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Tag: "foreign policy"

Room for Debate: “Will the New York Times Room for Debate Forum Ever Ask Good Questions?”

[ 16 ] August 16, 2012 |

The Times Room for Debate section seems like it would be a good idea–choose a question and get smart people to present different views. But so often the questions are just insipid and come with an ideological bent that precludes solid discussion, not to mention contributors that usually skewer to the Beltway-right orbit. Today’s is particularly galling: “Can’t Afford Foreign Aid, or Can’t Afford to Cut It.” That’s just a dumb question on the face of it given the relatively tiny size of the U.S. foreign aid budget. Yet it plays into conservative talking points that we waste all this money giving it to other countries (except Israel of course, for whom evidently we should dedicate 20% of GNP).

How bad is this debate? The person who makes the most sense is former Republican congressman Mark Green. Yes, I find myself agreeing with a former Republican member of Congress. This is a rare thing. But when the questions are this worthless, such things can happen.

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Gilded Age Foreign Policy: Any Lessons for the Present?

[ 137 ] August 14, 2012 |

Marc-William Palen provides a response of sorts to my connections between the Gilded Age and today, as well as others who have made the comparison such as Paul Krugman. Palen attempts to draw the comparisons out to foreign policy, but the piece is rather problematic on a number of levels.

Palen makes two major points. First, that unlike today’s “imperialists,” Gilded Age capitalists opposed imperialism. Second, our current foreign policy is moving toward the protectionism that crippled the American economy during the first Gilded Age, something Palen very much decries.

Neither of these points really hold up under scrutiny. The first takes a lot of cherry-picking. Yes, some mugwumps opposed imperialism. But by and large, Gilded Age capitalists were completely fine with imperialism. Let’s remember that the one president in the Gilded Age with a meaningful anti-imperialist policy was the Democrat Grover Cleveland. But William McKinley, that icon of the Gilded Age, was the president who okayed the annexation of Hawaii and oversaw the Spanish-American War. The administration of Benjamin Harrison, with Republican leader James Blaine as Secretary of State, very much pushed America’s imperialist agenda abroad, including trying to tie Hawaii to the United States. Younger Republicans such as Henry Cabot Lodge and Theodore Roosevelt were die-hard imperialists; if they are known as men of the Progressive Era, they were very much tied into the politics and society of the Gilded Age.

So it’s really hard to make an argument that the Gilded Age capitalists did not support imperialism. Some did not, most did. I realize Palen is trying to focus on the free-traders within the Republican Party during those years, but that’s just not a dominant force within the Republican Party at that time, limiting the argument’s power.

Perhaps the real take-away from this point is to ask what difference it makes. I drew connections between the Gilded Age and modern America because we see corporations and the Republican Party concretely attempting to recreate the former period in the 21st century. But that doesn’t mean that every part of the Gilded Age corresponds to today and I don’t really see much comparison between Gilded Age foreign policy and the present.

This is especially true when we get to Palen’s second point–that we are entering a new period of protectionism. There’s just no evidence for this. All Palen has is Obama attacking Romney for sending jobs to China and Romney blathering about starting a trade war with China. But this is just a political weapon in a campaign. There’s absolutely zero evidence that Obama doesn’t support globalization in its present form. He’s pushing for new free trade agreements around the globe. And there’s no way Romney is actually going to start a trade war with China. The two major political parties agree on little, but free trade capitalism is one of them. There might be a few people on the edges of both parties’ Congressional delegations that disagree, but they are isolated.

Without a bad economy with long-term unemployment for people without college educations, this would be a non-issue in the presidential campaign. Neither political party will even begin to edge toward protectionism, regardless of who wins in November. Palen just doesn’t provide any hard evidence for this point.

To be clear, I personally see a problem with this bipartisan consensus. I think that we need at least some manufacturing in this nation and that the decline of union jobs in this country is a terrible thing. While I am not exactly supportive of 19th century protectionism, I think Palen’s language is quite telling. How exactly is protectionism a terrible thing for society? It is true that it would make consumer goods more expensive. But is a consumer economy the only legitimate goal for our society? Couldn’t solid unionized jobs with dignity but not a ton of consumer choices be equally legitimate?

Either way, it doesn’t really matter because my beliefs are fringe ideas within mainstream modern American political discourse. The Gilded Age might have a lot to teach us about modern America, but I remain unconvinced on Palen’s foreign policy argument, particularly since it is clearly driven by a fundamentalist view of free-market capitalism rooted in unfettered free trade.

The Imaginary Paul Ryan

[ 22 ] August 14, 2012 |

It’s not hard to derive an Imaginary Foreign Policy Paul Ryan. I suspect that David Brooks is already hard at work creating the Paul Ryan that He Wishes, rather than paying any attention to the Paul Ryan that Is, but it’s worthwhile to get ahead of the game and do some pre-bunking:

The Imaginary Paul Ryan isn’t completely a figment;  Ryan’s actual record on the final point was decent until a few years ago, and I suspect there seems to be evidence that Ryan is a touch more skeptical of the DoD and the defense-industrial complex than your typical Republican. This will likely provide sufficient grist for Brooks and his ilk to craft a Paul Ryan that seems to herald a return to the Republican foreign policy elite of James Baker’s day. But this is a ship that has sailed; Bill Kristol has claimed Ryan for his team, and Kristol holds all the best cards. Ryan has already abandoned whatever skepticism he maintained about the defense establishment (he appears to have evinced no skepticism whatsoever about the foreign adventurism bit), and it’s not difficult to understand why. It is impossible for a member of a modern GOP Presidential ticket to hold what amount to “realist” views on foreign policy.  Indeed, it appears to be virtually impossible for members of the campaign team to hold such views. This is less because of the popularity of defense hawkery (even the GOP base is more skeptical of hawkishness than the tickets would reveal), but rather because neoconservatives have won what amounts to a virtual battle of annihilation at the elite level. The influence of the constellation of right wing think tanks over Republican foreign policy is especially pronounced with figures like Romney and Ryan, neither of whom have any foreign policy experience or appear to have thought very much about foreign affairs.

But on the same terms that someone can pretend that Paul Ryan favors deficit reduction, someone will undoubtedly imagine a defense skeptical Paul Ryan.  It just ain’t there.

Mitt Romney, Diplomat

[ 116 ] July 26, 2012 |

Most of us have seen this, but I still find it fantastic that Romney wasn’t adequately prepared for his trip to London.  Let’s see, travel to London on the literal eve of the 2012 Olympic games hosted by the same, and make some disparaging remarks about a Great Britain’s ability to organise said games.  It really adds to the impact that the UK already has a healthy chip on its shoulder about the United States.  Pure comedy gold.

I disagree with The Guardian‘s headline that “Mitt Romney’s Olympics blunder stuns No 10 and hands gift to Obama”. Stunned 10 Downing Street, sure. Make any difference in November?  Hardly.

I never thought I’d offer accolades to either, but the best line of this non issue issue either goes to David Cameron:

We are holding an Olympic Games in one of the busiest, most active, bustling cities anywhere in the world. Of course it’s easier if you hold an Olympic Games in the middle of nowhere.

Or The Telegraph:

Mitt Romney is perhaps the only politician who could start a trip that was supposed to be a charm offensive by being utterly devoid of charm and mildly offensive.

When the Olympics gaffe is placed along side this post over at TDS (headline below) we have the makings of a real winner here.

The invasion of Iraq overthrew Iran’s most lethal enemy and replaced it with a regime that is now Iran’s closest and most reliable ally. Depressingly, Mitt Romney has chosen the architects of this massive strategic fiasco as his principal advisors.

It’s a good thing for Romney that foreign policy doesn’t really matter much.

The Romney Foreign Policy Team

[ 24 ] July 2, 2012 |

I have a new piece at Right Web on the Romney foreign policy team:

A campaign team has two purposes. First, to supply rhetoric and policy that will help the candidate win; second, to provide the nucleus for the group that will guide administration policy. Because the campaign team often becomes the policy team, there is a strong likelihood that presidential candidates will try to follow through on many of the promises they have made on the campaign trail. What kind of case is Romney making on defense, and whom is he relying on to make it?
Broadly speaking, Governor Romney has adopted a set of positions on military policy that fall well within what has become the Republican mainstream. In tones reminiscent of Republican presidential campaigns since the Reagan administration, Romney has argued for an increase in defense spending, suggesting that the Obama administration has left the United States vulnerable to foreign states and terrorist organizations. In particular, Romney has embraced the Heritage Foundation’s “4 Percent for Freedom” platform, the argument that the base defense budget should be fixed around 4 percent of national GDP.[6] On specific issues, Romney has generally argued for a more hawkish line than Obama, including more aggressive policies on Syria, Iran, and China.[7]

See also Ali Gharib.

A Dialogue on Disappointment

[ 79 ] November 27, 2011 |

I thought that Jon Chait’s long article on leftist disappointment with Democratic Presidents was interesting, but that it succeeded in identification of such discontent without making much effort to explain it. David Atkins has a nice response with two potential explanations, first the unwillingness/inability of the last three Democratic Presidents to break from the evidently increasing economic insanity of the GOP, and second the existence and continued success of progressive-by-American-standards economic models in other OECD states.

While both of these make a lot of sense, I’m not sure they get us all the way there. For one, Atkins suggests that the primary reasons for discontent post-Carter have been economic; in this vision, although Bill Clinton’s tenure is economically successful on many metrics, it amounts mainly to pursuing GOP priorities competently rather than incompetently. The most vocal critics of Obama, however, have attacked on both the imperial executive/warmaking/etc., and socio-economic grounds (insufficiency of the ACA and the stiumlus). As has often been argued on this blog, on these former metrics Obama does fine compared to other recent Democratic Presidents.

Atkins doesn’t suggest that leftist are implicitly comparing US and European models of foreign policy and civil liberties, and it’s not hard to see why. To my mind, the difference on issues such as warmaking and aggressive foreign policy between the US and major European states is largely positional; many states joined the US in Iraq and Afghanistan, and while Germany and France sat out Iraq, it’s obviously not difficult to find examples of modern French imperialism or German amorality in foreign affairs. On civil liberties questions, I suspect that progressives would have a collective heart attack if anyone proposed London levels of state surveillance in New York City, or accorded US law enforcement many of the anti-terror tools that French and German police take for granted. The case of the intervention in Libya is particularly instructive. Obama’s liberties with the War Powers Resolution are notable only in domestic legal context; by and large, comparable European systems grant warmaking latitude to the executive sufficient to make comparison with the United States moot. Moreover, we have strong recent evidence of European executives (Berlusconi, Aznar) engaging in foreign conflict over nearly unanimous domestic opposition.

And so while I think that Atkins gets us some of the way to explaining the phenomenon that Chait identifies, there’s obviously something left unsettled. It’s hard to disagree with the conclusion that American foreign policy leftists in general are quite correct in the belief that they are effectively unrepresented by either of the two major parties, and that it has been thus for most of the twentieth century. Consistent criticism of Democratic Presidents, up to and including Obama, is from this perspective entirely to be expected, although such critiques could probably benefit from some comparative perspective. The civil liberties perspective is harder, because it doesn’t fit neatly into a left-right divide; many on the right hold views on “civil liberties” broadly conceived that are quite compatible with leftist attitudes, although generally for different reasons. There are also some inherent contradictions between pursuit of a socio-economically activist state and promotion of a strong vision of civil liberties, as the activist state inevitably tramples on some individual rights.

The JFK Vietnam Myth

[ 67 ] July 17, 2011 |

Worst president of the 20th century, I dunno, but the idea that Vietnam should be laid primarily at LBJ’s feet is ridiculous. I think Oliver Stone’s fervent belief that JFK’s assassination was inevitable because of his left-wing radicalism on foreign policy and civil rights makes JFK one of the funniest movies ever made…

War is Peace

[ 12 ] June 22, 2011 |

Military Industrial Complex

Report: 10,000 Troops Leaving Afghanistan This Year

Kerry and McCain United Behind the Mysteriously Urgent Libya Mission

Iraq Violence Intensifies as Talks Continue on U.S. Troop Presence

In principle it would be quite simple to waste the surplus labour of the world by building temples and pyramids, by digging holes and filling them up again, or even by producing vast quantities of goods and then setting fire to them. But this would provide only the economic and not the emotional basis for a hierarchical society. What is concerned here is not the morale of masses, whose attitude is unimportant so long as they are kept steadily at work, but the morale of the Party itself. Even the humblest Party member is expected to be competent, industrious, and even intelligent within narrow limits, but it is also necessary that he should be a credulous and ignorant fanatic whose prevailing moods are fear, hatred, adulation, and orgiastic triumph. In other words it is necessary that he should have the mentality appropriate to a state of war. It does not matter whether the war is actually happening, and, since no decisive victory is possible, it does not matter whether the war is going well or badly. All that is needed is that a state of war should exist.

Libya and the WPA

[ 36 ] June 18, 2011 |

I’ve essentially become resigned to executive branch domination of foreign policy — the only thing that can stop it is for Congress to actually assert its prerogatives, and there’s no reason to believe it will do so.    Still, the DOJ lawyers were right: the idea that the attacks on Libya don’t require congressional authorization is not serious, and it represents a further erosion of checks within the executive branch.

An Effective Repudiation of the Bush Approach

[ 71 ] May 2, 2011 |

Jennifer Rubin provides the inevitable spin, arguing that the killing of OBL vindicates the Bush approach of using military force — including an invasion of a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 and posed no significant security threat to the United States:

Third, this is why we went into Afghanistan and why George W. Bush decided that the United States would go on offense in the war against Islamic terrorism. We cannot sit home, play defense and hope for the best. It was President George W. Bush’s insight that we would need to take the fight to the jihadists. Without doing so, we could not have obtained the intelligence needed to kill the man behind Sept. 11.

A nice trick — putting things at this level of abstraction (“go on offense”) justifies any possible military reaction without requiring any actual argument. But the reality is rather different:

Yet it was not our sheer military or technological strength that finally finished off Osama Bin Laden on Sunday; it was human intelligence, careful preparation, and patience. We don’t know the whole story yet, and we might not hear it for some time. But according to first reports, an intelligence tip-off led U.S. analysts to Bin Laden’s trusted courier; observation of the courier then led special forces to Bin Laden’s compound, which has now been under surveillance for many months.

In other words, the killing of Osama Bin Laden did not take place in a hail of bombs and bullets, or after a shoot-out involving hundreds of troops. It was the result of careful preparation, followed by the competent execution of a plan.

Precisely why it was necessary to invade Iraq in order to obtain this information remains…unclear.

The Intervention Paradox

[ 0 ] April 25, 2011 |

In text form.

In cartoon form.

On Exceptionalism

[ 62 ] April 6, 2011 |

My WPR column this week is on American Exceptionalism:

Does the United States have a special responsibility to manage international affairs? This question has come to inform much of the debate about the role that the U.S. is currently playing in military operations over Libya. Glenn Greenwald of Salon has argued that the idea that the United States has the right to intervene in the internal politics of other countries has its source in a widespread acceptance of American Exceptionalism, the notion that the United States is different, special and privileged compared to other nations. Writing from a realist perspective, Stephen Walt echoed this claim, arguing that both neoconservatives and liberal interventionists hold exceptionalist views of the U.S. role in the world.

Both Greenwald and Walt suggest that the idea of American Exceptionalism has a destructive effect both on world politics and on U.S. domestic politics, with Greenwald phrasing the question in this way: “Does the U.S. indeed occupy a special place in the world, entitling and even obligating us to undertake actions that no other country is entitled or obligated to undertake? And, if so, what is the source of these entitlements and obligations? Is it merely our superior military power, or is there something else that has vested us with this perch of exceptionalism?”

Four points worthy of slightly longer discussion:

  • American Exceptionalism is, as a phenomenon, wholly unexceptional.  Almost every state or nation has an ideologically charged vision of its own relevance.  More powerful states tend to have the most expansive of such visions.  The French understanding of civilizing mission is an example of this, but there are obviously also Exceptionalist understandings of German, British, Japanese, Russian, Turkish, and Chinese global responsibilities.
  • Anyone who rises to the leadership of a major world power is extremely likely to have internalized some sort of Exceptionalist vision.  Anyone who rises to such a position without having internalized the Exceptionalist vision is  extremely likely to act as if they have internalized such a vision.
  • On the whole, these Exceptionalist understandings of foreign policy roles are probably unhelpful from several angles.  On the one hand, they detract from the rational, realist calculus of foreign policy means and interest that someone like Stephen Walt might prefer.  On the other hand, they tend to grant the presumptive, hypocritical “right of interference” in the affairs of others that so irritates Glenn Greenwald.
  • The case for “aspirational exceptionalism” is complicated, but I think there’s something there.  As I suggested, not all visions of American Exceptionalism are the same, and some (although not the strain most recently dominant) are actually anti-interventionist.  Consequently, I think that it can be worthwhile to try to fight the fight on the ground that Exceptionalists choose, although much care must be taken.  For example, I think that How Would a Patriot Act is most definitely a book that would fit comfortably in the “aspirational exceptionalist” milieu.
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