality,” but now they are people who would like to mug reality–and strafe it and bomb it–in the name of liberalism (broadly defined).  They don’t prattle about democracy and liberal revolution for their health–they actually think that our hegemony and other peoples’ freedom are compatible.  No, really!  One thing both groups do have in common is that they are profoundly, impressively wrong.

(Needless to say, I completely reject the idea that there was something high-minded or noble about the interventions of the ’90s.  Low-risk imperialism is no less morally repugnant.)

Neocon, for many, has become shorthand for neocon-Zionist conspiracy, whatever that may be, although probably involving some combination of plans to exploit Iraqi oil, bomb Iran and apply U.S. power to Israel’s benefit. ~Roger Cohen

It has nothing to do with conspiracies, but, in point of fact, prominent people who still call or have called themselves neoconservatives have said that we should exploit Iraq’s oil (it was going to pay for the war and reconstruction, remember?), bomb Iran (see Norman “I hope and pray that we will bomb Iran” Podhoretz) and apply U.S. power to Israel’s benefit (”This is our war, too,” said Kristol the Lesser of Lebanon).  The thing is that these are compliments to such people, which is why it never ceases to amaze me that they become offended when it is pointed out that this is what they support.

Fallows, who knows more about Burma and China than most, wrote in his PostGlobal piece on the idea of an Olympic boycott over Burma:

I am constantly amazed, and I think most Americans here feel the same, by how little overt anti-Americanism I encounter in China. (Japanese expats here might tell a different story.) But those who were here when the U.S. bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade say that the rage against Americans then was physically frightening. All at once the mood turned angrily hostile. (I have not met anyone in China who thinks that bombing was an “accident.”) The potential for nationalistic reaction against “disrespect” toward China is great. Again, the point: the prevailing outlook by average Chinese toward Americans seems positive, and about the only thing that could change it would be something perceived as a slap at national dignity.

This makes a lot of sense.  It makes even more sense when you consider that Chinese nationalism is already probably going to be rising as the Olympics approach.  This has happened before at previous Olympic Games, the most infamous of which was actually the first Olympiad held in Athens, which was followed shortly afterwards by a reckless irredentist war on behalf of the Cretans that Greece lost.  More to the point, an American boycott of the Beijing Olympics would be exactly as effective as the boycott against the ‘80 Games was, which is to say not at all, and would have even less of a justification. 

Boycotting the Moscow Games was meaningless moral preening in the wake of the invasion of Afghanistan, a perfect example of the futility of U.S. foreign policy under Carter, but at least you could understand it as a protest.  It’s not at all clear what message a boycott sends this time.  It will amount to saying: “Hey, China, we know that you can’t fully control this military dictatorship in Burma, but we’re going to punish you anyway to feel better about ourselves!”  Indeed, that’s usually all boycotts and sanctions are ever good for–the self-satisfaction of having made a gesture.  In the real world, they usually either provoke the target regime to worse behaviour or exacerbate poor material conditions for the people. 

We saw how irrationally our own people behaved when allies refused to join in an aggressive invasion of another country–imagine how we would respond nowadays if someone boycotted an Olympics hosted here, and then cube that.  That gives you an idea of how foolish and counterproductive a boycott would be.  

This is surreal:

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has underlined the need for moderate Pakistani forces to join hands in order to resist extremism and continue economic progress and commended President Musharraf’s important role in “bringing Pakistan back from the brink.”

This comes in the same week that Bhutto is preparing to take her party out of parliament because of what Musharraf is doing, and there are already PML-N (Sharif’s allies) and MMA MPs pulling out of parliament to boycott the election.  They even have cricketing legend Imran Khan on their side–let Condi Rice put that in her “sport is a universal language” pipe and smoke it.  Musharraf isn’t bringing Pakistan back from the brink–he’s heading straight for it.  This confirms my impression that the administration has no idea what it’s doing in Pakistan. 

At the same time, the security situation in the northwest is deteriorating.  Clearly, something other than more of Musharraf’s clumsy and haphazard responses to crisis is needed.  It is probably too late to urge him to step aside now.  Washington has already publicly backed him too far to change. 

The Post’s list of foreign policy advisors for the main candidates is fairly disturbing, albeit unsurprising stuff.  We have known about many of the big names associated with the leading candidates for a while now.  Edwards and Romney have assembled teams of people who are not nearly as well known.  That’s no guarantee that these advisors are any better at guiding foreign policy, but prominent screw-ups and known warmongers are mostly conspicuous by their absence from the Edwards and Romney camps. 

Also, Romney seems to have a peculiarly strong focus on Latin America policy at the moment: 10 of his 26 advisors belong to his Latin America policy group, and virtually all of the others are dedicated to counter-terrorism.  Judging by his current advisors, you’d get the impression that Romney believes Latin America to be the most important region in the world. 

By continuing to use such terms as “Burma” and “Rangoon,” we refuse to be spooked. ~David Warren

I don’t mean to be a broken record on this.  By all means, condemn and denounce the junta, and expose its crimes to the world, but let’s stop pretending that we keep calling it Burma out of deep conviction.  Myanmar has been the Burmese name of the country since independence, so it is hardly “spooky” to apply that name to English usage.   The continued use of Burma and Rangoon and so forth simply means that English-speakers are using the same names they have used for a very long time.  Using these names is not a protest–certainly not an effective one–but a convenience and a habit.  The logic of this sort of argument is that continued use of a traditional colonial name for a place is a declaration of opposition to the current regime, in which case we had all better start talking about Rhodesia again instead of Zimbabwe, lest we taint ourselves with some supposed nominal obeisance to Mugabe. 

P.S. Warren’s calls for military strikes are typical and foolish.  Throwing the country into chaos and unleashing internecine conflict hardly seem desirable alternatives; cheap talk about having a ready-made opposition government is the same kind of recklessness that did so much to make Iraq the mess that it is today.

Exit Strategies is the very good foreign policy blog of Dan McCarthy, Jim Antle and Richard Spencer.  If you’ve been reading their blog, you’ll know that Jim Antle was talking about the Ogonowski Phenomenon before anyone else, and he was also explaining why Ogonowski is not likely to succeed.  Ogonowski seems to be a very strong candidate, but it is unlikely that he will be able to overcome the many natural barriers that a Republican in Massachusetts faces, especially in what is likely to be another cycle of hemorrhaging for the House GOP.

Richard Spencer has a new post talking about Prof. Bacevich’s forthcoming cover article for TAC on Gen. Petraeus. 

Except for McNamara, most senior administration officials from Secretary of State Dean Rusk on down privately agreed with Johnson’s intelligence adviser, Clark Clifford, who was quoted in minutes of a National Security Council staff meeting as saying it was “inconceivable” that the attack had been a case of mistaken identity.

The attack “couldn’t be anything else but deliberate,” the NSA’s director, Lt. Gen. Marshall Carter, later told Congress.

“I don’t think you’ll find many people at NSA who believe it was accidental,” Benson Buffham, a former deputy NSA director, said in an interview.

“I just always assumed that the Israeli pilots knew what they were doing,” said Harold Saunders, then a member of the National Security Council staff and later assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs. ~The Baltimore Sun


Ezra Klein makes the obvious, but apparently still necessary point:

Walt and Mearsheimer, by contrast, are arguing that there exists a powerful political lobby, ranked second in multiple surveys of Congressmen and staffers, that exerts disproportionate power over American policy towards Israel, in much the way AARP, the NRA, or the Cuban Lobby does on their issues. This Lobby, they argue, does not represent the expressed opinions of most Jews, and it includes a large constituency of Christian Zionists. That is not anti-Semitism. You may disagree with it, but it is not an attack on the shared characteristics of Jews. And it is disgusting and cheapening to pretend otherwise because marginalizing the authors as anti-semitic is more effective than arguing back their viewpoint.

What’s most bizarre about the polemical response to the book is that, if the critics of the book are largely right about the many egregious exaggerations, mistakes and oversights Mearsheimer and Walt have made, there should be no need to resort to these tactics.  If the argument were as weak as critics simply assume it to be, the denunciations for alleged prejudice would be as redundant as they have been frequent.    

As I’ve said before, I think the authors do overreach when they downplay the influence of the Saudis and oil interests, but the existence of these other interests by no means proves their larger arguments wrong.  On the contrary, evidence of significant influence from other lobbies makes claims about the role of pro-Israel groups in shaping policy that much more reasonable.  If others have shaped policy, then surely a “loose coalition” of some very influential groups, including one of the most effective lobbies of all, will be quite successful as well.  The claims the authors make may be in need of qualification, but citing the influence of these other lobbies comes nowhere near refuting their position.  Dan McCarthy drives this point home:

But it doesn’t follow that if the Saudis have tremendous, and probably detrimental, influence on American foreign policy in the Middle East, the Israelis must not have similar influence. The Saudi and Israeli lobbies disagree on much–though certainly not everything–but the one does not negate the other.

Those who are critical of the book are very big fans of Leslie Gelb’s review, which some seem to take as a definitive smackdown.  Those who stop to read the mighty Gelb review discover that it does nothing of the sort, and instead unwittingly backs up much of what the book argues.  As Dan McCarthy puts it:

Actually, Gelb is not comparing the Israeli lobby to the Cuban lobby–he’s comparing the claims made by Mearsheimer and Walt to Fidel Castro’s contention that the U.S. can’t really be a democracy because a small number of Cuban expatriates shapes our policy toward Havana. Trouble is, Castro has a valid point, and Leslie Gelb, of all people, knows it.

I share Klein’s frustration that it hasn’t been possible to have a real discussion of the merits (and flaws) of the book.  (There are rare moments when the occasional critic makes a partly substantive argument, but this tends to merge with the general wave of irrational hostility that the book’s release has provoked and get lost in the noise.)  A proper discussion about the book hasn’t been possible because the entire “debate” has turned into a clash between polemicists denouncing the authors and distorting their words and the rest of us attempting simply to defend the principle that the authors hold a legitimate point of view that ought not to be demonised.   

When I said that as President I would lead direct diplomacy with our adversaries, I was called naïve and irresponsible. But how are we going to turn the page on the failed Bush-Cheney policy of not talking to our adversaries if we don’t have a President who will lead that diplomacy? ~Barack Obama

By electing someone other than Obama, someone who might know how to frame and present the issue well?  Framed this way, it appears to be part of a reflexive endorsement of whatever it is that Bush didn’t do.   

He continued:

When I said that we should take out high-level terrorists like Osama bin Laden if we have actionable intelligence about their whereabouts, I was lectured by legions of Iraq War supporters. 

And by many Iraq war opponents, too, who thought the idea as stated was batty.  Because it was batty–and dangerous.  Pakistan policy requires special finesse because of the internal political problems of the state, and instead of a scalpel Obama brought a sledgehammer to the problem.  That was his idea of introducing a new approach to foreign policy? 


They said we can’t take out bin Laden if the country he’s hiding in won’t. A few weeks later, the co-chairmen of the 9/11 Commission – Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton – agreed with my position.

It is conceivable that Tom Kean and Lee Hamiton–old establishment hands and kings of conventional wisdom that they are–are just as wrong as Obama.  Shocking, I know.  They were on a blue-ribbon investigative commission; they are not necessarily trained Pakistan experts (indeed, I feel confident in saying that they are not) and are endorsing a general principle that would, in this particular case, be potentially very counterproductive, if not disastrous.  Context is everything in these matters.  Ignoring context is part of the reason why the Bush Doctrine has been such a flop–it attempted to apply a universal standard to a kind of problem that needs to handled differently on a case-by-case basis.     

Putting it the way that he did, Obama makes it sound as if the unwilling government is actively aiding and abetting Bin Laden, when this isn’t obviously the case.  The government may be unwilling to have American military strikes inside their territory for entirely different reasons.  Declaring your intention to ignore an allied government about military actions inside their country doesn’t sound as if you are “turning the page” of the Bush-Cheney era, but rather sounds more like an extension of the same ham-fisted approach to international relations: we rule, you obey; your sovereignty means nothing if we say it means nothing.     

Also, if the “foreign policy elite” failed us, as Obama says, why does he have so many members of the “foreign policy elite” that got it wrong advising him?


And when I said that we can rule out the use of nuclear weapons to take out a terrorist training camp, it was immediately branded a “gaffe” because I did not recite the conventional Washington-speak. But is there any military planner in the world who believes that we need to drop a nuclear bomb on a terrorist training camp?

Almost certainly not, but that is to miss the entire point.  There is no “conventional Washington-speak” on this question, because you don’t talk about it in public!  If no one with any expertise believes that we should do it, and no one has proposed doing it, why even talk about it?  When it comes to nuclear weapons, you don’t talk about when you would use them–the uncertainty actually can add to their deterrent effect.  Ruling out such things, even though we might all agree that doing them is fantastically stupid, is the equivalent of MacArthur and Acheson describing the U.S. defense perimeter and excluding Korea from it, implying that everything outside the perimeter was up for grabs.  Result?  The Korean War.  But the officials of the Truman Administration was “straight” with the people, all right, and that’s what matters! 

Is it just me, or does Obama’s latest speech come off sounding rather too narcissistic?  Granted, I am not an Obama fan, so I tend to respond as negatively to his speeches as other people respond positively, but he spends the first half of the speech talking about how insightful and prescient he was and then launches into how the mean establishmentarians have been picking on him for his allegedly bold, new ideas.  It isn’t until the second half of the speech that he gets down to any of his really substantive proposals, including some that are actually sensible (his work with Lugar on securing nuclear materials is to his credit and ought to have had a much larger role in this speech).  His idea about making the DNI a position with a fixed term and semi-independence has some merit.  However, his talk about “strengthening” the NPT seems like rather wishful thinking to me.  Does Obama intend to scupper the nuclear deal made with the Indians, since that deal pretty blatantly violates the NPT? 

We don’t know the answer to that, because he immediately goes back to talking about Obama’s wonderful experiences in life.  I do realise that personality and personal history are relevant and are important factors for many voters, but this speech seems to be far too much about the man and far too little about what he will do.  Some of the things he does tell he will do will invite yawns if they do not invite derision.  For instance, this seems odd:

I’ll give an annual “State of the World” address to the American people in which I lay out our national security policy.

How better to underscore one’s interventionism than to make what will be perceived as a claim that the President rules the world?  Why not include this as part of the State of the Union, or incorporate it into the standard speech at the U.N.? 

And perhaps I am not appreciating the cleverness in this proposal:

I’ll draw on the legacy of one our greatest Presidents – Franklin Roosevelt – and give regular “fireside webcasts,” and I’ll have members of my national security team do the same.

I’m sure most political bloggers will find this proposal interesting, since it will give them new online material on a regular basis, but what’s the point?  In an Obama Administration (something that will, of course, never come to pass, but just for fun let’s imagine), do we really want the National Security Advisor doing webcasts, or do we want him to do his job well?  Viewed skeptically, this proposal seems to be an attempt to make national security officials into part of a P.R. effort, when we have already had quite enough of this sort of fluff from the current batch. 

Via Yglesias, I see that Perlstein has a good review of revisionist books on Vietnam.  Not that it will matter to Perlstein, who cannot recognise a basically sympathetic, if perhaps poorly phrased, argument when he sees one, but I happen to find the nationalist habit of revisionism in support of policies of ever-greater militarism and slaughter to be as abhorrent as he does.  His review also succeeds in drawing attention to the revisionists’ comfort with mass killing when it is being done by the ‘right’ people for the ‘right’ reasons, which should help put the crocodile tears many of the same people conveniently shed over the victims of the Cambodian genocide in perspective. 

The young whippersnapper Matt Zeitlin makes a good point in his reply to my latest round of Obama-bashing:

The million or more deaths from Malaria each year, millions of people infected by preventable water borne diseases and the approximately one billion people in extreme poverty doesn’t negatively impact our national security, strictly defined, as much as say the ungoverned tribal regions of Western Pakistan being lousy with Taliban and Al-Qaida.  And, if you talk privately to most people who say that extreme poverty of “tropical diseases” are threats to America’s national security, they’ll –after enough drinks — probably admit that they’re playing fast and loose with what “national security” means.  The reason people do this, however, is that America tends to act in the international arena when it thinks that the action will make us safer — and when we do act, we act big.  This is why NGOs, activist and academics in work in the areas of development and international public health have re-tuned their message — governments are more likely to listen if you’re presenting something that’s not just killing hundreds of thousands of foreigners, but is a threat to the US.

Zeitlin is right that our government tends not to act overseas unless it sees an international problem as a potential security threat (or at least as a cause of later security threats).  I suppose it’s understandable that people who want the U.S. government to take some action on a variety of international woes would try to cast those problems as threats to the United States.  It also doesn’t make Obama’s apparent inability to prioritise real security threats over high-minded concerns for the well-being of foreign peoples any less troubling.  If he doesn’t believe that public health problems in other countries affect our national security, he is trying to play the public, and if he does believe it he is very confused about what our national security interests include.  

It also doesn’t make these claims any more  true, and it seems to me that this sort of “dishonest altruism,” as Zeitlin calls it, will come back to hurt any cause that attempts to frame itself as an aid to national security.  This seems to be a more likely danger for such “altruism” in the wake of an administration that tried to justify anything and everything that it did under the banner of national security and antiterrorism.  If activists and academics cannot make the substantive case that there is some sufficiently good reason for our government to act on this or that question of development or public health by itself, it is implausible that they will be able to win any sustainable support or action from the government by tying themselves into knots to come up a national security rationale.   

It’s also all very well to talk about global interdependency, but this is just another way to spin intervening in someone else’s business as part of our self-interest.  What this kind of thinking will lead to in practice is not a U.S. government engaged in ever-greater levels of international cooperation, as I imagine many people would like to see, but instead one that uses every kind of international problem as a pretext for meddling and intruding on other states’ internal affairs.  Setting a standard of national security interest limits government action overseas to some extent, though we have already seen how expansively “national security” can be defined by ambitious policymakers (especially when it is joined to talk of “values”).  If the definition of national security is permitted to be inflated even more by extending it to climate change or health epidemics or education, there will be no end to the occasions for U.S. meddling.  If future interventions do for combating epidemics what the invasion of Iraq has done for regional stability and nonproliferation, we should be very worried about anyone who wants the U.S. government to take an active interest in the question.  (As the last few years have shown, government is equally incompetent on both sides of the ocean.)         

This convenient invocation of security is worth bearing in mind when some people begin hyperventilating about certain liberal claims that climate change is a greater security threat than terrorism.  This has been a favourite punching bag of some folks on the right, who will, in the same breath, very seriously say that we are in the middle of WWIV against the “existential threat” of Islamofascism.  In fact, climate change doesn’t represent that much of a security threat, but then (and here’s the kicker) the threat of terrorism has also been vastly overblown.  The climate change activists who are now talking in terms of national security are simply seeing the terrorism alarmists and raising them with some extra exaggeration.  “The threat you worry about isn’t existential, but the one I worry about really is!”  This is accompanied by vocal critics on the opposing side: “The threat you describe hardly even exists!”  Terrorism alarmism and climate change alarmism both overwhelmingly benefit the state at our expense.  They continue to exist because each kind of alarmism has a dedicated constituency that is quite happy to yield to the state’s demands in order to, in one way or another, “save the world.”   

In a move sure to make me question the soundness of my judgement, George Will has come to a similar observation as I did a few weeks ago:

In his second Inaugural address, the president said: “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” You have said: “In today’s globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people.”

Well. Given that the goals of liberty and security can both generate foreign policy overreaching, and given the similarity between your formulation and Bush’s, should people who are dismayed by Bush’s universalizing imperative be wary of yours? Does not yours require interventions in Darfur — where you say “rolling genocide” is occurring — the Congo and similar situations?

Well, maybe not Congo.  But there are ailing Indonesian chickens that desperately need our help. 

“There is blood on the steps of Pakistan’s Supreme Court,” said Ahsan. “The people of Pakistan have a right to protest, yet they have been brutally attacked. This whole situation is as noxious as the tear gas itself.”


The crackdown on the protest came just two days after the Supreme Court, lead by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, ruled that the government had no right to blockade streets leading into the capital, nor could it prevent protests or stop the free-flow of traffic past government buildings.


“We are looking at an obscene and unnecessary show of excessive force,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, South Asia Researcher for Human Rights Watch, who had come to observe the protests. “This has been wanton brutality against a professional group that is struggling to uphold the rule of law.” ~Time

While the world’s attention these days is focused, with good reason, on the crackdown in Burma, far more geopolitically significant troubles are erupting once again in Pakistan.  Musharraf has, of course, continued to pursue re-election after the amnesty for Sharif was summarily withdrawn, and the prospects for any kind of negotiated transfer or departure of Musharraf from the scene are now very poor.  With this latest ruling that he is eligible to run for another term as president backing him up, Musharraf’s intransigence will drag Pakistan over the edge of a cliff.  What Musharraf and his government are doing is different from the actions of the junta in Burma only in degree, but not in kind.  The comparison was not lost on the lawyers being assaulted:

“It’s just a shade short of Burma,” said one bedraggled lawyer, echoing an earlier statement by Ahsan. “Yeah,” said his companion. “But here they are attacking lawyers in suits instead of monks in saffron.”

And, of course, the regime doing the attacking is considered too valuable and useful to too many major powers for them to say or do anything.  It is vitally important that Washington come to realise that Musharraf is far more of a liability for the stability of Pakistan, and thus for U.S. interests in the region, than he is an asset.  Our association with his increasingly brutal and destructive rule can only drag our reputation further into the mud and make cooperation with any future post-Musharraf government that much more difficult.  Washington needs to consider how it will sustain the ties with Pakistan once Musharraf is no longer there.  It seems increasingly likely that Musharraf has overreached so often and exhausted all goodwill that he cannot long remain in office.  It is also crucial to understand that the policies that Washington has urged Musharraf to pursue have contributed to the current predicament.  To throw Pakistan into turmoil to save Kabul is not a good exchange.  Wouldn’t it be useful if we had an accomplished professional diplomat serving in Islamabad right about now…wherever did he go?       

I have noted my points of disagreement, but this densely footnoted and courageous book deserves praise rather than abuse. The Israeli liberal daily Haaretz stated that it would be irresponsible to ignore [the earlier article’s] serious and disturbing message that the Israeli government must understand that the world will not wait forever for Israel to withdraw from the territories, and that the opinions expressed in the article could take root in American politics if Israel does not change the political reality quickly. ~Jonathan Mirsky

One of Sullivan’s readers wrote

Although I despise Bush, I have to confess admiration for his unequivocal statements against the junta and in support of the protesters.  It’s more than can be said for Russia, China, and India.  One should expect this kind of thing from Russia and China I suppose, but India, the nation which invented modern civil disobedience, should know better [bold mine-DL].

Mr. Bush can afford to be unequivocally opposed to the Burmese government.  There are absolutely no American interests tied up in Burma, no Americans currently residing there, so far as I know, and therefore no real consequences for the United States or American citizens if Mr. Bush takes an “unequivocal” position.  As it happens, and bearing in mind my views about the uselessness of sanctions in general, I think Mr. Bush is taking the right line on this.  Of course, it costs him nothing to take an “unequivocal” line and his wife’s strong personal interest in Burma (which sometimes veers into embarrassing condescension) probably has something to do with it as well.  It is sheer symbolism, but I suppose if you are reduced to symbolism you might as well symbolically oppose the junta. 

For once, we seem to be seeing a spontaneous, non-Sorosian popular uprising.  We can tell the difference between the fake and the genuine article right away–in Burma there is not an officially approved and media-anointed oligarch waiting to take power as “leader of glorious revolution.”  Despite some attempts to dub this the “saffron revolution,” because of the colour of the monks’ robes, it has not become the Saffron Revolution in media reporting in the same way that the non-revolutions elsewhere became endorsed movements complete with capitalised names.  Unlike the generally fraudulent “colour” revolutions (each one of which has been shown to be nothing of the kind), the monks have evidently not developed a media strategy, have not been influenced by meddling NGOs or co-opted by foreign money.  It does not seem to be stage-managed and pre-fabricated for Western media consumption.  The lack of organisation and coordination among Western and other democracies suggests that the events have actually taken them by surprise, rather than being rolled out like a new consumer product.  Unlike in Kyrgyzstan, this uprising does not seem to be an attempt to displace one clan with another.  [Correction: Apparently, I am too gullible about all of this.]             

Then there is this reader’s remark about India, which brings me back to the title of this post.  You will have seen many articles mentioning how China, India and the ASEAN nations have been reaping a windfall from the sanctions imposed on Burma by Western nations, and in opinion pieces this fact is usually glossed with a comment about how “even” people from democratic India have been investing in Burma.  As a matter of economic and political realism, this is to be expected.  Indians are going to do business with their neighbours, including Burma, just as all states almost have to do business with the states that border them.  As a result of having economic ties to neighbouring states, a government cannot easily denounce a neighbouring government with the intensity of those who have nothing at stake.  It is pretty easy to track any given state’s economic and political connections to petty despotates around the world by the intensity of the criticism and punishment meted out to the latter.  The major powers all have connections with regimes that are more or less like this (though SLORC has always been exceptionally awful), and so outrage at a regime’s misconduct is usually inversely proportional to the intensity of ties between the two states.  Nothing surprising there, but it’s worth bearing in mind when judging the official responses of different governments. 

However, many people in India do “know better,” so to speak, and I expect that the opposition parties are making great hay out of the Congress-led government’s general inaction and meek statements about the protests.  As a matter of fact, yes, they are, and they have been joined by some Congress MPs as well.  For convenience, we all use the name of a country when we are referring to its government.  This can sometimes give the impression that a majority of the country is in agreement with the official position of the government, which is almost never the case.  So, the next time you see someone say that “India” is doing this or that in relation to Burma, do remember that a great many people in India are urging their government to take the side of the protesters.  Of course, it is always easy for the party (or parties) out of power to make demands for action to which they, were they in office, would never yield.   

Update: It’s not much, but good for Thailand and ASEAN:

Thailand and the Association Of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have demanded that Burma stop using violence against demonstrators and voiced ‘’revulsion'’ at the killings in Rangoon. The strong position against Burma, also an Asean member country, was delivered by Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Hypocrisy has become so commonplace among isolationist conservatives that it doesn’t always register, but this time it’s too blatant to ignore. ~Scott Paul

There are no real isolationists in Congress.  You certainly can’t find any of these people calling for withdrawal from Iraq or calling for an end to overseas intervention.  (The only people who might be reasonably described in some sense as “isolationist” are in the House, not the Senate.)  Opposition to the treaty does have to do with hostility to the United Nations.  There are Republicans making pro-sovereignty arguments, which come down to not wanting to accede to another international treaty.  In point of fact, the vast majority of the Republican caucus is robustly internationalist–they just don’t want the U.N. to have any say in what we do.  That may be many things, but it isn’t isolationist.

About two-thirds of the way through the JRC debate on Iraq, Peter Brimelow had what I think was the most important point, and one entirely consistent with my general hostility to optimism:

“Not all problems have solutions.”

At the fine foreign policy blog of McCarthy, Antle and Spencer called Exit Strategies, Dan McCarthy writes an excellent post on Leslie Gelb’s much-touted review of The Israel Lobby.  As I have suggested before, Dan notes that Gelb concedes or supports the thesis of the book on a crucial point when he says: “As it happens, America’s commitment to Israel rests far more on moral and historical grounds than on strict strategic ones.”  As it happens, that is one of the central claims of The Israel Lobby. 

Dan makes the point even more forcefully:

Instead, as Mearsheimer and Walt argue, the Israel lobby and the more-Likudnik-than-Netanyahu neocons here in the United States have been pushing policies that are ultimately detrimental to Israel and that run counter to America’s interests. Leslie Gelb seems to be aware of this–he certainly presents evidence to that effect–but he can’t bring himself to say it.

The Economist has an editorial and two articles on the developing situation in Burma.  The second article makes a necessary point about the futility of sanctions:

Shareholder-activists and ordinary consumers have also done their bit to encourage a boycott. But the campaign to punish the regime sometimes seems to have lost sight of its real goal, and to be ready to celebrate isolation itself, not the change it is supposed to bring.

In fact, isolation has never really been on the cards. Any gap is eagerly filled by Myanmar’s neighbours—not just China, but also India and Thailand and other members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Even in the Western camp there have been differences in approach between the three most important members, America, the EU and Japan.

This is, of course, the problem with virtually all sanctions regimes and divestment schemes.  They are intended to send a signal, and indeed they do.  The signal is apparently supposed to be: “We understand neither economics nor politics.”  Not only do other states and private interests take advantage of sanctions and divestment, but the local population sees foreign sanctions as one of the causes of whatever hardships they are facing.  They are also well-aware of the hardships imposed by their own government, but to add sanctions on top of the corruption and misrule is a bit like stepping on a man’s head while he’s drowning.  However, it makes the one imposing the sanctions feel that he has “done something” and has acquitted himself of whatever strange duty he felt that he owed to the internal political disputes of other countries.  Needless to say, those who endure such regimes as SLORC (or whatever they’re calling themselves these days) don’t need much more of this kind of “help.”

The transcript shows that Bush consciously intended to go to war without a United Nations Security Council resolution. The United Nations Charter, to which the United States is a treaty signatory (so that it has the force of American law), forbids any nation to launch an aggressive war on another country. ~Prof. Cole

This is all true, but then we have known this to be true since the spring of 2003.  Of course he intended to go to war without a U.N. Security Council resolution that authorised it.  He and his supporters essentially admitted as much at the time (all those pro-administration pundits spinning far-fetched theories about “punishing” Iraq for violating the Gulf War ceasefire and 17 or however many U.N. resolutions weren’t just talking for their health), and they bragged about their steely-eyed resolve when they said it.  I suppose it doesn’t hurt to have the war’s illegality confirmed for all to see.  Still, if the spineless Congress can’t bring itself to defend the Constitution, what makes us believe that it will hold the executive accountable for breaking other laws?

Prof. Cole also points to a story about how the war could have been avoided with Hussein going into exile.  He is rightly angry that Mr. Bush launched the war anyway when it might have been avoided, but then the war was always unnecessary.  It wasn’t just unnecessary because Hussein was apparently willing to go into exile.  It was unnecessary because there was no cause for war. 

Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia seems to be working to his advantage back home and in our own press to some extent.  Bollinger’s introduction has been the focus of much of the criticism, which has apparently helped to create sympathy for Ahmadinejad.  It would have been better had the exchange never took place if the only “acceptable” way Bollinger could approach the encounter was as a hectoring critic.

Here’s an amusing item from the Time article/Ahmadinejad press release:

He notes that Americans don’t understand Iranian history, saying that the movie 300 — with which he seems intimately familiar — was a “complete distortion of Iranian history.” Iran, he says, has never invaded anyone in its history.

For modern Iran, this is certainly true.  If the Achaemenids count as being part of the same Iran (and they did call their country Iran), then this would be another one of Ahmadinejad’s “creative” history lessons. 

But can China compel the junta to do the right thing?


Surely China will have to “fix” the problem, analysts argue, because of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. 


Last night I saw the news reports saying two military divisions had arrived in Rangoon, including the 22nd —one of the same units deployed to Rangoon in 1988. ~Melinda Liu

This last point is one of the more telling observations of the article.  The question about China forcing the junta to “do the right thing” assumes that Beijing sees the “right thing” to be the same as other outsiders do.  I am doubtful that the Chinese government sees it this way.  As the article relates, China has tried to distance itself from its more disreputable satellites in recent months, but any expectation that China wants to stop the crackdown in Burma because of the ‘08 Olympics seems mistaken.  There is no guarantee that China’s economic interests in Burma would be seriously threatened by a destabilisation or ousting of the junta, but it is likely not something that the Chinese government wants to risk.  Any government that replaced the junta would be made up of those democrats who will remember China’s backing of the junta for all these years. 

Even if economic realities dictate that Burma remain tied to China for the present, resentment against China’s role in the junta’s grip on power could fuel a strong reaction against the Chinese.  (Consider how radicalised Iranians reacted against the United States as a model of what might happen.)  There have been strong expressions of anti-Chinese sentiment in other outposts of Beijing’s informal empire:

While China likes to portray itself as a benign force in Africa, free of the historical baggage carried by the former colonial powers, Beijing’s conduct is already resented.

During last year’s presidential election in Zambia, the leading opposition candidate, Michael Sata, campaigned on an explicitly anti-Chinese ticket. Beijing’s investment was, Mr Sata argued, almost entirely worthless for Zambia.    

China has every interest at this point in backing the junta, even if it engages in a brutal crackdown.  Those who think that hosting the Olympics inspires good international behaviour should recall that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in December of the year before the Moscow games.  There was a U.S. boycott, of course, which did nothing substantial to harm Moscow.  If one of China’s satellites does something vicious between now and next summer, it will affect Beijing even less.

P.S. Joshua Kurlantzick has a good article on Burma in The New Republic, which concludes:

Apparently convinced they’d risk no serious sanction, in September 1988 the Burmese military stepped in, staging a kind of auto-coup. In the course of suppressing protests, Burmese troops killed as many as three-thousand people. Today, similar fears are rising. More soldiers reportedly are taking positions in Rangoon, and the regime reportedly is recruiting criminals, possibly to infiltrate protests and cause havoc, a tactic utilized in 1988. Burmese opposition radio has reported rumors that senior junta leader Than Shwe has ordered that authorities can use violence to squash demonstrations. Twenty years on, 1988 looks nearer than ever.

When will Christopher Hitchens berate those lousy Buddhist monks for sowing “discord” and “hate” in Burma?  After all, he knows how religion poisons everything*, so I anticipate his denunciation of those troublemaking fanatics any day now.

*I hadn’t thought of it before, but this is just an adaptation of a phrase attributed to Mao: “religion is poison.”  Keep the faith, Hitch.

I used to think that it really mattered whether or not I referred to Burma as Myanmar or Burma.  No, really.  I can remember when the change happened.  The Economist suddenly started talking about Yangon and Myanmar out of the blue.  Oh, the treachery, I thought.  SLORC said Myanmar, so obviously all right-thinking people had to say Burma.  Of course, at another time the British said Burma, so other right-thinking people would have insisted that something else be used.   

Then you spend about ten minutes looking into the significance of the change in Burma and you realise that this is silly.  Mranma/Myanma is one name that has been used to describe the country, and Bama is another.  One is apparently a literary style, the other is used more often in colloquial speech.  The traditional name of Burma evidently may or may not originally come from Bama, but is definitely held over from the British colonial designation for the place.  Why a different name can’t be reflected in English usage is a bit of a mystery.  Of course, it comes back to who made the change, rather than the substance of the change itself.  The logic seems to be: we won’t give them the satisfaction of using the new name!  That’ll teach ‘em a thing or two!  Of course, the Burmese government doesn’t really care that much which name we use–it isn’t about us–and so our valiant defiance of the dictators is so much huffing and puffing over nothing.   

All the time we use inapt names in English for countries that have never called themselves by that name (e.g., Armenia, Finland, Hungary, Greece), which has often puzzled me, since some of us get very annoyed with people who insist on calling us estadounidense and norteamericano.  These are the established names, and so for convenience I understand why we don’t run around talking about Hayastan and Hellas, but it would be nice if we could admit that it is a matter of convenience (and, one might say, a certain laziness) to use the non-indigenous names of other countries.  Strangely enough, we are more than happy to oblige foreign countries when other governments change their countries’ names (e.g., when Upper Volta became Burkina Faso, or Zaire became Congo yet again, or British Honduras became Belize).  Perhaps it is high time that we fought back against Fasoan tyranny and returned to the ridiculous-sounding geographical designation that preceded the current name.  Sometimes I will still say Zaire out of force of habit, but calling it Zaire for all those decades (which virtually everyone did) was, according to the logic of the anti-Myanmar crowd, a concession to Mobutu.  Since Mobutu was on “our” side in the Cold War, Westerners, so far as I know, did not worry themselves about whether or not they were giving in to some supposed anti-colonialist blackmail by using the official name of the country. 

Some people are upset by the official renaming of Bombay because Hindu nationalists were the ones who did it (I believe the old name is still frequently used out of habit), but it puzzles me why we shouldn’t, generally speaking, use the names for countries that the inhabitants themselves use or those that they say they would prefer.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with continuing to use old names, especially when they are well-established and familiar (we will not start calling Egypt Misr nor will we begin styling India Bharat anytime soon, I think), but actively protesting against the official name of a country–when it has as much claim to being a “legitimate” name as its alternative–seems like an odd way to express opposition to a regime.  It’s not as if the regime cares whether we use the new designation or not–the change is for domestic consumption anyway–and we are not lending aid and comfort to Burmese dictators if we happen to call it Myanmar.     

For instance, Iran has been the official name of that country in foreign relations since the 1920s, but there are still some who will insist on calling it Persia, thinking that they are somehow sticking it to the Ayatollah.  They are, if anything, sticking it to the ghost of Reza Khan and the Pahlavi rulers, which is pointless.  That Iran is the older indigenous name for the place only underscores how irrelevant this posturing over names really is.

Preliminary reactions from abroad suggest that, far from appearing ridiculous and laughable, as an American audience naturally takes him to be, Ahmadinejad is winning plaudits for his performance in more than a few corners at home (at least in the Iranian establishment) and getting credit for enduring Bollinger’s supposedly “harsh” introduction.  Of course, the “harsh” introduction was a series of questions that were neither new nor terribly “harsh.”  In the end, it may not make that much difference, since Ahmadinejad is already quite popular in the Near East.

“The government has ordered the 22nd Division troops to pull out of Karen state and return to Yangon,” Colonel Nerda Mya of the Karen National Union told the news agency. “We believe the troops will be used as in 1988.”

Troops from remote areas, unfamiliar with current events in the big cities, were deployed at that time in the killings of civilians. ~The New York Times

The Chinese government used the same methods in 1989, bringing in reserves from Sichuan and other provinces to crush the students in Tiananmen, and you would almost have to assume that Beijing is giving the junta tips on how to quell the protest, since a change in the political situation there could create difficulties for their neo-colonial treatment of Burma.  We may hope that things go well for the protesters, but it seems to me that they recalled the forces from fighting the Karen minority precisely because these are the forces that have already become accustomed to engaging in harsh repression of civilian populations.  After what they have done to the Karen, dispersing some protesters and cracking heads will seem like nothing at all.

Our basic advice to Mr. Bollinger from the start of the whole tragedy at Columbia has been that, when it comes to the war the Arabs are waging against Israel, he is eventually going to have to choose sides. ~The New York Sun

This is almost too easy.  Does Lee Bollinger live in Israel or in any of the neighbouring states?  Is he a citizen of any of the countries there?  Why does he need to “choose sides” in “the war” to which neither he nor his country is actually a direct party?  What relation does this really have to his dressing-down of Ahmadinejad?  It’s as random as can be.

If it weren’t for political disputes over the current war in Iraq, and if Fred Thompson weren’t a presidential candidate, no one would criticize his praise of those Americans who have shed their blood for the liberty of others. ~Robert Stacy McCain

That’s not true.  This has nothing to do with his praise of Americans who have shed their blood “for the liberty of others.”  It is his blatant, repeated insult against all of those allied soldiers who shed their blood and risked their lives in the same causes during the same wars while they fought alongside our soldiers that drives people to criticise him.  People who think that the controversy is over Thompson’s praise of American sacrifice are not paying attention.

Which brings to James Joyner’s question:

Over the last century, though, all of them have had at least some substantial “other people’s liberty” component. Who else can make that claim?

Well, obviously, the British and the Dominions can make that claim over the last two centuries, and well they might, because they have at least as strong (or weak) a claim as we do.  It depends on how many of Britain’s wars you want to credit as being on behalf of “other people’s liberty.”  The Spanish living under Bonpartist occupation might have thought the Peninsular campaign was being fought at least in part for their liberty from foreign domination, and from the German and Austrian perspective the same could be argued for the Napoleonic Wars all together.  If the Spanish War counts for us, the British have to get credit for the South African War.  Never mind that both were wars of aggression against states that had never done the invaders any harm–one of the official lines was that we were fighting for Cuban freedom and the Brits were fighting to help the black and coloured populations of the Boer republics.  Obviously, these are debatable claims, which is why it was a mistake for Thompson to phrase things the way he did. 

If our involvement in WWI must be treated as a war for “other people’s liberty,” when that was always secondary or even tertiary to other concerns, both the British and Russians have to get credit for fighting on behalf of Belgium and Serbia (and don’t forget the “liberation” of the Arabs from Ottoman rule–ha!).  As this list makes clear, such comparisons depend heavily on whether you endorse the official propaganda circulated about the war at the time and afterwards.  In fact, the men fighting in the Pacific weren’t fighting for the freedom of the nations of East Asia, but to retaliate for an attack.  Less gauzy sentimentality and mythology in our collective memory of our foreign wars would probably be more desirable than what we have been getting from Thompson.       

Update: It seems that some of our friends to the north have taken notice of Thompson’s claim and made their objections known.  Mr. Gardner writes in The Ottawa Citizen, making some familiar points:

Now, I don’t want to answer dogma with dogma. Strategic and national interests played major roles in the decisions of all combatants in the First and Second World Wars. They do in every war. It’s a messy world and the motives of nations are seldom simple and pure.

The sort of Americans who cheer for Fred Thompson would agree with that statement — as it applies to other countries. What they cannot seem to accept is that it applies to their country, too. For them, Americans are unique. The United States is unique. And what sets America and Americans apart is purity of heart.

“We are proud of that heritage,” Thompson said in Iowa after citing the mythology of America-the-liberator. “I don’t think we have anything to apologize for.”

Nothing to apologize for. Never did anything wrong in 231 years of history. Nothing.

This is infantile. And dangerous. A superpower that believes it is pure of heart and the light of the world will inevitably rush in where angels fear to tread. And then it will find itself wondering why the foreigners it so selflessly helps hate it so.

How could Saddam have used chemical weapons against Iranians? Doesn’t A’jad know Saddam didn’t have WMD? That was just a neo-con lie. ~Cliff May

Apparently, the words weapons inspections and disarmament aren’t in May’s vocabulary.

On reading the blog account of the big to-do at Columbia today, it occurs to me that Ahmadinejad must have found Bollinger’s “sharp challenges” much as Francis Urquhart described Prime Minister’s Question Time: “very frightening–like being mugged by a guinea pig.”

Consider this “challenge”:

Why do you support well-documented terrorist organizations that continue to strike at peace and democracy in the Middle East, destroying lives and the civil society of the region?

You could almost imagine Ahmadinejad replying, “I thank the honourable gentleman for his concern for peace and democracy, which my government has always shared.  We have always worked to bring peace and democracy to the rest of the world, because we love all of the nations of the world.  Naturally, we abhor terrorism and I refer the honourable gentleman to my previous answer.”

In his speech, Ahmadinejad did actually say, “we love all nations.”  That’s a nice thing to say.  It isn’t true (no one on earth, except perhaps for saints, loves all nations), and it is just so much boilerplate.  Someone probably said to him, ”They think that you hate the rest of the world, so ‘prove’ them wrong and say that you love the world.  That’ll show ‘em!” 

The point is that posing such questions to a demagogue simply lends meaning and importance to whatever the demagogue says in response.  It sets him up to blather on about whatever he would like to say.  If he ignores the questions, nothing has been proved that we did not already know, and if he answers them he will invariably spin them to his advantage.  Demagogues often have a good knack for turning a phrase and playing to a crowd–that’s how they got to be demagogues.  Forest Whittaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland comes to mind as a good image of how a despot can turn on the charm and have the foreigners laughing while his henchmen are busily eliminating dissenters.  This would hardly be the first time that a nationalist leader or religious fanatic adopts a moderate, soothing tone when speaking to a foreign audience, while saving the polemics for the folks back home.  People who ought to know better, and who see through such tricks when they are being played by our own politicians, are then taken in by this and they say, “He seems like a reasonable fellow to me!  What was all the fuss about?”

The pose that Ahmadinejad strikes on the subject of the Holocaust is typical.  He pretends that Holocaust studies are somehow today moribund and need to be “opened up” to ”alternative” perspectives.  In this, he uses the reality of a certain political dogmatism surrounding the history of the Holocaust to push an entirely different idea: in the name of opening up debate and furthering research, he would like the “alternative” of denialism to be accepted as a legitimate line of inquiry.  This is the sort of line that Armenian genocide-deniers take: there are different perspectives that need to be respected, the past is complex, who can really say what happened, awful things happen in wartime, etc.  To this they add the hilarious complaint that the push to have the genocide recognised is political (always considered a dirty word in these sorts of arguments), since, of course, deniers of the Armenian genocide could not have any agenda or political interests of their own.   

Diasporan Armenians in particular are understandably very passionate about having the genocide recognised, and they mobilise politically to this end, which then leads to Ankara’s apologists outrageously casting themselves as the defenders of free and open historical inquiry (when it is the apologists who are carrying water for a government that supports the active suppression of open historical inquiry inside Turkey and are actively supporting political efforts to halt formal recognition of the genocide in the House) against “political pressure.”  This objection against the use of “political pressure” to have a genocide recognised is a good example of morally bankrupt cleverness, but it can be an attractive view, which is why propagandists and deniers use it. 

It is unfortunately a reminder that genocide recognition often depends on whether it serves the interests of great powers and ideologues to recognise it.  The Armenian and Ukrainian genocides, for example, have not been very useful in this way, and so their status as genocides and their significance remain disputed and contested by those who have some stake in denialism.  Recognition of these genocides is seen as a preoccupation of an ethnic community and not a more important matter of moral and historical truth.  Ninety years ago, it would have been considered an unquestionable reality in America that there had been a genocide of the Armenians (though they did not have the word at the time), but today for all together too many Americans it has become a “complicated” question about which there are many different perspectives.  This change is not the result of an evolution towards more sophisticated and serious treatment of the history of the Ottoman empire, but a clear example of how power interests can corrupt historical understanding.         

Returning to Ahmadinejad, he reportedly said at the conclusion of his appearance:

If the U.S. government recognizes the rights of the Iranian people, respects all nations and extends a hand of friendship to all Iranians, they will see that Iranians will be among their best friends.

The dangerous thing about Ahmadinejad’s visit is that he will occasionally says things that are true when they seem useful to him, thus tarring those true observations through association with him.  The above statement is just such a true statement, and it is one likely to be ridiculed by the usual suspects because it came out of his mouth.  Indeed, it is frustrating to realise that if the U.S. government had recognized “the rights of the Iranian people” in 1953 and for 26 years after that Iran would very likely not now have someone like Ahmadinejad as its President.  Our two countries would almost certainly not be headed towards confrontation.  If the U.S. government respected “all nations,” the “crisis” with Iran would not exist because there would be no question of foreign powers dictating to any sovereign state how it might manage its internal affairs.  If Washington did pursue rapprochement with Iran, which, as my Scene colleague Matt Frost correctly notes, this visit has made even more unlikely, it is very likely that the U.S. and Iran could develop good, mutually beneficial relations.  Ahmadinejad’s visit to Columbia has helped set back the possibility of such rapprochement by associating the idea of opening any kind of dialogue with the Iranians with his views, which makes rapprochement even more remote than before.  That in turn aids the most hard-line elements in the Iranian regime, thus ensuring that the very repression and misrule that provoked Bollinger’s “sharp challenges” will continue and will probably get worse by strengthening Ahmadinejad’s faction at home by giving him such a forum and raising his profile internationally.  

Part of it is that he just looks cuddly.  Possibly cuddly enough to turn me straight.  I think he kind of looks like Kermit the Frog.  Sort of.  With smaller eyes. ~Sally Kohn, reminding us why sane people laugh at the Kossacks


Ambinder notes:

In private, Obama likens himself to Reagan, according to some of his friends. He believes that the very act of Americans choosing to elect him would amount to the biggest foreign policy advance of the past 20 years, would immediately change the way, say, a young boy in Lahore views this country, would crush the propaganda gains of radical Islam since the end of the first Gulf War, would heal the scar that serves as a reminder of America’s original sin (slavery), would directly engage the mass Muslim world in a way that no one who voted for oil or empire could, and … you get the idea.

Now that you’ve finished groaning and smashing your head against a wall now that another presidential candidate has started with the Reagan comparisons, I will continue. 

So a young boy in Lahore will have his views changed about America by the election of Obama, will he?  As Ross suggests, this is a strange thing for someone who has advocated taking military action inside Pakistan without its government’s permission to say.  At the present time, most Pakistanis see America as the major threat to their country.  Given Obama’s past remarks about Pakistan and foreign policy generally, the young boy in Lahore will probably go from fearing and loathing America to actively preparing for the impending assault.  It seems to me that the “propaganda gains” of radical Islam are to be found in their exploiting of U.S. occupation of Muslim countries.  Obama’s election would not “crush” these.  Whatever his later policies might do to weaken those claims, his election would obviously not change them in the least. 

Given how some in the Near East portrayed Secretary Rice after her truly awful “birth pangs of a new Middle East” remark, it occurs to me that a President Obama may have more difficulty in changing how people across the world see America.  This seems to be the case, since he quite happily endorsed deeply unpopular moves by the U.S. and our allies, including the Lebanon war of last year.  On 22 August 2006 (when the war was in its closing phase), he said:

I don’t think there is any nation that would not have reacted the way Israel did after two soldiers had been snatched. I support Israel’s response to take some action in protecting themselves.

What did he have to say about the results of “some action”?  The ruined infrastructure, the hundreds of thousands of refugees, the 1,000 dead civilians?  One looks in vain for any remarks that might be seen as critical of the methods used in the Lebanon war or the indiscriminate nature of the bombing.  However, there is this:

During the fighting between Israel and Lebanon earlier this year, Mr. Obama co-sponsored a resolution endorsing Israel’s right to self-defense and condemning Hamas and Hezbollah.

And this:

There was absolutely nothing in Obama’s speech that deviated from the hardline consensus underpinning US policy in the region. Echoing the sort of exaggeration and alarmism that got the United States into the Iraq war, he called Iran “one of the greatest threats to the United States, to Israel, and world peace.”

I’d be interested to see how he “directly engages with the Muslim world” after unequivocally supporting a bombing campaign that met with widespread condemnation from Muslims around the world.  Obama would like to tell a story about how his election will change the image of America in the world.  Because his election would be a milestone in domestic politics, I think there are a great many people here who automatically assume that the rest of the world would see his election in this same way.  These Americans might find, if he were somehow elected, that other nations would see through his hope and unity rhetoric to the substance of his worryingly over-ambitious foreign policy views.  It is, of course, a certain kind of meddling foreign policy that has harmed our national reputation, and the real test for Obama’s “change” candidacy is whether he has given any indication that he departs significantly from it.  It seems to me that he doesn’t, and that will mean that any superficial good feeling that might follow his election would be sunk in a sea of disappointment and bitterness when people around the world discover that he is not very different from the alternatives.  If the next President wants to repair America’s reputation, he will have to start changing what the U.S. government does in her name.  Putting a different face on what is basically more of the same will not make a dent. 

Via Ross, I see that Mark Steyn makes the right points about Fred “Our Casualty Numbers Are Bigger Than Yours” Thompson:

It’s unbecoming for a serious nation to get into a pissing match about whose pile of war dead is higher.


It should not be necessary in “supporting our troops” to denigrate everybody’s else. 


That’s President Reagan addressing “the boys of Pointe du Hoc” at Normandy in 1984. I know everyone wants Fred to be the new Ron, but I miss the old one’s generosity of spirit. 


But Senator Thompson’s line is a gross sentimentalization.

That all sounds right to me.

Bagehot would not have been at home in early 21st-century America. Today we prefer our writers soft, exculpatory, self-righteous but nevertheless wrapped in the rhetoric of non-judgmentalism. ~Roger Kimball

With all respect to Mr. Kimball, whose larger point about Columbia is well taken, it seems to me that the medium of blogging in particular often involves nothing but extremely judgemental, polemical writing.  Whether or not this counts as properly ”manly” is for others to judge, but soft, simpering nebbishes are not exactly the first things that would come to mind when I think of 21st century political discourse.  There are certainly advocates for ever-greater bipartisanship and more simpering appeals to unity, but they tend to be met with the scorn of political bloggers.

On the matter of Ahmadinejad’s invitation to speak at Columbia, I find myself agreeing with Mr. Kimball and others.  I suppose I can understand to some extent why someone might have thought this might be a good idea.  Strangely, whoever this someone was, he did not think about all the other reasons why it would be an extremely bad idea. 

There was probably a strong sense that this would be an opportunity to poke various Persophobic loonies in the eye, as if to say, “Not all Americans want to drop tactical nukes on Iran.  Norman Podhoretz and his ilk do not speak for all of us.  Some of us favour ‘dialogue’.”  Be that as it may, the invitation was dreadful, but above all it was a very stupid thing to do.  If you wanted to reconfirm every anti-academic prejudice on the American right, it is hard to think of how you might better accomplish it than bringing in Ahmadinejad under the banner of free speech and academic freedom.  (If could have found some way to co-sponsor the event, it might have been even more obnoxious and offensive.)  For more than a few on the right, it’s a three-for-one deal: a chance to bash academia for being “anti-American” (which they take as a given anyway), while also bashing defenders of free speech and academic freedom for also being complicit in subversive and all-around idiotic ideas (which they also take as more or less a given).  At this rate, why not invite Hugo Chavez to give a commencement address or give Castro an honourary degree for his ”humanitarian” contributions to the people of Angola?  Just because they and their governments are not threats to us does not make them and their views acceptable.  Ahmadinejad may talk whatever rubbish he likes in his country, but no one is obliged to ”engage” it and no one should be interested in associating with him when he comes here.   Like MoveOn’s self-defeating antics, Columbia’s invitation reminds the dissenting conservative of the crucial lack of discernment that seems built-in with all too many people on the left.        

There is probably an instinct among quite a few academics to rally against these criticisms of Columbia.  After all, supine conformity to the foreign policy priorities of the government is only too common these days (see Congress, the media), and the academy is not properly an extension of the government that it should be required to toe some line on policy.  The thing worth noting, of course, is that “engaging” Ahmadinejad by inviting him to Columbia misses the essence of the policy debate surrounding Iran.  Focusing on Ahmadinejad, either as an invited guest or a target of hatred, personalises U.S.-Iranian relations in the same misguided way that Washington routinely does with foreign governments.  Ahmadinejad does not represent most Iranians, and he does not represent much of the Iranian political elite.  It is precisely because he really is marginal that his obsessions are irrelevant to the policy debate.  Treating him as a serious figure, either as someone to be “sharply challenged” or targeted for harsh criticism, is to play the game on his terms and give him a level of credibility that he could never obtain on his own. 

Manifestly, the man’s views are very often ridiculous, and he is a ranting demagogue, an Iranian Huey Long with less common sense.  He is, however, a shrewd political operator who knows how play the angles.  To give him a forum is to play into his hands and to treat him as the world leader that he would like to pretend to be.  It flatters his ego, builds up his reputation around the world and strengthens his hand at home.  It makes the task of those who oppose anti-Iranian warmongers at home harder, it helps stoke the fires of Persophobia and it is in itself a colossal blunder on every level.  It is quite one thing to argue that Ahmadinejad is a preposterous demagogue whose rantings pose no threat to anyone but his unfortunate listeners and quite another to pretend that Ahmadinejad is just another citizen in the republic of letters and a participant in free-flowing intellectual debate to whom we issue “sharp challenges,” such as: “Dear boy, wouldn’t you reconsider your slightly troubling claims about the Holocaust?” 

The problem with inviting Ahmadinejad is revealed by a simple test: would anyone in an academic institution be willing to vouch for a speaker with similar views if he did not come from a country currently being vilified by our government, or if he were a white European?  When Columbia and other universities extend invitations to far, far more reasonable and decent foreign politicians–a Joerg Haider or Filip DeWinter, for instance–then I will begin to believe their claims about a desire for open and active debate.  Until then, I will hold the view that such “free speech” and “academic freedom” mean speech and views of which some established consensus already approves. 

If Obama et al. wanted to help convince Pakistanis that the United States government means their country harm, well, mission accomplished:

The Pew Research Center found seven in 10 Pakistanis worried that the U.S. would attack their country; 64 percent said the U.S. was more of a threat than India [bold mine-DL], with whom Pakistan has fought three wars and continues to detest.

That figure equals the percentage of Turks who see the U.S. as the greatest threat to their country.  So Washington has managed to give the impression in the last several years to our two largest, overwhelmingly Muslim allied states that we are their greatest enemies.  It sounds as if it’s about time to be awarding Karen Hughes her Medal of Freedom. 

It’s almost enough to make you wish that there was some seasoned State Department veteran as ambassador to Pakistan to work to control the damage.  Maybe someone named Ryan Crocker.  Unfortunately, he’s in Iraq trying to make the best out of an impossible situation–a perfect symbol of the extent of the distraction from more important goals that Iraq has become.

But if they’ve dropped the vampiric word, they haven’t dropped the vampiric implication. The new book suggests that the lobby for the Jewish state—unlike the lobby for, say, ethanol—is not just another successful interest group but somehow illegitimate because of its success, and that its influence on American policy has become so powerful and malign that no one dares challenge it (except, well, them, and a good number of Jews). ~Ron Rosenbaum

I don’t know why anyone should bother to answer this, except that the repetition of falsehoods long enough practiced has a way of making those falsehoods seem to be self-evident truth.  The authors state in no uncertain terms that “the lobby” is not illegitimate and its activities are not improper.  They say the following on p.13:

The Israel lobby is not a cabal or a conspiracy or anything of the sort.  It is engaged in good old-fashioned interest group politics, which is as American as apple pie.  Pro-Israel groups in the United States are engaged in the same enterprise as other interest groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the AARP, or professional associations like the American Petroleum Institute, all of which also work hard to influence congressional legislation and presidential politics, and which, for the most part, operate in the open.  With a few exceptions, to be discussed in subsequent chapters, the lobby’s actions are thoroughly American and legitimate.

So the new book flatly rejects what Mr. Rosenbaum says that it suggests.  Preoccupied as he is with questions of moral imagination, he has apparently let his imagination get the better of him. 

He then goes on to quote Eliot Cohen’s scurrilous attack on the authors and then pretends to be agnostic about whether or not the quote from Cohen is true.  It’s an old Ciceronian-style trick: “I will not speak today about the gentleman’s lurid crimes and disgusting debauchery, as I am unsure whether they ever happened…”  Cohen was reiterating the lie that the authors accuse pro-Israel activists of being equivalent to foreign agents, and with amazing boldness claimed that Mearsheimer and Walt are the ones demonising policy differences in an article entitled, “Yes, It’s Anti-Semitic.”  Indeed, there is no demonisation going on in the book, and for a “polemic” (as Rosenbaum calls it) it is amazingly free of invective.  It is staid, at times a bit dry.  If they were trying to write a “polemic,” they have been unsuccessful.   

No, the polemic is Mr. Rosenbaum’s.  Mr. Rosenbaum is annoyed because he thinks they quoted him out of context and put his quote in a passage that could give readers a very misleading impression of what he’s talking about.  He is troubled that someone would impute views to him that he does not hold!  Why, the nerve!  He has noted that the authors have pledged to correct the error, which is more than can be said for the legions of critics who routinely, happily impute views to the authors that they do not and that they categorically reject.  Mr. Rosenbaum is one those of critics falsely imputing views to others when he writes:

Wisse’s book doesn’t treat the idea of Jews having power as something necessarily threatening.

But Mearsheimer and Walt do not treat the “idea of Jews having power” as something “necessarily threatening.”  They don’t find it at all threatening.  They are quite at ease with “the idea.”  “Jews having power” isn’t the issue, and Mr. Rosenbaum must know that it isn’t, and he must know they don’t object to this idea.  They see pro-Israel interest groups wielding influence in ways that they deem harmful to U.S. strategic interests, much as an environmentalist might see lobbyists for developers as advocates for policies harmful to nature.  I might object to Ankara’s influence in Washington without thereby having a problem with “Turks having power.”  This line of argument is ridiculous.  Opponents criticise this or that lobby because it advances what they see as the wrong kinds of policies.  That’s it.     

As Glenn Greenwald shows in response to some of Ledeen’s rambling, the main rule of American politics I was talking about does not, of course, seem to apply to warmongers:

So Gen. Abizaid, who “failed” in his mission, also “suppressed” the “copious evidence” of Iranian involvement in Iraq. That sounds like Ledeen is accusing General Abizaid of being less than honest — how else can one characterize someone who “suppresses” evidence? — and that, as we learned this week, is not allowed. The Commander-in-Chief just explained this morning that such attacks are “disgusting” and constitute attacks on The Troops Themselves.

Greenwald also says all the necessary things about intellectual–and I would add moral–cowardice of neoconservative jingoes.

I don’t know whether Scarborough meant the last part rhetorically, but regardless he has picked up and extended a critical meme of modern liberal thinking – it’s President Bush’s war.  This couldn’t be more wrong, both factually and morally.  Regardless who started it and how it began, it is now an American war. ~Dean Barnett

Of course, it is Mr. Bush’s war.  He launched it arbitrarily and illegally.  He perpetuates it every day that it goes on.  He can end it any time he wishes, and he does not.  He received a meaningless resolution that “authorised” him to start a war and violate the Constitution, but the resolution actually authorised nothing.  It was simply a capitulation, a symbol of Congressional weakness and timidity, an abdication of the duties of the legislative branch.  He who would govern as an autocrat must accept the responsibility for what he unleashes upon the world.  It is Mr. Bush’s War, and in the last analysis it belongs to him more than to any other.  This is why “the people” do not have an obligation to continue this war, and why we are not bound by the promises of an arbitrary executive.  There was no real consultation with and consent of the people in the beginning, and there never has been.  The people do not accept responsibility for Mr. Bush’s War, no matter what twaddle Gov. Huckabee may offer on its behalf.    

Barnett refers to this Joe Scarborough post.  Like Scarborough, I think was phenomenally stupid to run the Petraeus ad.  Worst of all, the attack ad is irrelevant.  MoveOn targeted Petraeus for criticism because it saw him as a threat, but his testimony changed absolutely nothing in public opinion.  As antiwar conservatives have come to expect from this sort, they shot themselves in the foot for no reason. 

Rather than thinking in terms of smart political strategy, MoveOn went for the viscerally satisfying put-down typical of the left-wing netroots set.  They are, of course, an embarrassment to opponents of the war, and above all they are a joke, which is what you would have to expect from an organisation that was founded on the principle that Bill Clinton was a good President. 

I have yet to understand the thinking of progressives who want to fight their political foes on such unfavourable ground.  The clever line of attack would have been to stress Petraeus’ relative successes while emphasising how futile and impossible the overall mission still was.  Didn’t these fools learn the basic rules of American politics: whatever you do, hands off the military, which you shall not criticise in any substantial way.  It doesn’t matter right now whether this is a desirable state of affairs (it would horrify the Founders)–it is the political reality that we have.  Publicly criticising a combatant commander is political suicide.  Small children know this.  The brain-damaged know this.  Dogs know this.  MoveOn apparently does not.  

It is, of course, tempting to accuse domestic supporters of the war of the same things they routinely accuse us of doing: treason, subversion and all manner of villainy.  It is very tempting sometimes.  You have no idea.  It is tempting to come up with arguments why they deserve those accusations, but it is wrong.  Many of them may espouse loyalty to an abstraction and a myth, but I think they are not willfully disloyal to their country.  They are dishonourable enough to accuse many others of disloyalty, but that is something else.  Accusing other people of treason over political differences is the act of an ideologue, a commissar, the very sort of person who has promoted this war and backed this administration to the hilt. 

Even so, leveling such accusations at military personnel is utterly and in all ways foolish and misguided.  First of all, it is almost certainly false, it is a show of disrespect to men who are in almost every case trying to carry out an impossible task assigned them by their civilian masters, and it is politically buffoonish.  Tragically, it helps the administration’s apologists and the supporters of prolonging the Iraq war.  With friends like, the antiwar movement needs no foes.     

The relationship of the United States and Israel is special, even unique. And it seems not to fit their schema very well - which, in their eyes, can only mean that there is something “off” about the relationship, not about their framework. ~Scott McLemee

Via Cliopatria

Of course, this is where the original essay, and now the book, really bothered a lot of people–the authors simply rejected the assertions (and assertions are all that they usually are) that Israel is strategically valuable, reliable and that its relationship with America is “special, even unique.”  If you do not accept these very questionable assumptions, U.S. policy towards Israel appears irrational and at odds with the national interest.  To which defenders of that policy say, “You better believe it’s irrational!  It’s based on a special, unique relationship that you don’t understand.  Now stop puncturing our myths.”  

If you do not accept a priori claims about the significance of the current relationship, you might reasonably think that political activists have built up these claims and used political pressure to have them accepted.  That is what political activists do–they work to shape perceptions and tell a story that is most advantageous to their cause.  It is apparently pernicious to point out that this also happens in the setting of Near Eastern policy. 

Now the relationship didn’t used to be so “special,” much less unique.  At the founding of Israel, Secretary Marshall didn’t want to recognise the state but was overruled by Truman, which tells me that the obvious, natural and “special” bonds tying the two countries together were hardly anything of the kind sixty years ago.  At the time of Suez, the relationship wasn’t very good at all.  In 1967 it wasn’t good, either.  The “special, even unique” bond with Israel that is supposed to have these deep roots in our own “secular Zionism” and past rhetoric about being the Chosen People (which, besides being an impious usurpation of a role that orthodox Christians properly attribute to the Church rather than to a nation, is obviously a direct rejection of the Jews’ claim to the same role in the present, since a New Israel displaces the Old) has existed for a little over thirty years.  In its present “unprecedented” form the relationship has existed for all of six years.    

Of course, the South African Nationalists were heir to the Calvinists who believed the Afrikaners to be the New Israel in a new Promised Land.  It was not because of this rhetoric of Christian Zionism, but rather in spite of it, that Israel and SA collaborated on security matters.  Like their distant coreligionists in New England, the Afrikaners thought of themselves as the Chosen People because of their Christianity, which meant for them that the Church took the place of Israel.  This is not normally seen as the basis for strong solidarity with contemporary Jewish people, because it obviously isn’t.  In any other context, no one would propose that talk of New Israel means anything else.  It seems to be a measure of the general ignorance of Christian theological tradition that such a claim could be made in earnest. 

Early modern and modern usage of the New Israel language was frequently used by (at least nominal) Christians engaged in nation-building or nation-expanding efforts; the experience of settling new lands and displacing the indigenous peoples, often by violence, made it natural to draw comparisons with the Old Testament Israelites.  Settlers from Reformed traditions seem to have been more inclined to draw such comparisons because of their more frequent recourse to the Old Testament, which would have made it the most likely source for literary and symbolic references.  

In the preface to their book (which, it might be noted as an aside, is dedicated to their colleague and friend Samuel Huntington), Mearsheimer and Walt make a point that I think has been overlooked in the larger debate about their argument:

America’s response to that war [Lebanon, 2006] proved to be a further illustration of the lobby’s power, as well as its harmful influence on U.S. and Israeli interests.

That would seem to agree with what I said here, though I will need to read on more to see what they say specifically about Lebanon.

NATO and EU missions are hampered by low defense budgets among almost all the states of both organizations. “For decades, successive secretary generals of NATO said defense budgets are too low to do the things we have to do,” said Appathurai, the NATO spokesman. ~International Herald-Tribune

Via James

Continuing our NATO-fest, which our Scene colleague Matt Frost has also joined, James points to this IHT story on the stillborn Rapid Reaction Force.  This makes you wonder how much Australia, Japan et al. would really bring to the the “new NATO” of Giuliani’s fever dreams.  Australia has been engaged in a military buildup that has brought its defense spending to a whopping 2% of GDP, while Japan’s defense budget is 1% and India’s is just a little over 2%.  That means that India and Australia just barely meet minimum NATO standards of a defense budget at 2% of GDP, and Japan does not.  In absolute terms, they are three of the top twelve nations in military spending, but their budgets are not that much larger than those of mid-level NATO states, such as Spain and Poland.  Britain’s capacity has already been pushed to the limit (while being gutted by the Blair Government at the same time), and it is one of the better-funded NATO members.  If most current NATO members cannot be bothered to increase their spending (and they can’t), why would India, Australia or Japan do so to provide resources for a “new NATO”?  Coming back to Ross’ question: what would the “new NATO” actually be trying to do that would persuade Indian, Australian and Japanese voters to accept larger and larger military budgets?

P.S. Yes, I realise this tends to give a manifestly stupid idea far more consideration than it probably deserves, but there are so many things wrong with the proposal that it is difficult to sum them all up in one or two posts.

Never one to miss an opportunity to embarrass himself, Michael Gerson successfully rebuts a claim that Mearsheimer and Walt never made:

In fact, Israeli officials have been consistently skeptical about the main policy innovation of the Bush era: the democracy agenda.

Of course, Mearsheimer and Walt do not claim in their original essay that Israeli officials encouraged the “democracy agenda.”  Their focus in any case is primarily on the domestic lobbying and political efforts of pro-Israel activist groups, not all of which are in agreement with Israeli government positions.  Gerson ignores all of this, and thus evades the substance of the matter.   Some pro-Israel activists in this country and U.S. officials did and still do endorse the “democracy agenda” and were adamant about its importance.  Some pro-Israel former members of the administration are also ideological democratists (e.g., Paul Wolfowitz), which explains the difference between these American pro-Israel figures and the Israeli government view.  The difference between them can best be understood by the distances involved: the Israelis have to live with the disastrous consequences of democratisation, while pro-Israel democratists can pat themselves on the back and feel morally superior for having supported political reform without running any risk themselves.   

Gerson spent all those years in the White House and doesn’t seem to remember what the major policy innovation of the administration was.  Actually, the “main policy innovation of the Bush era,” a.k.a., the Bush Doctrine, is the idea that the United States should target terrorism-sponsoring regimes for elimination and use preventive warfare against those states that appear to pose a long-term threat of developing and/or distributing “weapons of mass destruction.”  That is the radical, new thing that Mr. Bush introduced, and for the most part it has been a failure in practice.  That is the part that some Israeli officials had no problem with at all, even if some would have preferred more attention be paid to Iran. 

The U.S. government has been formally promoting democracy as the “solution” to the ills of “developing” nations, including nations in the Near East, at least since the Carter Administration.  In its foolishness and misguided idealism, Mr. Bush’s “Freedom Agenda” is every bit as counterproductive to U.S. (and Israeli) interests as Mr. Carter’s Shah-undermining democracy promotion was 30 years ago and has had more or less the same results.

The rest of Gerson’s article is rubbish (maybe it’s even “dangerous rubbish”), since he does not even attempt to address what Mearsheimer and Walt actually say.  He ignores the militantly pro-Israel policy views of many conservative evangelicals and the political pressure they bring to bear on Republican candidates by saying that Mr. Bush does not accept premillennial dispensationalist theology, as if Mearsheimer and Walt said anything of the kind (they did not).  Indeed, the two authors made a point of referring to pro-Israel Christians by way of anticipating the charge that they are discussing a “Jewish lobby,” when they clearly are not.  They are talking about a collection of American interest groups that support, in their view, a misguided and dangerous foreign policy.  Since that foreign policy is misguided and dangerous, and inimical to American security interests, critics of the essay never have anything to say on the substance of the matter, but must constantly talk of anti-Semitism and conspiracies.  References to “grassy knoll” and “the DaVinci Code” have no place in a serious response to the argument the authors make, but then there has hardly ever been a serious response made by anyone.  Lacking in anything to say, Gerson resorts to the standard method of vilification followed by arrogant dismissal.

The appeal to the opinions of the mob people, which is what pro-Israel pundits are always reduced to, is not very compelling, and I’ll tell you why.  Large parts of the public have long been very fond of Britain, they have many sentimental and cultural attachments to Britain, many of them are of English, Scotch, Welsh or Irish descent and feel a strong affinity for the people of Britain, and they see the origins of their own political principles in the British constitution.  That doesn’t mean that there were not very specific and powerful interests lobbying for U.S. entry into wars that had no connection to U.S. national interests.  Those interests wanted U.S. entry into WWI to protect Britain (some of this concerned large loans that had been made to Britain), and they managed to use their considerable influence to bring political pressure on the government to go to war against Germany.  An overwhelming majority of the public, despite having many reasons to sympathise with Britain and despite knowing about German provocations that helped build support for war, did not want to go to war in 1917.  Over two-thirds of the people did not want to fight in a European war.  Interested parties lobbying the government for war and a President already inclined to intervene brought us into that war.  If Gerson had been alive then, he would assure us that there were no Anglophile Eastern business and financial interests involved in the drive to intervene in WWI because they did not endorse Wilson’s Fourteen Points.  He thinks that an example of a different bad policy that the interest groups did not push proves that they do not wield the kind of influence attributed to them regarding an entirely distinct policy.  In other words, he cannot reason properly.

Advocacy for certain policies is what political activists and interest groups do: they shape and influence policy by wielding political clout and threaten those who don’t play ball with strong opposition.  This is how petitioning and lobbying works.  As Mearsheimer and Walt have said repeatedly, this is a legitimate and proper part of our political system.  To listen to their critics, you would never know that they say this.  

Activists are by definiton more focused and intent on specific areas of policy than the political class or public generally.  The interest groups the activists and lobbyists represent are focused on how any given politician votes on their pet issues, and they make sure to broadcast those votes to their groups’ members and make sure to support the political rivals of those who vote the ‘wrong’ way.  Publicising the record of someone as an opponent of your group’s goals is a standard method of trying to wield influence, and better still if the group can spin that opposition as an expression of some hateful or vicious attitude.   

While there may be groups that offer opposing views and try to see them enshrined into policy, it is often the case that one side of any given debate is much more mobilised, energised and better prepared to get its view across.  That is certainly the case in American domestic politics when it comes to policy related to the Near East and to Israel in particular.  This means that policy will tend to be influenced by those groups that have the most passionate and often more extreme views about a subject than the general population (including the larger group that the activist and lobbyist claim to represent), but even more so by those that are well-connected to both parties and well-funded.  Because such interest groups are typically so passionately committed to the policies that they want to see enacted, it is usually prudent for politicians who don’t want trouble to yield to their entreaties on any particular vote, unless there are other, even more powerful, countervailing interests that take precedence.  With respect to pro-Israel groups, they are able to deploy a number of additional political threats, including ultimately using the threat of a charge of softness on terrorism or anti-Semitism to intimidate and cajole dissenters on a relevant vote.  There is usually no political benefit in angering such groups, and nothing to be gained and much to be lost by taking the opposing side.  This is not because the public is overflowing with ardent love of Israel (this is exaggerated considerably), but because these groups will target those who oppose their agenda.  Such groups can make the political lives of opponents much more difficult, and the fear of this discourages opposition in the first place. 

The most effective interest groups are those that are better organised, better funded and better able to communicate their message to politicians than their rivals.  By general agreement, AIPAC is considered the most effective single organisation; add to its significant clout all the other interest groups that have a stake in promoting what are perceived to be “pro-Israel” policies, and you have a formidable array of interests that nonetheless represent a fairly narrow sliver of the nation. 

However, just because an interest group is effective, organised, well-funded and able to communicate well obviously does not mean that it represents the broad public interest.  By definition, it represents a fairly narrow interest, but one which it claims is consistent and complementary with the public interest.  But any narrow interest group’s claims of this kind can be, and frequently are, exaggerated, if not entirely false.  The group or groups has/have every right to compete for its share of influence, but no group has some unquestionable right to that influence.  Its preferred policies are not beyond question, and the scope of its influence is not beyond scrutiny.  If the policies it proposes are damaging to the commonwealth and the national interest, any narrow interest must be challenged and questioned and its agenda opposed if necessary.  Attempts to wrap itself in popular opinion should be seen as the cynical ploys that they are.  When defenders of the interest group or groups begin resorting to ad hominem and invective, this should be taken as indirect proof that they cannot defend the substance of their preferred policies on the merits.

What Mearsheimer and Walt say is very straightforward and not in the least sinister.  They say that American pro-Israel groups and individuals, for which “the Lobby” was used as a catch-all shorthand term, wield great influence and shape U.S. policy in the Near East to a considerable extent.  Since no one can actually deny that this is true, they impugn the motives of the people saying it.  But if the present level and nature of support for Israel are so natural, so obviously right and so consistent with the American interest, as the defenders of the supposedly non-existent lobby say, why all the hysterical fits and foaming at the mouth?  Why the rampant talk of anti-Semitism?  Why is it not deemed a legitimate difference of opinion over U.S. national interests in the Near East?  Why can no one–literally no one–put forth a positive case for the current U.S.-Israel relationship in response to Mearsheimer/Walt? 

I would have to guess that it is because pro-Israel activists cannot justify the current U.S.-Israel relationship in terms of its advantages for the United States, because they are only too aware that there are not many tangible or discernible advantages for the U.S. coming from this relationship.  The costs are only too obvious.  In any remotely realistic calculation of costs and benefits, the pro-Israel side loses and loses badly.  That is why we must never peer too closely at the costs and benefits, or we might soon start adopting different policies.  I would guess that pro-Israel activists support the current shape of the U.S.-Israel relationship and the policies related to it in the conviction that they are the “right thing” to do for both countries.  There is just no tangible, measurable or visible evidence that this is so, and plenty that seems to point towards the opposite conclusion.        

NATO has already expanded to include former adversaries, taken on roles for which it was not originally conceived, and acted beyond its original theater. We should build on these successes and think more boldly and more globally. We should open the organization’s membership to any state that meets basic standards of good governance, military readiness, and global responsibility, regardless of its location. The new NATO should dedicate itself to confronting significant threats to the international system, from territorial aggression to terrorism. I hope that NATO members will see the wisdom in such changes. NATO must change with the times, and its members must always match their rhetorical commitment with action and investment. In return, America can assure them that we will be there for them in times of crisis. ~Rudy Giuliani

James and I have had our turns criticising Giuliani’s most recent re-statement of this proposal, but this section of his FA essay could stand a little more scrutiny.  Giuliani says that NATO should “build on these successes.”  Which successes?  Bombing the Serbs and provoking Russia by incorporating its former satellites into the alliance?  Evidently.  If we have many more such “successes,” we might wind up with a real crisis with Russia on our hands.  If this is what Giuliani rates as a successful adaptation of NATO, we do not want to see what he would do with an even larger alliance. 

NATO has acted beyond its original theater in Afghanistan because the alliance was fulfilling its obligations to respond to an attack on a member state.  He says the “new NATO” should confront threats to the “international system” (which he has already shown that he does not understand), but he gives no indication that NATO would cease to be an alliance for mutual defense.  Even so, he says:

We should open the organization’s membership to any state that meets basic standards of good governance, military readiness, and global responsibility, regardless of its location.  

On its face, this means that any state in the world that meets these criteria can belong to the alliance and would presumably be entitled to the same security guarantees as any other member.  In the new, global “NATO,” on what basis would you make security guarantees to Poland and Latvia and not to the new members?  Giuliani lays out activities for the “new NATO,” but says nothing about the benefits of membership, except saying that “America can assure them that we will be there for them in times of crisis.”  Is it not safe to assume that the benefits of mutual defense remain?  And if America will “be there for them,” are major European states not going to “be there” for the new members and vice versa?  Of what use is the alliance to eastern European states if those security benefits disappear with the “transformation” of NATO into GloboLegion?   

Update: Ross makes other sound critiques of Giuliani’s “new NATO” here.  He starts with what should be the first question everyone asks about this: Why do it? 

Someone else noticed Fred Thompson’s bit of stupidity that I criticised here.  It is apparently also a regular part of his stump routine.  The Post writer notes:

Even if the Soviet Union is not included in the calculation, U.S. military casualties in all wars combined remain lower than those of the British Commonwealth (”a combination of nations,” in Thompson’s phrase) in World War I and World War II. According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, the British Commonwealth lost 1.7 million troops in the two world wars.

Even excluding WWI, which was a fight for the “rights of small nations” only in the delusional mind of Woodrow Wilson and his admirers, Thompson’s claim is false and obviously so.  Of course, in my original post, I didn’t talk about the Soviets, because the idea that the Soviets were fighting for “other people’s liberty” was ludicrous and obviously so.  The Post does itself no favours by even mentioning this, since it has a perfectly solid argument against Thompson’s claim by looking at the sacrifices made by all our free allies in WWII.  There might be another occasion for acknowledging the enormous losses suffered by the USSR in WWII, but this was not it.

Thompson’s claim wasn’t exactly “jingoistic,” though it might be employed in service of future jingoism, but it was certainly nationalist and was rather chauvinistic at that.  It is a declaration of vast American moral superiority over all other nations put together.  These are the words of someone who would be President?  He would be the one to represent our country to the world?  The President, whose words carry tremendous influence for good or ill, cannot long afford to be so reckless and sloppy in his language as this. 

Thompson’s statement was an insistence that Americans have sacrificed more than all other nations combined for the sake of liberty.  It was plainly inaccurate, which is bad enough, but the significance of the remark is much worse.  I say again that this is an example of appalling arrogance and a show of enormous disrespect to all those soldiers of free nations that fought alongside our soldiers.  We expect, no, we normally demand that western Europeans remember the sacrifices made by Americans on their behalf.  They should remember and respect our war dead, just as we should remember and respect theirs.  We were allies, fighting on the same side towards the same end.  

Republican politicians were not always so oblivious to the rest of the world.  We once had a President who proudly acknowledged the contributions of U.S. allies in Normandy:

Do you remember the story of Bill Millin of the 51st Highlanders? Forty years ago today, British troops were pinned down near a bridge, waiting desperately for help. Suddenly, they heard the sound of bagpipes, and some thought they were dreaming. Well, they weren’t. They looked up and saw Bill Millin with his bagpipes, leading the reinforcements and ignoring the smack of the bullets into the ground around him. Lord Lovat was with him — Lord Lovat of Scotland, who calmly announced when he got to the bridge, “Sorry I’m a few minutes late,” as if he’d been delayed by a traffic jam, when in truth he’d just come from the bloody fighting on Sword Beach, which he and his men had just taken. There was the impossible valor of the Poles who threw themselves between the enemy and the rest of Europe as the invasion took hold, and the unsurpassed courage of the Canadians who had already seen the horrors of war on this coast. They knew what awaited them there, but they would not be deterred. And once they hit Juno Beach, they never looked back.

All of these men were part of a roll call of honor with names that spoke of a pride as bright as the colors they bore: the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Poland’s 24th Lancers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the Screaming Eagles, the Yeomen of England’s armored divisions, the forces of Free France, the Coast Guard’s “Matchbox Fleet” and you, the American Rangers. 

“The impossible valor of the Poles” has no place in Fred Thompson’s view of what happened in WWII, nor do the forces of free France or the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.  Apparently, he thinks it’s all about us, or at least it is so much more about our role that everyone else just pales in comparison.  In his view, we must have done all the heavy lifting and all the real work.  The hundreds of thousands of Allied dead?  Fred Thompson doesn’t remember them, doesn’t even seem to know that they exist.  With his embarrassing statement, which he keeps reiterating, Fred Thompson is reminding us why he is not like that President and why he is not fit to be our next President. 

Taking pride in the achievements of our country is admirable and good, and we should be enormously grateful to those who served and those who lost their lives in America’s foreign wars.  Maybe that was Thompson’s original intention in saying what he did, but even the best of intentions do not excuse such historical ignorance and disrespect to some of our oldest, most reliable allies.  Patriots do not need to boast of the greatness of their country or the extent of the sacrifices made by their people.  They do not need to tally up casualties to prove their country’s value, nor do they need to constantly talk about how superior the country is.  Indeed, they can bring disrepute to their country by insisting on its superiority.  As we are reminded (a little too often) in other contexts, Americans have no monopoly on the love of liberty, nor have we outdone all other nations combined in the sacrifices made in its defense.  A patriot loves and admires his country and its people because they are his own and because they possess virtues peculiar to them–not because they are The Best Ever or The Most Heroic Ever.  Such an attitude seems to premise patriotism on the greatness of a people’s achievements, when patriotism should inspire the native of the tiniest, least powerful land in the world. 

It should be enough to say that our armies truly have fought and sacrificed for the sake of the freedom of other peoples.  That is true, that is admirable and that is something that should never be forgotten.  Neither should it be distorted or exaggerated into something that it is not–this is actually to fail to respect the actual achievements of our soldiers and to invent other achievements to take their place.  The reality of American sacrifice in WWII, for example, is sufficient to merit great honour and respect, and it does not need this exaggeration.  Chauvinists exaggerate the reality because they cannot tolerate other nations sharing in the praise and the glory of the achievement–they want it all for their own country.  Chauvinism of this kind is a disorder of the appetitive part of the soul.  It is an excess of pride. 

What can Thompson’s remarks be but a slight (unwitting and ignorant as it may be) to all those British, Commonwealth and free European soldiers who were there together with ours in France, Italy, the Low Countries and Germany?  How would Thompson’s defenders react if a foreign politician said something that excluded and ignored the sacrifices of Americans?  They’d scream bloody murder, that’s what they’d do, and they would have a point.  Well, it works both ways.  Some people have forgotten how to show respect to American allies over the last few years, and in the process they have forgotten that Americans will soon receive no respect if they do not show it towards other nations as well.   

Update: Alex Massie makes other good points related to WWII and modern American obliviousness about Allied contributions in his post on Gelernter.

Look, if we were at all serious about public diplomacy, we’d have had all our regional experts who speak Arabic flooding the airwaves apologizing for Condi’s immensely tone-deaf “birth pangs” comment during the Lebanon-Israeli war the summer before last, when the entire Islamic world was enraged by images of cluster munitions being littered willy-nilly through south Lebanon, not to mention the horrific incident at Qana. Or she would follow her predecessor Colin Powell’s recommendation to close Guantanamo without delay, by having a come to Jesus w/ the Decider about how the Cuban penal colony (along with the hooded man at Abu Ghraib) was overshadowing the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of America among many around the world.

These would be the makings of a serious public diplomacy effort, not this breezy, palsy-walsy festiveness with Cal [Ripken]. But what good does it do to scream on like this? You do public diplomacy with the public diplomacy team you have…. ~Greg Djerejian

Via Yglesias

I agree.  Then again, if we were serious about public diplomacy we would have a lot more regional experts who speak Arabic working for the government than we do right now.

Djerejian is responding to this unfortunate episode, catching Secretary Rice saying something especially silly:

I’ll bet he’s going to go out and find people who want to be Cal Ripken in…Pakistan, people who want to be Cal Ripken in Guatemala, people who want to be Cal Ripken in Europe, and that’s the wonderful thing about sports…it really transcends culture and it transcends identity.

That must be why we are all such avid soccer and cricket fans here, and hockey is wildly popular in Brazil.

The WSJ story on Giuliani’s London visit included this

“This is no time for defeatism and appeasement,” Mr. Giuliani said of Islamist terrorism, using Churchillian language of 1930s Europe. Shifting forward five decades, he added: “As Margaret Thatcher would have put it, this isn’t a time to go wobbly!”

He can really string those cliches together, can’t he?  (Of course, the word appeasement became a dirty word because it was used by Chamberlain and had less than optimal results as a policy.)  I wonder if Giuliani will ever be able to say anything about foreign policy without falling back on tired slogans, bluster and invoking the names of Churchill, Reagan and Thatcher.  Hang on, that sounds like someone else we know…

This bit from the story was remarkable:

“I don’t think of Sept. 11 as being my defining experience,” Mr. Giuliani told reporters before the speech. 

No, he just wants everyone else to think of it as his defining experience, and he just happens to mention it at every possible opportunity. 

Mr. Giuliani argues his foreign-policy experience is extensive, though perhaps easily overlooked because it is less traditional. 

“Less traditional” here means “non-existent.”  Romney has similarly grand foreign policy “experience”–he refused to give Khatami state police protection at Harvard–but even Romney has visited Iraq.  It’s amusing that Giuliani somehow thinks that going to London and making a speech constitute an example of gaining foreign policy experience.  He and Thompson really are more alike than either would like to admit. 

Giuliani also made sure to remind us that he is a crazy person:

Mr. Giuliani used his speech to call for expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, mentioning for the first time that he’d like to bring Israel into the alliance, which now includes European countries, Canada and the U.S. He also mentioned Japan, India, Singapore and Australia as potential candidates.

Bringing in Israel doesn’t strike me as a feasible option, but then I don’t think NATO should still exist.  But Singapore?  India?  Japan?  Does that mean if Pakistan and India get into a shooting war, NATO attacks Pakistan?  Giuliani does know where the Atlantic Ocean is, doesn’t he?  He was giving the Atlantic Bridge lecture, after all.  Why this doesn’t make him a laughingstock, I’ll never understand.

It is interesting to note in passing how much more Republicans love Margaret Thatcher than do many members of her own party.  The Tories are in the perpetual electoral bind that they’re in for many reasons, but one of the reasons is that they are about as competitive in the North as Michael Dukakis was in Utah.  The way Thatcher privatised industry in those areas is a large part of the reason why those regions are lost to Conservatives.

Update: James makes the right points about this NATO expansion nonsense.

Rudy Giuliani scored a coup in his White House campaign yesterday by meeting Gordon Brown at No 10, conferring with Tony Blair, receiving an award from Baroness Thatcher and wrapping himself in the legacy of Winston Churchill. ~The Daily Telegraph

It’s enough to make one violently ill.  We may forgive Baroness Thatcher, since she is advanced in years and has politely received other hopeless Republican candidates.  Otherwise, we have the spectacle of Giuliani meeting with two of the more loathsome politicians on the other side of the Atlantic.  For that matter, it is only in the warped world of the modern GOP that a photo-op with Tony Blair would be considered a boon. 

Update: The WSJ headline today is “Giuliani Visit to London Aims To Bolster Credentials”–how have we come to such a pass where Republican presidential hopefuls seem to feel obliged to make a pilgrimage to Britain?  How does visiting with British politicians bolster credentials?  As someone who follows British politics pretty closely, it seems to me that association with most of the people in politics could only drag a candidate down.  I have to confess that I don’t fully understand the Churchillophilia that grips so many on the right today, but admiration for Churchill has begun to change from being an annoying rhetorical tic and become almost a kind of requirement for office.  This kind of pilgrimage can only work by going Britain, since no aspiring candidate would dare visit any other country and seek the blessing of past or current political leaders.  We won’t be seeing anyone falling over himself to win Jose Maria Aznar’s approval.   

Neuhaus draws attention to the rather more unsavoury elements of Collier’s The Bottom Billion, namely its insistence on military interventionism as a solution to African ills.  It shouldn’t be necessary to explain why military intervention is just as misguided, counterproductive and destructive as the evils of developmentalism, but apparently it needs to be said.  Just as developmentalism stunts and distorts the economic development of client states, as both Easterly and Collier argue, intervention does the same to the political life of “beneficiaries” of interventionist aid. 

Intervention does absolutely nothing to solve the fundamental political woes of any given state, but at best simply locks them in place.  It may even exacerbate them by drawing one group or another into the orbit of the intervening power, making the different responses to intervention grounds for future conflict.  Undertaken in an emergency as a “temporary” measure, outside intervention becomes a persistent habit of major powers (which are, of course, not intervening out of their goodness of their collective hearts, but for some other reason), and it becomes the default “solution” to every significant domestic crisis in these countries.  Forever being “aided” and “helped,” the peoples that “benefit” from this interventionist regime end up being no more capable of coping with the internal divisions and problems of their countries than they were before and may prove to be worse off.  They become permanent protectorates of the “international community,” global wards that get progressively worse the more “help” they receive. 

Rather than developing the institutions and skills necessary for running their own affairs successfully, these states are forever being artificially propped up, simply deferring more permanently stable arrangement indefinitely.  To those who think outside intervention brings order from chaos, I say simply this: Wait and see what happens in a year or two.  It is at best a stopgap measure that averts some terrible event here or there.  Above all, this interventionist idea says that some nations have the right to trample on the sovereignty of others.  It is inconceivable how a peaceful international order can survive with this kind of two-tier system of states.  A very few states may embark on “genuine” humanitarian missions, but the rest will be pursuing aggrandisement and influence.  Wars of aggression will be dressed up as efforts to “restore order” and “bring peace,” and the war in Iraq has already shown the way.  

From the American perspective, intervention is also a very sure way to fritter away lives and resources on problems that we cannot solve.  Americans have shown time and again that we do not really have the inclination, patience or training to do the work that intervention requires, and even if we did it would not be in our national interest to use our resources in that way.  Under the circumstances, it is actually immoral to urge intervention, knowing that the public will not be willing to bear the cost and see it through–we would be committing the errors of encouraging the miserable and making false promises.  There is also something truly condescending in the assumption that other nations of the world need our intervention.  It is at least partly this mentality of Western obligation and non-Western blame for Western “failure” to act that hampers entire regions from improving local conditions on their own. 

If Ross is right that “the Putin era, in one fashion or another, probably still has decades left to run,” it seems to me that the smart course of action for Western governments is to start working out a modus vivendi with Putin-era Russia on areas of common interest and smoothing out those main points of contention (Kosovo, Iran, Ukraine, Georgia, etc.) that seem most likely to generate conflict in the near term.  Then again, that’s what I think we ought to do while Putin is still the Russian President.  

Scott Paul explains why Romney, who has sent a statement of his demands letter to the United Nations, is a buffoon when it comes to foreign policy.  I agree entirely.


Consider how Kissinger distorts the past while conjuring up his nightmare post-withdrawal scenario:

Within Iraq, the sectarian conflict could assume genocidal proportions; terrorist base areas could re-emerge [bold mine-DL].

Of course, there were no “terrorist base areas” in the country prior to the invasion (except in those areas of the country that were outside of Baghdad’s control).  They cannot “re-emerge” if they did not exist before.  Much of the rest of his list of disastrous outcomes is misleading, exaggerated or simply unrealistic.  He writes:

Under the impact of American abdication, Lebanon may slip into domination by Iran’s ally, Hezbollah; a Syria-Israel war or an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities may become more likely as Israel attempts to break the radical encirclement; Turkey and Iran will probably squeeze Kurdish autonomy; and the Taleban in Afghanistan will gain new impetus. Countries where the radical threat is as yet incipient, as India, will face a mounting domestic challenge. Pakistan, in the process of a delicate political transformation, will encounter more radical pressures and may even turn into a radical challenge itself.

That is what is meant by “precipitate'’ withdrawal — a withdrawal in which the US loses the ability to shape events, either within Iraq, on the anti-jihadist battlefield or in the world at large.

What slippage towards Hizbullah “domination” there has been in Lebanon has come in no small part from the destabilisation created by the “revolution” of 2005 and the war last summer.  Of course, Hizbullah is not in a position to “dominate” Lebanon, on account of the fractious and changeable nature of political alliances in Lebanon.  (As more of the Christian population of Lebanon flees the country for points west, the demographic changes may work to create an outright Shi’ite majority, but that is the result of developments specific to Lebanon and not a product of our Iraq policy.)  Hizbullah “domination” of the entire country is mostly a chimera that is being used to alarm the public about the long arm of Iran.  Even in the event of withdrawal, the United States could very likely control the airspace between Israel and Iran.  If Washington did not want an Israeli strike on Iran, it can make it known to the Israeli government that an attempt will not be tolerated.  A Syria-Israel war would be substantially less likely if Washington would encourage the Syria-Israel negotiations that have been sought by the Israeli government.  It would be even less likely if Washington would work to separate Syria from Iran.  In exchange for lifting sanctions on Syria, Syria could agree to cease any support for militias in Lebanon, and Damascus and Washington might resume their former counterterrorist and intelligence collaboration of late 2001 and 2002.

Iraq withdrawal will have little or no effect on the strength of the Taliban.  This is just hot air.  India’s internal security problems will not be changed one whit by what happens in Iraq.  If there is still cross-border terrorism against India coming from Pakistan and carried out by groups that have the backing of at least some elements of the Pakistani security and military apparatus, that is a function of indulging Islamabad in its double game of feigning concern about jihadi terrorism in the north and west of Pakistan while helping it prosper in the south and east.  I should rephrase that.  Islamabad is genuinely concerned about the jihadis in the north and west, because those jihadis do not work with the government anymore, while those in the south and east still do. 

As for Pakistan’s radicalisation, it has been Musharraf’s ham-fisted and therefore ineffectual efforts at suppressing such radicalism that have created the internal security mess that Pakistan is now suffering.  The fear of Pakistan becoming an open enemy or “radical challenge” seems to me to be overblown.  Musharraf has cultivated this fear to maintain support for his tenuous position, and Americans who don’t know very much about Pakistan have accepted it for years because it seemed better to have the dictator we knew than whatever might replace him.  What makes it more likely would not be a withdrawal from Iraq, but the growing perception that the government in Islamabad is too closely tied to Washington and does not serve the interests of Pakistan.  Popular resentment against the political role of pro-U.S. militaries in major allied states is a major source of resentment against the United States in these countries.  AKP in Turkey gained so many seats because their success was seen as a rejection of the military’s threats to intervene in the presidential election.  Many AKP supporters were not necessarily enthusiastic backers of the party’s goals, but wanted to teach the military a lesson.  The party (or rather oligarchic clique) in Pakistan that can exploit resentment against the huge role of the militarty in Pakistani politics will also enjoy some success.     

Kissinger’s article is a classic of the internationalist op-ed genre: rattle off the names of half a dozen countries, demonstrate some superficial familiarity with the political conditions of each and then intimate an impending disaster unless your preferred course of action is not followed in each particular.  The regional chain reaction is a favourite of these sorts, and it is often effective in cowing dissenters against interventionist policy because it points an accusing finger at those who advocate for a different position: “Why do you want to throw the world into chaos?”  Kissinger is presumably not uninformed about the political realities of the countries he describes.  He and internationalists like him thrive on conjuring up these pictures of doom that will result from a “failure” to “engage” with a crisis somewhere or a move to “disengage” from this or that region.  It lends strength to the idea that “we” must be deeply enmeshed in world affairs, since everything would fall to pieces without “us.” 

This idea is mostly untrue, and I would bet that the internationalists who actually know something about the world know this.  They do not urge continued intervention because they believe it to be necessary for the world, but because they believe it is imperative that “we” remain the hegemonic power.  There is some irony that the strongest defenders of U.S. hegemony always deliberately underestimate America’s ability to shape events abroad through primarily diplomatic, economic and political means–this allows them to draw a picture of a world teetering on the brink of chaos that can only be saved by more and more direct intervention.  Leaving Iraq will not make us have less influence on events elsewhere, but will rather obviously free up our resources and attention for coping with other problems.     

On foreign policy alone, some 200 experts are providing the Obama campaign with assistance of some sort, arranged into 20 subgroups. ~The Chicago Tribune

Given Obama’s foreign policy views, that doesn’t say much for the 200 experts, does it?  Does anyone put off by interventionist policies think that Anthony Lake is going to provide the right answers?

Karen Hughes, our PR agent head of public diplomacy to the world, has good news: Al Qaeda’s popularity in Islamic countries is dropping even more quickly than our own.  She has to be able to boast about something , since it has been on her watch (though it is obviously out of her control) that unfavourable attitudes towards the United States have risen sharply in some of the very countries she cites in this op-ed.  When 64% of Turks view the U.S. as the greatest threat to Turkey, it’s fair to say that the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs has not been very successful.  Of course, it’s impossible for public diplomacy to work when the government is pursuing a disastrous and wildly unpopular foreign policy. 

But here’s a different point: if such an overwhelming majority of people in both Iraq and Afghanistan hate Al Qaeda so, there seems little chance of a terrorist haven being established in either place.  How can anyone still believe the claim that our soldiers must remain to prevent the creation of an Al Qaeda sanctuary?  If the people are the center of gravity in insurgency, jihadis in Anbar have already lost, which does not necessarily mean that we win.  These figures seem to be an encouraging sign that, whatever happens in the wake of a withdrawal from Iraq, an Al Qaeda safe haven is not in the cards.  If our soldiers are going to continue to risk their lives in Iraq, the administration should be clear about why: it will be to keep warring Iraqi factions from destroying each other.  This is not enough to justify an ongoing American presence, however large or small.

He also told the United States that it should set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq as this would spur the Iraqi Government into meeting its own security needs. Without a time-frame, he said, there would be no pressure for the necessary political and security measures. ~The Times


If the West wants to support the Orange movement, let them pay for it. Do you think we are idiots? ~Vladimir Putin

This is refreshingly to the point.

What’s that?  Eli Lake grossly misrepresents and distorts someone’s position on a Near Eastern policy debate?  He perceives accusations of bad faith and conspiracy-mongering where none exists?  He becomes virtually unhinged in the process?  How unusual.

The report further stated that the date of preference for an attack against Iran is in eight to 10 months - after the US presidential candidates for both the Democrats and the Republicans have been chosen, but before the major presidential campaign kicks off. ~The Jerusalem Post

This seems like strange timing, and it is almost enough to make me discount the story.  The reported timing does not match with any of the other rumours that have been circulating about an attack on Iran. 

Starting a war in the middle of an election year seems like the worst of all possible options for Mr. Bush, since it would not have the same political effect as a late October strike.  A late 2007 or early 2008 strike might give a Republican nominee time to recover from any public backlash.  However, it might sway the primary electorate to choose one of the more hard-line candidates and thus make the GOP’s chances in ‘08 even worse.  If done in late spring or summer, there would be months between the start of operations and the election for the public to see the costs that such a decision unleashed, but not enough time for the damage to be undone.  It would work almost entirely to the detriment of the GOP, even though all of the leading Democratic candidates in principle support attacking Iran.   

Mr. Buchanan and Dr. Wilson are also discussing the possibility of an Iranian war.

Maybe George Shultz believes what he writes about Mearsheimer and Walt, which shows that he isn’t even acquainted with their original essay, much less the book they have published.  My guess is that he either skimmed the work or decided that he already knew what it said and wrote this attack without checking to see if any of his charges make any sense.  For instance, he has this “damning” statement:

Anyone who thinks that Jewish groups constitute a homogeneous “lobby” ought to spend some time dealing with them.

Of course, what the essay said on this point was:

We use ‘the Lobby’ as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. This is not meant to suggest that ‘the Lobby’ is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them.

Hm, let’s see…it isn’t about “Jewish groups” and it isn’t homogeneous.  It’s a loose coalition, its members don’t always agree and it has no overall organisation.  “The Lobby” serves as a term of convenience, a catch-all to refer to these various groups together.  Yes, that sounds very much like what Shultz said, except for all of the completely different ideas contained in the two statements. 

The responses this idea of “the Lobby” receives are bizarre.  It’s as if someone wrote about the role of ”the tobacco industry” and was then accused of believing in a monolithic corporate alliance in which there was absolutely no difference of opinion about anything.  Generalising about groups that have common interests and goals is now seen as promoting conspiracies.  To call these responses sloppy would be a bit too generous.  

Sec. Shultz almost certainly knows better than this, of course, but he chooses to lend his prominence to the public effort to smear and insult two academics who make inconvenient arguments for people who support a misguided foreign policy.  If “questioning” is legitimate, and “lies” are not, what should we make of Shultz’s article?  A legitimate difference of opinion, or a scurrilous pack of lies?  Is that really the standard Shultz wants to use? 

In between his hyperventilating breaths about “underhanded Jewish plots” (which is clearly not what Mearsheimer and Walt are describing) and the like, he argues that comparisons between Israel the South African Nationalist apartheid regime are ludicrous.  This is true in a way–the Nationalists were running their system inside the territory of the country that their government legally ruled, while Israel illegally occupies territory and imposes a restrictive, discriminatory system on the inhabitants.  (For the record, I think all territories occupied in violation of international law should be abandoned by their occupiers–the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus is another outstanding example of a U.S. ally being permitted to continue breaking the rules without suffering any real consequences.)  Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in territories it does not even rightfully hold would be like the old South African government imposing its policies inside the borders of Namibia.  From the perspective of international law, Israel’s policy in the territories is not quite like apartheid; it is in a way worse because it does not even take place within the state’s recognised borders.  This makes it one of the more outstanding examples of persistent international lawlessness of the last four decades.   

One of the counterarguments employed against Mearsheimer/Walt is that there are also other influential lobbies that sometimes also get their way and wield tremendous power in Washington.  You don’t say!  This is apparently supposed to prove that pro-Israel groups do not have much influence, or that they are sufficiently counterbalanced by other interests to make complaints about their undue influence seem foolish.  If “the Lobby” does not rule with absolute power over every decision made by the U.S. government, it must not exist, or its existence doesn’t matter!  Of course, we all know that oil interests, the Saudis and defense contractors, among others, have great influence in Washington as well.  These are, on the whole, not terribly desirable influences, and they deserve similar scrutiny.  Then again, no one is denounced as a neo-fascist for simply mentioning these other lobbies, and there is no immediate charge of conspiracy-mongering when someone argues that the goals of the ”the Lobby” do not coincide with the interests of the United States.

Shultz says “those who blame Israel and its Jewish supporters for U.S. policies they do not support are wrong.”  That’s very interesting, except that this is not what Mearsheimer and Walt have done.  They are not “blaming,” they are analysing and trying to understand the rationale for what would otherwise be utterly irrational policies (e.g., the invasion of Iraq).  They do not single out or “blame” Israel’s Jewish supporters.  They state that there are many groups, including Christian evangelicals and the like, that advance what these groups believe are in Israel’s interests (which the groups also believe are in America’s interests), and they attribute to these groups significant influence in shaping policy in the Near East.  (If someone made the argument that “the Israel Lobby” significantly affects our Cuba policy, he would be rightly laughed out of the room.)  Hard as it is for many to understand the difference, understanding a phenomenon and imputing some evil to it are two very different things. 

At every stage, Mearsheimer and Walt have stated very clearly that they believe there is nothing “improper,” much less underhanded or malign about efforts to lobby on behalf of Israel.  They do believe these efforts are badly mistaken in the context of advancing U.S. national interests.  It is because the most ardent supporters of Israel in this country refuse to tolerate any questioning of U.S.-Israel relations or U.S. Near East policy that they refuse to have the debate over whether or not supporting Israel to the extent and in the manner that our government has done is actually serving the national interest.  Perhaps these supporters suspect that they would not win such a debate on the merits and so must continually throw out these outrageous charges against critics.  If that is the impression supporters of Israel would like to give, they should keep engaging in the same histrionics as they have done for months. 

A query: do those who deny the existence of “the Lobby” think that Christian evangelicals have much political influence on other issues?  If they do, why would that influence not be similarly significant when it is deployed on behalf of putatively pro-Israel policies?  Do they deny that many Christian evangelicals are rather intensely pro-Israel in sentiment?  If they do not deny it, what is so strange in arguing that there are groups and individuals that represent the interests of Christian evangelicals when it comes U.S. policy concerning Israel (the latest of which is Christians United for Israel)?  What if someone were to say that the policies advocated by these pro-Israel evangelicals, which tend to be on the militant and aggressive side, are contrary to the American national interest?  Would supporters of Israel simply deny the existence of their numerous allies?  No, they would have to explain why supporting the bombing of Lebanon serves American interests, which they cannot do.  They would have to explain how illegally settling land that does not belong to Israel serves American interests.  They would have to explain how subsidising and arming the Israeli armed forces serves American interests.  In other words, they would have to defend the policies they support on their merits, and this they have never been able and have scarcely tried to do.        

I was thinking this week about how the mood now, among normal people and political figures, is so different from the great burst of feeling that marked the early days of the war–the 17 days to Baghdad, the unstoppable Third Infantry Division, the dictator’s statue falling. The relief that Saddam didn’t use poison gas, as he had against the Kurds, that he collapsed like an old suitcase and got himself out of Dodge. There was a lot of tenderness to those days, too–the first tears at the loss of troops, the deaths of David Bloom and Michael Kelly. Still, the war seemed all triumph, a terrible swift answer to what had been done to us on 9/11 [bold mine-DL]. ~Peggy Noonan

To whom did it seem a “terrible swift answer to what had been done to us on 9/11″?  What kind of answer could it have been besides the wrong answer?  One might have thought that the month-long campaign in the autumn of 2001 against the Taliban would have had this effect.  How in the world could people watch the invasion of Iraq and think, “Ah, yes, it’s payback time for all those things that Iraqis did not do to us!  Come, let us celebrate!”  If there were people who felt that attacking Iraq was payback, this was because the government had deceived them into thinking that Iraq and Al Qaeda were in league together.

I remember the early days of the war very well.  I remember how many people whom I knew were very anxious about the lack of major resistance at the outskirts of Baghdad.  It seemed to them like a trap, assuming, of course, that the dire warnings about the grave Iraqi threat were not so much nonsense.  So many people bought into the propaganda about Iraq’s nefarious weapons arsenal that they were expecting gas attacks to come at any time.  In the event, there was nothing, which was a good first indication that we would find none of the weapons that were supposed to be there in vast quantities.  This was a relief of sorts and certainly good news for the soldiers, but it was the first tangible evidence that the entire thing was a wild goose chase.

Ms. Noonan goes on:

At one point Gen. Petraeus was asked by Sen. John Warner if Iraq has made America safer and said, “Sir, I don’t know actually. I have not sat down and sorted in my own mind.” Later, invited to expand on this by Sen. Evan Bayh, said he’d been surprised by Mr. Warner’s question and added that “we have very, very clear, very serious national interests” in Iraq.

That of course is the great question. History will answer it.

No, actually, people answer this question.  They answer it all the time.  Petraeus just answered it (I think incorrectly).  I have a very different answer.  History doesn’t actually do anything in this regard.  History is a record of events and the interpretation of that record.  It does not issue final answers.  No interpretations in history are ever entirely settled, because the interpreters keep changing and the times in which they live differ so widely.  Historians in the 2020s may look back on Iraq as a moderate success of sorts, if it seems that no long-term damage has been done to the U.S., while historians of a generation later may see it as the beginning of some destructive process that comes to fruition only decades from now and so regard it as a colossal blunder of epic proportions.  The annexation of the Philippines looked much less foolish in 1920 than it did in 1941.  Many people had come to recognise the terms of the Treaty of Versailles as too harsh by the late 1920s, but too late for it to do any good.  Sending Lenin to Russia seemed clever to people in Berlin in 1917; it seemed much less clever in retrospect in 1944-45. 

We do not need to wait for historians to tell us whether the current course of action is wise; we do not need to wait for them to tell us whether it is working.  What we cannot know right now is the long-term historical significance of these events.  That does not mean that we cannot assess success or failure, justice or injustice, right or wrong.  Judging historical significance is a judgement of what effects resulted from a particular event or series of events.  Judging the merits and justice of an invasion, for example, is a question of political prudence and moral theology.  Judging whether or not a war is in our national interests is a matter for policy analysts in the here and now.  Future historians will only be able to fully vindicate the invasion of Iraq if there is a time in the future when people no longer view aggressive war as wrong.  Even if some future historian comes to accept that our government was defending legitimate interests by remaining in Iraq for years and years, that does not necessarily make it so.   

History is not a conscious being that wills and acts and answers questions.  (Yes, I know Ms. Noonan is speaking figuratively, but this constant appeal to history in lieu of trying to make our own judgements is a kind of secular fatalism.)  If our national interests were so very clear and very serious, it would not be difficult for someone, somewhere, to elaborate on what they are.  I have yet to see an argument along this line that did not boil down to one of two things: “I don’t like the Iranian government” and “there’s oil in them thar dunes!”  Far from being “very, very clear” and “very serious,” our interest in remaining in Iraq is utterly obcure and the importance of remaining in Iraq to U.S. national security seems to be anything but serious.  Iraq’s centrality to the region may be exaggerated; its centrality to our national security definitely is.  For that matter, the Near East’s centrality to geopolitics is vastly overblown.  This is not something that only History (or Mike Huckabee’s future historians) can determine.  Sound, informed analysis will do the trick.  When we abdicate judgement like this, we are acting irresponsibly.  So let us have no more of this grand talk about what history will tell us years from now, and perhaps pay a good deal more attention to the history of places that we propose to save from themselves by means of fire and sword. 

The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States. A free Iraq will deny al-Qaida a safe haven. A free Iraq will counter the destructive ambitions of Iran. A free Iraq will marginalize extremists, unleash the talent of its people, and be an anchor of stability in the region. A free Iraq will set an example for people across the Middle East. A free Iraq will be our partner in the fight against terror and that will make us safer here at home. ~George W. Bush 

This Free Iraq sounds pretty impressive.  There is nothing, it seems, that it cannot do, no obstacle it cannot overcome.  Why we didn’t try to establish a Western democracy in this place called Free Iraq, we will never know.  Instead we went to this “Republic of Iraq” place that has none of Free Iraq’s advantages.  There’s no such place as Free Iraq, you say?  That’s crazy–the President has just told us all about it.  He wouldn’t tell us something that wasn’t true, would he?

Yet when the United States bombed European and Christian Serbia to help Balkan Muslims, few critics alleged that American Muslims had unduly swayed President Clinton. ~Victor Davis Hanson

That’s true.  We blamed the Albanian lobby for encouraging intervention in Kosovo, as well we might have done.  The Democrats became very cozy with Albanian lobbyists; the thug and terrorist Hacim Thaci was even a guest at the 2004 Democratic convention.  There’s no sense making sweeping generalisations against all Muslims.

There’s a much easier explanation for the targeting of Serbia during the ’90s: it eased the consciences of those who want to defend non-Christians against a country that was historically Christian, it weakened a Russian satellite, which pleased hegemonists and Russophobes (who are usually the same people), and satisfied all of those in America and western Europe alike who don’t care much for Slavs or Orthodoxy generally.  It also provided a new rationale for NATO in an era when it had none, and briefly fit the bill for those in this country (including neoconservatives) always obsessed with finding a new enemy to fight.

P.S. Note how Hanson can’t even describe the criticisms of neoconservatives or the “Israel Lobby” without distorting the truth.  Why would anyone listen to what he has to say?

The left-field substitution of Iraq as the focal point for our post-9/11 rage could never have happened in another region. ~Ezra Klein

This seems very doubtful to me.  Iraq was subjected to frequent bombings and air strikes in the twelve years between the end of Desert Storm and the 2003 invasion.  Iraq was targeted for “regime change” three years before 9/11, and there was a shockingly broad (and wrong) consensus in this country that Hussein’s government represented a serious threat to the region and the world.  It wasn’t at all difficult for those interested in a war with Iraq to refocus the new post-9/11 rage on the old enemy, since Iraq’s government and Hussein personally had filled the “new Hitler” space in hegemonist rhetoric for years by the time of the attack.  The public had been conditioned to fear and hate Iraqis for a full decade, and Hussein was genuinely villainous enough to lend some credibility to the propaganda about the Iraqi “threat.”  In the looney fringes (e.g., The Wall Street Journal) long before 9/11, all evil things allegedly came from or went through Baghdad–the first WTC bombing, the OKC bombing, etc.  Of course, it made the sale slightly easier that Iraqis were also predominantly Muslim, but all that really mattered to persuade a sizeable portion of the public was that Hussein was a dictator and had fought against the U.S. in the past.  If we had randomly invaded Algeria or Oman in response to 9/11, then maybe Kamiya might be onto something. 

The same thing could have easily happened in another region, if the political class were dedicated to projecting power in another region as they are in the Near East.  Just consider the precedent of the Philippine War.  It originated in the initial conflict between the Filipino rebels and U.S. Army forces sent to occupy the archipelago after the victory at Manila Bay and escalated into a major, brutal counterinsurgency campaign.  The expedition to the Philippines itself was a fairly random diversion and only very tangentially related to the immediate goals of defeating Spain and, as the imperialists desired, supporting Cuban nationalists.  The war against the “Dons” ended and still the U.S. kept fighting in the Philippines, presumably to acquire a base for naval and commercial shipping in Asia.  Fighting the Philippine War made absolutely no sense as a follow-up to the Spanish War, unless you consider the strong interest the establishment of the time had in the China trade and the powerful influence of vocal imperialists and naval power advocates.   

Kamiya’s argument relies on a vast majority of Americans having some clear sense of differences between the Islamic and Arab worlds and other regions, which they do not have.  Kamiya says:

No one would dream of suggesting that if Cuba attacked the U.S., we should respond by invading Venezuela. But we play by different rules in the Middle East. 

In fact, there would be a small army of pundits and activists suggesting this very thing.  It doesn’t hurt that Chavez and Castro are politically aligned, but you wouldn’t even need it to be Venezuela for this to work–replace Venezuela with Peru or Paraguay and it would still be only too possible.  Actually, invading Iraq after 9/11 would be a bit like invading Colombia to strike at Latin American communism.  It would be like portraying Bogota as an evil communist-supporting government with close ties to Castro (while the Uribe government, as everyone knows, is actually vehemently anticommunist and anti-FARC).  As it is, right now there are people who might be inclined to call for an attack on Venezuela as a way of getting at Iran (!).  Fostering Veneuzuelophobia has become the latest thing in certain Republican foreign policy circles.  You can already hear them now: “You have to knock out Castro’s economic and political ally to bring his regime down.  On to Caracas!”  

The government and interventionist pundits engage in this kind of vilification of foreign governments and of whole nations in every region of the world.  They are equal-opportunity imperialists.  It just happens that the primary focus has been and will continue to be on the Near East, which means that the irrational fearmongering about Near Eastern governments will be especially intense.  It doesn’t mean that there are not efforts to do the same thing for other regions.  Unfortunately, similarly “random” bait-and-switch deceptions of the American public would not fail.  Who’s going to uncover the deception?  The press?  Ha, that’s a good one!        

Consider: Suppose for a moment that NATO did not intervene in 1999 in Kosovo, and some Albanian Muslim terrorists carried out a major attack on American territory or U.S. bases while Milosevic was still in power in Belgrade.  I can very easily imagine the same kind of unfocused hysteria directed at “those people” in the Balkans.  I could very easily see how the same sorts of people would cook up some roundabout rationale for invading Serbia and overthrowing Milosevic in the name of fighting Albanian terrorism.  “Drain the swamp” probably would have been the slogan then as well.  It would make exactly as much sense as attacking Hussein to strike at Al Qaeda. 

The point of the “left-field substitution” was to pursue a policy that the supporters of the invasion had been wanting to pursue for years.  It was not coming out of left field as far as they were concerned.  Of course, it is an irrational, crazy move judged on the facts in the real world, but since when have those mattered in determining whether or not we invade another country? 

It isn’t so hard to imagine something similar in the Balkans, since this is another region about which Americans know next to nothing and which they perceive as a place of unrelenting, irrational bloodfeud and barbarous peoples.  Our general colossal ignorance of and prejudice against Slavic peoples made it extremely easy to vilify some as the “bad” Slavs and others as the “moderate” and “pro-Western” ones.  We’re still doing it in media coverage of Ukrainian politics.  The Serbophobia of the ’90s was made possible by the steady drumbeat of media coverage casting Serbs as the villains of the conflict in the Balkans, just as Iraqis were made out to be the villains of the Near East throughout the same decade.  Being able to draw on old Western prejudices against communists, Slavs and Orthodox Christians didn’t hurt, either, since all of these things made the Serbs seem alien and Eastern, and thus, following the logic of this sort of prejudice, more likely to be involved in something sinister.  Of course, there was no good reason for the United States to go to war with Yugoslavia in 1999, but our government did so anyway.  Imagine how much easier it would have been to do the same under some general pretext of fighting “tyranny and terrorism.”  

We have played this game before, and many of the same people were involved then as now.  Once again: the point of the “left-field substitution” was to pursue a policy that the supporters of the invasion had been wanting to pursue for years.  The substitution worked because the public had been prepared by years and years of conditioning to accept any attack on Yugoslavia or Iraq as basically a good, defensive or righteous war against the new Hitler.  Who knows?  Perhaps Venezuela will be the next target in another decade.  The groundwork is already being laid today.    

P.S. While there is much else in the article that I would agree with, I have to add that Kamiya’s claim that the “war on terror” is a “crusade, a Holy War” is basically entirely wrong.  Those who prattle on the most about Evil and moral clarity are those who are most likely to deny very strongly any religious or theological significance to the conflict.  They go out of their way to deny that “Islamofascists” are motivated by anything that is actually religious, and insist that they are effectively Muslim versions of the Nazis, as numerous presidential speeches and pundits’ articles have claimed.  This talk of an enemy as the embodiment of evil is the talk of identitarian politics and total war.  It is only all too secular and far removed from any Christian or other religious source.   

Obama’s Iraq speech today makes many of the right points, but his current Iraq position remains quite unsatisfactory and his broader foreign policy views border on terrifying.  I think the compromise “residual forces” position that he and the other major Democrats have taken is a mistake, both substantively and politically.  It seems to me to contain the worst of both worlds by eliminating the ability of American forces to do much of anything inside Iraq while also failing to remove the vast majority of our soldiers out of the country.   

Part of the argument of my column in the latest TAC available online is that Obama has been using his long-standing opposition to the war as a kind of screen to block antiwar voters from seeing his hyper-ambitious, unrealistic foreign policy ideas about everything else besides Iraq.  The expansiveness of Obama’s idea of what is in the national security interest of the United States is no less dangerous and no less irresponsible than Mr. Bush’s belief that the freedom of America depends on the freedom of the rest of the world. 

His position on Iran is really no less belligerent and no less misguided than that of Giuliani in its basic assumptions about the Iranian government.  For instance, he said about Iran:

And it’s time to deliver a direct message to Tehran. America is a part of a community of nations. America wants peace in the region. You can give up your nuclear ambitions and support for terror and rejoin the community of nations.  Or you will face further isolation, including much tighter sanctions.

As George has pointed out in connection with Giuliani’s FA essay, Iran already is a member of the “community of nations.”  They never left.  George argued:

But bellicose statements do not alone remove a nation from the “international system;” rather, uncooperative nations must be dealt with through the tools of that system, be they diplomatic, political, economic, or yes, military in cases where America’s sovereignty is directly threatened.

Nearly every other nation, including staunch American allies, retains diplomatic relations with Iran. And America too should consider re-evaluating the diplomatic freeze that has lasted nearly 3 decades. In addition to a mere consular presence that could facilitate people-to-people cultural exchanges, a full-blown embassy would enable espionage and the gathering of more reliable information than we tend to obtain from unsavory exiles, as Ted Galen Carpenter has argued.

(Incidentally, this echoes William Lind’s calls for rapprochement with Iran.) 

Later in his speech, Obama quotes Brzezinski, who introduced him at the rally and whose role in the campaign has caused the Senator some grief in pro-Israel circles.  As the Politico story relates, Obama’s position on Israel and Iran is solidly pro-Israel/anti-Iran and ever so conventional.  More worrying still, Obama’s vision for American meddling, er, leadership has not been dimmed in the least by the chastening experience of Iraq:

When we end this war in Iraq, we can once again lead the world against the common challenges of the 21st century. Against the spread of nuclear weapons and climate change. Against genocide in Darfur. Against ignorance and intolerance. Corruption and greed. Poverty and despair. When we end this war, we can reclaim the cause of freedom and democracy. We can be that beacon of hope, that light to all the world. 

 Unconventional?  Hardly.

In case you haven’t seen enough refutations of Giuliani’s crazy Foreign Affairs essay, George Ajjan offers his own commentary that eviscerates Giuliani’s claim to be any kind of credible candidate on foreign policy.  Zeroing in on Giuliani’s chatter about globalisation in the Middle East, George writes:

As for the Middle East, Giuliani has it wrong there too. Modernization and globalization do not at all go hand-in-hand with approval of the political/military plans of the United States. I suppose it never occurred to Giuliani that a young Muslim’s ability to enjoy a shake from McDonald’s subtracts nothing from his admiration and hero-worship of an evil man whose claim to infamy is his commitment to the taking of innocent American lives, as my Dubai experience illustrated.

George has shown Giuliani’s invocation of the “international system” to be a lot of hot air, since he consistently misunderstands what “the international system” actually is.  (He seems to use “international system” to mean “policy goals of Washington,” thus emptying it of its real meaning just as others like him have done to the word “democracy,” as George noted.)   While superficially consistent with the preoccupations of his chief foreign policy advisor, Charles Hill, Giuliani’s “international system” talk is mostly window dressing for self-defeating, hyper-aggressive interventionism that seeks to lump non-state actors together with those states Giuliani et al. deem to be worthy targets. 

P.S. There is also more than a little irony in one of the leading backers of the invasion of Iraq talking about the importance of the same system for the survival of civilisation.  The invasion was a fundamental attack on the structures and rules of the actual international system and a violation of international law.  Supporters of the invasion have had great fun speculating about how “international law doesn’t really exist” (except when it can be twisted and manipulated to justify an invasion of a sovereign state), but watch how they wrap themselves in the mantle of preserving international order after they have done so much to undermine that order.  If the great conflict of the moment is between non-state actors and the stability of the international state system, who would be worse to have as a defender of the latter than someone who supports policies of violating other nations’ sovereignty, dismantling existing state apparatuses and turning stable countries into lawless zones where no legitimate authority holds sway? 

Overwhelmingly in Europe, and to a lesser but still large extent in the United States, the vastly unpopular Iraq war has been conflated with the broader war against radical Islam. ~Tony Blankley

This is true about American attitudes, if we’re talking about what supporters of the Iraq war routinely say about it.  As we all know, war opponents have been ridiculed for years for claiming that the two are distinct conflicts that have little or nothing do with one another.  I know that war supporters would also very much like to make opposition to Iraq into opposition to the very different fight against jihadis, but almost the only ones conflating and confusing the two have been defenders of the invasion of Iraq.  Indeed, they have to lean very heavily on this claim, since there is no rationale for remaining in Iraq that really captures the public’s attention quite like the fear of an “Al Qaeda stronghold” being established in Iraq.  Never mind that this has become entirely unlikely–what matters is the constant repetition of it to cow the public into submission and support.  

Meanwhile, the Europeans and others around the world might reasonably be confused by our government’s deliberate conflation of the two conflicts.  If Mr. Bush and so many in the political class insist that Iraq is the “central front in the war on terror,” the argument might go, who are they to say that the two are not one and the same?  For the many opponents of the war around the world, the distinction between Iraq and “the war on terror” does tend to get lost because the administration and its supporters have worked overtime to make sure that the lines are blurred.  As a result, if they oppose Iraq they might find themselves drawn towards opposition to anti-jihadism as such.  Mr.  Blankley has helped demonstrate here how Iraq has undermined and jeopardised the real fight. 

Of course, as a matter of policy, all NATO countries remain officially committed to the mission in Afghanistan, and several of our European allies have been collaborating with us all along in the Horn of Africa and in running interdiction efforts in the Red Sea.  European governments and peoples are not persuaded that jihadism is the “existential threat” alarmists make it out to be because, well, the threat isn’t nearly that grave.  Talk of WWIV is ludicrous on its face, but that doesn’t mean that those who mock the WWIV crowd don’t believe that jihadis are very dangerous.  Having been warned about new totalitarians and new Hitlers ever since the Cold War ended, there really is a strong inclination to disbelieve the alarmists when they begin talking about jihadis as new totalitarians, because they have been wrong so many times before in their dire warnings.  (In fact, jihadis are totalitarian in a sense, but precisely because they are religious fanatics who have a totalising view of the role of religion that subsumes everything to it; they are unlike secular totalitarians in significant ways and our inability to speak about them except in 20th century ideological terms continues to be a great hindrance in understanding and countering them.)  Disbelief turns to bewildered astonishment when they begin speaking of “Islamofascism” and other such absurdities.   

Anti-jihadists have exaggerated and overreached so much in their rhetoric, and they have tended to support questionable or foolish policies to such an extent that they have created a backlash of intense skepticism about the scope and scale of the threat and anti-jihadist proposals for addressing that threat.  One might conclude that if many anti-jihadists were so badly wrong about Iraq, for instance, or if they indulge in fantasies in lieu of analysis that anti-jihadism in its entirety is not credible.  This would be a terrible mistake to make, since there is a serious threat from jihadis, but this mistake is one that many anti-jihadists have encouraged people to make.     

After reading this (via Ross), I was reminded at once of the following scene from Brazil:

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that the government is winning the battle against terrorists?

HELPMANN: Oh yes. Our morale is much higher than theirs, we’re fielding all their strokes, running a lot of them out, and pretty consistently knocking them for six. I’d say they’re nearly out of the game.

INTERVIEWER: But the bombing campaign is now in its thirteenth year.

HELPMANN: Beginner’s luck.

I have no doubt that future administrations might try to perpetuate the war in Iraq, and I have equally little doubt that the media would, for the most part, roll over and accept this tyrannical imposition on our country just as they did when the Iraq war started.  We must be “responsible,” after all.  Mustn’t withdraw “precipitously,” you see.  Mustn’t do anything that would indicate that we are still, at some minimal theoretical level, self-governing citizens of a republic.

In fact, I think Mr. Robb is entirely right on the military matters he discusses, but does not judge correctly what the political implications of an indefinite continuation of the Iraq war will be.  It is because the war cannot be resolved in any traditional way that will make it politically impossible for it to garner meaningful public support for much more than another two or three years.  Our debates about progress and benchmarks in 2007 will seem quaint and ridiculous if in two years things are much as they are today, and I see little reason to think that the situation will be any better.  If it does not end in 2009, the incumbents will suffer badly in ’10.  If the next President does not end the war, he (or, perhaps, she) will not be re-elected, the successor will end it and will have likely also campaigned on such a platform.   

Pro-military and hegemonist pols will not continue to permit the wreck of the Army that a continued presence in Iraq would entail.  That will crack the base of the war’s support.  A couple more years of this, and you will finally have the open defection of many reliably internationalist politicians who will come out strongly against the war.  The public will grow weary of the futility of the entire exercise, even though most of them don’t know anyone who is fighting overseas.  Some event will dramatically symbolise just how pointless the Iraq war has become and will drown out the chatter from “serious” people. 

If there were some prospect of a satisfactory, victorious conclusion to the war, Mr. Robb might well be right that all of the factors he outlines would encourage prolongation of the conflict, but there is not and the public is on the verge of realising this.  The major candidates all favour continuing the war, but many of these are the same people who judged the original question of the invasion so poorly.  Their judgements are not sure signs of anything, except their own brazen complicity.  

At his blog, George Ajjan has a good article on what the U.S. should with respect to Syria that originally appeared in Quarterly Review.  In it he has many important points, but this one stood out for me:

 Expending whatever remains of America’s regional credibility on behalf of the unproven Saudi stooges currently governing Lebanon must come to a halt, because it is simply not in the interests of the United States.

George also argues that negotiating a peace between Israel and Syria would help to detach Syria from Iran, which seems to me the most practicable way of limiting Iranian power short of full rapprochement with Tehran (which would, in any case, much more difficult). 

The accompanying piece that replies to George’s article, written by one Jillian Becker, does not seem terribly persuasive.  So much of it is the usual, bankrupt, unimaginative stuff you’ve seen a thousand times before.  Ms. Becker makes no attempt to distinguish between the retaliation for 9/11 of the Afghan War and the unprovoked invasion of Iraq that certainly did come about in no small part because of neoconservatives and Mr. Bush’s “hopes and wishes,” to use her phrase.  This makes everything else she has to say suspect.  She makes no attempt to distinguish, because I assume she does think there is any real separation between the one and the other. 

Her claims about Israeli public opinion seem surreal in light of this old story, which reports that 10% of Israelis favour full withdrawal from Golan and 40% favour partial withdrawal, with 44% opposed to any kind of withdrawal.  The same report confirms that most Israelis do not trust Assad, but it simply isn’t true that there is not much “public enthusiasm for conceding land.”  There is evidently some support for conceding some land.  The word “enthusiasm” does a lot of work here, as it is meant to discredit claims that there is some significant public support for some kind of ”land for peace” arrangement with Syria. 

Ms. Becker notes that the Kadima government of Ehud Olmert is horribly unpopular, neglecting to mention that it was Olmert’s disastrous entry into and handling of the war in Lebanon that destroyed his government’s credibility.  It was hardly his government’s most recent drive to negotiate with the Syrians that has undermined him; Olmert has not exactly erred on the side of being too irenic.  Speaking of public opinion, we should remember that Kadima had earlier been elected on a peace platform.  The very existence of Kadima as a viable party, before the war ruined its reputation for competence, stemmed from public support for some settlement with the Palestinians.  If, as George correctly argues, the Golan Heights have less religious and symbolic significance, it is hardly so strange to think that the public that voted Kadima in would be willing to consider peace with Syria at the price of the Golan. 

Another fairly major problem with the “soft partition” idea: it’s not terribly popular among Iraqis (see question 13) with only 28% (of Iraqi Arabs) in favour.  Naturally, the solution that is being touted by such “realistic” pols as Joe Biden is the one that is the most unlikely to be accepted by the people who actually inhabit the country. 

If you were one of the ten people who actually read all of Paul Berman’s long essay on Tariq Ramadan, you will be very excited to hear that Ian Buruma has attached his counterblast to a review of Podhoretz’s latest “book.”  For everyone else, it will seem like a very odd diversion away from what had been up till then a fairly interesting review article in which he quite properly mocks the notion of “Islamofascim” and related idiocies.  In related neoconiana, James has a response to Beinart’s review of the latest from Ledeen and Podhoretz.

Reacting to these posts, a commenter at Ross’ blog wrote:

No wonder politicians give up and rely on scripts; this kind of henpecking the details and failing to engage on the larger point that Fred Thompson counts himself an unapologetic patriot who generally sees the US foreign policy as good. I’d think his judgement could be addressed on that point without dithering about body count.

Yes, why “dither” about facts?  Why be concerned with historical accuracy?  It’s not as if a deficient understanding of the past could have any consequences for the quality of policymaking. 

Speaking of “larger points,” one might engage the larger point that Thompson lends credibility to the stereotype of the ”unapologetic patriot” as unthinking, ignorant and boastful patriot, which in turn does so much to give proper American patriotism a bad name in the world.  One might engage the larger point that Thompson’s answer reflects not so much patriotism as it does chauvinism, since the patriot, as Chesteron said in Napoleon of Notting Hill, boasts not of the largeness of his country but of its smallness.  One might engage the point that Thompson largely ducked the question about America’s unpopularity today by jumping into a refrain about how much more Americans have sacrificed than all other nations for the “liberty and freedom of other peoples.”  Or a Thompson defender might engage the larger point that ignoring the contributions of our British, French, Commonwealth and other free European allies is an amazing thing for a presidential candidate to do in the announcement of his candidacy.  This is someone who allegedly wants to be President.  He claims to be prepared to run our foreign policy during what he regards as a crucially important time in a major worldwide struggle, and this struggle requires cultivating and tending alliances that have been badly strained over the past few years.  He chooses to launch that effort with an insult to some of our oldest and best allies. 

Suppose for a moment that Thompson genuinely doesn’t know that his statement was, in fact, false–is that supposed to encourage us to regard him well?  Haven’t we had quite enough of presidential candidates who relish their own lack of knowledge about the rest of the world and the history of other nations?  The gaffe, if we can call it that, is indicative of the sort of detail-free campaign he seems intent on running, and yet another example of a Republican who thinks that foreign policy is two parts nationalist rhetoric and one part bombast.  

Here’s another point.  If a Canadian or, God help us, a French politician were to make some similarly overblown statement, the reaction in certain circles in this country would be one of hysterical outrage at the expression of “anti-Americanism.”  Our pols are free to say whatever foolish, ignorant thing they please and can ignore U.S. allies whenever it suits them, but just watch those pols issue denunciations of those same allies the moment their leaders utter the ‘wrong’ thing or fail to show their gratitude to America for all that we have done for them.     

At the same time, the Republicans’ conservative base doesn’t have much taste for the realists who dominated foreign-policy thinking in past GOP administrations (except for über-adviser Henry Kissinger, who has managed to transcend these divides with the same aplomb he has shown in past campaigns). For Republicans “there’s no upside in declaring, ‘These are my advisers.’ The base hates realists, and neocons are too controversial,” says sometime Romney adviser Dan Senor, former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. “So the thinking is, don’t define yourself by foreign-policy advisers.” ~Michael Hirsh

It’s not entirely clear to me why “the base” would be so hostile to foreign policy realists (hate seems like an especially strong word), given the way things have gone over the last few years, but then I suppose I have a hard time understanding a group of people that still supports the President.  I guess year after year of talk radio, blogs and pundits telling Republican audiences that “stability” and “realism” are basically codewords for treason and defeatism has a corrosive effect after a while.  If you were someone who read and watched and listened to daily “conservative media” reports that are telling you incessantly that Islamofascism is on the march and that the restored caliphate (with Venezuelan help) is blazing a trail straight for Dubuque (or wherever), it is quite natural that “realism,”‘ grounded as it is in some measure of actual knowledge about the rest of the world, would not seem very good to you. 

If this claim is true about “the base,” it confirms my suspicion that there are no GOP “realist” candidates running for President because foreign policy realism doesn’t go down well with the primary voters and activists these days.  The “realists” supposedly refuse to “name the enemy” and do not “understand the threat” as such luminaries as Rick Santorum and Norman Podhoretz do.  The voters and activists have definitely become members of Bush’s Republican Party, and the majority of the candidates could not break out of this stranglehold even if they wished to do so.  Of course, in one important respect, it wouldn’t matter whether there were candidates being advised by foreign policy realists or not.  As I have said before:

Among politicians, all of the “realists” more or less embrace the continuation of the war.  Their very balance-of-forces, stability-centered view of foreign affairs dictates that they support an American presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future.  

Because while Obama is still seen as the insurgent candidate challenging Hillary’s Democratic establishment camp, he has actually been recruiting ex-Clintonites in large numbers. Behind the scenes, Obama and Hillary have been engaged in a vicious battle for the best and brightest officials of the 1990s, those who mastered “working the system in Washington” a decade ago. The competition has grown so fierce that several Obama officials who were once Friends of Bill tell me they have been threatened with becoming pariahs by the Hillary camp if she wins the nomination. In response, the Obama campaign has only revved up its recruiting effort of midlevel former Clinton officials. “The Obama pitch is, ‘You’ll never be in the inner circle’ with Hillary,” says Gene Sperling, Sen. Clinton’s top economic advisor. ~Michael Hirsh

Obama’s “transformed,” “unconventional” foreign policy will be steered by former Clinton officials and the odd Brookings advisor.  His foreign policy will manage to combine all of the excessive ambition and overreach of his progressive internationalism and the destructive, interventionist instincts of “centrist” Democratic foreign policy staffers.  On foreign policy, Obama and Clinton are becoming almost indistinguishable.

Ross noted approvingly that Sam Brownback once again argued for his three-way “soft partition” plan at the debate yesterday, and followed up here.  Well, yes, Brownback did that, but then he has done this at virtually every debate since the campaign started.  That would mean, as a matter of making a “contribution” to the debate about future Iraq policy, that Brownback has apparently won every debate this year for lack of meaningful competition.  You don’t need to be an enthusiast for this year’s debate formats or a Brownback critic to question this assessment.  Tommy Thompson also made similar “contributions” to the debate about political strategy. His “contributions” included calling for impossible things to be done (Maliki should call a vote on the U.S. presence! provincial governments! they should share oil revenues!) without giving any explanation of how any of these things would happen.    

Along with Joe Biden, Sam Brownback is one of the main proponents of “soft partition” and has been since the beginning of the year.  He flirted with Sen. Warner’s modified “surge” plan, which earned him no end of grief from the jingo platoons of the blog and talk radio right (”don’t embolden the enemy!” they cried), and he was even confused by some with someone who marked the beginning of the Great Antiwar Republican Crack-up.  The reactions to Brownback’s very minimal moves away from the administration’s position do tell us how miserable the state of the debate inside the GOP is, but they also draw our attention to the superficiality of the proposals Brownback has endorsed.  I mention these things because it has been my impression that Sam Brownback’s Iraq proposals have been concerned with positioning Brownback as one who can be critical of the way the war is being waged without having to explain why his proposals would achieve the goal of “victory” that he has declared to be necessary.  I get the impression that he has embraced “soft partition,” just as he dabbled with Sen. Warner’s “Anbar, not Baghdad” mini-”surge,” because he would like to say that he does not support the status quo and instead supports some other unworkable scheme whose merits he cannot actually explain.  If a united Iraq has been the fetish of the administration, a federalised Iraq has become the fetish of “realists” and centrist Democrats alike.  There is no sense that those arguing for a federal or partition solution can say why their “solution” is going to stabilise Iraq.  If one of the fears of the anti-withdrawal crowd is that the country will collapse into chaos and warlordism, nothing in a federalising or partition plan prevents this, and indeed any partition, whether “soft” or “hard,” will encourage the centrifugal forces already unleashed in the country.  (Incidentally, the “Awakening” and the arming of Sunni insurgents are also contributing to centrifugal tendencies in the name of pacifying Iraq; what they are doing is setting up nicely, well-armed enclaves of people who have even less incentive to collaborate with other Iraqi groups than before.)  Supporters of “soft partition” support it for the same reasons the ISG report received support–it is something different!  It is a change!  So, you will pardon me if I find Brownback’s “contributions” underwhelming as usual. 

On a slightly related question of allegedly antiwar Republican Senators who are not, in fact, against the war, can I just say how strange I find Steve Clemons’ enthusiasm for Chuck Hagel?  Of course, I find anyone’s enthusiasm for Chuck Hagel to be very odd, but it is always stranger coming from such a vocal opponent of the war.  I might expect David Broder to lavish praise on Chuck Hagel’s willingness to “transcend” partisanship, but I still expect a little more from foreign policy experts.  Mr. Clemons notes that Hagel is probably retiring and will not fight another election.  This is more bad news for the GOP (Nebraska does not actually have much of a recent record of voting Republicans into the Senate), but I confess that I don’t see what it is that the Senate will be losing that is so invaluable with respect to foreign policy.  This is someone who, in his time in office, never saw an intervention that he didn’t like, even when he saw all of the potential problems that might arise from it.  His prescience about problems in Iraq in 2002, rather than making him seem wise and insightful to me, underscores just how irresponsible and conventional the man is when it came time for him to cast a vote.  From the perspective of a war opponent, Hagel’s retirement and likely replacement by a Democrat would make it that much more possible for the Senate majority to have enough votes to push for some real change in policy. 

Hagel has talked a good game at times, but consider this strange remark from Clemons:

Hagel was the boldest in my view in fighting George W. Bush on the war.

When exactly was he fighting Mr. Bush on the war?  When he voted for the authorisation?  When he gave his little speech about shoe-sellers?  I am genuinely mystified at this idea that Hagel has been some great champion of the resistance to Mr. Bush.  He has proved to be something of an annoyance to the administration, but that’s it. 

A couple years ago I was discussing the question of Kosovo independence with a friend of mine (yes, this is what I talk about in my spare time), and I submitted that it was likely that an independent Kosovo would, sooner or later, be faced with Serbian military action.  He was skeptical that the Serbs would seriously contemplate such a course, but I thought it was a distinct possibility, and it is becoming only too likely.  Really, it is inconceivable how it could be otherwise, given the symbolic, historical and cultural importance of Kosovo to Serbs.  Given the significance that pious Orthodox believers attach to the death of Tsar-Martyr Lazar and the non-negotiable claims to the territory that Serbian nationalists have, no Serbian government could accede to the detachment of Kosovo even if that government were inclined to do so (and the current one is not).  The demand for Kosovo independence by the “international community” is obviously an outrageous one, an extraordinary example of meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state in contravention of all of the rules by which the so-called “community” is supposed to be governed.  (There is a bad precedent for it in the separation of East Timor, which was an unwise move at the time and which created a scarcely viable ward of the “international community” whose example can only encourage the numerous separatists inside Indonesia, and repeating the error of Timor would be even more dangerous in a region where there is a very live Albanian irredentist movement.)  Kosovo independence also has potential for reigniting or exacerbating separatist battles around the world and serving as a precedent for revising territorial boundaries based on ethnic demographic change and majoritarian self-determination (something that might be of a little direct concern to us since Calderon declared that wherever there is a Mexican Mexico is also there).  The post-war international settlement has largely held because the major powers have not lent their support to revanchist, revisionist and irredentist political movements and have not tried to back up irredentist claims with their own power.  In the Balkans, this has not been the case.  Do the major powers really want to unleash another round of upheavals in the Balkans like those of the 1912-1923 and 1990-1995 periods?  If the Western powers do, they will pursue the reckless course on which they have been embarked in the drive to make Kosovo independent. 

You don’t need to be Dr Strangelove to think that striking Iran would be better than letting it go nuclear. ~James Forsyth

No, you could be John McCain or Hillary Clinton.  It is debatable whether their states of mind would be much of an improvement over Strangelove.

Arnaud de Borchgrave had this item in his latest:

A ranking Swiss official, speaking privately, said, “Anyone with a modicum of experience in the Middle East knows that any bombing of Iran would touch off at the very least regional instability and what could be an unmitigated disaster for Western interests.”

This is the crucial point–anyone with a modicum of experience.  Of course, none of the major candidates for President really has this, and the foreign policy advisors whom the major candidates are consulting seem to have had a pretty appalling record when it comes to policies they have supported in that region. 


But his supposed “visit to Anbar Province” was in some ways even more cynical — and accepted even more gullibly by the media — than his June 2006 visit to Baghdad. There, at least, he actually set foot on Iraqi soil.

This time, Bush visited Al-Asad Air Base — an enormous, heavily fortified American outpost for 10,000 troops that while technically in Anbar Province in fact has a 13-mile perimeter keeping Iraq — and Iraqis — at bay. Bush never left the confines of the base, known as ” Camp Cupcake,” for its relatively luxurious facilities, but nevertheless announced: “When you stand on the ground here in Anbar and hear from the people who live here, you can see what the future of Iraq can look like.” ~Dan Froomkin

Thank goodness we have the Kagans of the world to inform us of the profound significance of such events, since we might otherwise mistake them for absurd PR stunts designed to deceive and mislead the public (as usual).

Why don’t we have more politicians like Saakashvili? ~Andrew Sullivan

Because God is merciful and does not want to punish us with such a terrible scourge?

I jest, but only slightly.  I don’t dislike Saakashvili just because of his strange admiration for Stalin (apparently de rigueur for Georgian nationalists these days), his belligerent posturing, his lickspittle relationship to Washington or the calamity of a “reformist” government that he runs.  His “national” movement is also a creature of the Open Society Institute, that Soros-created monstrosity, and he is a close chum with the likes of both McCain and Soros.  For that matter, he seems to be one of those Westernised people who go back home and try to impose foreign models on their home countries.  Something about these people bothers me at a visceral level.  Did I forget to mention the part about his wife saying how he is like Beria?  She said, in a moment reminiscent of something Elizabeth Uhrquhart might have said, ” I think my husband is the right person to frighten people.”  Yes, why can’t we have more politicians like Saakashvili?

I have also seen a member of his government in action at a recent conference on the Caucasus, and let me just say that I was not impressed.  His Minister for Education had come to tell us about all the wonderful new reforms instituted by the government.  One of the audience members, herself of Georgian descent and a self-declared friend of reform, challenged the minister with a question about the closing down of rural schools under Saakashvili’s education reforms.  She asked very simply when the government intended to reopen these schools.  The minister responded with the kind of dismissive character attack that is only too familiar, accusing the questioner of being a sneaky admirer of the old system under Shevardnadze, which was, of course, complete nonsense.  The conversation deteriorated from there.  Nonetheless, Georgian government propaganda had been delivered, and her job was done.  Why can’t we also have an Education Secretary as condescending and oblivious as Georgia has?

When I first saw this, I was inclined to say, “Well, at least something good has come out of this dreadful mess.”  Alex Massie (via Ross) has saved me from making the mistake of thinking that anything good could really come from the Iraq war.  His post also serves as an important reminder of something that American observers of foreign politics should always heed: domestic political concerns are almost always more important to people in other countries than is U.S. foreign policy (which happens to be true of American voters as well).  We will generally not understand political events in other parts of the world if we try to understand them through such dim, cracked lenses as “pro-/anti-American” or “pro-/anti-Iraq war” and the like.  (Can I tell you how tired I am of stories that try to spin Gordon Brown as a vigorously pro-American Atlanticist?)  Contrary to our own impression of ourselves, other people really aren’t that preoccupied with us and our wars, even when their governments are involved in one of our misadventures.

While listening to Eli Lake busily distorting and lying about Profs. Mearsheimer and Walt and the argument in their original essay, it occurred to me that they never made anything like the main claim to which he objects so strenuously and which, according to Lake, make it perfectly appropriate to associate them with the likes of David Duke.  (You have the admire the gall of someone actively engaged in using the guilt by association tactic accusing other people of McCarthyism and “John Birch Society” tactics.)  Becoming ever more agitated, Lake continually repeated that they were accusing certain individuals of being “foreign agents,” which is what I would call a lie, since anyone can read the essay and see that it makes no such claims.  The essay does make the claim at one point that AIPAC is ”a de facto agent for a foreign government,” which a perusal of AIPAC’s own website would tend to support to the extent that it very explicitly lobbies for the interests of Israel.     

First, on the terminology of “the Lobby,” the authors wrote:

We use ‘the Lobby’ as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. This is not meant to suggest that ‘the Lobby’ is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them.

So it is a catch-all term to refer to diverse individuals and organisations, and does not refer to a “Jewish lobby” or conspiracy of Jews in high places or any of the other mischaracterisations that critics have made.  Those who say that the essay says any of these things either have not read the essay or are out to deceive. 

Defining “the Lobby” further, they write:

In its basic operations, the Israel Lobby is no different from the farm lobby, steel or textile workers’ unions, or other ethnic lobbies. There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy [bold mine-DL]: the Lobby’s activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For the most part, the individuals and groups that comprise it are only doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better.

So it is an interest group, or an umbrella term to refer to a number of groups all working towards broadly shared goals.  It is engaged in a legitimate activity, at which it excels.  For some reason, this sends people into apoplectic fits.

What does “the Lobby” do?  They write:

The Lobby pursues two broad strategies. First, it wields its significant influence in Washington, pressuring both Congress and the executive branch. Whatever an individual lawmaker or policymaker’s own views may be, the Lobby tries to make supporting Israel the ‘smart’ choice. Second, it strives to ensure that public discourse portrays Israel in a positive light, by repeating myths about its founding and by promoting its point of view in policy debates. The goal is to prevent critical comments from getting a fair hearing in the political arena. Controlling the debate is essential to guaranteeing US support, because a candid discussion of US-Israeli relations might lead Americans to favour a different policy. 

All of this is pretty uncontestable.  This is what pro-Israel groups do, and they make no bones about what they are doing.  Christians United for Israel, for instance, is quite explicit about its goals.  I think the name gives it away. 

On the role of “the Lobby” in pushing for the war in Iraq, they write:

Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was critical [bold mine-DL]. Some Americans believe that this was a war for oil, but there is hardly any direct evidence to support this claim. Instead, the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure. According to Philip Zelikow, a former member of the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, and now a counsellor to Condoleezza Rice, the ‘real threat’ from Iraq was not a threat to the United States. The ‘unstated threat’ was the ‘threat against Israel’, Zelikow told an audience at the University of Virginia in September 2002. ‘The American government,’ he added, ‘doesn’t want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell.’

Of course, Zelikow did say something close to this, in that he did acknowledge that a likely target of any Iraqi WMD arsenal would be Israel, which is to state a fairly common view.  Are we really supposed to believe that Israeli security was not a critical factor in deciding whether or not to go to war against Iraq?  That is what the critics of Mearsheimer/Walt would have you believe.  You are supposed to believe that Mr. Bush, who has on the whole aligned Washington with Israel more than any other modern President, made such a decision without Israeli security having much to do with it at all.   

Something I have never understood about the hysterical reaction to this claim that war advocates supported the invasion because of expected advantages for Israel is simply this: why should pro-Israel Americans regard this claim as either false or malicious?  If Israel really is a strategically valuable, reliable ally, a fellow democracy to which we have such deep obligations and all the rest of it, surely its security would be of concern to our government and to citizens who support the connection with Israel.  The supposed threat from Iraq would have been greater to Israel than to the United States–this much is common sense.  You would expect close intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and an allied state in the months prior to a major military action against a nearby state, and I think you would be shocked if it did not take place.  Yet any suggestion that U.S. officials and activists believed this and acted accordingly is considered equivalent to accusing someone of treason.  That this reaction is a bit unhinged is putting it mildly.  

One point of the essay, of course, is to deny that Israel is a strategically valuable, reliable ally.  The authors argue that it is neither very valuable nor reliable.  Once you reject this assumption (which is really what it is), what used to appear right and proper might now seem wasteful and pointless.  A close U.S.-Israel connection might seem desirable if pro-Israel forces were correct about the merits and mutual benefits of the relationship.  The essay argues that they are not correct, and says instead that the connection is damaging to U.S. interests.  You might think that supporters of the invasion would hotly contest the basic idea that the Iraq war is contrary to U.S. interests, and perhaps some have done so, but unless you think the war actually is very bad for America (and it is) there would be little reason to express concern about the role of ”the Lobby” in promoting said war. 

Honestly, I don’t quite understand how there can so much fuss about this essay, since the role of pro-Israel activists in pushing for this war is no different from Anglophiles pushing for entry into WWI and WWII or the Hearst machine and American imperialists pushing for war with Spain.  They were not “agents of a foreign power.”  They were horribly, horribly mistaken Americans who were horribly mistaken because they had become too attached to the cause of another country (whether England or Cuba) or conflated the interests of two different nations.  Critics of Mearsheimer/Walt claim that there is an accusation of bad faith, but the essay makes no such charge.  On the contrary, the frightening thing about pro-Israel activists today or Anglophiles in the past is their utterly sincere conviction that the interests and destinies of America and another nation are bound up together.  The dangerous thing about them is that they are typically not arguing in bad faith or acting cynically.  What makes them dangerous is that they are absolutely convinced that they are doing right by America by doing right by the other country.  It is their judgement about what is right for America that is so deeply flawed.  That is the point.  Naturally, they dislike this claim, as anyone might object to being characterised in this way, but what is never said in the essay is that any of the people in “the Lobby” are “agents of a foreign power.”   

Rather crucial for understanding this whole question is recognising that the perceptions of what is in Israel’s interest by pro-Israel advocates in this country are sometimes horribly wrong.  There were pro-Israel, pro-war pundits who believed that Israel’s position would be greatly improved by the overthrow of Hussein and said so in 2002-03 (”the road to Jerusalem goes through Baghdad,” and all that rot), and instead the aftermath for Israel has proven to be almost as harmful as the post-invasion has been for us.  The expansion of Iranian power that has resulted has been detrimental to Israeli security, and this was brought home by the war last year.  (Of course, this reality feeds anti-Iranian jingoism in this country, but it is difficult to see how Israeli security would be actually aided by spreading the war to Iran.)  It is also important to distinguish between what American pro-Israel activists are doing on behalf of what they think is right for Israel and what any particular Israeli government desires.  These may coincide from time to time, as they tend to do on policies relating to the Palestinians and the settlements in the territories, but there seems to be no question that the most hard-line pro-Israel activists are far more aggressive and militaristic towards Israel’s neighbours than people who actually live in Israel can afford to be.  Many Israelis are interested in the possibility of negotiating with Syria for a peace settlement, while for many pro-Israel activists here the idea is madness.   

P.S.  Early 20th century Easterners interested in promoting Chinese interests and connections with China also stand out in this long, bad tradition of boosters for other countries who wind up plunging us into unnecessary wars.

Via Greenwald, I see that Fred “The Surge” Kagan has gone completely mad.  In an article called “The Gettysburg Of This War,” Kagan writes about (wait for it) the President’s surprise trip to Anbar (which, Kagan tells us, “should have surprised no one who was paying attention.”), about which he has this to say:

If ever there was a sign that we have turned a corner in the fight against both al Qaeda in Iraq and the Sunni insurgency, this was it.

Yes, friends, he did say that.  Turned a corner!  Viewed another way, one might conclude from the location of the visit that Baghdad and even the Green Zone have become so dangerous that the President dared not go there.  Kagan continues:

It should be recognized as at least the Gettysburg of this war [bold mine-DL], to the extent that counterinsurgencies can have such turning points. Less than a year ago, it was common wisdom and the conclusion of the Marine intelligence community in Anbar that the province and its people were hopelessly lost.

Of course, last year it did seem hopelessly lost, and barring the remarkable change in local attitudes that did, in fact, happen it would have remained so.  The Marines don’t throw in the towel unless things are genuinely hopeless.  What changed was an extraordinary shift in local opinion against putative “Al Qaeda” elements.  Some of this was facilitated by U.S. forces before the “surge” began (as those paying attention already knew), but it was essentially a move by insurgents to side with their enemy (our armed forces) against an even worse enemy.  Kagan dismisses all of this and more, of course, which is how he can say cracked things about Gettysburg and turning corners.  Then again, I suppose if I were prominently associated with authoring some form of the “surge” plan, as Kagan is, I might look for anything that would vindicate what I had advocated.

The Post on a “surge” showcase.

If you can’t get enough of Brookings members’ NYT op-eds on Iraq, here’s another one.  Not very surprisingly, it basically cannot deny the overwhelming problems:

Unfortunately, at the moment the political paralysis seems to be a more powerful force than the military momentum, and progress in security is unsustainable without sectarian compromise among Iraq’s Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiites. The country remains very violent, and the economy rather stagnant.

In the end, the authors are forced to say:

Given the continuing violence, and the absence of political progress, Iraq is not now on a trajectory toward sustainable stability — and America is not yet on a clear path to an exit strategy.

Not much more than a month ago, O’Hanlon and Pollack wrote:

As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily “victory” but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with.

It seems plain to me that the two statements flatly contradict each other, or at least the latest article undermines a main claim of the earlier op-ed.  I suppose there could be “potential” for sustainable stability, and still Iraq might not yet be on a “trajectory” towards sustainable stability, but the implication of the earlier statement is that there is a real likelihood of success and the implication of the later statement is that things generally look quite bad despite some marginal improvements here and there.  Somehow I don’t expect this item to be cited by excited war supporters as the latest revelation of the Oracle.  Somehow I expect that it will be very carefully ignored, but then I’m an awful cynic. 

On the nature of the U.S.-Israel relationship in last summer’s disastrous war in Lebanon, for example, I disagree with their denial of responsibility on Washington’s part — the original impulse to take some form of action may have come from the Israeli leadership, but as I made clear at the time, it was hard to avoid the suspicion that the scale and objectives of the operation became defined by Washington, and they were plainly goals for which Israel had not prepared its forces. ~Tony Karon

Indeed, it is surprising that Profs. Mearsheimer and Walt would argue that Washington was not at least partly responsible for the Lebanon debacle, since the war in Lebanon–and the U.S. political class’s virtually unanimous support for it–seems to me to serve as a principal example of how the Lobby’s definition of U.S. and Israeli interests skews and shapes U.S. policymaking in ways that are actually detrimental to the interests of both states.  The way that the war in Lebanon was cast in much of the U.S. media–very simply as Iran and Syria’s proxy war against Israel and Israel’s purely righteous retaliation against this proxy war–had a lot to do with Lobby influence in creating an impressive bipartisan consensus here that everything Israel does can be described as “self-defense” and a similarly broad consensus that Iranian influence in the Near East is the great danger of our time.   

In addition to Washington’s role in exacerbating the war in Lebanon, a clear demonstration of Lobby influence was in its control of the public debate about the campaign.  (We routinely heard how “the American people” support Israel, but few bother to wonder why this support remains as strong as it does.)  This public relations offensive was led by numerous denunciations of the idea of proportionality in the commentary pages of major newspapers, reliable anti-Vatican criticism from prominent pro-Israel Catholics and Christians, Rev. John Hagee’s declaration that the bombing of Lebanon was a “miracle of God” (Hagee is now the head of Christians United for Israel, which aspires to mobilise pro-Israel evangelicals and wield AIPAC-like influence), the U.S. Ambassador’s statement that “we are all Israelis now,” Secretary Rice’s infamous “birth pangs” quip, and on and on.  Obviously, this was not all coordinated or synchronised, as critics of Mearsheimer and Walt accuse them (falsely) of claiming about Lobby activities, but resulted from the shared objectives of numerous different interest groups in this country in boosting for Israel.  (The crucial point of the argument against the Lobby is that these interest groups that belong to it are highly unrepresentative of the interests of most Americans, and not surprisingly they advocate policies that serve their narrow interests rather than U.S. national interest.)  It was, of course, technically possible to speak out against the rampant anti-Lebanonism that swept the country last summer (which was wrapped up in the nicest qualifications), but you didn’t find many people doing it, and certainly not many politicians and foreign policy intellectuals. 

I agree with Mr. Karon that some of this response is ingrained and habitual now.  It is mixed up to some extent with our own nationalists’ paranoia about so-called “Islamofascism,” and it dovetails nicely with the goals of hegemonists in the Near East.  Then again, most hegemonists are themselves very keenly pro-Israel and are as interested in U.S. regional hegemony in the Near East for the sake of Israel’s security (as they understand it) as they are for reasons of projecting U.S. power, and it seems likely that they not only see no conflict between the two priorities but assume that the two are quite complementary.  In any case, reflexive support for Israel obviously gets constant reinforcement from the media and politicians, which is how it became reflexive in the first place, and the coverage and commentary in this country on the war in Lebanon were perfect examples of how “the Lobby” works.

I hadn’t seen this until today, but I think it sums up nicely everything that is wrong with our foreign policy establishment today:

On the second point, Quiggin is trying to frame the debate by using the Very Scary Terms “aggressive war” or “non-defensive” war.  Aggressive to whom? One state’s “aggressive” or “non-defensive” war is another state’s “defensive” or “prudential” action.

Of course.  The Japanese invasions of East Asia were really just defensive (and were part of an effort to free East Asia from perfidious colonialism!), after all, and who’s to say whether the invasion of Poland was really aggression?  The German government said that the other side had fired first, and who are you going to believe?  Come to think of it, one state’s experience of brutal conquest is another state’s war of liberation.  

During WWI, Germans cultivated the “ideas of 1914,” chief among them being the belief that they were engaged in a purely defensive war.  They would be pleased to know that Drezner would agree with them.  Likewise, our invasion of Mexico was really just “retaliation” for Mexican “aggression,” and our conquest of the Philippines was a “prudential” response to the crazy Filipino notion that they should have an independent country, which was clearly a very dangerous idea for them to have.  Hundreds of thousands of them had to die before they learned to stop being so aggressive.   

I have long been skeptical about the prospects of success for the “surge,” but I don’t see any reason to go around insulting Gen. Petraeus by comparing him to Wesley Clark.  Unlike Wesley Clark, it appears that Gen. Petraeus received his current command because of his ability and his intelligence, rather than on account of cronyism and ties to the President (which is rather striking, given the general pattern of personnel choices by the current administration).  Unlike Wesley Clark, it seems unlikely that Gen. Petraeus is in any danger of trying to start WWIII on a whim.  Unlike Wesley Clark, it seems to be generally accepted that Petraeus’ superior and subordinate officers do not loathe him.  All of this makes Petraeus’ future chances as a political candidate much, much better than Clark’s, but then almost anyone’s chances as a candidate would have to be better, since they could scarcely be much worse.

When I first saw the story that several GOP campaigns were contemplating Gen. Tommy Franks as a choice for VP, my first reaction was incredulity.  As we all know, he has to his credit the initial phase of the Afghan War, which was followed by a less satisfactory conclusion in eastern Afghanistan.  He was also head of Central Command during the initial, well-executed invasion of Iraq, which was followed by quite unsatisfactory post-invasion security (there seems to be a pattern here), on which more in a moment.  Certainly, a fair part of this can be laid at Rumsfeld’s door, and Franks was executing the orders he received, but it seems frankly bizarre to me that any GOP nominee would want to fight an election with a running mate who gives the other side free shots to make “Tora Bora” and “Phase IV” into shorthand for Republican incompetence in military affairs.  Why bring up all that old baggage and give the other side such an easy target?  (The short answer is that there are not all that many credible elected Republicans at the state or federal level who want to sacrifice their future political prospects in what many probably regard as a lost cause–nobody wants to be next year’s Geraldine Ferraro.)

Any reader of Fiasco will come away with a much-diminished impression of Gen. Franks, who comes across as having no grasp on what the difference between strategy and tactics is.  That doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in his ability to fulfill the duties of President, should the need arise.  (On his behalf, I should say that most of the jokers who would head the ticket are probably even less qualified.)  Indeed, there is an entire subsection in Fiasco entitled “Franks flunks strategy” (p. 127-129), part of which reads:

The inside word in the U.S. military long had been that Franks didn’t think strategically.  For example, when the general held an off-the-record session with officers studying at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, in the spring of 2002, not long after the biggest battle of the Afghan war, Operation Anaconda, one student posed the classic Clausewitzian question: What is the nature of the war you are fighting in Afghanistan?  “That’s a great question for historians,” Franks side-stepped, recalled another officer who was there.  “Let me tell you what we are doing.”  Franks proceeded to discuss how U.S. troops cleared cave complexes in Afghanistan.  It was the most tactical answer possible, quite remote from what the officer had asked.  It would have been a fine reply for a sergeant to offer, but not a senior general.  “He really was comfortable at the tactical level,” this officer recalled with dismay.

Ricks then goes on to explain how this inability to think strategically led Franks to a war plan that “was built on the mistaken strategic goal of capturing Baghdad, and it confused removing Iraq’s regime with the far more difficult task of changing the entire country.”  In fairness to Franks, Rumsfeld had had no intention of sticking around long to change the entire country, which was one of the reasons why there were so few soldiers sent into Iraq and why ”Phase IV” was so risibly unplanned and lacking in preparations.  Speed, flexibility,”get in, get out, a man alone” (so to speak)–this was Rumsfeld’s approach to warfighting, and it had no place for intensive, large-scale occupations.  As far as Rumsfeld and Franks were concerned, the only objective was destroying the regime.  According to the theories of Wolfowitz et al., the Iraqis should have been able to take things over almost immediately, making a prolonged presence in Iraq unnecessary.  For the Pentagon, it was in any case undesirable.  Needless to say, someone who is reputedly not good at thinking strategically and who is, as Arkin puts it, “not known as especially interesting or smart” does not strike me as the sort of man you would want as first in the line of succession to the Presidency. 

P.S. Do my eyes deceive me, or is Brent Scowcroft advising the McCain campaign?  Evidently, so is Powell.  I suppose that doesn’t surprise me all that much, but I had not heard this before today.  I really don’t want to hear very much complaining from Republican “realists” about the lack of “realists” in the GOP presidential field when some of the foremost supposedly “realist” and “moderate” figures in the party are advising one of the most die-hard militarists in the race.  These two may be advising him out of GOP establishmentarian solidarity, since McCain was supposed to be the presumptive favourite, at least until the activists and donors had something to say about it, but it is still telling that the prominent ”realists” and militarists overlap and mingle so easily.

Whenever I try to chart a course between the “Iraq would have been great if we’d just had smarter people in charge of the occupation” and the “Arabs can’t handle democracy” school of thought, I tend to come back to things like this — the great difficult [sic] Belgians have in creating a viable, legitimate binational democratic state. Or think of the Canadians. Or the endless problems in Spain with the Basques. It’s genuinely difficult to work these kinds of things out. And then there’s the former Czechoslovakia where it couldn’t be worked out, or else Northern Ireland where it also couldn’t be worked out but where there proved to be no adequate line of partition. ~Matt Yglesias

Looked at another way, the problem in all of these cases isn’t the creation of a viable, legitimate binational state.  Even Czechoslovakia functioned as some kind of viable, legitimate binational (or actually trinational before they kicked the Germans out) state for approximately eighty years until the local power bosses on either side of the Slovakian border decided that it would be easier and/or more advantageous to them politically to hive off the Slovaks into their own state.  This suited the Slovak nationalists and the Czech leadership, which was just as glad to have that much less competition for running Bohemia and Moravia.  As many Czechs and Slovaks will tell you even now, the “velvet divorce” was something that many people on both sides of the border did not want.  Czechoslovakia may have been some arbitrarily made-up country, but it was their arbitrarily made-up country and it was the only one they had known.  Suddenly friends and relatives became citizens of a foreign country.  As someone who visited the newly independent Slovakia in 1993, I can testify to the sort of absurd “nation-building” pettiness that accompanied this process, as our perfectly good Czech koruna bills had to be exchanged for virtually indistinguishable Slovak koruna bills, as if the little stamp on the Slovak money made any real difference.  

The trouble in these cases arises when the political class tries to maintain a binational state in such a way that appears to one party of the union to unduly privilege the interests of the other party.  To many Flemings, the Belgian state appears to be a mechanism to rob them to support Wallonia (which, for the most part, seems to be true).  You then combine this with a growing sense of alienation and nationalism of the party that feels as if it is being ignored or abused, and you suddenly have a very difficult situation.  In Belgium, matters have reached such a boiling point because, among other things, Flemish nationalists feel that they subsidise the rest of the country and they think they do not have sufficient representation at the federal level.  It has not helped that the consensus parties have banned one Flemish nationalist party and have worked assiduously to contain Flemish nationalist political power.  This has only helped to encourage the view that Belgian “democracy” means having the ‘right’ elections results and enacting the ‘right’ policies rather than having any kind of self-determination or popular government.

What do almost all of these places have in common?  They are almost all the legacies of conquest/colonialism or the products of international congresses that drew fairly arbitrary lines on maps to suit Great Power vendettas and interests.  Of these, the most “manageable” have been those arrangements where there has been significant decentralisation to meet demands for regional or provincial autonomy.  The more accurate comparison for Iraq, however, is not with Spain or Canada or even Belgium, which have a relative wealth of history as united countries compared to Iraq, but rather with Yugoslavia or Czechoslovakia, which were created in the same period as part of the same foolish Allied empire-carving process and which dissolved into their constituent parts (though Yugoslavia’s dissolution had a good deal of help from outside meddlers).  Iraq seems bound for the same fate, if only because the local power bosses in different parts of Iraq are going to become interested in partition for the same reasons their counterparts in Czechoslovakia were: it allows them to be bigger fish in the necessarily smaller ponds.

A few months ago, it was the received wisdom that Iraq was in the midst of a rapidly escalating civil war. That claim is no longer plausible. ~Michael Gerson

Well, actually, that was the “received wisdom” of many people last summer as well.  Rather than “rapidly escalating” now, the civil war has reached a plateau for the moment and has settled into a steady stream of sectarian bloodletting.  One wonders if Gerson reads the newspaper where his column appears.  He claims that sectarian killings in Baghdad have declined by 50%.  However, the Post reported on the draft GAO report yesterday:

The draft provides a stark assessment of the tactical effects of the current U.S.-led counteroffensive to secure Baghdad. “While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced [bold mine-DL],” it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged [bold mine-DL]. It also finds that “the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved.” 

What does all this tell us?  That it may be the case that the new tactical plan had some decent success in certain areas, and that when the “surge” ends things will revert back to the way they had been before.  Since the “surge” is definitely going to end at some point, its main accomplishment will have been to halt the worsening of the situation and buy time for the political track.  As we all know, however, the political track is all but hopeless.  Why, then, do optimistic war supporters continue to give the public false hope?  We should give Gerson this much–at least he didn’t say we had turned a corner!

Update: Prof. Cole makes all the necessary points on this subject.

Fukuyama actually makes some sense about Russia:

What the West needs to do is watch Russia’s actual behavior, and not project onto it the West’s own hopes and fears as occurred over the past fifteen years. Many Westerners are angry with Putin and the Russia he is creating in part because they are jilted lovers: they hoped in the 1990s that the country would transition in short order to a full-fledged liberal democracy, and when it didn’t, they felt cheated. But the fact that a fully democratic Russia did not emerge does not means that a fully authoritarian Russia is now inevitable. Russia’s future will not be inevitably shaped by its past, but by the decisions that contemporary Russians will make, and the opportunities that the international environment provides them to make the right choices.

And the fact is that the neocon crowd that took far too easily the helm of the foreign policy establishment away from the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game are almost entirely responsible for the dramatic erosion of America’s national security portfolio. ~Steve Clemons

Well, with the exception of rare figures such as Mr. Clemons himself, “the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game” allowed the neocons to take the helm or did very, very little to stop them from taking the helm, because at the time that the neocons were taking the helm in 2002 and 2003 “the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game” were largely on board with the general goals of the neocons with respect to the “war on terror” and Iraq policy specifically.  Certainly, concerning Iraq there were differences over methods, timing and process, which is why “the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game” lost control, because they had no fundamental and essential objections to what the neocons were proposing to do.  On Iran policy, where are “the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game” right now?  What are they doing to thwart an escalation of conflict with the Iranians?  Which presidential candidates (besides, naturally, Ron Paul) are challening the neocon line on Iran?  As of right now, none of the major candidates is firmly opposed to military action against Iran.  How did the neocons begin dictating the terms of the debate?  It was easy–almost everyone (with honourable exceptions such as Mr. Clemons) in the foreign policy establishment already accepted most of what the neocons were saying, or remained silent if they did not accept it.  

As the neocons have overreached again and again, there has been some resistance to executive usurpation, policies of detention and torture and the like.  However, I fear that as long as most of “the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game” accept so many of the same assumptions about America’s role in the world and approve of so many of the same means to reinforce American hegemony, there will never be a time when the neocons–or people just like them–will have been “purged from the American soul.”  When this particular group passes from the scene, we will find ourselves set upon by another and yet another group of hegemonists, because “the realist and liberal internationalist players in this game” are evidently unwilling to change very much about the way the United States government conducts foreign policy.

As someone who was a fairly early critic of Maliki, I have to say that I have never had any confidence in his government as an effective U.S. ally, much less as a reliable quisling government.  Even so, I have to acknowledge that Maliki was never going to achieve the things that Washington expected him to achieve, because the interests of his government and ours never really coincided.  What was the incentive for an old Shi’ite fundamentalist Da’wa hand to engage in “political reconciliation”?  Exploiting sectarian differences and maximising majoritarian power naturally serve the particular interests of Maliki’s own party and his coalition far better.  This is not, however, something that derives from Maliki’s own flaws.  If not Maliki, Iraq would have someone from the Terrorist Group Formerly Known As SCIRI or another Da’wa politician, which means that any future ministry would be just as sectarian and “beholden to religious and sectarian leaders,” if not more.  As Prof. Cole confirms, a SIIC (formerly SCIRI) prime minister would be even more closely tied to Tehran and even more under Tehran’s control, since his party is still quite clearly an Iranian proxy as it has been for decades. 

Prof. Cole is correct that the sudden disdain for Maliki inside the Capitol is a function of both our warped political debate on the war and our pols’ ignorance about Iraq.  Democratic critics of Maliki would almost have to hope that no one pays any attention to them, since “success” in forcing Maliki out would not bring the war to an end any sooner.  The strange thing is that Democratic critics of Maliki don’t seem to grasp that installing yet another ineffectual or unduly sectarian prime minister in Iraq would simply prolong our involvement in the war that much more.  It would give Mr. Bush the advantage of being able to call for patience as the “new Iraqi government” tries to work out the various thorny problems of legislation.  If we recognised instead that Maliki was probably the best that could be hoped for, and everyone is coming to the conclusion that his government is a hopeless case, we could begin making the necessary preparations for getting out of Iraq that much sooner.  This absurd dance of arguing over which Shi’ite should be allowed to fail to govern Iraq is a waste of precious time, and each day of dithering by alleged Congressional opponents of the war is another day when Americans are dying in Iraq for no good reason.

The antiwar forces, the surge opponents, the “I was against it from the beginning” people are, some of them, indulging in grim, and mindless, triumphalism. They show a smirk of pleasure at bad news that has been brought by the other team. Some have a terrible quaking fear that something good might happen in Iraq, that the situation might be redeemed. Their great interest is that Bushism be laid low and the president humiliated. They make lists of those who supported Iraq and who must be read out of polite society. Might these attitudes be called thuggish also? ~Peggy Noonan

Give Ms. Noonan credit at least for acknowledging a certain thuggishness on the other side as well.  Most of this column is reasonably fair, and it actually gives opponents of the war a good deal more credit than one might have dared to hope for in The Wall Street Journal’s op-ed pages, which is to say that it treats opponents as rational people who might even have the odd legitimate point to make here and there.  I would really like to take Ms. Noonan’s column in the spirit in which it was written–a call to work for the common good, set aside the rancour and bitterness of the last several years and rise to the occasion of a national challenge.  With as little “grim triumphalism” as possible, let me suggest a few reasons why this appeal will be met in antiwar circles with indifference, if not derision.

First there is this business of accusing us of engaging in grim and “mindless” triumphalism.  It is true that many of us who have opposed the war from the beginning, including myself, have occasionally made a point of reminding others that those on our side were making the more prescient, accurate and serious arguments prior to the invasion.  It seems to me that war opponents have done this not, for the most part, to gloat and feel satisfied with themselves (though it is unavoidable in any major controversy such as this that there would be some of this–I genuinely believe that this sort of preening has been less obnoxious and less common than that done on a regular basis by the other side).  We have done this to establish our own credibility and, by extension, to question the credibility of those who urge us to continue the war. 

What triumphalism does Ms. Noonan mean?  Who engages in it, and how representative are they?  What, after all, do war opponents really have to gloat about?  Where is the triumph that war opponents are grimly and mindlessly celebrating?  What have we accomplished?  That we saw the disaster coming and failed to stop it?  That we knew the stated goals of the administration were nonsense, but nonetheless were entirely unsuccessful in persuading the country when it mattered?  Prescience, principle and foresight are all very well, but in the most fundamental way the antiwar movement in this country has gone from failure to failure, constantly waiting on events to do for them what war opponents have been unable to do for themselves: force an end to the war. 

Even now antiwar elements in Congress cower in fear at the approach of Petraeus, fully expecting a political setback when the general reports (as virtually all of us expect) that things are getting better and we need to give it more time.  Antiwar activists attempt to interpret the political maneuvers of mildly critical Republican Senators with the superstitious awe of someone reading his fortune in coffee grounds.  Nothing much has changed from four years ago.  American war opponents waited in anticipation at the possibility that British protesters or Dominique de Villepin or the Turkish government or (God help us) Hans Blix would somehow stop the war and save the day.  No wonder the jingoes won the day.  (Then again, jingoes usually do win the first round to get us into the war, and then leave it up to the rest of us to fix their mess.)

There is this claim that we “smirk” with pleasure at bad news.  If there is any smirking going on, it is distinctly of the gallows humour variety, since war opponents have always been appalled at the moral blight and humanitarian disaster that this war has been.  There may be exceptions out there somewhere, but in general war opponents are horrified at the nightmare that our government has let loose in Iraq, but most of us are not so foolish as to think that the same government that destroyed Iraq can effectively put it back together again.  Speaking for myself, I grimace at reports of new bombings and continued chaos in that miserable country.  It grieves me that ancient Christian communities are being uprooted, that centuries-old mosques, treasures of the medieval Islamic world, have been destroyed by fanatics and that millions of people are displaced or have fled their homes.  The few gratifying moments come in revealing the more pompous jingo pundits to be ignorant and foolish, which is not a terribly difficult task, but mostly this just reminds me of the frustration that such people are still taken seriously as equal, if not dominant, participants in the foreign policy debate in this country.  It would be excellent if there were actually good, widespread news in Iraq of permanent progress in security and services, rather than the exaggerated Potemkinesque rattling off of statistics about reopened schools and rebuilt soccer pitches.  If the disaster in Iraq could realistically be redeemed, you would find a great many war opponents very happy to be wrong.  Of course, it can’t be, which is what the entire debate has been about, but I fail to see how it helps to restore lines of communication by repeating the most dreadful calumnies against war opponents. 

Ms. Noonan says, “They make lists of those who supported Iraq and who must be read out of polite society.”  Well, yes, war opponents do argue that people so fantastically, massively wrong about the major foreign policy debacle of our time should not be taken seriously in future.  Their record of repeated, consistent misjudgements and errors in understanding Iraq and indeed foreign policy generally should indict them without our having to say anything.  That just seems like good sense.  It is telling that reasoned criticism of massive policy blunders can be equated with shrill chauvinistic demonisation as if they were equivalent.  More to the point, in spite of the Iraq debacle, every single war supporting pundit, policy intellectual and academic remains very much a part of “polite society” and seems to be in no danger of being cast out from it.  Though there were quite deliberate efforts to read war opponents out of “polite society” (or perhaps it was more of a permanent barrier to their ever being allowed into said society in the first place), war opponents have never been in any position to drive the jingoes into the proverbial wilderness, as much as we might privately wish to drive some of the more obnoxious ones out of public discourse.  Rather than being expelled into outer darkness, they remain at the center of the debate.  Shockingly, they are still taken to be “responsible” and “serious” participants in the conversation, when those are precisely the things they are not.  The political environment is such that, in spite of continual failures of judgement and analysis, they flourish while most war opponents toil in relative obscurity.  This environment is why most of our presidential candidates, including some allegedly antiwar politicians, try to outbid one another into their belligerence towards Iran and other foreign countries and why our foreign policy establishment remains as fundamentally misguided in its assumptions about American power as it has ever been.  There has been no antiwar triumph, and so we have had very little about which to feel trumphalistic.

Ms. Noonan calls for “a vow to look to–to care about–America’s interests in the long term, a commitment to look at the facts as they are and try to come to conclusions.”  Naturally, both sides of the debate believe they are doing just that.  However, part of looking at the facts “as they are” involves making this judgement: which side has been consistently unable to face facts, especially those that contradict its prior assumptions, and which one has been right more often than not in its analysis of the available facts?  I think most war supporters do have America’s long-term interests at heart, but the trouble is that they completely misunderstand the relationship between this war and those interests.  They believe our interests are best served by remaining in Iraq until we “win,” whereas this sounds like crazy talk to us.  In the end, Ms. Noonan’s call for comity and compromise results in defaulting to support for continuing the war and resisting calls for withdrawal.  War opponents are supposed to set aside not just their grievances and resentments of the past several years–we are supposed to accept the fundamental untruth at the heart of this war that Iraq is vital to our national security and that we cannot, must not, leave Iraq no matter what.  In short, Ms. Noonan is calling on all of us to come together to support the conclusions that war supporters have arrived at months and years ago.  It will come as no shock to anyone that war opponents will resist this kind of moral blackmail tooth and nail.

Rumours continue to swirl about an attack on Iran before the year is out.  Prof. Cole points to this Barnett Rubin item, this author was told by U.S. intelligence sources that his forthcoming book on Iran might be made obsolete by an attack before 2008, and there has been talk that Rove timed his departure to make sure that he was out before it happened.  Plans to classify the Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist organisation certainly fit well with preparation for some sort of military action.  An attack on Iran is, of course, a supremely bad idea, which is probably another reason to think that the administration will order it.

For diplomacy to work, we need to dial up [bold mine-DL] our political and economic pressure - not just our tough talk. ~Barack Obama

How do “we” dial up economic pressure beyond the current sanctions regime?  Turn the dial to eleven?  The old Clinton-era caviar export exceptions are, as far as I know, a thing of the past.  His option is divestment, which is a misguided effort. The Europeans might stop doing business with the Iranians–some have made gestures in this direction–but ultimately that just opens up that many more opportunities for the Chinese and Russians to bolster their influence and tie Iran that much more closely to themselves.  Western divestment from companies that do business in Iran would have the same effect–the Iranian market isn’t going anywhere, and other investors will take the place of everyone who divests.  Put this down as yet another Obama proposal in which he tries to be more belligerent than the administration (which he attacks here for its weakness and passivity!) and one where he demonstrates that his foreign policy qualifications really are just as non-existent as you would think they are.

The draft provides a stark assessment of the tactical effects of the current U.S.-led counteroffensive to secure Baghdad. “While the Baghdad security plan was intended to reduce sectarian violence, U.S. agencies differ on whether such violence has been reduced,” it states. While there have been fewer attacks against U.S. forces, it notes, the number of attacks against Iraqi civilians remains unchanged. It also finds that “the capabilities of Iraqi security forces have not improved.” ~The Washington Post

These statements are from a draft GAO report on progress in Iraq.  This is in line with the impressions of the lack of progress that we have been getting from news reports all year long.  During this entire period of almost eight months, war supporters would continually say, “the surge is working, the surge is working, just give it a little more time.”  This seemed like a strange thing to say at the time, since the “surge” pretty clearly wasn’t achieving the goals it was supposed to achieve, or at best only a very few of them.  I could never understand why people who wanted to prolong our presence in Iraq thought exaggerating the success of the “surge” was the smart thing to do.  In the end, this “surge” boosterism would wear out the patience of those parts of the public that had not already turned against the war, and it would reveal (yet again) the poor judgement and analysis of war supporters.  The best way to encourage greater public support for withdrawal was to hype the results of the “surge,” which was never going to be able to do what its proponents claimed.  In the absence of any practicable remedy to the problems in Iraq, public frustration would start to turn into outright public opposition to the war. 

Perhaps they felt compelled to say this as part of the domestic political debate, or perhaps many of them are so deeply deluded that they literally couldn’t recognise that this new plan had not succeeded.  Whatever credibility war supporters still had, if they had any, has been wasted in boosting the prospects of the “surge” as it has become more and more clear that the new tactical plan did not accomplish the (admittedly impossible) mission set out for the U.S. military.  It’s as if a dam had already burst and flooded the valley below, and the administration said to the military, “Go plug up some of the holes in the wreckage of that dam, which will somehow solve the flooding problem.”

From President Bush on down, U.S. officials enthused about Iraqi democracy while pursuing a course of action that made it virtually certain that Iran and its proxies would emerge as the dominant political force. ~David Ignatius

Of course, Iran’s main proxy, SCIRI, was always going to be part of “the dominant political force” once that group was allowed to participate in the elections.  Given that the elections were run on a ethnic and sectarian basis, the majority of Iraq and the Iranians belong to the same sect and the major Shi’ite blocs already had Iranian backing, any election outcome that wasn’t blatantly rigged against Shi’ite parties (and we did do some things to minimise Shi’ite electoral dominance as it was) would have led to this result. 

The “hubris and naivete” consisted of having elections in the middle of a war in a country that had not yet been stabilised.  Allowing obviously sectarian lists of candidates didn’t help all that much.  If Shi’ite majoritarianism now strikes some people as an unacceptable consequence of the introduction of ”democracy,” it is their enthusiasm for the latter that they ought to be interested in abandoning.  If some people now don’t  want Iran and its proxies to dominate Iraq, they shouldn’t have supported the invasion.  There’s not much to be done about it now. 

It’s hard to imagine Jacques Chirac, Mr. Sarkozy’s predecessor, speaking this way. (Mr. Sarkozy has also reportedly described French diplomats as “cowards” and proposed “[getting] rid of the Quai d’Orsay.” Imagine the media uproar if President Bush mused about doing the same to Foggy Bottom?) ~The Wall Street Journal

Does anyone outside of the lunatic asylum of the WSJ editorial board think that “getting rid” of either the Quai d’Orsay or Foggy Bottom is advisable?  There is a fairly good pattern down through the years, and it is this: government leaders that openly despise State or Foreign Ministry employees have a curious habit of also being the most amazing foreign policy buffoons.  Despite some initial promise of representing sound leadership, Sarkozy has done nothing to persuade that he is anything other than this.   

There is certainly a kind of irony in Sarkozy’s remarks about China, since Total just put together a very nice natural gas deal with the Russians.  Needless to say, French huffing and puffing about other nations’ “search for raw materials” is about as credible as our own holier-than-thou pundits lecturing Europeans and others about their oil interests in Iraq (because we naturally have no oil interests anywhere). 

I suppose some Frenchmen can be forgiven for mistaking Sarkozy for a neocon with a French passport.  He isn’t one, but he certainly likes to give the impression that he is as much of a foreign policy dunce as they are. 

The Middle East, by contrast, was always the “elephant path of history,” as Israel’s fabled defense minister, Moshe Dayan, put it. Legions of conquerors have marched up and down the Levant, and from Alexander’s Macedonia all the way to India. Other prominent visitors were Julius Caesar, Napoleon and the German Wehrmacht.

This is not just ancient history. Today, the Greater Middle East is a cauldron even Macbeth’s witches would be terrified to touch. The world’s worst political and religious pathologies combine with oil and gas, terrorism and nuclear ambitions. ~Josef Joffe

Of course, by “visitor” Joffe is being quite literal: Napoleon was obliged to depart soon after he arrived, and the region played essentially no role in the wars that followed, Caesar didn’t bother to stay for long, and the Wehrmacht ”visited” a lot of places that were not of great strategic value (they got around).  When was the last time the Near East actually possessed the strategic significance Joffe attributes to it?  Realistically, the region has not been a significant “strategic arena” since the 17th century, and that is being fairly generous.  Near Eastern campaigns in the world wars were relative sideshows, and while important the region was never the main stage during the Cold War.  What great powers exist in the region now that have changed this?  Not even the discovery of oil has changed the region’s marginal importance. 

South and East Asia are shaping up to become such a “central strategic arena.”  Numbers, wealth and the concentration of several major military powers all indicate that it will be the main arena of the future, if it is not already.  In fifty years’ time, our heirs will look at our obsession with the Middle East (assuming that we have not perpetuated it until then) in the same way that modern Europeans must regard the scramble for Africa with some amazement.  Late 19th century colonial advances into Africa were just symptoms of the rivalry of European powers, and it was in Europe where the major power struggles were going to take place.   

Besides, a withdrawal from Iraq will not realistically entail any rapid departure from the Gulf as a whole.  Fears of total Iranian domination are just that–irrational fears.  Kooky predictions of Chinese domination of the western Pacific are even less credible.  (Last I checked, the Pacific Fleet still existed, and there is this country called “Japan.”)  Additionally, Joffe’s article contradicts itself: at the same time that he says that America isn’t dispensable, he warns that our allies will seek “insurance” elsewhere.  But if there are no other powers that can credibly provide it, where will they go? 

No, American superpower will persist well after any withdrawal from Iraq.  Leaving Iraq will be a setback, but it will almost certainly not unleash the sort of worldwide backlash against the U.S. that Joffe predicts.  Rather than opening the floodgates that will threaten to sweep American power away, getting out of Iraq will stop the bleeding of U.S. prestige and power, which are daily being consumed by an open-ended, pointless occupation of Iraq.  Articles such as these are a good sign that war supporters have become extremely desperate and have dug in with their last excuses for keeping the war going.  Perhaps they sense that the country has turned against them so strongly that their only hope is the most irresponsible kind of fearmongering.  Then again, they have never had much in the way of other arguments.     

Kirchick offers a common misinterpretation of Obama’s foreign policy that mistakes Obama’s opposition to the war in Iraq for a model for his views about intervention, particularly “humanitarian” intervention.  In this reading, Obama must be opposed to “humanitarian” interventions in cases of genocide because he wants to withdraw from Iraq (where, according mainly to war supporters, there might be a genocide after a withdrawal).  Another guest blogger, Hilzoy, offers the necessary corrective, reminding us of just how overly ambitious and potentially dangerous Obama’s foreign policy is.  The strangest thing of this electoral cycle is the readiness with which so many critics of Obama try to cast him as some sort of “neo-isolationist,” to borrow a word from Sullivan.   

Since he presumably understands that the “Swift-boating” of various Democratic candidates was the product of rank dishonesty and distortion, Tom Friedman seems to be upset that the administration does not make lying about Bin Laden’s connections to the war in Iraq a more prominent, central feature of its propaganda effort.  Friedman should gve the administration some credit.  They are going to war with the dishonest spin they have.  They have been trying to deceive the public about the effectiveness of the “surge” (which does not seem to be working, if death tolls from sectarian killings and bombing fatalities are any measure).  They have been regularly deceiving the public about recent successes by attributing the “Awakening” to the “surge,” when it was a reaction against the excesses and brutality of  the “Islamic State” types and the new tribal “allies” in Anbar were not that long ago supposed to be targets of the “surge.”  They invoke Al Qaeda with amazing regularity.  It is amazing, as anything remotely related to Al Qaeda is an extremely small part of the mess in Iraq and has little to do with what would happen in the event of a U.S. withdrawal.  Friedman wants them to do more of this spinning.  He wants the administration to be engage in even more dishonest spin, if such a thing can be imagined. 

Friedman tries to get in on the act:

Bin Laden has created a situation in which the U.S. occupation in Iraq is viewed as entirely “illegitimate” and therefore any violence there by Sunni jihadists against Americans or Iraqi civilians is considered entirely legitimate “resistance.” 

Actually, Bin Laden has done very little to make the occupation seem illegitimate.  The insurgents who are not with the ”Islamic State of Iraq,” which would be most of them, view the occupation as inherently illegitimate and have done for years, because they have somehow concluded that our government invaded their country.  They didn’t need Bin Laden or anyone else to tell them this.  The main trouble with winning a “P.R. war against Bin Laden” (as Friedman calls it) is that the tactics of the “Islamic State of Iraq” have already been alienating the people who have suffered from them–we don’t need to persuade Iraqis to view the perpetrators of those attacks negatively.  However, as much as they might loathe those perpetrators, they aren’t going to fall in love with the occupation, and they aren’t going to blame their plight on Bin Laden.      

It may not be a shock to find that Obama, who vows to change the way Washington works, plans no such change when it comes to how Washington works on Cuba. But it does suggest that the only place to find Obama and audacity in close proximity is on the cover of his book. ~Steve Chapman

Oh, I don’t know.  Obama’s been fairly bold in making foreign policy statements that strain credulity and upset the establishment (along with baffling or horrifying most informed citizens), so we shouldn’t dismiss his capacity for daring.  The problem with his proposed changes to Cuba policy, as Mr. Chapman notes, is that they are tepid and unremarkable, but this isn’t necessarily a measure of Obama’s lack of boldness in general.  It is a reflection of just how conventional the ideas of the great bringer of change, transformer of politics and unifier of all things usually are when they relate to foreign policy.  When he takes risks or attempts to blaze a trail, he makes mistakes, and when he sticks to his script his excessive interventionist biases force him to adopt much of the worst in the status quo.  

Steve Clemons also notes that Zbigniew Brzezinski, former NSA under President Carter, has endorsed Obama.  I hope Obama has a good damage control team.  Needless to say, my view of the strategic genius of Brzezinski is not the one Steve Clemons holds.

Substituting for Sullivan, Steve Clemons, one of the more interesting foreign policy realists out there, has pointed out that everyone’s favourite, Michael O’Hanlon, is under contract with Al-Hurra (which literally means “the free one”).  Al-Hurra is the Arabic-language U.S. propaganda information service, which O’Hanlon serves in both a producing and commentary capacity. 

This is the same service, incidentally, that has made headlines for being managed by officials who (you guessed it) don’t know Arabic, which has led to the unwitting broadcast of terrorist messages on the network.  Your tax dollars at work. 

The only thing wrong with his [Napoleon’s] theory was that it was 115 years ahead of its time. ~Prof. Juan Cole (at approx. 61:20) on Napoleon’s views of the Ottoman Empire during his lecture on his book, Napoleon’s Egypt

Via Antiwar Blog

If you have the time, watch the whole thing.  Prof. Cole’s video takes about an hour, but it is an interesting topic and of obvious relevance to our present predicament.  I would just add that the Egyptian campaign also follows the model of what was supposed to happen in the Fifth Crusade (capture Egypt to dominate/secure the Levant).

As an aside, it was notable, but not surprising, that our textbook this summer, Al-Kitaab, which incorporates some elements of a northern Egyptian dialect into its lessons, included 1798 in a list of famous dates.  (The list was designed to help us practice reading the eastern Arabic numeral system.) 

Update: Prof. Cole has a brief digression about other colonial episodes, saying, “The Americans could do it [dominate] in the Philippines at the estimated cost of 400,000 Filipino lives, by the way, and it tells you something about the callousness and brutality of the American power elite that they actually instanced the Philippines as a success story of American colonialism on the eve of going into Iraq.”  He isn’t referring directly to this, which I commented on here, but it is the same kind of thinking.

From Dwight D. Eisenhower through Richard M. Nixon, a parade of presidents convinced themselves that defending South Vietnam qualified as a vital U.S. interest. For the free world, a communist takeover of that country would imply an unacceptable defeat.

Yet when South Vietnam did fall, the strategic effect proved to be limited. The falling dominoes never did pose a threat to our shores for one simple reason: The communists of North Vietnam were less interested in promoting world revolution than in unifying their country under socialist rule. We deluded ourselves into thinking that we were defending freedom against totalitarianism. In fact, we had blundered into a civil war.

With regard to Iraq, Bush persists in making an analogous error. In his remarks to the VFW, the president described Iraq as an “ideological struggle.” Our adversary there aims to crush “freedom, tolerance and dissent,” he said, thereby “imposing this ideology across a vital region of the world.” If we don’t fight them “there,” we will surely have to fight them “here.”

Radical Islamists like Osama bin Laden do subscribe to a hateful ideology. But to imagine that Bin Laden and others of his ilk have the capability to control the Middle East, restoring the so-called Caliphate, is absurd, as silly as the vaunted domino theory of the 1950s and 1960s. ~Prof. Andrew Bacevich

Ross is right that it is undesirable to have dueling groups of pro- and antiwar soldiers wielding some outsized political authority over this or any other debate.  However, it occurs to me that we have already gone through several rounds of this politicisation of the military since the war began, and it has accelerated since February 2006 (right around the time everything in Iraq began to get really bad).  Of course, it was always appropriate to acknowledge that senior generals, such as Gens. Zinni and Shinseki, either advised against the war or recommended much larger numbers of soldiers to fight it, but antiwar enthusiasm for disaffected military men, usually retired officers speaking out against the planning and execution of the war, has been the flip side of this sometimes worrisome deference to the opinion of military officers.  

Some antiwar writers were thrilled by last year’s ”revolt of the generals,” when it always seemed to me that most of these generals (with the exception of Gen. Newbold) just wanted to fight the war more effectively and were undermining the chances of ending the war sooner.  It was amusing to watch war supporters mutter darkly about mutiny and conspiracy and threats to civilian control of the military and then, as if by magic, discover that Gen. Petraeus was endowed with superhuman abilities and foresight.  Trust in Petraeus–this was the new mantra, and it has been dutifully embraced by war supporters.  It was one thing to ridicule Mr. Bush, but any policy endorsed by Petraeus suddenly acquired an aura of untouchable genius.  Now we have groups of soldiers publicly taking this or that side of the debate, and before long I expect we will see bloggers on both sides running up tallies to see which side has more declared military personnel.  This cannot lead anywhere good.

It is telling that the NYT ran the op-ed by the seven Iraq veterans as a not-so-subtle counterbalance to the O’Hanlon/Pollack op-ed that it had run earlier in the month.  Rather than finding someone, anyone, from the foreign policy community that could offer a rebuttal to O’Hanlon and Pollack, they went for the more symbolically charged contribution of war veterans.      

Worse, Finer and critics such as Rep. Jack Murtha and Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald have suggested that our analyses are based on a few days of military “dog-and-pony shows.” ~Michael O’Hanlon

Actually, Sen. Jim Webb (at approximately 1:15) was the one to refer most prominently to seeing “the dog-and-pony show” when he was in the military (via ThinkProgress).  Presumably, Rep. Murtha saw the same show when he was in Vietnam, but he is not the one to have said that.  I suppose it’s a minor point, but when writing a rebuttal of critics who accuse your previous op-ed of errors it probably doesn’t help your case that you can’t even properly identify your most prominent critics. 

O’Hanlon’s description of the criticism itself is also inaccurate.  This particular argument against the O’Hanlon/Pollack op-ed (one of many) was not that the analyses are based on the so-called “dog-and-pony show,” but that the evidence of improving conditions that they used to make their analyses was derived from the “dog-and-pony show” that may not have been all together representative of the conditions in the rest of the countryside.  The main problem with the op-ed was that it took a partial, brief, stage-managed visit to Iraq as the source for evidence of improving conditions, just as Finer claimed, and Finer was arguing that everyone, pro- and antiwar alike, should stop making these misleading claims based on such limited experiences. 

Both newspapers downplayed the Korea and Japan analogies which Mr. Bush also delivered at the convention. This is more than a little convenient. The president spent much more speech time on Korea and Japan than on Vietnam. Both Korea and Japan stand as rebukes to people who once argued for the purported incompatibility democracy and freedom among peoples who lacked a history thereof. Today we hear it about Middle Eastern peoples instead of Asian ones. Mr. Bush’s point is that each was proven wrong in time and that he expects the same to be true in Iraq. ~The Washington Times

Everyone has been preoccupied with the (admittedly flawed) Vietnam sections of the speech, while dismissing or overlooking the others.  The others are, in their way, far more dishonest and inaccurate.  This is why I focused most of my attention on showing why Bush had no understanding of modern Japanese history, since Japan was his principal example of America creating democracy where none had existed.  The trouble was that some form of it had existed prior to the war, just as it had in Germany for decades prior to Nazism.  

Helping to rebuild a constitutional representative government (which is what we’re actually talking about) in a place that has already had one is immensely easier than laying a foundation on the sand of a political culture unsuited to such government.  The social, political and economic structures of modern Japan made it vastly different from Iraq, c. 2003, and made it much more able to resume its constitutional parliamentary government.  Japan’s cultural and ethnic homogeneity, its long history as a unified state, and the unifying symbol of the emperor all combined to make postwar Japan as unlike Iraq as could be imagined.  So many of the conditions that explain Japan’s success after the war do not exist in Iraq.  It is simple realism to acknowledge that two radically different societies are, in fact, radically different, and the development of democratic institutions in one may be impossible while it is possible in the other.  The simplistic Bush/Times notion is that the critics always underestimate the democratic potential of foreigners, so the right response is to consistently overestimate that potential while striking a pose of moral superiority.  There may have been occasions in the past when doubters were wrong (it is likely that doubters of Japanese democracy were as poorly informed as Mr. Bush about pre-war Japanese politics), but for the same to be true about Iraq the examples being cited would have to bear some remote resemblance to present-day Iraq.

But he is also the man who has declared his eternal friendship with Libya’s Col. Gaddafi, Belorussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, Iranian leader Ahmadinejad, Zimbabwean tyrant Robert Mugabe, Sandinista commandante Daniel Ortega, imprisoned terrorist Carlos the Jackal, Saddam Hussein and, of course, Fidel Castro. Amongst the gringo masses, this side of Chávez is rather less well-known. ~Michael Moynihan

I understand that there has to be an angle for articles to make them seem more interesting, and the author wants to present his material as if he were revealing something new and previously unknown to you, the audience, but are the “gringo masses” actually unfamiliar with Chavez’s list of friends, assuming they know anything about him at all?  If the gringos know anything about him, they will remember that Chavez called the President a “devil,” routinely visits Cuba and they may know that he has close ties to Morales in Bolivia.  The better-informed gringos will know of his support for Ortega and left-populist candidates around Latin America, and they will also know that there are alarmists in this country who want to make Hugo Chavez out to be one of the great threats of our time.  In fact, the odds are good that most Americans who have heard of Hugo Chavez regard him simply as another member of the ever-shifting list of officially approved enemies.  He probably has his liberal sympathisers (e.g., Danny Glover), but I would assume that Chavez, anti-American friend of Castro and Ahmadinejad and Master of Clock Changes, is much better known than Chavez, the “mildly buffoonish, if delightfully brave, left-wing populist.”

Is Max Boot channeling Ross, or was Ross anticipating Boot?  Here’s Mr. Pith Helmet himself:

That assessment actually understates the terrible repercussions from the American defeat, whose ripples spread around the world. In the late 1970s, America’s enemies seized power in countries from Mozambique to Iran to Nicaragua. American hostages were seized aboard the SS Mayaguez (off Cambodia) and in Tehran. The Red Army invaded Afghanistan. It is impossible to prove the connection with the Vietnam War, but there is little doubt that the enfeeblement of a superpower encouraged our enemies to undertake acts of aggression that they might otherwise have shied away from.

Not only is it impossible to prove this case, but it is also possible to prove that Boot’s argument is wrong.  Actually, Iran was lost because Carter dropped most meaningful support for the Shah and all but urged the Iranians to depose him.  That was one of the early “victories” of a foreign policy of “values” and democracy promotion.  The Shah was gone by February 1979.  Afghanistan, which the Soviets invaded in December of that year, came at least partly as a result of the failure to respond effectively to the hostage crisis, but the Soviets had already been looking to counter what Moscow saw as American gains in the 1979 peace deal between Israel and Egypt and the beginnings of a pro-Western turn in Baghdad under you-know-who.     

Mozambique’s communists came to power in the wake of independence from Portugal, and their internal policies provoked civil war.  Their support for ZANU and the ANC provoked some of Mozambique’s neighbours to intervene against the government’s side.  Naturally, the Soviets supported or at least sympathised with communist and pro-communist African movements, including the ANC, but the existence of these movements would not have been prevented by continued U.S. backing for South Vietnam.  Obviously.  The rise of communism in Mozambique (and Angola) had more than a little to do with resistance to Portugese colonialism and Portugal’s fairly intense efforts to prevent the independence of its African colonies.  These were national or independence movements in which communists took a leading role; outside support did not create these movements.  

The very same kind of limited thinking about the nature of Vietnamese communism that plagued policymakers in the ’60s and ’70s then seems to be plaguing latter-day Vietnam “hawks” when it comes to talking about African communist movements.  The confusion is such that Mozambique can be cited as some sort of “proof” for the validity of the domino theory, when Mozambique was  going to turn communist at that stage regardless of what happened in southeast Asia.  Communists in wars of decolonisation were not all directed by the Supreme Soviet to advance Moscow’s foreign policy.  Moscow might try to use these rebels as proxies after they had already started fighting, but communist control in Mozambique was primarily a result of their war for independence and not outside support.  There is no meaningful connection to the aftermath of the Vietnam War.  

Nicaragua’s story was rather like that of Iran.  Carter was pulling the rug out from under Somoza (Carter’s foreign policy of “human rights” strikes again) and stopped all military support in 1978, which certainly did nothing to reduce Sandinista enthusiasm for overthrowing the government.  The methods of Somoza’s dictatorship generated the resistance against the government, and the Sandinistas came eventually to dominate that resistance.  You might make a very roundabout argument that Carter did to Somoza’s regime what had been done to South Vietnam’s, but the connection with Vietnam ends there.  There is a certain irony that the policies that helped bring about these blows to U.S. power are the very ones–democracy promotion and championing of human rights–backed by the interventionists who are busily cheering on Mr. Bush’s blinkered revisionism.  Naturally, if I were a partisan of the New Carter currently in the White House I would do all I could to deflect attention to the actual causes of U.S. setbacks during the late 1970s, since a discerning eye would be able to recognise an earlier version of Mr. Bush’s “freedom agenda” doing its pernicious work in undermining American interests.  Indeed, each and every one of the examples cited has nothing to do with Vietnam and everything to do with a misguided idealistic foreign policy that the current administration seems intent on duplicating today.

Update: Separately, it seems relevant to the Drezner-Greenwald debate over the foreign policy establishment consensus to point out that Max Boot, a ”paid-up” CFR man himself, has never had any difficulty endorsing the idea that the United States has been acting as an imperialist power. 

Now, the tribal leaders are rallying to the government and asserting themselves against al-Qa’eda. ~William Shawcross

The first part of this statement is, of course, completely untrue, as is quite a lot of Mr. Shawcross’ flimsy rah-rah article.  The “Awakening” in Anbar has no loyalty to the Maliki regime or an Iraq ruled by Shi’ites, and it is not rallying to either one.  This group, or rather the tribes that make up this group are rallying, if you like, against being assassinated and blown up by the “Islamic State of Iraq” types.  Once they have taken care of these people, they will in all likelihood turn their attention to destroying the government to which they have supposedly rallied.  I know that The Spectator has to run pro-war articles because its owner requires it, but couldn’t they be the least bit interesting and accurate while they’re at it?

Update: For good measure, Shawcross manages to invoke both the Partition and Vietnam withdrawals to try to intimidate people into supporting the war.  (He was an early one to start talking up the genocide in Cambodia as a way to bludgeon war opponents.)  This is also the same Shawcross who wrote last May that “we are winning” in an article describing the training work being done in Basra–the same Basra mission that he so thoroughly criticises and ridicules in this article.   

The rights of the siloviki, however, have nothing to do with the formal kind that are spelled out in laws or in the constitution. What they are claiming is a special mission to restore the power of the state, save Russia from disintegration and frustrate the enemies that might weaken it. Such idealistic sentiments, says Mr Kondaurov, coexist with an opportunistic and cynical eagerness to seize the situation for personal or institutional gain. ~The Economist

This is what accounts of a resurgent Russia often miss, as I have argued before.  Whether it is self-justification and rationalisation or genuine conviction, or some measure of both, Putin and the siloviki are both keenly interested in gaining and expanding their power and in achieving their goals of restoring what they see as Russia’s proper place in the world.  They are nationalists because they are power-hungry, but to some extent they are also interested in power for themselves because they believe, for good or ill, that they can restore national power.  Dismissing any of them as cynical and greedy misses the point: they are cynical and greedy because they are ideologues, and they probably think their “correct” beliefs entitle them to rewards. 

The evidence also shows great, gaping weaknesses. Giuliani’s penchant for secrecy, his tendency to value loyalty over merit and his hyperbolic rhetoric are exactly the kinds of instincts that counterterrorism experts say the U.S. can least afford right now. ~Amanda Ripley

Hm…secrecy, loyalty rather than merit and hyperbolic rhetoric–sound like anyone else we know?

I will have to second Josh Patashnik’s post, in which he replies to Mr. Krikorian:

I’m going to offer the rival prediction that if and when the Iranian government falls, there will be no mass conversion to Zoroastrianism [bold mine-DL], no widespread beheading of Christians, and Iran will…remain Muslim.

The point about Zoroastrianism is basically guaranteed, since Zoroastrianism today is unique among the ancient world religions that originated in the Near East in that its adherents actively discourage conversion.  Also, it has not had any noticeable or significant presence in the land of its birth for many centuries.  Quixotic attempts by the Pahlavis to consciously revive pre-Islamic Iranian traditions and names were, shall we say, not wildly popular, associated as they were with a rather brutal dictatorial regime.  (For that matter, rampant Baha’i revivals are also unlikely, since the Baha’i faith hardly seized the imaginations of Iranians during the rule of the Pahlavis.)    

This reminds me of two things that would be widely considered major drawbacks to the separationist plan.  The first would be that an embargoed, isolated Islamic world (were such a thing possible) would almost certainly have a massive backlash against the native Christian populations, and the refugees we have seen fleeing Iraq for Syria would soon be fleeing the entire Levant for Cyprus and points west.  The second would be that it would make Israel’s position totally untenable in the long term.  No one would confuse me with an enthusiastic booster of the U.S.-Israel connection, to be sure, but the likely extinction of Judaism and Christianity in their native lands following the implementation of such a plan would be an unacceptable price for whatever “strategic goals” such an arrangement might serve. 

Fundamentally, the hope of this plan is that Muslims will judge the merits of Islam based on earthly successes and failures.  Though I cannot claim to know the minds of so many different kinds of Muslims throughout the world, my guess is that people raised up in a tradition that teaches them a theodicy in which trials and rewards are God’s will are not going to conclude that political tyranny or disastrous misrule are evidence that Islam needs to be fundamentally changed or abandoned all together.  It didn’t happen for the entirety of Ottoman rule, and it isn’t likely to happen in the future.  On the contrary, the woes of this world will make traditional Muslims all the more likely to turn to their deity for justice and mercy in direct proportion to the extent of the misery experienced.    

If push comes to shove, Mr. Bush will face Moscow all alone. There is a great deal of dissent in Europe, from Madrid to Athens to Bucharest and Bratislava, but not even those Europeans who are nominally pro-independence—notably, the Germans—would sacrifice a single day’s supply of natural gas over Albanian claims. By contrast, this is, for Serbia, an existential issue and, for Russia, a litmus test of her ability to be a great power once again.

The most important reason the United States should not support Kosovo’s independence is and always has been cultural and civilizational; but trying to explain that to the chief executive who is fanatically supportive of a blanket amnesty for tens of millions of illegal aliens in the United States is as futile as trying to reform Islam.

George W. Bush has painted himself into a tight corner in the Balkans, and he will get a bloody nose if he does not relent. That is bad news for the church-burning Albanian Muslims of Kosovo, and bad news for their heroin-financed lobby in Washington, but it is very good news for America and the civilized world. ~Srdja Trifkovic

Dr. Trifkovic’s article is simply excellent, and it sums up all of the strongest arguments against Kosovo’s independence.

But the Communist victory in Vietnam did lead to the rest of Indochina going Communist, as the domino theorists predicted, and it played a role in the Soviet advances across the Third World during the rest of the 1970s - from Ethiopia and Mozambique to Afghanistan and Nicaragua, with various other proxy wars thrown in for good measure. ~Ross Douthat

Well, this may be a bit of quibbling, but something close to half of Indochina/southeast Asia (Thailand and Burma) did not turn communist, and instead of turning red Indonesia under Suharto became a (rather nasty) anticommunist bulwark and Malaysia was not seriously affected.  The Pacific Rim allies were basically fine after Vietnam.  For domino theory to have been right, many more dominoes would have had to be knocked over.  For all the warnings of ever-advancing communism, communism acquired those strategic gems of Cambodia and Laos and then contested for the various backwaters (no offense, Nicaragua) mentioned by Ross.  Having just detached China from the Soviets, America could reasonably afford to risk setbacks in such vitally important places as Mozambique.  (One problem of withdrawing from Iraq is that we have yet to have a foreign policy crew interested in or capable of pursuing anything like a China-style detachment of a formerly hostile regime.) 

Fights over influence in Latin America and Africa were not new in the post-Vietnam era (see Egypt, Zaire, Angola), and Soviet-backed Cuban mischief overseas had already been going on for a while.  Soviet aggression became much greater in the wake of the Iranian Revolution.  At the time, that was a huge loss.  It was the failure of the Carter Administration to cope with the challenge in Iran that helped embolden the Soviets into invading Afghanistan (similarly, it was Carter’s failure that damaged the Democrats’ reputation on foreign policy leadership immeasurably more than anything related to ending the war in Vietnam, contrary to the popular myth circulated by some GOP talking heads).  A comparable Iran-like setback, a really serious blow to our strategic interests, would be an expressly jihadist revolution in Pakistan, which would make any consequences of an Iraq withdrawal as a matter of U.S. strategic interests look small and irrelevant.  Indeed, as a matter of U.S. strategic interests–and it is this, and not, I’m afraid, the casualty count that traditionally governs great power foreign policy–the consequences of an Iraq withdrawal will be damaging but hardly devastating.  In Realpolitik, the loss of a Cambodia or a Laos is not all that important.  (Someone will say that Iraq and many of its neighbours are different and much more important, to which I say: re-read Luttwak.)  Since domino theory was meant to describe the strategic consequences of the failure to contain communism in southeast Asia by military intervention, it does not say much for domino theory that every strategically important country in Far East that should have turned communist did not actually turn.   

Domino theory related to communism was an updated version of old British paranoia dating to the Great Game: today the Russians have Tashkent, tomorrow they will have Delhi!  To the extent that the British were fairly crazy to worry about the Tsar’s armies marching over the Khyber Pass and across northern India to Delhi and through Baluchistan to the sea, the domino theory was also pretty crazy.  In its time, it was also dreadfully respectable, the sort of serious thinking that foreign policy intellectuals love. 

It was also the product of ignoring a Kennan-like approach to international affairs and accepting that the enemy was actually driven by a transnational ideology that could traverse boundaries of nationality and culture without difficulty and which would present a united, pro-Soviet front against the West.  The detachment of China, and the Sino-Vietnamese war that followed shortly after the fall of the South were proof that this idea was wrong in its core assumptions about international communism.  It was proof that Kennan’s attention to nationalism and nationalist policies in understanding communist states was the fundamentally correct analysis of how these states acted.  Wild-eyed notions of universal communism spreading around the world like wildfire (or was it fire in the minds of men?) once the fire was lit somewhere proved to be wrong, because they vastly overestimated the appeal of transnational ideology when compared to the much stronger draw of nationalism.  Having mistaken nationalist revolutionaries for true-believing commies, domino theorists could never grasp the implications that the domino theory could not happen in the real world because of the barriers created by ethnic, cultural and religious difference.  There is comparably mistaken thinking today inasmuch as those predicting the worst following a U.S. withdrawal believe that some unified global jihadism exists and will sweep all before it.  Having mistaken the particular interests of various state and non-state actors for a more or less unified jihadist (or, God help us, Islamofascist) front, these people see disastrous post-withdrawal outcomes that are unlikely to occur.  They think we are in an “ideological struggle.”  In fact, we are not, or at least it is not of the kind they are describing.  Their analysis is necessarily going to be flawed as a result. 

If you look through James Dobbins’ article in Foreign Affairs, you will look high and low for any admission that policy experts, think tanks and public intellectuals dropped the ball.  Almost everyone else in Washington comes in for criticism, and “the entire nation” receives some generic blame, but the policy wonks and pundits escape all censure.

Indeed, you can argue that over the past month, Obama has been shaping the foreign policy debate for the Democrats — and getting the best of the arguments. ~David Ignatius

You could argue that, if you didn’t know anything about foreign policy.

I appreciate Mark Krikorian’s fair description of my post criticising this idea of his about how to combat and defeat “radical Islam.”  We are still in disagreement about his proposal, but let me say a couple of things about his response.  He wrote:

Islam will change, but only (or at least sooner) if we pursue some variation of what Larry Auster calls “separationism.” “Separationism” is the isolation of Islam from the rest of the world through military action, restrictions on immigration, and other means, presumably including a radically more aggressive search for alternative automobile fuels.

I grant Mr. Krikorian that Islam will change, as any religion with so many adherents spread across the globe would inevitably change over time, and it has changed before.  The first difficulty is that certain kinds of Islam already have changed in the past, and many of the changes wrought by revivalism and Salafism have been to take Islam in quite the opposite direction of the “moderate” Islam Mr. Krikorian envisions emerging in the aftermath of this apparently militarised embargo of the Islamic world.  As a kind of glorified sanctions regime, it would have many of the adverse, undesirable effects of a sanctions regime.  Militarised embargoes are also not generally known to help bring down their targets, but rather reinforce the more hard-line and radical elements inside a country while the population is cut off from the outside world and forced to fall back on whatever the local authorities tell them.     

I think the separationism described here (with which I do not entirely disagree, at least as far immigration is concerned) would certainly cause a change in the Islamic world.  It is not clear to me, however, that the change would necessarily be the kind Mr. Krikorian hopes to see.  If such an isolation of the Islamic world from the West were possible, the isolation of that world from the rest would never be complete in any case, as large parts of the rest of the world are not interested in isolating themselves from the Islamic world.  India cannot isolate itself from that world without cutting itself in two and closing itself off from markets for its labour.  China would probably opportunistically try to fill any void left by Westerners.  A policy of isolation combined with military action would seem to combine the worst of both worlds, since it would reinforce the most violent instincts among jihadis and build up sympathy for them while rejecting any alternative connection.  It would be our Cuba policy writ large, but with an added refusal to take in refugees.  I suppose the idea here is to create sufficient internal pressures within the Islamic world such that something gives way in dramatic fashion, but if the end result would be to encourage internecine strife inside this isolated Islamic world it seems as if this would simply strengthen the worst elements and produce an Islamic world in far worse shape, politically, socially and economically, than exists today.  Everything that fuels jihadism would remain, and the indigenous forces that oppose it would probably have been swept away and purged in the process. 

There’s an idea going around that calls for Maliki’s (political) ouster are bad, and that Maliki is being made into a scapegoat.  I disagree with this latter claim, since a scapegoat has to have a plausible chance of ridding a people of its sins, and I don’t think Maliki is up to the job.  I certainly agree that replacing Maliki with another member from his party or the old SCIRI would hardly improve matters, since it is the sectarian nature of the government and its close ties to Sadr (who has now abandoned Maliki to the wolves) that have compromised it from the beginning. 

Talking about dropping the Maliki government is premised on a mistaken idea that the supposedly conciliatory legislative agenda that has been stalled can actually be pushed through the Iraqi parliament, provided that we just find the right political helmsman to take the wheel of government.  This is the mistaken view that the political situation in Iraq is salvageable in a form agreeable to Washington.  It is the same kind of mistake that led Washington to endorse Maliki’s ministry in the first place.  As far as it goes, forcing Maliki out would help some American pols score some points in the “blame the Iraqis, don’t blame me” game, but it would achieve little else.  It would also help the White House by providing the President with a new pretext to say that “we must give the Iraqis more time.”  A new prime minister would probably be followed by a change of other ministers, and there would be some delay before the government was ready to try to do much of anything.  Those complaining about the slowness of political reconciliation would actually find themselves frustrated by the even slower movement as the new PM got his act together (assuming that he did).  In the end, Maliki is not likely to have a successor any more capable of or willing to foster political reconciliation, since the major Shi’ite parties still thrive on communal conflict and the promise of continued Shi’ite predominance in government.  The deep flaws of the current Iraqi government are a good argument not for Maliki quitting his job, but rather for us to quit Iraq.

Today’s dynamic and hopeful Asia — a region that brings us countless benefits — would not have been possible [bold mine-DL] without America’s presence and perseverance. ~George W. Bush

You know, if I were Japanese (or Taiwanese or Thai, to say nothing of Indian) I think I would get pretty tired of hearing this sort of thing.  Yes, I understand that this was a speech to the VFW and the President is obliged to pay his respects to veterans of the Pacific and Korean Wars, as well he should.  Nonetheless, we peddle these myths about our indispensible role in the reconstruction of many of these countries after the war, and this leads us to make mistakes in our current policies.  Thus Mr. Bush once again trots out post-WWII occupation and reconstruction as some sort of “proof” that current Iraq policy makes sense, which would be interesting, except that Japan was not like the way Iraq is and the two cases are not comparable at all.  If there were people who believed that Japan was unsuited to democracy (if today’s virtually permanent LDP rule they have there is what you want to call democracy), they were evidently too much in thrall to official propaganda about the nature of the Japanese regime, since the Japanese had already had universal manhood suffrage for decades.  They had a liberal constitutional monarchy, and their legal system was based on European models.  (Also, the implicit comparison the President makes between Shinto and Islam is unpersuasive for what I would hope are obvious reasons.) 

For people who normally get so edgy when Vietnam is mentioned in any negative connection with Iraq, the administration is strangely happy to make lame analogies with U.S. involvement with almost any  Asian country now.  For what it’s worth, Japan was fairly “dynamic” before the Pacific War, and they were, I suppose, “hopeful.”  It may have been the hopefulness of a would-be empire and regional overlord, but it was hopefulness all the same.  Indeed, they were rather too optimistic in what they thought they could accomplish.  That’s something worth bearing in mind.

There is one way in which Mr. Bush might have a small point, if he means to refer only to the postwar period and he wanted to talk specifically about, say, South Korea alone.  It was primarily the Japanese themselves who rebuilt their own country and transformed it into the economic dynamo that it became.  Having already industrialised significantly before and during the war, the Japanese were hardly unfamiliar with modern industry, finance and capitalism, and they had also had some experience with parliamentary government.  Having successfully created and sustained these things once before, they were prepared to rebuild and recreate anew.  Our role was to allow this without allowing Japan to rearm and resume its great power ambitions.      

Running throughout this speech is the idea that every nation in the world wants freedom and has the potential to do great things, but none of them could have done or will ever do anything if the Americans don’t show up to “help” or, more precisely, make them do it.  Especially if Mr. Bush is right about the potential and the desire of all peoples to live free, this is appalling arrogance to claim that their success is dependent on us.  On the other hand, if it is so heavily dependent on us, how will it be sustained if we should ever depart?  If the former, our involvement is redundant and pointless, and if the latter our involvement is ultimately futile. 

My Scene colleague Matt Feeney raises an objection to Ross’ critique of Chait’s criticism of Kristol (ah, the fun of blogging), noting correctly that there are internal political reasons why TNR does not say much about the war one way or the other.  There is something else worth mentioning here. 

Ross began his post thus:

Jon Chait’s attack on Bill Kristol’s supposed “thuggery” in support of the current American strategy in Iraq would be considerably more interesting if it were possible to discern where Chait’s own magazine stands on the question. 

By the same token, Ross’ critique of Chait would be considerably more powerful if it were possible to discern clearly what Ross’ own view on the war was at the present time.  It isn’t that Ross never writes about the war, but he doesn’t say much about what kind of Iraq policy he thinks would be best.  In his bloggingheads appearances, he will often make a point of declaring himself to be something of an agnostic on the “surge,” and thus ends up, by default, with a “wait and see” position.  That’s fair enough, but it is a bad  position from which to criticise someone else’s reticence about Iraq policy.   

I would add that it shouldn’t matter here whether TNR’s position on the war is discernible, and I don’t know that it would necessarily make the criticism that much more interesting.  If TNR were an openly pro-withdrawal, antiwar magazine, Chait’s criticism of Kristol could–and would–be written off by other war supporters as a standard attack on a prominent “hawk,” which would immediately make the criticism less interesting to large numbers of people.  If it were an openly pro-war, stay-until-we-”win” magazine, this might make the article more noteworthy as evidence of some political rift among the “hawks,” but it would in no way make the underlying criticism of Kristol more or less interesting. 

On the contrary, the nebulous nature of TNR’s position could make the criticism of Kristol all the more powerful, as it sets up an opposition between a magazine trying to offer a report about the reality of the war and the reflexive, ideological, party-line response of a major war supporter.  This entire Beauchamp affair has been a miniature version of the larger pro-war obsession with the media’s “failure” to report the “real news” and ”good news” from Iraq.  The pro-war responses to the Beauchamp reports, of which Kristol’s is one of the more prominent, have been typical representatives of this kind of argument.  Underlying this “they aren’t reporting the real, good news” view is the assumption that any media outlet that reports things that war supporters don’t want to hear must be reporting them because of their inveterate opposition to the war and their hatred of the troops, etc.  After all, only ideologically-driven antiwar fanatics could believe that anything was really going awry in Iraq, since war supporters know that the “surge” is working and all will be well. 

When there is the slightest hint of erroneous reporting, the war supporters believe they have found the Holy Grail in their quest to uncover antiwar media bias.  Arguably, Iraq reporting in a magazine whose editors have an ambiguous or divided view of the war stands a slightly better chance of breaking through this otherwise impenetrable cloud of willful pro-war ignorance.  Similarly, such a magazine’s criticisms of war supporters whose first resort is vilification and insult instead of real argument might be more effective in forcing less obnoxious war supporters to recognise the shallowness of the arguments offered on their behalf by a prominent “hawk.”

Update: Ross gives a good reply here, and he convincingly rebuts at least part of my post.  TNR does have more of a responsibility to address Iraq policy. 

It is certainly a conundrum of America’s laudable foreign policy objective of democracy promotion that electorates sometimes freely vote for parties whose goals are distinctl