Eunomia · hegemonism


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Using the word “imperial” to describe what great powers have been doing for decades pretty much strips the term of any concrete meaning. ~Daniel Drezner

This doesn’t seem to make very much sense, since great powers usually are imperialistic.  This is part of how they operate as “great powers”: by dominating other powers and using force when they deem it necessary to enforce their will. 

But what, after all, do we mean by imperialism?  Here’s one definition that sounds right to me:

The policy of extending a nation’s authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations.

There is something of a technical debate out there over whether you can be a hegemonist without being an imperialist.  Empire usually implies sovereignty and direct control (people inevitably think of Rome or the little pink bits on the map representing British mastery), while hegemony need only imply supremacy and the ability to dictate policy to satellites.  Hegemony is supposed to be more morally acceptable because it is simply “leadership” and supposedly not coercive–the hegemon’s lackeys are willing servants, rather than subjects.  In practice, the policies of an empire and a hegemony are often so similar that the distinction is one of rhetorical presentation: to be an empire-builder today is considered unjust, but to be a hegemon “expanding freedom’s frontiers” is basically fine. 

However, if the definition of imperialism is not limited to direct control and administration of territories outside the Home Country, and it seems that it does not have to be, supporting policies that shore up U.S. economic and political hegemony could be very fairly described as imperialist.  (Never mind that we do actually wield what is effectively direct control over territories overseas in a quasi-colonial relationship with the locals.)  Indeed, the policies of Ethiopia and Eritrea towards each other and the surrounding region could also be described this way, especially since the conflict between them is centered around territorial acquisition and regional dominance.  At its most basic meaning, for a state to be imperialistic is for it to seek control and domination over others and to be willing to use violence to maintain that control and domination.  American empire is fairly unique today in that the U.S. is the only great power that states publicly that the entire globe should follow American “leadership” and that all policies that reinforce that “leadership” (i.e., superpower hegemonic status) are justifiable and serve the greater good.  

Obviously, the foreign policy establishment that has crafted and implemented the policies that have created and preserved this hegemony are dedicated to its continued preservation, which is Greenwald’s point.  Obviously, those who object in principle to this hegemonic status and regard it as the bane of this country are not to be found inside the “foreign policy community.”  Drezner’s counterargument that someone such as Scowcroft opposed the Iraq war is not at all persuasive.  Most foreign policy “realists” who objected to the Iraq war did so for pragmatic, technical reasons.  Above all, they feared that the war would weaken our ability to act as a superpower in other parts of the globe and that it would contribute to the decline of our status as the hegemon.  Scowcroft is reliably internationalist and has no qualms about U.S. hegemony in the region and in the world–he opposed the war at least partly because he wants to keep the hegemony going for as long as possible.  Those of us from left and right who regard this as deeply wrong are not fooled by such a person’s opposition to any particular conflict.  Obama always opposed the war in Iraq, but has demonstrated in all his foreign policy speeches that he is a true hegemonist.  Like the opposition between rival British advocates of a ‘forward’ posture and an approach of ‘masterly inactivity’ with respect to Central Asia, the opposition between antiwar internationalists and prowar internationalists is simply a disagreement over how to best secure the continued dominance over the region.  What Greenwald describes is most definitely hegemonism, and to the extent that hegemonism is simply a kind of imperialism Drezner’s reply on this point does not hold up very well.

Via Yglesias, I see that Fred Kaplan is appropriately horrified by Rudy Giuliani’s Foreign Affairs essay, but Kaplan’s reaction suggests that the essay reveals a policy view markedly worse than other major candidates’ views.  In fact, while his essay is a more undiluted form of neocon madness, his proposals are not really that much more unrealistic and arrogant than what we’ve heard from Obama, Romney or Fred in recent months.   

Edwards’ essay, which was paired with that of Giuliani in this issue, is no prize, either.  Apart from a few points about the effects of the ”war on terror,” with which I basically agree, I find the essay unnerving and worrisome.  Consider this line from Edwards:

We need to reach out to ordinary men and women from Egypt to Indonesia and convince them, once again, that the United States is a force to be admired [bold mine-DL].

But you don’t admire a force.  I think we should persuade other nations that we are a nation to be admired, and we should try to make sure that our government acts admirably, or at least justly, in the world to that end.  To cast “reengagement” in the way that Edwards does confirms for me that he is not in the least concerned with the excessive overreach and abusive relationship that a hegemon has with the rest of the world, but rather that he wants to find a way to perpetuate hegemony through more subtle means.  What he says later makes this clear:

Iran has been emboldened by the Bush administration’s ineffective policies and has announced plans to expand its nuclear program. Meanwhile, other powers are benefiting, too. China is capitalizing on the United States’ current unpopularity to project its own “soft power.” And Russia is bullying its neighbors while openly defying the United States and Europe. 

That last bit is amusing, as if the U.S. and Europe are Russia’s masters that the latter should be obeying and Russia’s neighbours are our protectorates to be guarded against so-called Russian “bullying.”  This comes in a paragraph that refers to what “our enemies” are doing.  In Edwards’ eyes, not only Iran and China, but even Russia is an enemy.  As he sees it, Russia is not a potential enemy or rival, but already an enemy right now.  This will be popular with Cathy Young and The Wall Street Journal, as these already regard Russia as an enemy of our country.  They seem eager to encourage anti-Russian sentiments whenever possible to make supporting policies of renewed hostility between our two countries a more popular and politically viable option.

Of Iran, Edwards says:

Iran cannot be allowed to possess nuclear weapons.

To speak of allowing or disallowing is to claim the power and right to control something, and even Edwards must know that Iran’s nuclear program is beyond the control of the U.S. and the “international community.”  In any case, what does he propose to do about it?  He says:

For example, right now we must do everything we can to isolate Iran’s leader from the moderate forces within the country. We need to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions through diplomatic measures that will, over time, force Iran to finally understand that the international community will not allow it to possess nuclear weapons. Every major U.S. ally agrees that the advent of a nuclear Iran would be a threat to global security. We should continue to work with other great powers to offer Tehran economic incentives for good behavior. At the same time, we must use much more serious economic sanctions to deter Ahmadinejad’s government when it refuses to cooperate.

Which leader?  Does Edwards think Ahmadinejad is “the leader” in Iran?  That is incorrect, and it is unfortunate enough that he does not even understand this much about a country he is willing to attack.  How would additional sanctions on Iran help to separate “the leader” from “moderate forces,” when sanctions inevitably strengthen the hand of hard-liners and despots?  How does Edwards think that “the leader” can be undermined by challenging the Iranian government over the development of nuclear technology, when this is something that most Iranians believe they have a legal right to develop?  How does he propose to prevent the Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons?  He remains open to starting a war with Iran–and he is allegedly the progressive “peace” candidate!  What a joke.

What of the other major candidates?  Over the years, McCain has been the neocons’ favourite and, as we all know, holds comparably dangerous views.  HRC is still supportive of the activist, aggressive foreign policy of the DLC/PPI, which is consistent with how her husband governed.  We can look forward to essays from McCain and Clinton in the future, and I expect that both of them will be filled with much of the same dreary excess and bombast. 

I would be willing to grant that Giuliani is the most dangerous out of seven dangerous candidates, but this is a matter of a few degrees and not a massive difference in substance.

Of course, Obama is being dishonest when he pretends that the U.S. government was trying to “ignore the rest of the world” prior to 9/11. Isolationism did not provoke the terrorists. On the contrary, the terrorist attack was partly a result of decades of U.S. intervention overseas–precisely the kind of meddling that Obama euphemistically calls “maintaining a strong foreign policy, pursuing our enemies, and promoting our values around the world.” This is the point made by Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX), a principled and consistent Iraq War opponent, and it is understood by millions of populist Democrats as well. When you stick your hand in a hornet’s nest, you may get stung. Perhaps the action is worth the possible consequence, but don’t pretend that the sticking of the hand into the nest had nothing to do with the stinging! ~Jeff Taylor

Price Floyd traces the decline of America’s standing in the world to this moment. “Back then, the USIA transmitted American values—and this was separate from selling American policy,” he said. “The two aren’t separated now. There’s no entity that makes it possible to separate them. So, if you disagree with our policy, which is easy to do now, then you hate America, too.” ~Fred Kaplan, Slate

I take Mr. Floyd’s point, and I think he is mostly right at least as far as government activity is concerned. It isn’t as if there are no other means of communicating to the rest of the world except by way of government, but I acknowledge that he is talking specifically about how the government does or does not successfully engage in public diplomacy.

This also highlights the terrible practical problems with a “values”-driven idealistic foreign policy or anything called the “Freedom Agenda.” When you take it as axiomatic, as Mr. Bush’s Second Inaugural did, that “our interests and our values are one,” you have prepared the ground for a continual identification of interests, values and policies that supposedly seek the former and allegedly protect the latter. As far as the state is concerned, the government’s policies are the embodiment of both American interests and values. To oppose or criticise that policy is to declare that you are somehow against one or both. To claim that foreigners resent U.S. policy is, for a foreign policy idealist, to say that they resent America; to say that policy causes terrorism (which it can and does do) is to say that America by its very nature causes terrorism. The special relevance of this conflation of “values” and policy for the recent dust-up between Ron Paul and Rudy Giuliani is obvious.

In this roundabout way, the idealists reason. We can understand how a foreign policy idealist probably genuinely believes that “they hate us for our freedoms,” because for him “our freedoms” involve the “freedoms” of, say, backing the Aliyev dictatorship in Azerbaijan or the “liberties” of selling munitions to Israel or the “rights” to launching aggressive wars against small, weak countries with which we have no real quarrel. Hegemony is itself an expression of freedom; our bases are extensions of our “values” and our cruise missiles the expression of our ideals.

For decades, the French supported the Hutu regime even when it became Nazi-like in its racial nationalism. It may be difficult for Americans to comprehend such imperialistic motivations, but the main reason for French support of Hutu power was that the Hutu are Francophone and the Tutsis Anglophonic, and that the latter group was aided by the former British colony of Uganda. ~James Kirchick

It may be difficult for Americans to comprehend such imperialistic motivations….Perhaps, though I daresay that the apparently numerous Churchill-idolising American fans of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900 (which, at least according to its critics, is not much more than a rather lengthy volume that repeatedly says in various ways, “Yay, go Anglophones!”) understand Paris’ support for Francophones in Africa just fine.  The odd people who have been propagating the idea of the Anglosphere, which I find totally uninteresting in almost every possible way, probably also understand this connection, though they pretend that Anglospherism is more than glorified Anglophonism (it’s about values!).  I wonder: what do Anglospherists think of this new history volume?  Excited?  Embarrassed? 

Come to think of it, France’s support for the Hutus was and is fairly easy to understand, since sharing a common language with the rulers of another country provides an automatic way in for spreading your influence.  That is part of the reason why colonialists who are actually intent on maintaining their control of another country learn the local languages, make sure the local elites understand theirs and attempt to introduce their culture by way of language.  The one good defense against the charge of colonialism over the Iraq war is the profound disinterest the government has shown in supporting programs for Arabic speakers and actively recruiting people to learn and study Arabic and Arab cultures.  The “empire of bases” doesn’t need any well-staffed colonial administration full of fluent speakers of the native languages–it will happily use other countries’ lands, but it won’t be bothered with the day-to-day affairs of the dependency.  That would be meddling in their internal affairs and therefore wrong!

Obama gave a speech last week to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. It was an exhilarating speech to me. ~Marty Peretz

Worst of all, Peretz dubs Obama a “maverick, a real maverick.”  Other great mavericks of our time include McCain and Lieberman.  Obama has joined a select and very horrifying group of people.

Remember how Putin gave an angry speech at the Munich security conference earlier this year?  Remember how he said the deployment of missile defense systems in central Europe was viewed as a violation of past promises to Russia and was unacceptable?  Oh, how the hegemonists mocked him!  Well, as a result of our insistence on putting that system in Poland and the Czech Republic, now Putin wants to withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which is only one of the main pillars of European defense and security. 

Naturally, Condi was unhappy–Russia has treaty obligations, she told them!  This is the hegemonist double standard, applied with the same foolishness to Iraq, Iran, etc.: you must follow all of the treaties and international obligations you have made, while we can withdraw from them or thumb our noses at them with impunity.  It’s interesting how international law and treaties become so much more important and crucial to international security when other states violate them.  My suggestion: drop the double standard and regain at least a little credibility when it comes time to demand that other parties live up to their commitments.   

Over at Tapped, Janna Goodrich points out the following quote from Glenn Beck:

More and more Muslims now hate us all across the world, and it really has not a lot to do with anything other than our morals.

The things that they were saying about us were true. Our morals are just out the window. We’re a society on the verge of moral collapse. And our promiscuity is off the charts.

Now, obviously, as Janna points out, this argument is appealing to conservatives because it’s a way of condemning social liberalism. It’s an unusually loathsome way of condemning social liberalism, but hey. Strange bedfellows and all that.

However, there’s another reason that this argument has generated a certain amount of conservative appeal lately: it perpetuates the trope that “they hate us for our freedoms.” And if they hate us for our freedoms, guess what? It means they don’t hate us for our actions. And that means there’s no need for us to change anything we’re actually doing in the Middle East.

And that’s a pretty comforting thought for conservatives, isn’t it? ~Kevin Drum

Drum has caught on to a small part of the answer, but it is naturally the one that serves the interests of his “side.”  U.S. foreign policy, the actual projection of power and the use of force in and against other countries, is the fundamental cause of anti-American terrorism.  That is, or ought to be, blindingly obvious.  This isn’t to say that jihadis haven’t been killing people for a very long to spread the domain of Islam or that they won’t keep killing people to that end and for the sake of purist interpretations of Islamic law.  They will.  But the reason why any jihadis have made a point of starting to kill Americans is very simply that we have made  it our business to base our armies in their countries and dictate the political futures of their countries.  Other Westerners have come under attack, for the most part, to the extent that their governments have aided us in wars against them or occupations of Muslim countries.  Any analysis of the problem that fails to acknowledge this overwhelming factor–as D’Souza’s famously fails to do because of his own weakness for hegemonism–will miss out on a lot. 

The “they hate us for our freedoms” line is pure garbage.  I don’t know how else to put it.  Sayyid Qutb didn’t like how Coloradoans danced in 1949, but he didn’t make it his life’s goal to attack Americans or to urge others to attack Americans and drive us out of the Near East…because we weren’t in the Near East and Muslims around the world had no reason to feel any particular animus towards America.  Things that our government started doing in the last thirty-odd years have brought us to this sorry predicament, so it is only fitting that people in our government who keep getting us deeper into that predicament will tell us that they and their predecessors had nothing to do with the problem.  However, people who note the difference between the counterculture of the ’60s vs. pop culture of the ’40s to argue against D’Souza’s use of Qutb also miss something important: it was not the cultural modernisation already taking place in the ’40s or the greater cultural radicalism of the ’60s that provoked the discontent and outrage of traditional societies around the world, but rather it was the export of American pop culture to the world in the decades that followed that lit the fuse.  In many respects, the export of that culture has triumphed over local resistance (I have strong doubts that this is a desirable thing), but it has generated hostility to the general experience of globalisation and rapid cultural change and those processes are unavoidably associated with the United States because so many of the largest multinationals are associated in the minds of people around the world with this country. 

It seems to me that any analysis of anti-Western and anti-American sentiment and actions that does not take into account the corrosive and dislocating effects of commercial (and cultural) globalisation will fail to understand why there is resentment and resistance.  Reaction against the displacement and economic and cultural insecurity created by globalisation acts as the oil that keeps the gears of more specifically political and violent protest moving.  If people in other nations have experienced rapid cultural change or even dissolution of their old traditions and habits because of modernisation and a demagogue or cleric or intellectual can take advantage of that and point to a combination of Western economies driving globalisation, Western moral decadence and overweening Western governments using their political and economic supremacy to meddle in and/or destroy other states, these voices can make plausible arguments that their nation’s woes can be laid at the door of America and the West while at the same time reinforcing their own convictions in their moral and, often, religious superiority and putting themselves on the side of the weaker nations that are being trampled under by hegemonic policies in a kind of solidarity.  Most powerfully of all, hegemonism actually gives these voices tremendous credibility, because hegemonic policies actually are unjust and destructive, and the West has become in many respects morally decadent by any meaningful standard, all of which comes together to make resistance seem not only desirable but absolutely essential to their cultural and national survival. 

But Drum stumbles here pretty badly when he tries to link what Beck said (basically, “they hate us for our immorality”) to the “they hate us for our freedoms” trope.  The latter is the product of people who think that there is basically nothing fundamentally or even incidentally wrong with America or its policies in the world, and that the only conceivable reason why anyone would want to do us harm is that we are free.  This would be funny if it were not so dangerously detached from the real world. 

Whether or not you define that freedom in a way that allows for license and hedonism, casting terroristic violence as an attempt to repress our freedoms makes that violence seem both purely irrational, and therefore impossible to contain or quell except by superior firepower, and absolutely limitless (i.e., it cannot be deterred, undermined or cut off at the source).  It is the perfect justification for perpetual war and a perfect justification for a perpetual war fought in the most ham-fisted, counterproductive way possible (thus guaranteeing that the “Long War” will be very, very, very long indeed).  It also helps to distract critics who have legitimate complaints about state encroachment on actual freedoms by constantly warning civil libertarians that they are helping to facilitate the establishment of shari’a in this country by weakening the government’s ability to spy on the general population and bomb Arabs with impunity.

However, this trope that “they hate us for our freedoms” is almost exactly the opposite of what Beck said.  To say that millions and millions Muslims around the world hate “us” for our immorality and decadence is to make hatred of us have some plausible, explicable cause.  Worse yet, it suggests that the cause of this hatred is remediable, which is exactly what the “they hate us for our freedoms” crowd cannot stand–the idea that “we” should or can do anything to stop anti-American hatred and violence is, as far as they are concerned, not only ludicrous but is itself immoral “appeasement.”  Liberals like Drum don’t like that the ox of social liberalism is being gored in all this talk of immorality, obviously, but nothing could be further from saying “they hate us for our freedoms” than to accept, however, indirectly or vaguely, some responsibility for anti-American sentiment.  Indeed, the two positions would have to stand in sharp contradiction, since the solution that Beck might propose would involve the curtailment of things that today fall under the overly broad rubric of freedom.  Far from agreeing that “they hate us for our freedom,” this Beck position as it is stated above would say, along with D’Souza, “they hate us for how we misuse our freedom” or perhaps even “they should hate us for some of these so-called freedoms that are actually just forms of rampant immorality.”  Those who say “they hate us for our freedom” believe that everything is basically fine with America just the way it is in every respect (yes, there might need to be a little tinkering here or there, but fundamentally there are no real problems), while anti-hegemonists and cultural conservatives alike are able to recognise that there are things that are deeply awry with government and society.  Naturally, maintaining both of these positions tends to make one unusually unpopular, since it flatters the prejudices of neither major bloc. 

What is potentially quite interesting is what might happen if we could somehow miraculously get together the large constituency on the left that focuses specifically on U.S. policy and the fairly large and, I think, growing constituency on the right that focuses on cultural decadence to create a popular cause demanding the dismantling of the hegemony and moral renewal.  The only problem is that the two groups generally regard each other’s America as the heart of the problem that “their” America has with the rest of the world.  I promise a nice steak dinner to anyone who can come up with the plan that unites these two basically mutually antagonistic groups together in a force for anti-imperialist cultural regeneration. 

Now, because D’Souza’s book stated a very similar argument to Beck’s in a way that was bound to irritate everyone there is a tendency for everyone of all political leanings to reject it in its entirety.  I tend to give his diagnosis (i.e., traditional societies are appalled and outraged by low Western morals, and Islamic societies are outraged to the point of contempt and violence) a little more credit while rejecting his solution (i.e., ecumenical jihad), but I disagree with his diagnosis to the extent that he thinks that the entirety of the Islamic world will somehow become pacific and cease all hostility towards the West that it has demonstrated in the past if we start giving serious thought to Tertullianesque plans to veil our women.     

People on the right object to D’Souza because he “blames America first” (not that these folks would be satisfied if someone blamed America fifty-ninth–America is never to blame for anything ever in some folks’ minds, and especially not for anything that the U.S. government does) and people on the left, well, they don’t much care for the whole “your godless liberalism brings down the wrath of jihad upon us” idea.  Almost everyone is getting something pretty important wrong in this “debate,” but the main stumblingblock to acknowledging that each side has something worthwhile to say seems to stem from what I might call the Larison Amendment to the Dougherty Doctrine (Mr. Drum may be familiar with the doctrine, since it first appeared in the pages of the Monthly): jihadis want to kill us because we tolerate your cultural and political preferences, but they would stop wanting to kill us if we all followed mine.  Now it just so happens that some people are much more right about this than others, and the trick will be to find some way to convince most of the main groups contesting this claim that most of them are partially correct.   

Drum calls the kind of argument embodied in the Larison Amendment ”unusually loathsome,” but it is, in fact, an argument that everyone uses at some point in every foreign policy argument.  Neocons use it when they say that the only way to defeat jihad is to engage in massive foreign wars and spread democracy (with relatively less emphasis on the latter), which is basically to say the only way to defeat jihad is to endorse the insanity of neoconservatism, and every other group can be found saying something similar: only we can defeat jihad…by doing the things we’ve always been proposing that we do anyway. 

Put another way, it comes down to whose America you “blame first” for foreign hostility.  Many on the left blame “Red America” first because of military and foreign policy (even if these are policies that their elected representatives also endorse), and cultural conservatives such as D’Souza will blame “Blue America” first, while the people inured to both trashy popular culture and the warfare state refuse to accept any responsibility for backlashes against Western cultural degeneracy broadcast throughout the world or for destructive hegemonic foreign policy conducted in their name.  People horrified by both (people like me) tend to blame the America of the megalopoleis of New York, Washington and L.A. (i.e., not the bulk of the real America, but the other, rather dreadful America that most of the world encounters in one way or another), while people who live in the megalopoleis regard our problems with the world as a product of excessive Christian fundamentalism, Southern militancy and heartland chauvinism.  So, basically, we all continue to believe that the usual suspects (whoever our usual suspects are) are responsible for the problems in this country.  One group of us is much more right about this than the others–guess which one I think has the right answer. 

If Drum’s reaction is any indication, however, the people in the megalopoleis are not going to be inclined to accept the diagnosis of the anti-imperialist reactionary from flyover country. 

It [the unipolar world] is world in which there is one master, one sovereign. And at the end of the day this is pernicious not only for all those within this system, but also for the sovereign itself because it destroys itself from within.

And this certainly has nothing in common with democracy. Because, as you know, democracy is the power of the majority in light of the interests and opinions of the minority.

Incidentally, Russia – we – are constantly being taught about democracy. But for some reason those who teach us do not want to learn themselves.

I consider that the unipolar model is not only unacceptable but also impossible in today’s world. And this is not only because if there was individual leadership in today’s – and precisely in today’s – world, then the military, political and economic resources would not suffice. What is even more important is that the model itself is flawed because at its basis there is and can be no moral foundations for modern civilisation. ~Russian President Vladimir Putin

First of all, it is actually rather stunning to hear a head of state from any country put forward an argument of this relative complexity.  To listen to our politicians babble generically about “freedom” or “stability” or “terrorism” is to come away with the impression that their audience is a mob of cretins (or they think that their audience is a mob of cretins) incapable of understanding thorough and elaborate analysis of geopolitics.  As I read Putin’s speech, I am also struck by how relatively reasonable it is.  He complains of NATO expansion and the betrayals of past promises not to station forces in the new member states–as well he might–and he repeatedly insists on the importance of respecting international law. 

Compared with Cheney’s needlessly provocative Vilnius speech in which he hectored the Russians primarily for their internal affairs (whatever you may think of them, they are the Russians’ business and not really ours), Putin’s objections to American hegemony and interventionism address a problem that is properly international in nature and they do so in a way that actually echoes much of what the rest of the world’s governments think.  If this were not the President of Russia saying this, but the Secretary-General of the U.N. or the British Prime Minister, it would be much more difficult to hide behind tired Russophobia and cliches about resurgent authoritarianism.  There would have to be at least some minimal attempt to address what the speech contained.    

To read the headlines about the speech, you would think that he had been banging on the podium with his footwear, but instead you find someone explaining, much as our European allies tried to do some years back, that unipolar domination is practically impossible and ruinous for any state that attempts it.  This is actually true, and it is also valuable advice that Washington would be foolish to dismiss in a fit of pride and anger.

What else did Putin say that has so offended some people?  He said:

We are seeing a greater and greater disdain for the basic principles of international law. And independent legal norms are, as a matter of fact, coming increasingly closer to one state’s legal system. One state and, of course, first and foremost the United States, has overstepped its national borders in every way. This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational policies it imposes on other nations.

There has certainly been disdain for international law, and when there has been attention paid to it it has been the most selective, tendentious kind of reading of the law to fit policies, such as the invasion of Iraq, that had already been decided upon.  Today American politicians square off over who is more willing to launch an illegal war on Iran–where exactly has Putin erred in saying what he has said?  The United States government does impose itself on other nations in a variety of ways, this is wrong and it is causing inevitable backlash that is harmful to all parties. 

And what else?  He said:

People are trying to transform the OSCE into a vulgar instrument designed to promote the foreign policy interests of one or a group of countries.

This is undoubtedly true in their completely biased and lopsided work related to the Ukrainian and Georgian elections–the so-called “revolutions” of 2004 and 2003 respectively. 

Mr. Putin’s speech is an early warning alarm and, I think, an attempt to make Washington see reason.  That the speech is, of course, self-serving to some degree and coming from the mouth of an elected authoritarian populist with rather dubious moral authority is really neither here nor there.  Putin was saying what most allied governments have been saying in less direct ways and what most friendly (or formerly friendly) nations have been thinking and saying about our government for years. 

The question is not, as the incredibly overrated Tom Friedman puts it, “why do remarks like these play so well in Russia today?”  (Anyone could answer that question, as Friedman does by discovering that Russians are not all together happy about being encircled and threatened by NATO expanion–you don’t say!)  The question is: how, beyond the last round of NATO expansion in 2002, has Mr. Bush managed to so profoundly alienate the government that was the first to offer its support to us after 9/11, and how is it that the appropriate and mutually beneficial cooperation between our two countries has been so grievously jeopardised by six years of pointed confrontation and insults? 

The U.S. pursuit of setting up pro-American satellites and attempts thereby to gain access to oil and gas resources outside Russia have undoubtedly exacerbated Russian resentment over NATO.  These things have made that expansion appear to be one part of a larger plan of encirclement and power projection into Asia.  The introduction of the anti-missile system into NATO states that joined in the 1996 round would be a basic violation of the assurances given to Moscow that made that round of (unwise) accession possible, and it represents yet another needless provocation.  American meddling in Ukraine, Georgia and central Asia has contributed to Russia’s sense of being hemmed in.  The tacit encouragement given to the Chechen cause by the U.S. government in the past and Washington’s indifference to Chechen terrorism against Russian civilians have helped convince the Russians that Washington would like to see Russia weakened and divided.  Harping about Russian internal political affairs, as Vice President Cheney insisted on doing on Russia’s very doorstep, was a slap in the face. 

Having poked and stabbed the bear in its cage, the bear-baiters are outraged that the bear has become angry and combative–even though the only goal of such bear-baiters is to make the bear angry.  Naturally, the solution of the bear-baiters to these displays of combativeness will be to squeeze it into a smaller cage, put more chains on it and stab it some more.  This approach to Russia encourages all of the worst tendencies in Russian politics. 

Anyone familiar with Russian history, or indeed the history of any large territorial state, could tell you that the presence of a credible foreign enemy encourages the consolidation of power in the center and the strengthening of authoritarian rule.  Those who claim to despise Putin’s authoritarianism and who therefore want to isolate and bludgeon Russia until it embraces an “acceptable” kind of liberalisation are even sabotaging their own supposed goals of ”reform” (not that I believe these are the goals of those who want “liberalisation” or ”reform”).  They are simply strengthening the desire in Russia to have a strong authoritarian nationalist leader who will resist perceived foreign depredations against that country.  Americans would respond and have responded in much the same way to perceived threats, so it should hardly be beyond our understanding to grasp this basic idea.  Putin will leave office in a couple years, but the damage the interventionists and Russophobes will have helped to do to the future of Russian politics will last long after he is gone.  Then, after they have finished doing their destructive work, these neo-Orientalist Slavophobes will look skywards and wonder aloud, “Why do the Russians always keep returning to authoritarianism?  What is wrong with them?”

There are two other reasons why Putin’s speech has especially aggravated some Americans, primarily those in upper reaches of Republican and conservative media: first, it was Putin who said it, and there is a desperate need to perpetuate anti-Putin sentiment to make confrontation with Russia more popular; second, Putin’s speech represents the biggest rhetorical backlash yet against the world of the “unipolar moment” celebrated by the likes of Charles Krauthammer.  Krauthammer chirped back then that there was no coalition of opposing forces combining against the American hegemon–we were enjoying an unprecedented unipolarity that had not called forth a countervailing set of forces to balance our supremacy.  That brief moment of consequence-free supremacy has come to an end.  Putin’s speech represents both a warning and the first signs of pushback.  Russians do not want a confrontation with the West, and neither Russia nor the West can afford to waste our time and energy rehashing old rivalries (indeed, the fact that most of us still feel comfortable treating Russia as if it were not a part of the West is a good sign that we are a very long way from burying these old rivalries). 

Last year, he [24 creator Joel Surnow] contributed two thousand dollars to the losing campaign of Pennsylvania’s hard-line Republican senator Rick Santorum, because he “liked his position on immigration.” His favorite bumper sticker, he said, is “Except for Ending Slavery, Fascism, Nazism & Communism, War Has Never Solved Anything.” ~The New Yorker

That’s great, except that communism wasn’t “solved” by war, at least not in any conventional sense of communism being defeated in a shooting war.  To a very large degree, communism collapsed because of its own political and economic failures.  It was aided in its collapse by meaningful external pressure and the reality of potentially very strong military resistance to any future foreign adventures, but its end had primarily domestic causes.  Slavery in the world continued in Brazil until 1888, when it was outlawed without recourse to war, and serfdom in Russia was outlawed by a single command from the Tsar.  (Slavery still continues to exist in some parts of Africa and Asia, so speaking generally slavery has been severely reduced worldwide but not ended.)  In other words, even when war “solves” something, it usually wasn’t necessary, involves tremendous costs and may contribute to greater evils that come out of the wreckage of societies ruined by the war.  Had it not been for foolish and reckless governments that believed their international disputes could be “solved” through war in 1914, fascism, Nazism and communism could never have come to power in Europe.  Put me down as a skeptic about war being able to solve more problems than it causes. 

On the plus side, Surnow is apparently against the Iraq war and a self-styled “isolationist,” but that does make you wonder what he thinks of Santorum’s batty fears about Iranian world domination.  Unfortunately, in the same breath, his weird global hegemonic paternalism kicks in and he says fairly crazy and demeaning things like this:

In his view, America “is sort of the parent of the world, so we have to be stern but fair to people who are rebellious to us. We don’t spoil them. That’s not to say you abuse them, either. But you have to know who the adult in the room is.”

Perhaps Mr. Surnow sees the sabre-rattling directed at Iran as an international version of the father yelling at his teenage son, “Don’t make me come in there!  I said turn that music [or uranium enrichment] down!”  This is as wrong-headed as when he referred fondly to President Reagan as the “father” that the country needed.  President Reagan was an improvement in leadership over his predecessor and someone who made some very good policy decisions (along with quite a few pretty bad ones), but he was not a national father. 

America is neither father nor mother to the world.  It is ridiculous that this even needs to be said.  States that oppose or even mildly criticise the conduct of our government are not rebellious teenagers thwarting our paternal rights or cheeky children talking back to us.  They are sovereign and co-equal nation-states that have had quite enough of this attitude that the world is somehow ours to rule.     

Historically speaking, America is a sort of overambitious twenty-five year old who wants, at least under the present management, to tell his elders what’s what and force all the old folks to start adapting to his way of doing things.  The twenty-five year old may even have a lot of good ideas (though he hasn’t had many recently), but he thinks that the way to fix the old folks’ problems is to bust down their doors, smack them around a little, set fire to their furniture and declare, “You’re free!  Now clean up this mess quickly, or I’ll have to write you off as hopelessly backward.”

Hegemony and imperialism always encourage these attitudes in the people who have political and economic supremacy.    They do not simply encourage a paternalistic condescension towards other peoples, which might exist anyway, but they introduce all the worst possessive instincts that parents have towards their children into the realm of international relations where these attitudes have no place at all.  It is one thing to think of your nation as being “the adult” of the world, which is bad enough when it seems obvious to many other nations that yours is the one throwing a three-year old’s temper tantrum, but it is even worse to think that the pursuit of legitimate interests by other states is an expression of rebellion and ingratitude towards you.  First of all, this is an incorrect assessment of what those states are doing, and second it infuses the entire debate with this emotional rubbish about how the rest of the world “owes” us for keeping the peace and “leading” the rest of the world. 

If America is the country primarily responsible for keeping the peace, and let’s grant that this is the case for the sake of argument, this is simply the fulfillment of the obligation that comes with great power.  I am reminded of a saying from an Indian movie: “It is the tree’s duty to shelter.”  If America is the last superpower, would other nations expect us to do any less?   Obviously, many states have come to expect the superpower to do this as part of the duty attached to our international power.  In my view, it is a duty that Americans do not want and should not have, and it is because Americans do not want to be the world’s leader, but find their country compelled (mostly by their own political class) to occupy this role, many Americans begin to exhibit the attitude that comes with the possession of great power and no sense of obligation towards anyone else.  This is the attitude that other peoples around the world should feel grateful that we are so benevolent and that we treat them as well as we do–the implication is that they are in our power, we are their masters and we could just as easily start treating them very poorly if they don’t watch what they say.  There is no way for other peoples to receive this attitude except as an insult and a veiled threat. 

One of the themes that comes up in Taner Akcam’s A Shameful Act is the Ottoman Turkish sense that the Christian peoples of the empire did not show the appropriate gratitude to the Turks for whatever reforms or benefits they had received.  The idea that subject peoples should be grateful to the ruling people is obviously a paternalistic one premised on a presumed natural inequality.  The language of rebellion and ingratitude only comes up in the context of supremacy and the assumption that it is a gift and an indulgence towards less-developed beings to treat them with the appropriate respect and consideration. 

This language of ingratitude frequently came up among neocons immediately after 9/11: “Why don’t these ingrates appreciate all that we have done for Muslims around the world?  We aided jihad for decades, and there’s not even a thank you note!”  It is almost possible to conceive of neocon war fever in the Near East as the acting out of a spurned lover–except, of course, that we understand their other objectives in the region and this is not among them.  Talk of ingratitude reappeared during the row with the Europeans, especially the Germans.  This involved some extremely selective memory and collective ignorance on a grand scale, aided by the substandard historical educations we have all received in this country.  Many Americans would say of German opposition to the Iraq war: “We rebuilt Germany [having leveled it] and those lousy Krauts don’t even have the decency to help us attack another country!  Where is all that good German longing for war we remember?”  Never mind that we simply supplied loans to the Germans for some of their rebuilding and that they rebuilt their own country–they somehow “owed” us, almost sixty years later, for what we had done in our own strategic best interest and were therefore obliged to pay up by way of support for our unprovoked invasion of another country.  Never mind that they were trying to do us a favour by keeping us out of the disaster that Iraq surely would (and did) become.  One of the greatest dangers of a government viewing international opposition to its position as the rebellion of ungrateful subjects is that it makes the government even more likely to pursue the ill-advised course that provoked the argument in the first place, as if to prove to everyone that this government really is master of the world and that the others really are your subjects.  This is incredibly stupid and, as Jack Bauer might say, “we don’t have time for this.”      

He fails, however, to explain adequately how Third World opposition to “a decadent American culture” led to 9/11, still less why those Americans who share his opposition to this decadent culture should support the Bush administration’s Middle East policy. To be sure, D’Souza is right about a number of things that more conventional defenses of the Bush administration are likely to get wrong: he recognizes that Muslims do not “hate us for our freedom”; that Islamic radicalism is not a form of fascism; that we are not at war with terror; that Abu Ghraib horrified the Muslim world because it involved the sexual humiliation of men, not because it violated treaties that are widely ignored when interrogating prisoners in the Middle East. And he expresses at least some skepticism, though hardly enough, about making the forcible export of democracy the centerpiece of American foreign policy. Unfortunately, these lapses into common sense and reality do not redeem D’Souza’s stubborn, ideological defense of the Bush administration.

“The only way to win the war,” D’Souza believes, “is to create a wedge between Islamic radicals and traditional Muslims, and to support traditional Islam against radical Islam.” But he does not produce any evidence that Bush’s invasion of Iraq, rhetorical belligerence toward Iran and Syria, and dismissive dealings with Palestinian leaders of whom Israel disapproves have endeared the U.S. to traditional Muslims. The reality is quite the opposite. ~Tom Piatak, The American Conservative

Tom does a nice job separating the different strands of D’Souza’s argument in The Enemy at Home and recognising the things that D’Souza manages to get right in spite of his other biases.  Tom does very well to focus on the incoherence of an argument that requires us to believe that Muslims are revolted by the cultural imperialism of the decadent, modern West to the point of fanatical violence while also holding that the only way to stop the fanatical violence is through increased political imperialism (or at least a hegemonic position sustained by interventionist wars that is in many respects indistinguishable from empire).  In other words, if you believe what D’Souza believes about the cause of the problem, the Bush administration’s remedy appears to be not simply counterproductive but perfectly mad.

Tom rightly acknowledges that our decadence and the promotion of it around the world by cultural liberals serve to antagonise Muslims and all other sorts of people from traditional societies, but asks the obvious question: if Islamic terrorism is primarily a response to this, and not a reaction against what the jihadis themselves claim it to be a reaction against (namely, formal U.S. policy in the Near East), why haven’t they focused their greatest outrage on Amsterdam and other places in Europe that have thrown out traditional morality even more openly and forcefully?  For that matter, when targeting America why aim for symbolic and real centers of economic and political power?  Why not hit Hollywood, Las Vegas and San Francisco?  Perhaps because moral decadence is simply an aggravating factor, which may help to stoke Muslim outrage but does not make that outrage the main reason for violence.  It is not one of the principal causes of why the jihadis target America.  Recognising that jihad is integral to Islam and is not some distortion or degeneration of the religion is important (and it is almost certainly something that the distinction between “traditional Islam” and “radical Islam” is meant to obscure or deny), but even this does not explain why jihadis are preoccupied with attacking America first rather than targeting infidels and apostates closer to home.

From what Tom presents in his review, the greatest problem with D’Souza’s proposal for how to respond to jihadis seems to be his view that there is a significant difference between “traditional Muslims” and “Islamic radicals.”  If there is a difference, and I might be persuaded that there is some real difference, it is surely one of degree only.  It is unfortunately mostly the difference between the jihadis who are directly involved in the fighting and killing and those who, for whatever reason, are not directly involved but who by and large sympathise with and support what the jihadis are doing.  As poll after poll from across the Islamic world has confirmed, the surefire way to guarantee that the “traditional Muslims” around the world who routinely declare their opposition to the policies of the U.S. government will increasingly strongly sympathise with jihadis is to engage in ham-fisted invasions of Muslim lands. 

This approach has two additional liabilities.  This not only provides jihadis with the immediate pretext that they are fighting infidel occupiers of Muslim land, thus lending their cause added credibility, but tends to confirm their historical narrative that explains the weakness and failures of the Islamic world in terms of Western domination rather than because of flaws in their indigenous religious and political cultures.  To the extent that such invasions confirm the jihadi picture of an infidel world that is putting Islam under siege in an attempt to destroy it, the more readily they can call upon Muslims, be they “traditional” or “radical,” to do their duty to defend Islam and the response they receive will be all the greater. 

If there is one psychological bias that Kahnemann and Renshon did not discuss quite as much as they ought to have done in their recent FP essay, it is the tendency that people have to assume that they are never aggressors and are always the ones responding justifiably to someone else’s aggression.  This is a powerful bias that helps drive “hawkish” policies as much as anything.  Many Americans will be literally shocked and outraged when you suggest that invading Iraq was an act of aggression.  Why, just look at all the “provocations” “we” have had to endure!  I mean, the Iraqis had the nerve to fire at planes that were enforcing an illegal no-fly zone in their airspace–outrageous!  Who do they think they are?  We can find pretexts for why we did what we did–look at all those Security Council resolutions!  (Not that anyone who invoked these resolutions normally cared a whit for the authority of the U.N. the rest of the time, but no matter.)  In the same way, there are probably more than a few “traditional Muslims” who will look at 9/11 and see, at worst, a more or less justified response to the injuries they believe have been inflicted on Muslims by our government.  They will make the same chilling, monstrous arguments that some apologists for Hiroshima and Dresden make over here: “They supported the enemy regime, so they deserved what they got.”  (Has anyone noticed that the people who typically display the most demonstrative outrage over 9/11 are often some of the same people who most loudly affirm the rightness of the mass slaughter of civilians in WWII through “strategic” bombing?)  These Muslims will see it as a necessary response for the sake of defending “the weak and the oppressed,” and in this way make murder into an act of nobly defending their brethren.  Both of these positions are quite mad, but the tendency to want to refuse to see the aggressiveness of one’s own side is a habit shared by all.  It is a habit that is only overcome with great effort, and for most people this an effort not worth making.  To make such an effort is to somehow sympathise with “the enemy” and to turn against your own side.  To suggest that your “side” has engaged in aggression at any point is to be unceremoniously labeled “unpatriotic” and the like (leave aside for the moment the profound confusion of country and government that this kind of thinking requires).  When people complain about someone “blaming America first,”‘ they usually mean that he is holding America to the same standard that Americans routinely apply to all other nations.  Part of applying the same standard involves questioning the government’s official explanations for its use of military force, which historians and long-time observers of international politics will know are often fraudulent, misleading or self-serving in the extreme.    

Making the effort to break this habit can certainly undermine a war effort if the war is one of aggression.  This is why it was so important to the Germans in WWI, for instance, to engage in the collective delusion that they were fighting a war of self-defense.  There was an iota of truth to this, but not much more, so they clung to that iota for all they were worth.  Of course, when they ended up being blamed (quite unjustly) for the entire thing they were doubly incensed at the injustice of it because they firmly believed they had been fighting a defensive war all along.  Almost everyone believes he is fighting some kind of defensive war.  Well, almost everyone since at least since the 18th century has believed that, when wars for conquest and loot increasingly had to be dressed up in the finery of high principle and justice or at least in the respectable clothing of reasonable economic and political interests.  In the last two hundred years, calling wars “wars of liberation” has become the alternative justification for wars that are clearly not really wars of defense but which are supposedly nonetheless deeply admirable and worthwhile.  The invasion of Iraq is fairly unusual in that some of its supporters routinely claim that it is at once a kind of war of self-defense and a war of liberation all rolled into one.  Some might be more willing to stress its supposedly defensive character, because they are not terribly interested in liberating Iraqis, while others recognise that the war cannot credibly be described as defensive and so they must find some other way to put it beyond reproach.       

The Democratic party is increasingly linked with the attitudes, tendencies, and policies of peace, whereas the Republican party is increasingly linked with the maintenance and projection of American military power. ~Matthew Continetti, The Weekly Standard

This is a pleasant fiction, at least where Democratic party leadership and elected representatives are concerned.  This claim about being a “peace” party is most true of Democratic House members, who are necessarily a little more representative of grassroots sentiment, but even here it is not terribly convincing.  Dennis Kucinich and Russ Feingold, bless their politically irrelevant hearts, continue to hold the only real antiwar positions of any remotely prominent Democrats on the Hill.  Pelosi talks a good game as far as Iraq goes, but she was foursquare behind every Clinton intervention and has no principled qualms about power projection or intervention as such.  She opposes the Iraq war (feebly), but that’s all.  In practical terms, the two parties converge far more often than not on foreign policy.  This is what drives progressives and traditional conservatives alike crazy.  Were there actually a clear partisan division over America’s role in the world, there would be no question that all non-interventionists would flock to the major party that represented them.  There is no such major party.   

This supposed divergence only holds up at all when you compare supporters of the two parties.  As the November 2005 Pew poll, which I discussed last year here, showed, support for interventionism tended to rise in direct proportion to a person’s wealth and education.  (This tells me that people who have many of the advantages in life are shockingly bad judges of the national interest, and it would be worth investigating why this is the case.)  Support for an interventionist role was even more directly correlated with a person’s party affiliation and self-described political leanings: Republicans and those who considered themselves conservative or very conservative were considerably more likely to reject the idea that America should “mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best they can on their own.”  In other words, most of the people calling themselves conservative on a fundamental question of the American role in the world rejected the conservative and traditional American view.  As with so many other things, I suppose they are entitled to take whatever position they believe is best, but I do get awfully tired of their sullying the good name of conservative in the process.   

However, as the poll showed, at least 22% of conservatives and 27% of Republicans did agree with the statement that America should mind its own business internationally (compared with 55% of Democrats).  That is a clear minority of the GOP, but a sizeable one that a real non-interventionist party could possibly steal away.  But the Democrats cannot pursue a dedicated non-interventionist line without sacrificing a huge portion of their own support.  The Democratic base is almost evenly split down the middle.  Mr. Continetti’s “great divide” goes right through the Democratic Party (and through the GOP to a much lesser extent), not between the two parties themselves. 

Mr. Continetti rests much of this divide on attitudes towards the Iraq war, which is highly misleading.  Many of the current opponents of the Iraq war on the left (or, more accurately, those who support withdrawal from Iraq on the left) are not particularly opposed to the projection of American power and some were not even opposed to the invasion.  John Murtha is famously one of the most “hawkish” of Democrats, and it seems unlikely that Jim Webb is reflexively hostile to interventionism.  Kucinich distinguishes himself as the only probable ‘08 contender who actually supports withdrawal sooner rather than later.  Conservative and other interventionist Democrats oppose a particularly badly run and pointless war that is damaging the armed forces and wrecking America’s reputation.  In this they are increasingly joined by internationalist and realist Republicans who are nothing if not interested in maintaining American superpower status and protecting Washington’s bloated definition of what constitutes our national interests.  The foreign policy establishment has started to turn on the war not because they are giving up on projecting power, but because they see it as a liability that prevents the government from being able to project power around the globe.  The complaint from many Republicans now is not that there are too many commitments but that there are too few military resources to match them.  Any desire to liquidate the Iraq war in these quarters is fuelled by a desire to maintain America’s ability to project power and to answer the “real” threats from Iran or some other bogey conjured to frighten us into still more war.  

In some sense, non-interventionists might benefit from the Iraq war’s continuation as it grinds away at the public’s patience and wears out their tolerance for idiotic foriegn policy, but for good or ill non-interventionists are not nearly so cynical as some of their adversaries in the foreign policy debate.  Unlike them, we are not indifferent to the costs and damage their wars do to this country, and so we would sooner see them ended even if their continuation might destroy support for interventionism for a generation.  Unfortunately, there is scarcely any political leadership that represents our view.  A sharp partisan divide over foreign policy would be a refreshing change, but it is one for which we will still have to wait a very long time. 

Saakashvili’s best American friends are Sen. John McCain, who has made support of democracy in the former Soviet Union a major theme, and George Soros, who helped pay salaries for the bankrupt Georgian civil service system in 2004. This cannot please Putin. ~Richard Holbrooke, The Washington Post

Let’s see: a hot-headed hegemonist and an arch-fomenter of anti-Russian activism both like and support Saakashvili.  This is not news to us, and this is exactly why Moscow views him (rightly) with suspicion.  Why might Putin find Saakashvili more than a little irritating?  Perhaps because he is bellicose and irresponsible, anti-Russian, and a perfect caricature of Third World tinpot dictator “elected” with an improbable 95% of the vote? 

Whatever the many, many flaws of Putin, let us be clear about this: Saakashvili is not a defender of anyone’s freedom or a noble David struggling against overwhelming odds.  He is a small-time crook who has overplayed his hand and now finds himself outgunned and surrounded.  Lucky for him, he has major Western connections.  But this Djindjic of the east may well meet a similar fate thanks to his own reckless and dangerous confrontational positions vis-a-vis Russia.  It is not admirable that Russia is smothering Georgia, and it is deplorable that two Orthodox peoples are at odds with one another, but it was always folly for the Georgian ant to bite the Russian bear.  The ant was never going to win, and there is nothing admirable or heroic in calling down ruin on your people. 

For his part, Saakashvili had best be careful around his “friend” John McCain, who likewise supported Shevardnadze against the Russians.  This was not because he cared a whit about Shevardnadze, whose overthrow at the hands of the Stalin-loving Saakashvili (this dictator rallied his supporters at the statue of Dzugashvili during the “democratic” Rose Revolution) brought no comment from him, but because pro-NATO Georgian politicians are simply useful tools to advance hegemonist goals in the Caucasus and nothing more.  In spite of Saakashvili’s repeated belligerent statements with respect to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and in spite of his provocative actions that precipitated the latest crisis (in which, I must agree, Putin has overreacted and played directly into the hands of the Russophobes in Washington, who are piling on lately), the good establishment lackeys continue to tell us that Saakashvili is an important supporter of U.S. interests rather than an embarrassing liability.  You can take it to the bank that if Richard Holbrooke believes supporting Saakashvili is the necessary course of action that the wise, patriotic and moral thing to do is the exact opposite of what he recommends.

The fruits of pre-emption and regime change are beginning to ripen.  Now other great powers are taking advantage of our relative weakness to settle scores with small countries which their governments would like to dominate.  Where Russia at least has some claim to legitimate interests in its near-abroad, Washington has claimed the right to intervene almost anywhere.  Let us not be shocked or scandalised when Moscow acts to punish a neighbour after our government has chastised regimes on the other side of the world.  It is most regrettable and awful that the people of Georgia (and Armenia) are being made to suffer for the delusions of Saakashvili and the rage of Putin, and if Washington had any credibility as a neutral power in all of this it might call Russia on its arbitrary and excessive treatment.  Since Saakashvili is transparently Washington’s man and everyone paying attention knows this, there is essentially nothing that we or the Europeans can say that will do anything but confirm the Kremlin in its hard-line policy.  Such is the loss of our moral authority that goes with attempting to create hegemony across vast swathes of Asia.  Such is the backlash against the mad hegemonist design to encircle and “contain” Russia.  Like so many nations before them, the Georgians have been led on by American and European promises of support and then left stranded, because in the final analysis Washington and Brussels know that Georgia is not worth enough to them to cause a significant rift in relations with Moscow.  Like so many other peoples before them, the Georgians have been led astray and betrayed by their own “reformist” leadership that does not have the welfare of the Georgian people in mind.  Putin is being exceedingly cruel, but the Georgians must see that their own government has been exceedingly stupid in bringing this disaster upon their country. 

Embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ratcheted up his high-stakes and increasingly bitter dispute with the Bush administration, telling the U.S. ambassador that he was Washington’s friend but “not America’s man in Iraq,” aides said on Saturday. ~The International Herald-Tribune

It is actually probably good news for America that Maliki is thumbing his nose at us and declaring his independence, such as it is.  First, it convinces war supporters that the man we installed as prime minister in place of Jaafari is actually the leader of a “sovereign and independent Iraq,” which will make it easier for them to wash their hands of the mess now that they have a visible leader whom they can start blaming when things become worse (the cry will be, as it is already starting to be said, “You can’t blame Bush for any of this–it’s that lousy Maliki and his minions!”).  It will provide the disgruntled American public with a new Iraqi leader whom they can resent and declare “ungrateful.”  It will also give the Iraqis (who understand that even if he is no longer our man he is still Sadr’s man) something to laugh at, even if it is with a bitter laugh, as they must be in terrible need of a good laugh right about now.

The issuing of the joint statement is something, but usually people will issue joint statements only because their relationship is so frayed and bad (as we now see U.S. relations with Maliki to be) that they have to state publicly what ought to be a long-established commitment of cooperation on something glaringly obvious, which is in this case the need to clamp down on death squads.  As diplomatic band-aids go, it’s not a bad one, but it won’t stay on so long as Maliki has to keep trying to show that he is independent (and Sadr and his ilk will keep pushing him on the inside and criticising him on the outside so that he does this).  This problem will not go away, because an occupation premised on hegemonist policy goals (which I believe is now, officially, the goal of draining the swamp with the flypaper of democratic peace on the road past Mount Doom that runs to Jerusalem) does not mesh well with an Iraqi government that assumes all of this talk about Iraq being a self-governing nation means something.

We all have our faults, and I feel bad rasing those of our neighbours, since few other people are so optimistic, and few other Westerners are so willing to take necessary risks. There are forms of cant that the whole rest of the OECD is far more steeped in than the USA. But no other Western country is able to pretend that its own will is all that matters, that the only real question is how generous it feels.

Whatever our resentments, it certainly is not in my country’s interests to have some other hegemon. What we want is not to depose America as monarch of the world, but to impose a constitutional settlement on her. ~Pithlord

When Andrew Sullivan, David Brooks and Bill Kristol latch onto an idea, you can be pretty confident that it will involve either calls for war or preachy self-importance.  In the creation and transmission of the “McCain-Lieberman Party” meme, we get both, where the central figures of this new “party” are both pro-war (which war? name one!) and preachy, self-important men.  But the “McCain-Lieberman Party” idea is not a new thing of the last few years.  It is the same convergence of ”hawks” that America has seen over the last two decades during each conflict or international crisis.  During the 1990s and especially during the Kosovo War we saw a similar convergence of opinion, represented best by The Weekly Standard and The New Republic as each tried to outdo the other in calling for more aggressive action in the Balkans.  Indeed, “aggressive action” might as well be this group’s motto, since that seems to be the standard by which it judges all other foreign policy ideas lacking and according to which it deems a politician to be “responsible” or not.  McCain-Lieberman serves as a handy substitute for this convergence, since McCain is the poster boy and hero of the Standard (he was their favoured primary candidate in 2000 over George “humble foreign policy” Bush) and Lieberman has become the personification of Democratic interventionism beloved of Marty Peretz and Peter Beinart at TNR.  We might also call this the Hegemony-Democratism Party.  If you like both of those ideas, you’ll love the McCain-Lieberman Party.

In its obsession with foreign policy this “party” bears all the hallmarks of crisis unity governments, such as those of Britain in WWI or Israel under Sharon during the second intifada.  Because certain “gloomy hawks” believe that America in particular now must endure a situation similar to that of Israel, the parallel with an Israeli unity government may be the most instructive.  For such alliances the crisis and foreign policy are dominant and perhaps even all-consuming–they are the alliance’s reason for being and, as such, there is an all too natural tendency on the part of alliances forged during crisis to want to exaggerate the scope of the crisis and imagine that the threat is far, far more dire than it may actually be.  This not only suits the interests of the alliance itself, but also suits the priorities of the constituent members of the alliance who have made facing down foreign threats (real or imaginary) the fundamental litmus test of all “responsible” politics in their respective camps.  

Because the ”party” conceives of the situation as an emergency, normal rules of dissent, the rule of law and representative government are no longer necessarily binding and must be bent to accommodate the crisis.  One might also note that this “party” is an entirely elite party in its inspiration and membership, a party that dictates policy and ideology down to the lower orders, who depart from the script that is written for them at the peril of being declared by their masters unpatriotic, extremist or in some other way insane.  As detached from their constituents as the two (real) major parties have become, as miserable as their record of serving their constituents’ best interests certainly is, they remain relatively popular parties based in real constituencies–even if those consituencies are routinely used simply to serve the interests of a few.  The McCain-Lieberman Party is a “party” made up of ideological cadres whose influence and worth is based solely in their adherence to party doctrine, which is nothing other than support for projecting power and maximising hegemonic control in the world.  The party of democratism does not need a lot of the rabble meddling in its plans.  McCain-Lieberman is shorthand for, “We’re in charge, we always know better, so sit down and shut up.”  

Like ancient satraps, the interventionists govern their respective provinces (conservatives on the one hand, progressives on the other) and make sure that they continue to pay tribute to the Shahanshah, War.  But like any Shahanshah, this party’s master demands slavishness and servility from its subjects and rules by the whip and the knout.  Free men and patriotic Americans do not prostrate themselves before this party’s master.  If the “party” would make their devotion to War the thing that defines them and gives them meaning, let us consider them its subjects and servants and judge them accordingly.   

Fortunately, this is a line of inquiry that has answers. Human Rights Watch reported in February, 2000 that “About five hundred civilians died in ninety separate incidents as a result of NATO bombing in Yugoslavia last year.” HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth, who was generally supportive of the enterprise, found this result worth criticizing: “Once it made the decision to attack Yugoslavia, NATO should have done more to protect civilians. All too often, NATO targeting subjected the civilian population to unacceptable risks.” Obviously, 500 is a lot less than 10,000.

What’s more, I don’t really see the point in trying to compare the two wars which simply don’t seem very similar to me. ~Matt Yglesias

Well, I don’t know what to tell Mr. Yglesias, except that his numbers–and those of Human Rights Watch–are mistaken.  The dead in Yugoslavia were in the thousands.  The figure of 500, according to the Serbian government, had already been reached by mid-April, approximately one month after the war began.  I have normally seen numbers around 5,000 civilians killed during the bombing campaign.  It may have been lower than that, but I feel fairly confident that it was significantly higher than 500.  There were also several thousand Yugoslavian soldiers killed, which is not a light thing considering the aggressive and illegal nature of the war.  Of course, the number killed in a completely unjustifiable war does not somehow make the crime any less heinous or inexcusable–when you launch wars of aggression, any deaths, particularly those of civilians, have no justification.    

But the bigger problem is that Mr. Yglesias sees no parallels between the two campaigns, when the parallels are many and rather obvious.  The first is that both seem to have been campaigns in search of a pretext.  The rejection of the Rambouillet negotiations was Mr. Clinton’s pretext for attacking Serbia, which had returned to Mr. Clinton’s agenda by at least the year before when Washington ceased calling the KLA terrorists and began agitating over Kosovo; the myth of Racak helped lend moral credibility to his dubious enterprise.  In the case of Lebanon, the provocation and attack by Hizbullah provided the immediate pretext to launch a plan that had been prepared for some time.  In both cases, air wars aimed at punishing an entire for the crimes of a relative few were waged with limited success in degrading the military capabilities of the very people whose operations the campaign was supposedly aimed at, while the civilian populations suffered the brunt of the damage.  In both cases, the world allowed the terrorisation of a civilian population for allegedly justifiable ends (stopping “genocide”/fighting terrorism) by the militarily superior forces of one side.  In both cases, the bombings produced floods of refugees numbering in the hundreds of thousands.  The difference was that in Kosovo the government was able to circulate the lie that the Serbs had been the ones to drive the refugees out of Kosovo, when it was NATO’s campaign that had done it.  In Lebanon, no one could be deceived that the refugee crisis had been created by anyone but Israel.  The attack on Yugoslavia was criminal, immoral aggression; the war on Lebanon, particularly considering the way it has been carried out, is only marginally better. 

The notion that we invaded Iraq for “lots of reasons” — like so much else in the discussion of Iraq — misses the point. There was only one “reason” that permitted the President to take the country to war: the presence of weapons of mass destruction. The American people were and are viscerally opposed to the idea of pre-emptive war. In the absence of a threat, pre-emptive war looks to them very much like naked aggression. (In the absence of a threat, even the argument from principle would collapse. The administration’s stated preference for democracy was based on the asseveration that democracies don’t attack other countries.) It’s important to remember that WMD was not just one of a cluster of fungible “reasons” for war. It was the only reason for war. ~Neal Freeman, The American Spectator

Via Daniel McCarthy

PoraPoster.jpg

Your Friendly Neighbourhood Liberals 

 

     UNA-UNSO’s Charming Emblem

For our friends who are under the impression that Pora! and other Orange Revolutionaries are admirable people fighting for freedom, I cite this and John Laughland’s revealing article from the 6 November 2004 issue of The Spectator:

It is in the west of Ukraine that support is strongest for the man who is being vigorously promoted by America as the country’s next president: the former prime minister Viktor Yushchenko. On a rainy Monday morning in Kiev, I met some young Yushchenko supporters, druggy skinheads from Lvov. They belonged both to a Western-backed youth organisation, Pora, and also to Ukrainian National Self-Defence (Unso), a semi-paramilitary movement whose members enjoy posing for the cameras carrying rifles and wearing fatigues and balaclava helmets. Were nutters like this to be politically active in any country other than Ukraine or the Baltic states, there would be instant outcry in the US and British media; but in former Soviet republics, such bogus nationalism is considered anti-Russian and therefore democratic.  

Update: I mentioned the similarity between Hutu anti-Tutsi rhetoric (”cockroaches”) and the depiction of Pora’s enemies as a “beetle,” which is how I had always seen the insect from the poster described.  Once I saw the picture of the poster itself, I realised that said “beetle” looks an awful lot like a cockroach, so the parallels are even closer than I originally believed.  Nice people, great values.  Here is a little item about how Pora lads handle disagreements. 

If Ukraine were a Latin American country like, say, Bolivia of a couple years ago, constantly beset by mass protests and political instability, most American observers would view the scene with dismay and say that the country is falling to pieces.  If Ukraine were Bolivia, the chattering and typing classes would grimace at the rise of wacky Indio-nationalist socialism and scratch their heads at the rise of the mystical racists and communist-educated foreign ministers.  Because Ukraine is Ukraine, because the loopy foreign minister Choquehuanca had his equal in socialist Yulia Tymoshenko, who was briefly prime minister under Yushchenko, and the wacky nationalists and socialists are our pawns and hirelings, rather than some bizarre indigenous movement that we barely understand (as in Bolivia), our chattering and typing classes speak of the “Orange Revolution” as if it actually represented something benevolent and desirable and view its leaders’ compromises with the bad, old, pro-Russian order as betrayals of noble principle.  What, after all, would Yushchenko’s Jew-hating nationalist friends say about his recent sell-out?  We wouldn’t want to disappoint such fine folks.

Seeing Yushchenko bringing Yanukovych in as prime minister, the Oranges are unhappy and may go back out into the streets to protest.  Jesse Walker at Hit and Run seems to be under the impression that this would be a good thing for Ukraine:

But I’m glad to see the tents going up again. Here’s hoping they can recover the momentum of ‘04.

Yes, the happy momentum of 2004, when fraud and deception were the order of the day and Western audiences were willing dupes for pro-Yushchenko propaganda.  Eunomia came into existence around the time of the fraudulent “Orange Revolution,” and many of my early posts were dedicated to highlighting the evils of electing the criminal Yushchenko, who enjoyed the support of such luminaries as the unreformed socialist Tymoshenko and the borderline fascist, U.S.-sponsored ”democratic” group Pora that employed the charming symbolism of a jackboot crushing a beetle to express their benevolent desire for freedom.  If you like that, you’ll love these guys (the graphic of the growing red tide engulfing all of Europe is nice and subtle), UNA-UNSO, the radical nationalists who backed the “Revolution.”  Even the umbrella Our Ukraine party works uses a slogan that, in any other context, would probably evoke worry and warnings of danger: “There is only one Ukraine for all of us!” (Ukraina u nas odna!)  If Tymoshenko and Pora, a group that Mr. Walker described simply as the “central resistance group” in his 2004 article, oppose Yanukovych’s appointment and want to return to the streets, we should recognise them as adversaries of any kind of economic and political reform in Ukraine.  We certainly shouldn’t be cheering them on, if we value the well-being, economic stability and independence of Ukraine.  

Of Pora and other old-line Yushchenko supporters from 2004, John Laughland wrote at the time:

The blindness extends even to the posters which the “pro-democracy” group, Pora, has plastered all over Ukraine, depicting a jackboot crushing a beetle, an allegory of what Pora wants to do to its opponents.

[DL: As an aside, depicting their enemies as beetles reminds me more than a little of Hutu descriptions of the Tutsis as cockroaches prior to and during the genocide.  This is the sort of thing U.S. tax dollars went to support.  Keep that in mind the next time someone talks about “spreading democracy.”] 

Such dehumanisation of enemies has well-known antecedents - not least in Nazi-occupied Ukraine itself, when pre-emptive war was waged against the Red Plague emanating from Moscow - yet these posters have passed without comment. Pora continues to be presented as an innocent band of students having fun in spite of the fact that - like its sister organisations in Serbia and Georgia, Otpor and Kmara - Pora is an organisation created and financed by Washington.

It gets worse. Plunging into the crowd of Yushchenko supporters in Independence Square after the first round of the election, I met two members of Una-Unso, a neo-Nazi party whose emblem is a swastika. They were unembarrassed about their allegiance, perhaps because last year Yushchenko and his allies stood up for the Socialist party newspaper, Silski Visti, after it ran an anti-semitic article claiming that Jews had invaded Ukraine alongside the Wehrmacht in 1941. On September 19 2004, Yushchenko’s ally, Alexander Moroz, told JTA-Global Jewish News: “I have defended Silski Visti and will continue to do so. I personally think the argument … citing 400,000 Jews in the SS is incorrect, but I am not in a position to know all the facts.” Yushchenko, Moroz and their oligarch ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, meanwhile, cited a court order closing the paper as evidence of the government’s desire to muzzle the media. In any other country, support for anti-semites would be shocking; in this case, our media do not even mention it.

Those are the people behind the “Orange Revolution.”  Furthermore, if the U.S.-backed “democrats” of Pora are prepared to go out into the streets, it means that Washington is probably pulling strings to destabilise the future Yanukovych ministry.  This is not desirable, it is not to welcomed, and it should be an embarrassment for libertarians that Reason keeps embracing ludicrous “democratic” movements that have been and continue to be little more than fronts for American influence and control.  To the extent that any of the Orange groups are genuinely “democratic” or representative of the fetid Ukrainian nationalism of the western regions of that country, there is nothing much to recommend them, either.

Yet the present Western apology to all this is often to deal piecemeal with these perceived Muslim grievances: India, after all, is in Kashmir; Russia is in Chechnya; America is in Iraq, Canada is in Afghanistan; Spain was in Iraq (or rather, still is in Al Andalus); or Israel was in Gaza and Lebanon. Therefore we are to believe that “freedom fighters” commit terror for political purposes of “liberation.” At the most extreme, some think there is absolutely no pattern to global terrorism, and the mere suggestion that there is constitutes “Islamaphobia.” ~Victor Davis Hanson

This is a clever rhetorical move by Hanson, since it would make it seem as if anyone who would cite occupation as a cause of terrorism also can have no grasp of the Islamic nature of the terrorists fighting occupation.  That would be a good point, if he weren’t as horribly wrong as he usually he is.  There may be wine-and-cheese liberals who will never say a bad word about Islam and who also tut-tut about the Occupied Territories (the neocons really don’t like it when you call them that, because it reminds everyone that this is exactly what they have been), but they are hardly the only ones making the argument the occupation breeds terrorism.  There are those of us perfectly willing to recognise the violent inheritance of Islam, its ready justifications for violence and the use of outrageous tactics shared by all Islamic terrorist groups who at the same time also are capable of seeing that occupations do contribute to the rise and success of these groups by giving them grist for their mill and creating real grievances that they can exploit.  Only an idiot or a child would presume to speak on this subject and be unaware of the gruesome crimes that have been committed against civilian populations in Kashmir or Chechnya in the name of counterinsurgency and antiterrorism.  That does not mean that we, like some of Hanson’s political allies, start rooting for the Chechens and hoping for Russian humiliation in some insane burst of Russophobic prejudice mixed with old Cold War obsessions, but that we do acknowledge that the Russian war there, while it is certainly their internal business, is counterproductive in bringing an end to Chechen terrorism.  The abuses in Kashmir were mostly many years in the past, but the memory of these abuses and the continued dissatisfaction with Indian rule (regardless of the fact that most Kashmiris would not prefer Pakistani or jihadi rule) stoke support for Islamic and Kashmiri separatist terrorists. 

Consider that there was nary an incident of Islamic, anti-American terrorism before Americans intervened in a Near Eastern conflict.  The supporters of the current Israeli campaign are quick to remind everyone of the terrible 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut.  Hizbullah killed 241 (corrected) Marines with that bombing.  Everyone knows that, and everyone deplores the evil of it.  Relatively few talk about the colossal stupidity of putting the Marines there in the first place.  What we don’t get into is why those Marines were there in the first place (as a ’stabilisation’ force following the previous and definitely aggressive Israeli invasion of Lebanon), or that our Navy earlier shelled Lebanon in support of the Israeli campaign–these things may have created some dissatisfaction with our presence.  Until our soldiers were stationed in large numbers over there, America was not attacked by Islamic terrorists of any kind.  Yet what has Washington done in the last 23 years?  It has become more and more entangled in the Near East, sending more and more soldiers to be stationed in Muslim countries, gradually provoking horrific terrorist responses.  The response to that?  Become even more embroiled in the Near East and establish a full-on occupation of at least one Muslim country.  But, no, occupation can have nothing to do with any of it. 

Yes, Islam is part of the problem, and a significant part, but Islam and the United States coexisted in the world for 194 years without much incident (with the notable exception of the Tripolitanian War) and only became locked in mortal conflict when American armies started deploying to the center of the Islamic world.  You don’t have to be a genius to make the connection, but apparently it helps to not be a neocon.

But what is lost sight of is the central moral issue of our times: a humane democracy mired in an asymmetrical war is trying to protect itself against terrorists from the 7th century, while under the scrutiny of a corrupt world that needs oil, is largely anti-Semitic and deathly afraid of Islamic terrorists, and finds psychic enjoyment in seeing successful Western societies under duress.

In short, if we wish to learn what was going on in Europe in 1938, just look around. ~Victor Davis Hanson

Via Rod Dreher

Pardon the flip question in the title, but as someone who studies the seventh century in particular I do sometimes grow tired of hearing how we are fighting people from the middle ages or from the seventh century.  They are actually from our own time, as hard as it may be to believe.  I suppose I know what people who say this are trying to say: they are backwards, they have values from “the dark ages,” etc. 

But even when I realise that they are trying (and failing) to say this, I am unimpressed, because there is nothing more modern than guerrilla insurgents and ideological terrorism.  While Islam has been violent since its inception, and violence is written into its genes, so to speak, it is obscure at best to say that Israel or anyone else is fighting people from the seventh century, as if Muhammad himself were firing off the Katyushas (to a Muslim audience, this would make Hizbullah look even better than it already does!).  In fact, most Islamic revival movements desperately seek to restore the “purity” and “nobility” of the original Islam of the seventh century, so referring to Hizbullah as being from the seventh century is probably unwittingly a compliment of the highest order.  (That this sort of rhetoric about the medievalism of our enemies is often followed by invocations of the glories of Cordoba and the wonders of the Islamic Golden Age, which were nothing if not medieval, only makes things worse.)  

If it were literally true that the terrorists were from the seventh century, the modern folks ought to have a notable military advantage over people who would have to be getting up there in years and who would still not have figured out gunpowder.  It is a sloppy, stupid expression, the sort that I have come to expect from Mr. Hanson and many of his colleagues, because it betrays the sloppy thinking that leads them to conclude that we are re-living 1938 or 636 or whichever year is most convenient for scaring thinking people into quiet submission and acquiescence to an excessive military campaign.  This campaign has done nothing so much as to renew in the eyes of the Arab world Hizbullah’s hitherto defunct claim to be a resistance movement, thus doing more long-term damage to the interests of the “humane democracy” and more long-term good for those time-travelling terrorists than any “appeasement” (the word Mr. Hanson and many associates use for any policy that does not involve bombing someone) could have done.  Indeed, the deaths of approximately 900 civilians and the displacement of perhaps as many as one million Lebanese is so startling an example of overkill and overreaction to the kidnapping of two soldiers that Hanson must have recourse to the old remedy of shouting appeasement, because even he must know that the cause for which he is shilling has lost what honour it had.

Tony Blair called for a fundamental reappraisal of British and US foreign policy yesterday, admitting that excessive emphasis on military power and failure to address the Palestinian issue had left the west losing the battle for hearts and minds in the Middle East.

In a speech to the World Affairs Council in Los Angeles, the prime minister admitted “we are far from persuading those we need to persuade” that western values were even-handed, fair and just in their application. He said there was no point disguising the damage being done to the cause of peace in the Middle East by the war on the Lebanese border, but suggested that when the war finally ended “we must commit ourselves to a complete renaissance of our strategy to defeat those that threaten us”. ~The Guardian

Via Kevin Drum

Seriously, who writes Blair’s speeches?  “Renaissance of our strategy”?  What Blair seems to want to say is a complete revision or reformulation or rethinking or indeed reappraisal, as the Guardian translates for us, since a renaissance (rebirth) will simply revive something that has been neglected or dead for a long time.  If the old strategy has achieved so little, if it has fallen into disrepair, why should we want it to be born anew?

And what will Mr. Blair’s reborn strategy involve?  Apparently, an “alliance of moderation” that “paints a different future,” perhaps backed up by a non-aggression pact with temperance that sketches a better tomorrow and an arms reduction treaty with fortitude that traces the outlines of a brand new day.  But fear not–we will not appease virtue or receive the ambassador from justice, and on no account will we open negotiations with apragmosyne (minding our own business)!  That would clearly be wrong. 

Israel is losing this war.

This is not to say that it will lose the war, or that the war was unwinnable to start with. But if it keeps going as it is, Israel is headed for the greatest military humiliation in its history. ~Bret Stephens, OpinionJournal.com

Via Leon Hadar

This comes from the same outfit that still decries as defeatist anyone who suggests that the Iraq war has turned or is turning into a strategic defeat for the United States.  As with the accusations against war opponents in the Iraq debate, the Journal’s editors (Mr. Stephens is one of them) have lost their grip and have become, as Leon Hadar correctly noted, hysterical.  Israel’s “greatest military humiliation”?  Greater than the Lebanese quagmire of the 1980s?  Greater than nearly being overrun by inferior-quality forces?  Greater than needing to be bailed out by massive American armour shipments in 1973?  If Israel is suffering humiliation now, what state of abject degradation was it in back then? 

I’ve always maintained that the “pro-Israel” position of the Bush administration, formulated and influenced by hardline American Likudniks (whom, it must be said, are hardly representative of mainstream Israeli thinking) is actually fundamentally bad for Israel. Its infantile, aggressive maximalism precludes Israel from doing what it will take to live at peace with its surroundings, instead demanding a confrontational approach in keeping with Jabotinsky’s “Iron Wall” in which Israel’s survival depends on crush and humiliating the Arabs. Bush may talk the language of “Arab liberation,” but his contempt for Arab democracy is plain — just look at his response to the Hamas election victory. His administration appears to be dedicated to a remaking of the Middle East on America’s terms through violent social engineering. The depth of their failure in Iraq appears not to have deterred them from another adventure in Lebanon, this time using Israel as their agent of “change.” And if hundreds of Lebanese children are killed in Israeli air strikes, they’re just victims of the “birth pangs of a New Middle East.” ~Tony Karon

Via Leon Hadar

It would be slightly, but not entirely, baffling if Washington believed that destroying Lebanon would somehow contribute to the general transformation of the region in some way that wasn’t disastrous, especially given how much hot air the administration and its hangers-on blew at us during the “Cedar Revolution.”  If the Cedar Revolution with its anti-Syrian protests in the streets of Beirut really was Washington’s right answer for Lebanon last year (and you would be right to be very skeptical of that claim), why would leveling Beirut and discrediting the elected Lebanese government be part of the new goal?  In any event, as The Economist noted last month in its article on the retreat of democratic reform across the Arab world, Lebanese politics did not become more “democratic” with this so-called Revolution, but instead the “Revolution” simply empowered the local bosses, who are divided along sectarian lines, and obviously empowered and emboldened Hizbullah.  Perhaps in some convoluted way democratising Lebanon was always intended to empower Hizbullah, all the better to provoke a conflict? 

If we considered all of the hot air about democracy to be propaganda covering Washington’s hegemonic and “pro-Israel” goals (which, as Mr. Karon correctly notes, may not be doing Israel any real good), things make a little more sense, though it remains unclear why Washington would actually go ahead in encouraging elections, whether in Lebanon or Iraq, that would almost by definition bring governments to power that are hostile to the interests of Israel.  Perhaps there the government is seesawing between the two neocon poles of ludicrous democratism and irresponsible hegemonism, and we happen to be in the middle of a hegemonist phase?  With this administration’s incompetence, it is often difficult to gauge what they intended to do, since they so very often fail in realising their stated goals. 

How, exactly, publicly humiliating Maliki and making him look like an American and Israeli stooge would enhance his “leadership” was never explained in the missive. But of course Reid’s letter wasn’t really about strengthening the Iraqi government at all; that’s George W. Bush’s problem. It was about appearing more pro-Israel than the White House and thus pandering to Jewish voters. ~Peter Beinart, The Washington Post

If I gave the Dems any credit for being smart, I would say that their plan here was exactly to undermine Maliki (whose failure at home will in any event be attributed to their political rivals and Bush himself) while at the same time maintaining their predictable enthusiasm for the cause of Israel.  They do have to keep their priorities straight, and securing the American-backed government in Iraq obviously has to take second place to the much more important business of Israel bombing Lebanon without criticism or interference.  On the other hand, it may be that the Dems assume that Maliki, like our other lackeys around the world, really is just a lackey and will fall in line if he is told in no uncertain terms that his own views are unacceptable.  In this, they seem to be mistaken, which is good news for Maliki and generally bad news for us. 

This brings me to a separate point that has been brought up before here and elsewhere: if Iraq really were vital to American interests, as Mr. Bush claims, why have the party and administration supposedly renowned for their advantage on understanding and handling national security policy essentially committed allegedly vital national interests into the care of the apparently independent actor Mr. Maliki?  It is fortunate that Iraq is not vital to the national interest, so our vital interests are not in the hands of a Shi’ite demagogue whose faction is backed by Tehran.  If they were in his hands, a few Democrats being rude to him would be the least of our problems!   

A rare exception to the talk-for-talk’s-sake norm of recent years is Washington’s approach to the Israeli conflict with Hizbollah. But all signs point to a weakening of resolve inside the Bush administration. Earlier this week, trial balloons began floating from Ms Rice’s mission to the Middle East: perhaps talks in Rome could bring a call for a peace-making force and a ceasefire. Talks are likely to bring little more than concerted pressure on the US and Israel to back down on the ultimate disarmament of Hizbollah. A ceasefire under any circumstances other than Hizbollah’s complete disarmament would be construed as another victory for the terrorist agenda.

Throughout the Middle East, American priorities have lost steam. Mr Bush’s signature issue democracy promotion has been thrust aside by resurgent dictators, with few real consequences. Egypt’s abrogation of municipal elections and a brutal crackdown on civil rights and press freedoms, for example, brought a threat from the US Congress to cut Egyptian aid but little more than limp language from the administration. ~Danielle Pletka, AEI.org

Via Doug Bandow at 4Pundits

There’s just no pleasing some people.  How much more latitude would Mr. Bush need to give Israel to satisfy Ms. Pletka?  The mind boggles.  Also, while I’m sure this is perfectly clear to those ensconced in the shining halls of AEI, what does it mean when she says “the terrorist agenda,” as if all terrorist groups had the same agenda?  Shi’ite terrorists in Lebanon have one set of priorities and the agenda their masters give them; Salafist terrorists likely have very different priorities, one of which probably involves killing Shi’ites.  Perhaps the very vagueness involved in describing our enemy as “terrorism,” which was once useful for covering a multitude of groups and states entirely unrelated to one another, has become a burden that is dragging down neocon rhetoric and depriving it of its previous influence.

Perhaps because “democracy promotion” isn’t really an American priority, but an ideological one cultivated by AEI members and their friends, its importance is no longer what it once was.  But does Ms. Pletka really think that an unfettered democratic process empowering the Islamic Brotherhood across Egypt is the recipe for more stability and the security of American and, for that matter, Israeli interests?  How did that work out in Lebanon?  Oh, that’s right, it didn’t.   

On a minor note, why can we not establish some standard transliterated spelling of Hizbullah?  Most news accounts spell it Hezbollah, which I believe does not really transliterate the pronunciation of the word correctly.  Now we have the hybrid Hizbollah.  As my readers may be aware, I’m in favour of orthographical diversity, but surely we could have a little more accuracy.

The Prime Minister’s views and even more inflammatory statements by other Iraqi officials — including a parliamentary resolution branding Israeli attacks “criminal aggression” — prompted 20 congressional Democrats to call for the cancellation of Mr Maliki’s invitation to address a joint session of Congress overnight, Melbourne time.

While Republican leaders refused, they also expressed concern at Mr Maliki’s statements. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said: “Maliki’s criticism of Israel’s right to defend itself is unacceptable. Unless Mr Maliki disavows his critical comments of Israel and condemns terrorism, it is inappropriate to honour him with a joint meeting of Congress.”

Some Democrats were weighing a boycott of the speech, but Democratic leaders were expected to attend and were not encouraging absences. ~The Age

The Democrats certainly know how to keep the colonials in their place, don’t they?  When it comes to endorsing Israel’s indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force or tolerating excessive Iraqi rhetoric, they will choose the former every time.  

The Bush administration’s plan to bring democracy to the Middle East is now in ruins. In a nation where political responsibility still counted for something, the architects of that strategy would be forced to resign.

Remember the argument for the Iraq war — that the overthrow of Saddam Hussein would lead to a stable, democratic Iraq and bring peace between Israelis and Palestinians? Remember the argument that the key problem in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was lack of Palestinian democracy? Remember Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s promise that the U.S. would “support the new Lebanon”?

In truth, reliance on democratization was always not so much a strategy as an excuse for the lack of one. It provided a flimsy cover for the Bush administration’s inability or unwillingness to address the key challenges and opportunities of the region. These failures included walking away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and refusing to consider deals with Iran and Syria when, in the wake of 9/11, these regimes were extremely eager for compromise. As investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and Mideast scholar Flynt Leverett, among others, have argued, Bush forfeited the chance to recruit these two states as allies in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Sunni extremist world, which the Syrian and Iranian regimes have their own good reasons to hate. ~Anatol Lieven, The Los Angeles Times

Via Antiwar

The British did it to the Scots Highlanders after the 1745 rising, and to the Acadians of Canada after the Seven Years’ War; Ataturk did it to the Greeks of Asia Minor in 1922; and the Czechs did it to the Sudeten Germans after 1945. It seems to be happening again, as half or more of Lebanon’s 1.2 million Shi’ites flee their homes. To de-fang Hezbollah implies the effective dissolution of the Shi’ite community, a third of whom live within Katyusha range of Israel.

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Blame George W Bush for this grim necessity in Lebanon, where the refugee count already has reached 15-30% of the total population. In the name of Lebanese democracy, Washington brought Hezbollah into mainstream politics, and the newly legitimized Hezbollah in turn became the focus of life for Lebanon’s 1.2 million Shi’ites. To uproot Hezbollah, one has to uproot the Shi’ite community. ~Spengler

I am not as sanguine as Spengler about chaos working to American and Israeli advantage.  It has typically not worked to U.S. advantage in Iraq, and I see little reason why a destabilised Lebanon and Syria would produce any better results.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Lebanon on Monday at the start of a trip to calm violence in the Middle East, Lebanese political sources said.Rice met Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora after her heavily guarded motorcade sped through Beirut from the U.S. embassy to the north where her helicopter had landed from Cyprus.
“Thank you for your courage and steadfastness,” she told Siniora, who has repeatedly pleaded for an immediate cease-fire. ~Haaretz

Of course, PM Siniora would need a good deal less courage and steadfastness if a certain government were not heavily bombarding his country with the approval of Secretary Rice’s government.