The Political Animal

Faking Foreign Policy


From David Sanger in yesterday’s New York Times:

But beyond his critique of Mr. Obama as failing to project American strength abroad, Mr. Romney has yet to fill in many of the details of how he would conduct policy toward the rest of the world, or to resolve deep ideological rifts within the Republican Party and his own foreign policy team. It is a disparate and politely fractious team of advisers that includes warring tribes of neoconservatives, traditional strong-defense conservatives and a band of self-described “realists” who believe there are limits to the degree the United States can impose its will.

Each group is vying to shape Mr. Romney’s views, usually through policy papers that many of the advisers wonder if he is reading. Indeed, in a campaign that has been so intensely focused on economic issues, some of these advisers, in interviews over the past two weeks in which most insisted on anonymity, say they have engaged with him so little on issues of national security that they are uncertain what camp he would fall into, and are uncertain themselves about how he would govern.

In this article and an accompanying analysis co-authored by Trip Gabriel, the report of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy address at the Virginia Military Institute is ever the same on every issue, and has it every way, as Romney mendaciously does in all things: he criticizes President Obama’s policies, but offers no detail of any substantively different approach, even as Romney endlessly contradicts past pronouncements. Did Romney clearly state at his 47% fundraiser that he would ignore Israel-Palestine and hope the future would bring its own developments? No matter. Now, “hope is not a strategy” and he “will recommit America” to pursuing a two-state solution. Said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “Full of platitude and free of substance.” She was speaking of the speech, though, of course, she might have been describing the man.

Romney is actually a kind of stalking horse for the foreign policy visions of those contending advisors of whom Sanger writes, and whichever among them might win the mind of a President Romney. In many practical respects, these policies would not be much different from Obama’s. It has been the bitter swallowed pill of America’s farther left that Barack Obama delivered the rebirth of pre-Vietnam War military toughness from a long-laboring Democratic party. From Romney, the only room for criticism has been at the edges of policy, like claiming the Syrian rebels should be greater armed, while declining to state, in true Romney fashion, that a Romney presidency would do the arming. There are the McCains and neocons, for whom any American military engagement is one too few for the glory of advancing “freedom” and American “interests.” And then there are the dime-a-dozen GOP opportunists who pounce on any inevitable – which is not to say defensible – screw up, such as the absent security at the consulate in Benghazi.

It is easy, too – nothing easier – to criticize the response to great and unmanageable historical developments like the Arab uprisings (high time to drop the Arab “Spring” projection) and the prosecution of a war in Afghanistan that had already been mismanaged for six years too long by the time Obama had to adopt it. No one on the right has offered at any time any alternative other than the usual military maximalism that for the past fifty years has produced the same record of strategic failure to the American nation as conservative economics. Not maximal enough is the only insightful response from the right to failure.

None of these partisan, automatic, and opportunistic criticisms, however, demonstrate any strategic analysis of world developments since the end of the Cold War and the rise of violent Islamic extremism. Emblematic of this failure is the absence of Asia – to which the Obama administration has notably begun a strategic “pivot” – from Romney’s speech. But the currents of partisan political contention will always run counter to the wisdom of strategic thinking. Here are some of those strategic issues.

The Arab uprisings are a perfect representation of developments that may be called historic not just as an honorific nod to their magnitude, but because of the complex confluence of historic forces and consequential events obscured by time that have led to them. It is the ultimate pretense to claim that the U.S. can pursue policies that will manage these events to foreseeable ends in behalf of American interests. There is no such world history. Even the period of greatest American international success, in the post Second World War era, is littered with the failures of policies that pursued short-sighted, immediate advantage – from the currents of resentment that will run at least underground in Latin American long after we are all gone to the 1953 U.S. supported Iranian coup that is a root cause of the conflicts the U.S. faces in Iran now nearly sixty years later and far counting.

The right has offered only two alternatives to the wisely cautious and literally non-committal approach of the Obama administration. One has been actively to support – not simply, realistically do business with – existing tyrannies, as in Egypt, against popular uprisings. Aside from this being an effectively misguided course of action, it is impossible to conceive a more truly un-American policy. To pursue it would mean to shred every last thread of the cloth of American democratic virtue. The other alternative has been actively to “lead” in every trouble spot and every instance of insurgency. But to have refrained from the active role the U.S. did play in Libya under the circumstances that developed, and permitted a Qaddafi victory, would have been a black mark on just that American cloth. There is, conversely, no evidence at all that a more leading American role would have produced any better outcome than we have.

On the contrary, in Syria, with circumstances having developed differently, even more complexly than in Libya, it is even more impossible to know the outcome of any kind of insurgent victory. Just the consequences of Kurdish autonomy alone, across Turkey, Iraq, and Iran, may be as far reaching as the present conditions are from the European decision after the demise of the Ottoman Empire not to give the Kurds their own state. Those on the right who facilely even just vocalize about more significantly arming the insurgents, as Romney does, and as President Obama has declined to do, forget in just twenty years the consequences of arming the opposition in Afghanistan. In a careful dissent, the conservative Washington Times does not fail to see how such choices develop.

The imperial monovision of the right cannot perceive, into a horizonless future, a leading role for the United States that is not insistent and pointed. In true imperial fashion, it takes any negative response to this insistent leadership as an uprising against virtuous prerogative rather than crap out. President Obama, in contrast, has a more complex vision of the American future in a changed world, of power without empire. This contrast offers the most profound international consideration of the election, holding out for the U.S. incalculably, which is not to say unimaginably, different futures.

There is another, related consideration. Standard conservative expressions of U.S. policy in the face of opposition and conflict are assertive and often bellicose. The speech, it is always believed, must match the assertive action. There are not many other areas of life in which people will not sometimes recognize the greater wisdom of speaking more softly. That is what Obama has done in his post 9/11 presidency, while swinging a deadly stick. But again, the war against violent Islamic extremism is a long one, and its success will not be definitively marked in an administration or two any more than was success in the Cold War. That leaves open opportunities for a candidate like Romney to take quick shots that glide along the surface. That surface is iced by Obama’s long view and soft speech. The long view can never be a mistake. The soft speech can be, and it is a focus of much conservative criticism.

The wisdom of speaking softly is found in the unique circumstances and particular parties to any situation. As the right will tell us, through the only analogy it knows, bullies do not respond to soft speech. (Though, of course, they can be lulled into inattention while you come up behind them and crack them in the head.) The evidence is mounting that the President’s softer articulations, intended as an antidote to Iraq-War belligerence, have achieved nothing in altering the U.S.’s relationship to the Arab and Islamic Worlds. Clearly, neither did a converse voice under the Bush administration, though it is not to be forgotten that George W. Bush was always reassuring, too, about its respect for Islam. Nonetheless, the longer the President lowers his voice, the more the right will grasp the opportunity to cast this as meekness before the enemy we face. If a tactic does not achieve its end and offers rivals the chance to harass from the flanks, there is not much wisdom in maintaining it. There is always, too, the virtue, without long term drawback, of stating clearly, without concession, what a nation stands for and what it opposes, which the President did not adequately do at the U.N. recently. And there is reason to believe that the Arab and extremist Islamic cultures with which we contend respect nothing other.

Still, for a broad view of the empty suit that is Romney foreign policy, from nonsensical defense budget growth to obvious vacuity in conversation with a photo op of retired generals, watch this:

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The Political Animal

Said the Sad Red Earth


I’ve been lying low, collecting evidence…

Brought to mind by recent events for David W. Blight And Allison Scharfstein in their Op-Ed at the New York Times, the little known proposal by Martin Luther King, Jr. to President Kennedy in May 1962 to issue another Emancipation Proclamation, to end segregation. Kennedy took it under advisement and never acted before it was too late. Even Lincoln did not act until the nation was already at war. Marriage equality is not a matter of localized state ordinance governing a mundane civil procedure. It is a human and civil right to be addressed federally and universally. Even the partisan pollsters know what is coming. But the GOP remains, into a second century of shrinking ideas, a party of smallness far different from the kind it professes.

Speaking of shrinking human capital, John Derbyshire, whom National Review employed for quite some time, even after his racism began to leak from him, has chosen, post termination, to come a gusher and write now for the white nationalist VDare – whose Peter Brimelow was at this year’s CPAC – where he observes,

White supremacy, in the sense of a society in which key decisions are made by white Europeans, is one of the better arrangements History has come up with. There have of course been some blots on the record, but I don’t see how it can be denied that net-net, white Europeans have made a better job of running fair and stable societies than has any other group.

Even non-whites acknowledge this in unguarded moments.

Just as dispiriting – all forms of human diminishment in the name God and race are just so – is this crucial account by Jonathan Spyer of “The Rise of Hamas-Gaza.”

The nature of the regime created by Hamas in Gaza, and its strength and durability, has received insufficient attention in the West. This may have a political root: Western governments feel the need to keep alive the fiction of the long-dead peace process between Israelis and Palestinians. One of the necessary components of this is pretending that the historic split between nationalists and Islamists among the Palestinians has not really happened, or that it is a temporary glitch that will soon be reconciled. This fiction is necessary for peace process believers, because it enables them to continue to treat the West Bank Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas as the sole representative of the Palestinians.

But fiction it is. An Islamist one-party quasi-state has been built in Gaza over the last half-decade. The prospects for this enclave and its importance in the period ahead have been immeasurably strengthened by the advances made by Hamas’ fellow Muslim Brotherhood branches in Egypt and elsewhere in the region.


Palestinian nationalism has traditionally favored words and gestures over concrete deeds. This is one of the sources for its historical failure to produce anything much tangible of note. Palestinian Islamism has a different approach: in line with the traditional strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood, it understands the importance of concrete, patient building on the ground.

This does not mean that Hamas in Gaza has lost sight or will lose sight of the maximalist ideological goals of the movement. It does mean, however, that the split in the Palestinian national movement should now finally be internalized as a long-term development. The more formidable, serious element of that movement is in control of Gaza. The Islamist one-party statelet in Gaza, in turn, is allied with the trend that is proving the major beneficiary of the Arab upheavals of 2011 — namely, Sunni Islamism.

Of a piece – the opposite piece – is Fareed Zakaria’s regrettable (piece o’) pie in the sky advancement of the “Arab Spring” fiction, here choosing to side with George W. Bush’s “freedom agenda” against everybody’s favorite BiBi bogeyman. “Demographics, Zakaria argues, won’t permit Arab autocracies to much longer shield themselves from “modernity.” Because of that bright and hopeful Arab Spring (why, just look around and see the buds burstin’ all over), “Arab democracies will have the legitimacy that comes with public participation,” Zakaria simply asserts: witness, as an example, the legitimacy of one person one vote one time in the coercively militaristic theocracy of Gaza, above, he forgot to say. “What in the World,” indeed.

Look at this video. It’s only a minute forty four. Everything about it is stupid, and there are a ton of them on YouTube, but it’s clear. The guy pursuing the conflict gets beat good. The guy who beat him had wanted none of it.  It had to hurt, though he deserved it, and men have taken beatings like it, and worse, since men were stupid. Would the beaten young man have been justified in pulling a gun and shooting the other? He’ll have some cuts and bruises. Even in the dark, with no one else there, would he have been within his rights to shoot and kill the other guy? What is even less defensible than the fixated George Zimmerman, in what he did – I’m sure he was scared once he was in for it – is the more detached yet still angry justification and promotion of his conduct by others.

In its wide-ranging assault on voter rights, labor rights, women’s rights, and straight up democracy itself, in Michigan, the contemporary GOP is the most reactionary and anti-Democratic force the nation has seen since the active hostile forces of pre Civil Rights movement Southern segregationism. Here is a look at what should be a very frightening graph from the Guttmacher Institute.

Has the filibuster, especially as normalized as it now is, producing an almost uniform requirement for super majority to pass any legislation through the Senate, risen to the level of constitutional offense under the GOP? James Fallows has been arguing so, and for some time now against false equivalence between the Democrats and Republicans in congressional dysfunction. Now Common Cause intends to pursue the matter, and the filibuster’s abolition, to the Supreme Court.

At Tablet, Akiva Gottlieb delivers a profile of the always unattractively strident, yet surprisingly uncertain David Horowitz. Among several humanizing passages, there is this rather tender and sad one involving his late daughter Sarah.

Sarah’s passions made her one of David’s most spirited interlocutors, and at times A Cracking of the Heart serves as an object lesson in political empathy—making it a poignant outlier in Horowitz’s oeuvre. In an earlier memoir, he attested to his inability to internalize the monotheistic religious prophets’ agreement that all human beings, no matter their trespasses, are incarnations of the divine spirit: “[I] cannot embrace this radical faith. I feel no kinship with those who can cut short a human life without remorse; or with terrorists who target the innocent; or with adults who torment small children for the sexual thrill.”

Sarah, who respects her father but harbors little patience for his bluster, hand-writes a response that aims to cut him to the quick. “First, have a little humility,” she begins. “You are not smarter than Moses, Jesus and Buddha.” She continues by articulating as eloquent a plea for understanding across ideological lines as I’ve ever heard:

If you see someone in the fullness of their humanity, you see how they are acting out their own confusion and suffering. This does not justify hurtful or evil acts. It doesn’t even always inspire forgiveness. But if you see someone this way, you respond more in sadness than in anger. And that is simply a more excellent state of being. Even if you’ve never had this experience (and more’s the pity), respect the experience of those who have.

She did not send her father these words. “Or if she did,” he writes, “I failed again to understand them.”

A more excellent state of being. She was a loss.

And finally, from the department of some people have all the luck, we have “Finger In Arby’s Sandwich: Michigan Teen Ryan Hart Spat Out ‘Rubbery’ Digit,” while, of course, in contrast, several people have found Jesus in a Cheeto.


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