“Avoiding A Costly Military Enterprise”: Republicans Wrong About Every Foreign Policy Conflict Of The Last Few Decades
Late last week, with tenuous evidence emerging of the Assad regime possibly having used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) expressed his ongoing frustration with the Obama administration. “I’m worried that the president and the administration will use the caveats as an excuse to not act right away or to not act at all,” he told Fox News.
McCain’s not the only Republican who feels this way — the fact that President Obama may look for “excuses” not to use the U.S. military to intervene in an another Middle Eastern country is a growing point of conservative consternation, as opposed to relief. On “Fox News Sunday,” Brit Hume sounded pretty disappointed when he described Syria as “a costly military enterprise of the kind that this president now seems to loath to undertake.”
As if that were grounds for criticism.
On the same program, Bill Kristol went further:
“This is not a president who wants to start another war, that’s the way he sees it. I think it’s totally irresponsible for the American president to have that. Nobody wants to start wars, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
I’m not entirely sure “you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do” is a sensible principle for U.S. foreign policy as it relates to launching yet another war in the Middle East, but Kristol seemed rather confident in his position. And it’s not like Kristol has a tragically awful track record on these issues, right?
And on “Face the Nation,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) went just a little further still.
“[F]our things are going to happen if we don’t change course in Syria. It’s going to become a failed state by the end of the year. It’s fracturing along sectarian/ethnic lines. It’s going to be an al Qaeda safe haven.
“The second thing, the chemical weapons, enough to kill millions of people, are going to be compromised and fall into the wrong hands. And the next bomb that goes off in America may not have nails and glass in it.”
Yep, it sure sounds like Graham believes the U.S. has to intervene in Syria or we’ll face a chemical weapon attack on American soil. The “smoking gun as a mushroom cloud” argument didn’t go away; it just evolved.
For his part, John McCain, making his ninth Sunday show appearance of the year — the most of anyone in the country — now believes President Obama is to blame, at least in part, for the Assad regime’s offensives.
“What has happened here is the president drew red lines about chemical weapons thereby giving a green light to Bashar Assad to do anything short of that — including scud missiles and helicopter gunships and air strikes and mass executions and atrocities that are on a scale that we have not seen in a long, long time,” McCain said.
The senator, who has the misfortune of being wrong about nearly every foreign policy conflict of the last few decades, added that he does not want the U.S. to invade Syria, but prefers to give “assistance” to rebels fighting the Assad regime.
Many of those same rebels, it’s worth emphasizing, have already pledged allegiance to al Qaeda, a detail McCain generally prefers to overlook when he argues we should give them resources and weapons.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 29, 2013
“Cheney And Deep Doo Doo”: It Was Dick Cheney That Let North Korea Get Nuclear Weapons In The First Place
Guess who’s offering congressional Republicans guidance on foreign policy?
Former Vice President Dick Cheney discussed tensions on the Korean peninsula with Republican leaders in Congress in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, warning them that the United States was in danger.
“We’re in deep doo doo,” Cheney told lawmakers, according to CNN, which first reported the talk.
Rep. Steve Southerland (Fla.) who attended the 10-minute meeting with GOP leaders said Cheney called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un unpredictable and, citing his own experience dealing with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, said “you never know what they’re thinking.”
How reassuring. Cheney thinks he’s qualified to speak about U.S. policy towards North Korea because of his “experience” with Saddam Hussein — as if Cheney’s role in shaping U.S. policy in Iraq has value and applicability now.
Incidentally, why, pray tell, was Cheney helping lead a closed-door with congressional Republicans? Because Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the #3 person in the House GOP leadership, invited the former vice president to speak.
I mention this because it’s not as if Cheney cornered these guys and Republican lawmakers were forced into listening to the failed former V.P. They wanted to hear from him and thought they’d benefit from his guidance.
Indeed, they seemed delighted to have been offered words of wisdom from Cheney. That his entire foreign policy worldview has been thoroughly discredited, his credibility on foreign policy and national security has been exposed as a pathetic joke, and the damage he’s done to the United States will take generations to heal, apparently didn’t dissuade House Republicans from taking the guy seriously.
But before we move on, let’s pause briefly to reflect on how it is we ended up in “deep doo doo.” After all, it was Dick Cheney that let North Korea get nuclear weapons in the first place.
As we discussed last week, the Clinton administration negotiated an Agreed Framework with North Korea in 1994, which was successful in “bottling up North Korea’s nuclear program for eight years,” and which eased the crisis on the peninsula. In March 2001, Colin Powell said Bush/Cheney would pick up where Clinton/Gore had left off.
The Bush/Cheney White House then immediately rebuked Powell, forced him to walk back his position, and rejected the Agreed Framework. Kim Jong-il hoped for a new round of negotiations, but the Republican administration refused. As Cheney himself put it, “We don’t negotiate with evil — we defeat it.” The Republican president instead added North Korea to an “axis of evil.”
By 2002, North Korea unlocked its fuel rods, kicked out international weapons inspectors, and became more aggressive in pursuing a nuclear weapons program. In response, “Bush didn’t take military action, he didn’t call for sanctions, nor did he try diplomacy” — instead focusing his energies on selling the United States on the need for a disastrous war in Iraq.
Indeed, Bush and Cheney argued at the time that the U.S. had to hurry up and invade Iraq before it could acquire nuclear weapons, effectively telling North Korea that the way to avoid an invasion was to advance its nuclear program as quickly as possible — which it did.
As a result, North Korea became a nuclear state on Bush/Cheney’s watch, and paid no price for its actions. The world is left with an isolated dictatorship, craving attention, and playing with the most dangerous weapons the world has ever known.
Thanks, Dick, for the fascinating insights on “doo doo.”
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 10, 2013
In a speech at the University of Louisville this week, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) warned against U.S. “retreat” from the world, which he claimed would result in a vacuum filled by “chaos” and “tyranny.”
These remarks have been interpreted as a rebuke to the foreign policy views of Rubio’s colleague and possible 2016 rival, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). But they are more important than an example of intra-party feuding. These statements reflect the seriously flawed assumptions of Rubio and other hawkish interventionists about what American engagement in the world requires, and they reveal just how alarmist and outdated Rubio’s worldview is. And it is because Rubio’s worldview continues to be the one that prevails among Republican leaders that it merits closer inspection.
“This is what will replace us on the global stage: chaos and tyranny,” Rubio warned. On one level, this is rather crude fear-mongering, but there is more to Rubio’s argument than that. When he warned that “chaos” and “tyrannical governments” will fill a void left by U.S. “retreat,” Rubio was showing his continued reliance on the arguments of Robert Kagan, whose book, The World America Made, Rubio referred to frequently in his foreign policy address at the Brookings Institution last year.
It has become a common hawkish refrain that the U.S. cannot withdraw from any conflict or reduce its commitments anywhere in the world without inviting either chaos or risking the increased influence of authoritarian major powers or both. Kagan has been one of the strongest proponents of this view, and Rubio appears to have adopted most of Kagan’s arguments. This view both overstates the importance of an extremely activist U.S. foreign policy for international stability and underestimates the ability of rising democratic powers to assume regional responsibilities.
The idea that U.S. preeminence in the world must necessarily be “replaced” by the global dominance of authoritarian governments hasn’t made any sense in over 20 years. Today, major authoritarian powers are significantly less powerful and less ambitious in their foreign policy goals than America’s 20th century rivals. Today, many of the world’s rising powers are democratic and have no interest in falling in line behind Chinese or Russian “leadership.” So the implication in Rubio’s speech that there is a danger of another state becoming the world’s predominant military power is sheer alarmism designed to justify an exorbitant military budget that is larger in real terms than it was at the height of the Reagan-era build-up. The fear of being surpassed militarily by another major power has rarely been more unfounded, and the danger to the U.S. from pursuing a less activist role abroad has rarely been smaller. Rubio’s vision of America’s role takes none of this into account.
Another flaw in Rubio’s thinking: His definition of what constitutes engagement with and “retreat” from the world is heavily skewed by his apparent conviction that the U.S. should regularly entangle itself in the internal conflicts of other countries. According to that definition, failing to intervene or to become more involved in the conflict in Syria, for example, is viewed as equivalent to “disengagement.” Rubio wanted a larger, faster intervention in Libya, and he wants greater U.S. involvement in Syria as well. While he said that that the U.S. shouldn’t be involved in “every civil war and every conflict,” Rubio’s record to date shows that he has yet to see a high-profile foreign conflict in which he didn’t want the U.S. heavily involved.
There is no danger that the U.S. will cease to engage with the rest of the world. But there are very real dangers that U.S. foreign policy will remain overly militarized and excessively confrontational toward other states. Rubio’s foreign policy would require more of both. The greatest damage to international peace and stability that the U.S. can do is if it keeps resorting to force to handle crises and disputes as often in this decade as it did in the last. Support for “retreat” is the last thing that Americans need to worry about from their policymakers and political leaders, many of whom remain only too eager to find reasons to sound the attack.
By: Daniel Larison, Contributing Editor at The American Conservative, The Week, March 29, 2013
“Because It’ll Be Different This Time”: Lindsey Graham Calls For American Boots On The Ground In Syria
I often think these people do this kind of thing just to get under our skin. Here’s Lindsey Graham, speaking on the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, speaking to Foreign Policy magazine:
Graham told The Cable in an interview Tuesday that whether or not the attack can be confirmed as the first use of chemical weapons in the 24-month Syrian civil war, the United States must devise and implement a plan to secure Syrian chemical weapons sites and deploy U.S. troops to do it if necessary.
“My biggest fear beyond an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is the chemical weapons in Syria falling in the hands of extremists and Americans need to lead on this issue. We need to come up with a plan to secure these weapons sites, either in conjunction with our partners [or] if nothing else by ourselves,” Graham said.
Asked if he would support sending U.S. troops inside Syria for the mission, Graham said yes.
“Absolutely, you’ve got to get on the ground. There is no substitute for securing these weapons,” he said. “I don’t care what it takes. We need partners in the region. But I’m here to say, if the choice is to send in troops to secure the weapons sites versus allowing chemical weapons to get in the hands of some of the most violent people in the world, I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem.”
Evidently it was not chemical weapons, but I’m sure that won’t stop ol’ Lindsey. “I don’t care what it takes.”
Does making these comments take more or less gall than Rummy with that tweet this morning? Can you believe he tweeted: “10 yrs ago began the long, difficult work of liberating 25 mil Iraqis. All who played a role in history deserve our respect & appreciation.”
Wow. The one silver lining of this Rand Paul ascension is that he would put these kooks out of business. Although I already see that they’re getting to him. Madness. So little has changed really.
By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 20, 2013
Former Sen. Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense was really never much in doubt, despite the clamorous complaints of a few vocal conservatives. Still, Hagel’s likely confirmation has gained additional support in recent weeks that make his success all but certain. Despite the concerted efforts of a few outside Republican interest groups and a steady stream of hostile coverage from conservative media outlets, Hagel has received the public support of numerous former national security officials, diplomats, and retired military officers, as well as securing endorsements from several senators even before his hearing began today. Excluding members of the Bush administration, Hagel’s nomination has been endorsed by every living former secretary of defense and secretary of state. Faced with an unprecedented campaign of character assassination and misrepresentation in the media, Hagel has become a rallying point for Americans across the political spectrum interested in greater prudence and restraint in the way the U.S. acts overseas.
While it shouldn’t make a difference to the final outcome, Sen. Lindsey Graham’s threat to put a hold on Hagel’s nomination until outgoing Secretary Leon Panetta testifies on the Benghazi attack is a reminder that issues that are mostly irrelevant to Hagel’s competence to run the Defense Department have dominated the debate over this appointment. Hawkish Republicans have argued that then-Sen. Hagel’s relatively mild dissent on issues related to Israel and Iran disqualify him for the job. However, most of these have no bearing on the responsibilities Hagel will have at the Pentagon, and those that do should increase the public’s confidence in Hagel rather than undermine it. This has underscored the overwhelmingly ideological nature of the campaign against him, which has had more to do with policing what current and future politicians can say on foreign policy than it does with selecting the right people to serve in the Cabinet.
So it appears that the anti-Hagel campaign has failed. The Democratic defections that conservatives coveted never materialized, and this week, the first Republican, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, announced his support for the nomination. The anti-Hagel campaign has mainly managed to waste its donors’ money, and it has made the politicians that have sided with it appear foolish and bellicose, and all for the sake of “taking a stand” against a nominee who, lest we forget, is a Republican.
Still, at least 15 Senate Republicans have declared their opposition to Hagel or are reported to be leaning in that direction, which reflects just how committed a large number of the party’s leaders still are to a hard-line foreign policy vision that has brought the GOP and the country nothing but woe for the last decade. The failure of the anti-Hagel effort could be a final straw that breaks the hold that the worst hard-liners have had on the party, but so far, there is not much evidence of that. In the meantime, the message that most people will receive is that leading Republicans have learned nothing from their past failures and seek retribution against those in their party that have.
After all, Hagel was one of the few national Republican figures who saw the potential pitfalls in Iraq before the invasion, and later came to recognize the full extent of the folly of the U.S. war there. Most of his Republican colleagues in Washington have still not fully reckoned with the disastrous decision to invade in 2003, and to make matters worse, they insist on holding Hagel’s skepticism about the wisdom of attacking Iran against him. Each charge they make against Hagel for being too “soft” on Iran bounces back on them and marks them as the reflexively, dangerously aggressive people that they are.
The good news for the country is that a competent and qualified nominee for the Defense post will almost certainly be approved by the Senate in the near future. Unfortunately, a large number of Hagel’s fellow Republicans have done their best to use this confirmation process to inflict even more damage on their party’s battered reputation on foreign policy and national security. Hagel’s nomination should have been a chance for Republicans to start repairing the party’s image in the eyes of the public. They are well on their way to squandering it.
ByDaniel Larison, The Week, January 31, 2013