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Foreign Entanglements: Syria Debate

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On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Zack Beauchamp and I talk about the most frustrating aspects of the Syria debate:

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  • joe from Lowell

    Very good.

    The development over the last decade or so of leftists trying to argue against interventions on the grounds of national interest is an amusing one.

    OK, guy with the Che T-shirt, you think American foreign policy should be solely driven by considerations of American national interests. Uh huh. Sure you do. Weren’t you just chanting “No war for oil?”

    A foreign policy that is solely concerned with national interests is called “realpolitik,” and has been the opposite of liberal foreign policy thinking for as long as there has been liberal foreign policy thinking.

    Also, Dr. Farley is right that not everything is just like the Iraq War. Some things are just like Vietnam, man.

    • Ronan

      The national interest is just a stupid thing Kenneth Waltz made up, then blamed on thucydides (afaict)

      • wengler

        National interest = things that personally help those in the elite. The same reason why ‘free’ trade is so important to policymakers. It destroys the country’s ability to manufacture and has made many of its cities look like bombed out warzones, but the people at the top are swimming in money.

    • tomk

      The guy in the Che shirt might not equate our national interest with easy access to oil, probably thinks the national interest is better served by conservation and vastly reduced use of oil.

      • joe from Lowell

        Regardless, the guy in the Che tee-shirt does not think that American national interest is the sole consideration, or even the most important consideration, or even a legitimate consideration, in deciding about American foreign policy, and is prevaricating when he pretends to.

        • DocAmazing

          Kinda like the guy who pretends to think that the national interest might involve letting international bodies take care of international problems.

          • joe from Lowell

            If there is a point in here, it could have been made more clearly if you’d expressed it, instead of trying to be clever.

            • Joe Miller

              “If there is a point in here, it could have been made more clearly if you’d expressed it, instead of trying to be clever.”

              He’s obviously referring to Obama’s determination that the U.N.’s inspectors came too late, moron.

              • joe from Lowell

                Or you’re reading what you want into it, moron.

                Funny how he answered below and didn’t bring that up, moron.

                • It’s not enough for there to be a national interest. It has to be a national interest COMPELLING ENOUGH TO JUSTIFY MURDERING PEOPLE.

                  Oil is a national interest. It isn’t a national interest compelling enough to justify murdering people.

                  The left wing position you are making fun of is completely consistent.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Salesmen gotta be salesmen.

                  Alwyays be closing.

                  A: always.

                  B. Be

                  C: closing.

                  Always be closing.

          • joe from Lowell

            You’re saying that people who claim to support international bodies are as transparently prevaricating as people in Che tee-shirts who claim to value the American national interest?

            • DocAmazing

              Much of the time, yes.

              • joe from Lowell

                Makes sense.

                Like federalism arguments. Nobody actually cares about what level of government carries out an act. They either support the act or oppose it, and grab onto a pro- or anti-federalism case as it’s convenient.

                • DocAmazing

                  “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”
                  –Marx (G.)

    • Ronan

      I dont think liberals argue against the ‘national interest’, they just complicate it by offering a different conception

      • joe from Lowell

        There are a lot of different people on the left. What you’ve just described fits John Kerry.

        Noam Chomsky does not desire the maximization of American national interests.

        • Ronan

          Chomskys not a liberal though. Although I think he would, to a degree, hed see it as tied up with pushing towards some class of anarchial global Utopia, and so all of these wars are not serving US interests as they arent helping usher in said Utopia

          • joe from Lowell

            But whether liberal or leftist, neither is going to limit his foreign policy thinking to the pursuit of American national interests, and would have no trouble coming up with situations in which that interest should be subordinated to some other concern.

            Enlightened self-interest can get the foreign policy liberal only so far. At a certain point, there are times when we should do the right thing because it’s the right thing, whether there’s a national interest angle at stake or not, and casting about for a national interest argument (We should send aid to the earthquake zone in east Africa for reasons of PR!) is just a pretext.

            As for the foreign policy leftist, the subordination of the interests of a capitalist superpower is an end unto itself.

            • Joe Miller

              And indiscriminately bombing stuff is the right thing?

              • joe from Lowell

                Can you drop the sale pitch for ten seconds? Please? For once in your life?

                You know, there are people who have ideas that aren’t actually about whatever policy issue is at the forefront of your mind at any given moment, Mr. Miller.

                • Joe Miller

                  Fair enough. To be honest, I fly into a blind rage whenever I see something you post. I’ll spare you the knee jerk reactions in the future.

                • Ed

                  Can you drop the sale pitch for ten seconds? Please? For once in your life?

                  Right back at you, friend.

              • joe from Lowell

                Damn, you look small after Joe Miller’s response.

                Sorry you can’t do anything but sell. Sorry you can’t even imagine such a thing.

                • Ben

                  Good God talk about projection. Your whole shtick is playing Internet press secretary for Obama and the DNC and sell whatever policies they are pushing at the moment. Particularly if it involves bombing brown people.

                • Ben

                  Did you ever consider playing an FPS or something to get rid of your war boner rather than pushing more Middle Eastern wars?

                • joe from Lowell

                  Your whole shtick…

                  Good thing you don’t have to read what I’m saying to know my in tent. You have a little rule.

                  Damn, but you look small after Joe Miller’s response.

                  Petty, tiny little people, who can’t see anything except the fight they want to have right now.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Did you ever consider playing an FPS or something to get rid of your war boner rather than pushing more Middle Eastern wars?

                  Being a thoughtful, informed opponent of the operation, like Farley, must be a lot like what John McCain was going through when he did those town halls towards the end of the 2008 campaign.

                  “…and that’s what I think about mortgage financing. Yes, sir, you have a question?”

                  “Yeah, I want to know why the media won’t report of the birth certificate.”

            • Ronan

              I do agree with you. The left becoming concerned with ‘national interests’ (which has come up a good bit in this debate so far) isnt a turn I’d personally welcome.
              And I agree there should be (and is, always has been to a degree)room for non interest (even by the tortured definition of national interest I gave above vis a vis Chomsky)based interventions. But this is the rhetoric used, and so when selling something you have to market it (its in our interests for a b and c, even if thats not entirely true)
              Personally Im on the fence with a lot of the R2P et al stuff, b/c (1) I dont think those interventions have a great track record(2) I think they have ability to undermine international institutions (3) theyre waged too selectively (4) I have less faith in the benign intentions of great powers

              • Joe Miller

                Seconded.

          • wengler

            I’ve read a lot of Chomsky and I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything about an ‘anarchist global Utopia.’

        • wengler

          Nope. Chomsky thinks the world works better when the most powerful state actors don’t get to live their lives by double standards.

          • joe from Lowell

            Oh, FFS.

            Yes, Chomsky doesn’t actually care about the power and interests of powerful nations; he’s just all about the hypocrisy.

            Do you ever think before you hit submit?

  • The Kenosha Kid

    Next time you have a debate, invite someone who disagrees with you!

  • AutonomousCoward

    If foreign policy is not (should not be) formulated and conducted in reference to the best interests of the state conducting it whose interests would you suggest be substituted?

  • Ronan

    Without falling into the trap and comparing it unreasonably to past interventions, what does anyone make of this

    http://www.newrepublic.com/article/114589/senate-hearing-syrian-war-hints-obamas-true-intentions

    which seems to have comparisons to the Bosnia intervention (I think?)

    • joe from Lowell

      Very good comparison.

      —The administration is not just contemplating a single punitive strike against Syria’s Bashar al Assad for using chemical weapons; it is planning a repeatable military campaign that would strike again if he were to use these weapons again.

      —The military campaign would also have the “collateral” or “downstream” result of weakening Assad militarily and politically. It would cause defections and significantly weaken the Assad government.

      —The goal of the military campaign, combined with aid to the opposition, would not be to defeat Assad. Instead, the war would be ended by an international negotiation in which Russians would play a very important role. Such a deal would eliminate any role in Syria’s future for jihadist elements, but it might include a role for allies of Assad, if not for Assad himself.

      • Joe Miller

        This won’t end well…

        • Ben

          But but…THE LIBERAL NEW REPUBLIC!

          Party like it’s 2003…

          • Ronan

            The new republics a steaming pile of shit, ill grant you that ; )

          • joe from Lowell

            ….and Ben didn’t watch the video.

      • Sharon

        It’s a breath mint and a floor cleaner!

    • Ben

      Even the “liberal” New Republic!

  • cpinva

    all foreign policy, since the dawn of the first human civilization, has been conducted based on the determined best interests of the state conducting it. before you go throwing men/materials at something, you need to convince those supplying both that it’s in the country’s, and therefore their’s, best interests to do so. as you say, national interest is not a monolith, but multi-faceted. that said, pres. Obama has yet to make a convincing case for why the US should become directly involved in another sovereign country’s civil war.

    I reference Somalia and Lebanon, both countries suffering internal conflicts, that we engaged in militarily (boots on the ground), and got mauled, for no particularly great reason, and with no well articulated plan of action. this would be present day Syria. as prof. Farley notes, lobbing a few missiles will have exactly zilch affect on the conflict, aside from maybe killing a few more random innocent parties.

    the interests of the foreign parties may or may not coincide with our perceived national interests. if they do, great, if they don’t, convince me why I should want my children to be sent off, to defend another country’s national interests, that have little or no bearing on our’s. unless, of course, prof. Farley and mr. beauchamp are both planning to enlist in the USMC, to be part of this morally righteous mission? thought not.

    • DocAmazing

      Who are you to say what’s in my best interest?
      When I went to your schools?
      When I went to your churches?
      When I went to your institutional learning facilities?

      • Uncle Kvetch

        +1

        Just a PEPSI!

      • cpinva

        ok, sorry, you lost me there doc. perhaps, by the time I return from a mission in my personal best interest, you might be so kind as to clue me in?

        • BigHank53

          Suicidal Tendencies, Institutionalized

          • cpinva

            ah, thank you. personally, i’d have gone for Cream’s Politician, but that’s just me.

        • Linnaeus

          They’re lyrics from this song by the punk band Suicidal Tendencies.

  • St. Francis Hospital Nurse’s Aides

    I see you’re a supporter of health care reform. When can we expect you to come in to discuss your schedule?

    You are quitting your job to become a nurse’s aide, correct?

    • cpinva

      “You are quitting your job to become a nurse’s aide, correct?”

      probably not, but the last time I checked, nurse’s aides don’t, by definition, run a risk of getting maimed or killed, just by doing their job.

      idiotic comparison, come up with something maybe closer to an actual analogy.

      • St. Francis Hospital Nurse’s Aides

        Look, you either support health care, or you refuse to make it your career. You can’t have it both ways, dear.

  • DocAmazing

    No hat? No wonder everything’s gone sideways.

  • Ben
    • Kant Hopenlink

      Well?

      What does he say?!?

      • Ben

        He says yes, and I tend to agree. There are only two scenarios under international law where war is legal-self defense, and an approved UN Security Council actions Anything else is naked aggression, no matter what kind of platitudes it comes wrapped in. Aggressive war is aggressive war.

        • Kant Hopenlink

          He says yes, and I tend to agree.

          NO WAY!

          I did NOT see that coming.

          • Ben

            Care to address the arguments or would you rather engage in some more hippie punching?

        • cpinva

          “Aggressive war is aggressive war.”

          clearly, he failed to account for “morally defensable, pre-emptive war”.

          • Ben

            There is no such thing.

            • cpinva

              I was being facetious.

              “Would WWII have been morally wrong for the US if Germany didn’t declare war on us?”

              good question. i’m not convinced Roosevelt would have been able to convince congress to declare war against Germany, absent Germany having already declared war against us. that said, german U-boats would probably have inevitably sunk a civilian ship, with no war stocks on it, resulting in the loss of American lives. it would have been close to wwI all over again.

              • rea

                Under UN Charter, right of self-defense includes right of “collective” self defense. This means, if State A is attacked, State B, its ally, can use military force in defense of State A. even if it is not itself directly attacked. Moreover, this right of collective sef-defense does not purport to be cofiend to pre-existing alliances.

                Thus, translating this back to the 40’s, say, Brazil could legitimately join the alliance agsint Germany and Japan, even though it hadn’t been attacked, because Germany and Japan had started the war agasint countries with whom Brazil subsequently became allied.

                • Hogan

                  So there’s no “third man in” rule?

          • Cody

            Would WWII have been morally wrong for the US if Germany didn’t declare war on us?

            After all, he did not attack the US at any time. Thus it was not in self-defense.

    • wengler

      If bombing another country that has done nothing to the US is a war crime, then I’m not a flag-waving, country music listenin’, piss beer drinkin’ AmeriCAN.

  • “No one is saying ‘It’ll be just as awesome as Iraq!’ ”

    Some are opposed because they fear it won’t be, however.

    [A]ssuming that some sort of military action will be forthcoming in the next few days, is Syria an echo of Iraq?

    Not really. President Bush was serious about getting rid of Saddam Hussein’s bloody and virulently anti-American tyranny. He also was serious about using Iraq as a test case to see whether Arab countries can sustain democratic institutions, and if so, whether those institutions can help usher in a transition to modernity. (That’s my interpretation of Bush’s intent, anyway.) Because he was serious, Bush committed substantial numbers of ground troops to the project of toppling Saddam.

    Obama lacks a similarly serious objective in Syria.

  • Uncle Kvetch

    This piece has been getting a lot of attention these last few days — I’d be interested in getting a reaction from Prof. Farley (or any of the other front-pagers, for that matter).

    • cpinva

      that piece represents a far more complete analysis, than anything I’ve seen coming out of either capital hill or the oval office so far.

  • LeeEsq

    Joe from Lowell, what do we get from intervening in Syria? What can we accomplish We all can agree that Assad is a bad guy who does evil things in order to remain in power. The problem is that opposition to Assad is formless and nebulous even by the standards of the region. We know practically nothing about them

    There is nothing and I mean absolutely nothing good that could come from intervention in the Syrian Civil War. We either do something really cosmetic and end up looking impotent or we get sucked into a hopeless mess and inflict a lot of hurt on ourselves, the Syrians, and look impotent. Doing nothing is the least bad option.

  • LeeEsq

    Joe from Lowell, what do we get from intervening in Syria? What can we accomplish We all can agree that Assad is a bad guy who does evil things in order to remain in power. The problem is that opposition to Assad is formless and nebulous even by the standards of the region. We know practically nothing about them

    There is nothing and I mean absolutely nothing good that could come from intervention in the Syrian Civil War. We either do something really cosmetic and end up looking impotent or we get sucked into a hopeless mess and inflict a lot of hurt on ourselves, the Syrians, and look impotent. Doing nothing is the least bad option.

    • LeeEsq

      Intervention has the distinct chance of dragging Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, and Iran into the Syrian Civil War even more directly than they already are involved. This is going to turn a relatively contained but devestating civil war into a regional conflict. I think we all know why this is a bad idea.

      • wengler

        The preferred US policy solution of destroying the Assad regime is chock full of terrible possibilities. Hezbollah, Iran and to a lesser extent Iraq lose one of their closest allies, while the weaker US-aligned Sunni bloc either has a new member, or it has an unstable clusterfuck of religious extremists interesting in wiping out the Alawites and any other Shia they get their hands on.

        Of course if that happens all bets are off. Iraq could go back into a tailspin and Iran could start their own bombing campaign. Oh well, Assad deserved it! Chemical weapons are terror weapons, tomahawk missiles are freedom weapons.

  • Anthony

    I just wanna say I think you should try to troll more of your guests by playing with your toys on camera while they’re talking.

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