Another War of Jenkins' Ear

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Posts Tagged ‘foreign policy

Ron Paul Is Not Leading a Foreign Policy Revolution

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Andrew Sullivan believes that Ron Paul is needed in the GOP race in order to lead a wave of foreign policy change:

But the point of [Paul’s] candidacy is not necessarily to win, but to open up the foreign policy debate. And when you look at the move of the GOP in the last few years away from big government conservatism to a more Paulite view of the role of the state, I think his importance is under-stated. Most of all, he has integrity, even if you think he’s way off the map ideologically. Very few of his rivals have that kind of character. Some of them seem to have had careers and lives that scream out against it. Palin, Gingrich, Trump, and Romney are all obvious liars, positioners and, to a greater or lesser extent, frauds. I’d put Huntsman, Daniels, Santorum, and Johnson in a group as exceptions to this rule. But Ron Paul heads the pack – in consistency, integrity and sincerity.

Steve Kornacki‘s post at Salon reveals what is obvious: that Paul is only a needed candidacy for political junkies:

The biggest winner may be political junkies, who will probably find the coming GOP presidential debates far more interesting with Paul in them, especially when the subject turns to foreign policy. Paul’s appearance on Sean Hannity’s show last night offered a preview of what we can expect. When the subject turned to America’s relationship with the Muslim world, Paul refused to engage in the kind of Muslim-baiting that has become de rigueur for Republican politicians.

Kornacki also is clear on the limits of Paul’s support:

[T]here’s a clear ceiling on Paul’s support. A passionate, not insignificant chunk of the Republican base is receptive to him and his message. But most of the conservative establishment is openly hostile to him, partly because of his adamantly non-interventionist foreign policy views and partly because he can be so easily painted as a fringe figure. Elite conservative opinion-shapers long ago succeeded in marginalizing Paul within the GOP. This point was driven home at CPAC the past two years. Each time, Paul won the annual presidential straw poll (with well under 50 percent of the vote), setting off jubilant cheers from his supporters — and angry boos from just about everyone else in the room. Recall also that Fox News actually blocked Paul from participating in the final GOP debate before the 2008 GOP primary — even though he had just finished ahead of Rudy Giuliani (and tied with Fred Thompson) in Iowa.

The problem that Sullivan doesn’t even attempt to grasp is that in his rush to embrace Paul’s foreign policy ideas, he’s inadvertantly unleashed Paul’s completely idiotic monetary policies on the world. E.D. Kain addressed this earlier today regarding FGary Johnson:

Probably the best argument against supporting Johnson is this: supporting a candidate based on a single-issue alliance is not as effective as supporting a cause.

It’s also more dangerous because if that cause becomes too embodied by that candidate, then the rest of his ideas – like abolishing the Fed, for instance – can then become conflated with the good cause as well. And so you weaken and undermine those ideas by associating them too closely with the bad ideas of the candidate you supported. You see this with Ron Paul, who has very good and decent positions on foreign intervention and the security state, but who is way off in crazy Austrian land when it comes to economics and goldbuggery.

It’s important to build up support for these ideas from the bottom up rather than from the top down. If you want a more anti-war, civil-liberties-based liberalism than you have to argue for it, work with activists to build up grass-roots support for those policies, and vote for local and state candidates who support those ideas. Making a deal with the devil may be a dramatic and appealing way to register one’s dissent, but it’s more than likely counter-productive. A show of support for Johnson’s anti-drug-war policies is just as easily taken as support for slashing public support for healthcare and education, or for busting public sector unions.

I understand Sullivan’s frustration even if I don’t completely share it. He wants a much, much more limited foreign policy has a large blog and still has had little progress in achieving that goal.

But left unsaid by Sullivan is that Ron Paul ran four years ago. In the years since, despite Paul having record money showered upon him, we’ve seen no indication whatsoever that the core of the GOP was changed by that engagement. If anything, they’re worse than ever given the antipathy towards Muslims that Obama’s Presidency has unwittingly revealed. By contrast, a giant part of the GOP is now out to burn the Federal Reserve to the ground metaphorically. Ron Paul is teaching Michele Bachmann about the Fed, not about the war in Iraq. Someone should notice that at some point.

Paul has no say on foreign policy in this Congress, but he does have a key subcommittee post on monetary policy. I watched Paul on the Colbert Report last night, and Paul spent more time taking on the Federal Reserve than talking about foreign policy.

At some point, it’s time to put away niche candidacies, even if you would like the niche, because there are bigger things at stake. I’d like Andrew Sullivan to admit that Ron Paul has doine more harm to America monetarily than good militarily. Find a more responsible candidate if you need drastic foreign policy change. It’s irresponsible to support Paul for that purpose anymore.

More bluntly, it’s time to stop wishing about what candidate Sullivan wishes Ron Paul was and to start looking at what candidate Ron Paul is.

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Written by John Whitehouse

April 26, 2011 at 2:48 pm

SHOCK: Obama Believes in Executive Power

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Can anyone square the circle this paragraph presents:

The answer surprised many in the room because Clinton plainly admitted the administration would ignore any and all attempts by Congress to shackle President Obama’s power as commander in chief to make military and wartime decisions. In doing so, he would follow a long line of Presidents who have ignored the act since its passage, deeming it an unconstitutional encroachment on executive power.

It’s shocking that a President agrees with previous Presidents on executive power?! I have no idea why this is surprising to anyone. But I’m also expecting this to become the new scandal for the far left.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 30, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Andrew Sullivan Can’t Read

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Deciding that calling Samantha Power the new version of Bill Kristol (I eagerly await Kristol’s version of this article) and glossing over all the differences between the two (Power opposed the war in Iraq and wanted to get out quickly)

Juan Cole gets at the silliness of this sort of comparison:

Allowing the Neoconservatives to brand humanitarian intervention as always their sort of project does a grave disservice to international law and institutions, and gives them credit that they do not deserve, for things in which they do not actually believe.

Sullivan quotes two objections from OTB: first that there is inconsistency in when responsibility to protect is applied (well no shit, Sherlock); secondly, that “there is an absolute sense of certainty that causes people to ignore the facts on the ground.” Regarding Libya, this is because “it’s absolutely certainty that merely being guided by the desire to “help” people is sufficient to accomplish their goals, meaning that there’s no need to worry about the fact that the rebels you’re protecting are allied with a terrorist group.”

Well of course both those facts are true. No one says that they are not.

There is not a single person in the world claiming the United States is being perfectly consistent. Not one. But there are other facts: that Gaddafi’s actions were reasonably threatening to be worse than just about anywhere; that there was a regional buy in for action, and third that it was easy to do. There’s certainly terrorist elements among the rebels. And there’s terrorist elements among Gaddafi’s forces too (I think the history speaks for itself, or maybe his behavior at least does). But we can quantify who that is, not just speculate wildly.

Secondly, there’s people out there saying (re: this) that this might fail, but it’s a worthwhile chance to take. Obama wants to give the rebels a chance to take Gaddafi down, not to guarantee he will. To quote Tom Ricks from Sunday’s Meet the Press: Give war a chance. There are real costs to inaction on Libya. Sullivan ignores them all.

What Sullivan is doing is trolling for any anti-intervention article, no matter how poorly written, excerpting whatever he first sees that he emotionally agrees with, and then running it along side outrageous accusations in headlines; he augments that with poorly researched screeds calling supporters glib when he doesn’t even mention the rationales for this intervention. If someone had made this poor a case against the Iraq war, 2003 Andrew Sullivan would take it apart instead of resorting to cheap parlor tricks of calling the writer a fifth columnist.

Written by John Whitehouse

March 30, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Vision for Foreign Policy and the Budget

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Matt Yglesias:

Basically DHE is saying here that thanks to Obama’s decision to go to war, the previous tensions that had been building up inside the conservative coalition on this point are now easing and the whole right-of-center establishment will get behind the idea that the Pentagon shouldn’t be cut.

This is one reason why I think left-of-center hawks have been way to blithe about dismissing the fiscal concerns surrounding this mission. It’s true that nothing about claiming that you’re going to establish a no-fly zone in Libya and then instead offering tactical air support to rebel groups forces you to slash spending on global public health. But the mission in Libya is a shot in the arm for the politics of wasteful defense spending, and unduly high equilibrium levels of defense spending encourage further cost-ineffective “humanitarian” military adventures.

There’s a reason the budget is so high, though, and it’s not missions like Libya – it’s missions like Afghanistan and Iraq. Whether Libya was the right humanitarian intervention is a question for another post. It seems reasonable to believe the United States will be doing some sort of low-risk medium-interest humanitarian interventions under Democratic Presidents going forward (see: Haiti, the Balkans, etc.). Some will be good ideas, some won’t be, some will have good planning, some won’t. But none of them are going to be particularly expensive.

What is expensive is maintaining expensive and mostly fruitless nation-building programs in Iraq and Afganistan. Juan Cole makes this point here, that Libya is the type of intervention the US should be doing, not Afghanistan. If we really want to lower defense spending in the long run, we need to start convincing legislators of lesser footprints of American military actions, even if that may come with lesser certainty as well.

The path to a small military is not through avoiding Libyas, for positive or negative; it’s through avoiding Afghanistans.

(So yes, the worst possible solution in Libya would be escalating. A stalemate is preferable in many meaningful ways to American interests – and some humanitarian ones.)

Written by John Whitehouse

March 29, 2011 at 2:06 pm

There’s No Easy Answer on Consistency in Foreign Policy

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Jumping off Eugene Robinson, Matt Yglesias sees that Arab dictators are using fighting Gaddafi as a means to deflect attention from their own crackdowns. He continues:

This is why it’s so nuts for intervention enthusiasts to dismiss out of hand the obvious concerns that have been raised about US-subsidized regimes in Yemen, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia attacking un-armed protestors even as we intervene militarily in Libya to halt repression. There’s an obvious question as to what, in reality, American policy in the Arab world is. Is this part of a policy of boosting democratic change in the region, or is it part of a policy of bolstering the position of the Persian Gulf dictators who are important clients of American arms manufacturers?

This is not a new or unforeseen problem either. The Second Additional Procotol to the Geneva Conventions foresaw this; it applies to non-international armed conflicts, but specifically does “not apply to situations of internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated and sporadic acts of violence and other acts of a similar nature.”  From the very drafting of the Geneva Conventions it was foreseen that countries would suppress riots, even democratically justified ones.

In fact, the Protocol only applies when “armed forces [of the country] and dissident armed forces or other organized armed groups which, under responsible command, exercise such control over a part of its territory as to enable them to carry out sustained and concerted military operations and to implement this Protocol.”

Firing on protesters is morally repugnant. In their actions, the governments of Syria, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and more almost certainly committed violations of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

And yet, facing an entire region under the control (as Yglesias notes) of an armed dissident group is a legally different situation (provided the Benghazi rebels implemented the Protocol; I have no idea if this was the case). Without going too much into the geopolitical aspects (of which I am not an expert) there are justifications for treating the events in Libya more seriously, especially as Gaddafi went on the offensive. In any event, now that foreign countries are involved, it is now subject to Protocol I, not Protocol II

Quick point on geopolitics: as Juan Cole and others say, it’s clear that Gaddafi is more a threat regionally if unchecked, even if Benghazi itself may not be. By contrast, the biggest cash crop in Yemen is probably US aid to fight Al Qaeda. Someone else will get that when Saleh is gone.(And eventually he will be).

Yglesias is understating just how little influence the United States has on the Gulf States as a matter of policy: an addict can’t tell a drug dealer how to live his life, and neither can the United States really change much in Bahrain:

For the United States, the intervention is a slap in the face. On Saturday, March 12, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Bahrain, where he called for real reforms to the country’s political system and criticized “baby steps,” which he said would be insufficient to defuse the crisis. The Saudis were called in within a few hours of Gates’s departure, however, showing their disdain for his efforts to reach a negotiated solution. By acting so soon after Gates’s visit, Saudi Arabia has made the United States look at best irrelevant to events in Bahrain, and from the Shiite opposition’s point of view, even complicit in the Saudi military intervention.

. . .

The crown prince is well aware that the Saudi intervention only makes a negotiated solution to this crisis more challenging, so it is difficult to imagine that he invited the Saudis into Bahrain. The more liberal Khalifas, such as the crown prince, know very well that the only way out of the crisis is to obtain the resignation of the prime minister and some of the more extreme Sunni ministers.

However, the prime minister — with whom Gates did not meet with during his weekend visit — does not appear to have any intention of resigning and is the most likely figure behind the invitation to the Saudis to intervene. Although details are still sketchy, he is likely joining with the Saudi king to pass the message to the United States that he is in charge and no one can tell him what to do. Furthermore, it signals that the Saudis agree with Bahrain’s conservatives that the Shiite must be reined in rather than negotiated with, even at the cost of telling the United States to kiss off.

The Bahrain charge implicating Gates in the crackdown is prevalent on Twitter and elsewhere online. Despite the fact that there’s no evidence (Wikileaks anyone?) that Gates actually meant for this to happen – indeed, it just makes the US look worse to have him implicated. Sec. Clinton did condemn the Bahraini government, but the message was muddled because of the worrying influence of Iran. It seems clear in the Gulf the Saudis and Iran are competing regionally by having a race to the bottom in terms of autocracy. How can the US break that cycle? Condemning crackdowns isn’t going to do it, that’s for sure. No matter how strong the language is. By contrast, events in Africa are more malleable. Should the United States let Benghazi burn because there’s no clear path to reform in Bahrain? That seems excessive.

And seriously, does anyone anywhere think the United States can dictate anything to Saudi Arabia on how to treat any of it’s people? Seriously? If we haven’t done so by now I don’t think it’s happening.

Back to Yemen, does anyone think more active involvement on the ground from the United States would help? I agree wholly with Gregory Johnsen that the U.S. should be more noticeably condemning violence in Yemen, but that’s relatively minor compared to talk of intervention and what have you.  The range of opinions on Yemen goes from “wait and see” to “call for him to leave, then wait and see”.

The US, the UK, and the EU are not the bad guys here, but their combined policy and public posturing could have been much wiser and much more proactive.  As it was, the US has consistently been behind the curve in Yemen, making reactive statements that lead many to believe it will never part with Salih because of his support on AQAP.  But make no mistake the responsibility for yesterday’s deaths falls on the shoulders of the Yemeni government.

Following yesterday’s attack President Obama strongly condemned the violence, but stopped short of calling for President Salih to step down.  I hope that privately the US is pressuring him to leave, but most sources suggest that this is not the case.  The US is too concerned about what will happen with AQAP if Salih leaves.

(I think this is a mistake and the longer Salih stays and the more the US is seen to be supporting him, the worse the AQAP problem will eventually be.  My opinion, however, has been dismissed.)

Obama did make a mistake here. But even if he didn’t, there would still be a discrepancy in policy compared to Libya. That’s a result of different (though similar) geopolitical situations.

But this is why the categorical imperative is a bad guide to foreign policy, or even policy in general. In the face of a laundry list of bad policies, you can’t fix everything at once, but you ought to try to move in the right direction. It’s easier to do that in Libya because the United States has a giant military, Britain and France are embarrassed (for Libya and Tunisia respectively), Gaddafi is a regional pariah who if left uncheck with billions could very well threaten progress in Egypt and Tunisia,  and the UN resolution sets clear limits at least on the type of force that will be employed.

It’d feel lovely to have the same policy every time an Arab revolt happens, but circumstances are so different in every country that it’s virtually impossible to do that.

Moreover, I’d argue that the United States should do more small-scale humanitarian interventions and less giant train wreck operations that are one in a million for turning out right. Bosnia and Kosovo weren’t perfect operations, but they were somewhat successful and actually led to tribunals. The NYT this weekend editorialized for more peacekeepers in the Ivory Coast. That’d be a great start. There’s a lot of work to do in the Sudan that requires constant U.S. engagement. Do that too.

In conclusion, I’d argue that instead of bemoaning the lack of consistency like Immanuel Kant when someone interrupted his daily routine, we should argue for what the United States ought do. On that, there’s plenty to be done. I don’t know that I’m right on anything (seriously, this could all backfire spectacularly.) But I’m not convinced by people basically concern trolling foreign policy because they have a deadline. That’s not a luxury or burden the State Department has.

Oh, and read Tom Ricks because he’s far smarter than I am.