“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
In a meditation on reactions to the Boston bombings and the apparent identification of the perpetrators, TAP’s Paul Waldman says something profound:
Let’s be honest and admit that everyone had a hope about who the Boston bomber would out to be. Conservatives hoped it would be some swarthy Middle Easterner, which would validate their belief that the existential threat from Islam is ongoing and that their preferred policies are the best way to deal with that threat. Liberals hoped it would be a Timothy McVeigh-like character, some radical right-winger or white supremacist, which would perhaps make us all think more broadly about terrorism and what the threats really are. The truth turned out to be … well, we don’t really know yet. Assuming these two brothers are indeed the bombers, they’re literally Caucasian, but they’re also Muslim. Most importantly, as of yet we know absolutely nothing about what motivated them. Nothing. Keep that in mind.
But for many people, their motivations are of no concern; all that matters is their identity.
He goes on to talk about the tendency of U.S. conservatives to reduce large proportions of the human race–including many Americans–to an identity-imputed barbarism that makes them perfect enemies and thus not worth understanding. But it’s sometimes a problem for liberals as well–certainly those who assume that being a white Christian male from the South is an identity that connotes an incorrigible cultural and political enemy (you can see why that might bother me).
But there are two other reasons liberals ought to be especially careful about identity politics–it abolishes the restraining power, real if sometimes attenuated, of universalistic liberal values on those who would otherwise run amok with greed and other forms of tribal and individual self-interest, and it sets up a power contest between identity groups in which those who already have power–typically wealthy white men–are probably going to win. Even if you buy a “fundamentals” analysis of politics as mainly about who we are and what we are statistically likely to believe or vote for, there is a zone, sometimes small but critical, of shared values and rational persuasion that matters on the margins all of the time and in the center of political discourse at least some of the time. That narrow zone is sometimes what separates democratic politics from the ethos of the Thirty Years War.
Look, we all make judgments about groups of people who are antagonistic to our point of view. I routinely say highly disparaging things about the conservative movement and the Republican Party, as they exist today. But I do try to pay attention to what they actually say and their justifications for saying it, which is why, to the anger of some of my political allies, I tend to take conservatives at their word that they believe zygotes are human beings or that the weight of history militates in changes in family structure or that capitalism is the only successful model for wealth creation. I could just dismiss them all as depraved crypto-fascists or as puppets for various puppet-masters, but if that’s the case, what’s the point of writing or contending over politics?
There are real and obvious meta-forces in political life that transcend reason or empirical data or any effort at persuasion, and they are often associated with “politicized identities.”But if we don’t constantly try to understand the motivations beneath these identities and pry them loose into that free air where sweet reason and cooperation can take hold, then we surrender to tribal instincts and a politics of pure power in which not one of us truly ever matter.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 19, 2013
This week has been filled with Iraq War recriminations and re-evaluations. While official Washington was strangely silent about the 10th anniversary of the start of the conflict, journalists and intellectuals have been (predictably) more vocal. Prominent neocons have reaffirmed, with minor caveats, their support for the war. Some (erstwhile) liberal hawks have issued full-throated mea culpas. Other liberals, meanwhile, have tried to have it both ways, denouncing the war they once supported while praising its outcome. And of course, lots of people who opposed the war from the beginning, on the right and left, have declared vindication.
My own position on the war fits into none of these categories. Ten years ago, I was working as an editor at First Things, a monthly magazine that’s aptly been described as the New York Review of Books of the religious right. (And no, that’s not oxymoronic.) The magazine strongly supported George W. Bush’s original conception of the War on Terror, and so did I. In his speech to Congress and the nation on September 20, 2001, Bush stated that the United States would seek to decimate al Qaeda as well as every other terrorist groups of global reach. To this day I remain committed to that goal and willing to support aggressive military action (including the use of drone strikes) to achieve it. But thanks in large part to the Iraq War, I no longer consider myself a Republican or a man of the right.
The reason I continue (like President Obama) to support the original vision of the War on Terror is that it was and is based on a correct judgment of the fundamental difference between (stateless) terrorists and traditional (state-based) military opponents. Even the most bloodthirsty tyrant will invariably temper his actions in war out of a concern for how his adversary will respond, and he will likewise act out of a concern for maintaining and maximizing his own power. Political leaders can thus be deterred by actions (and threats of action) by other states. Members of al-Qaeda-like groups, by contrast, seek in all cases to inflict the maximum possible number of indiscriminate deaths on their enemies and demonstrate no concern about the lives of their members. They are therefore undeterrable, which means that the only way to combat them is to destroy them.
Unfortunately, the right began to disregard the crucial distinction between terrorists and states right around the time of the January 2002 State of the Union speech, when President Bush broadened the scope of the War on Terror to include an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. After that, the mood among conservatives began to grow fierce. Some columnists denied the effectiveness of deterrence against states and advocated unilateral preventive war to overthrow hostile regimes instead. Others openly promoted American imperialism. Still others explicitly proposed that the United States act to topple the governments of a series of sovereign nations in the Muslim Middle East, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
And these were the intellectually respectable suggestions, published in mainstream newspapers and long-established journals of opinion. Farther down the media hierarchy, on cable news, websites, and blogs, conservatives of all stripes closed ranks, unleashing a verbal barrage on any and all who dissented from a united front in favor of unapologetic American military muscle. The participants in this endless pep rally were insistent on open-ended war, overtly hostile to dissent, and thoroughly unforgiving of the slightest criticism of the United States abroad. Self-congratulation and self-righteousness ruled the day.
Alarmed by the transformation on the right and in the magazine’s offices, I wrote a lengthy email in October 2002 to a number of my fellow conservatives, explaining why I thought it would be a serious mistake to turn Iraq into the next front in the War on Terror. My reasons had nothing to do with the administration’s claims about Saddam Hussein’s arsenal of weapons of mass destruction; like all commentators on the right, most independent observers, and large numbers of intelligence agencies around the world, I assumed that Hussein either possessed or was actively working to acquire such weapons. Neither was I overly concerned about worldwide public opinion. I objected to what I judged to be three erroneous assumptions on the part of conservatives inside and outside the Bush administration.
First, I believed the administration was wrong to claim that Hussein could not be deterred. In fact, he already had been. In the first Gulf War, Hussein refrained from using chemical weapons against our troops on the battlefield and against Israel in his inept Scud-missile attacks on Tel Aviv. Why? Because before the start of the war James Baker and Dick Cheney sent messages through diplomatic channels to the Iraqi dictator, informing him that we would respond to any use of WMD with a nuclear strike. Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Arens made similar threats. And they worked. Yes, Hussein was a brutal dictator, but he could be deterred.
Second, it was foolish to believe (as Paul Wolfowitz and others on the right apparently did) that overthrowing Hussein would lead to the creation of a liberal democracy in Iraq that would, in turn, inspire democratic reforms throughout the Middle East. This view displayed an ignorance of (or, more likely, indifference toward) the competing ethnic and religious forces that prevailed in different regions of Iraq as well as a typically American optimism about the spontaneous capacity of all human beings in all times, places, and cultures for self-government. Rather than inspiring the formation of liberal democracies throughout the region, an Iraqi invasion could very well empower the very forces of radical Islam that the War on Terror rightly aimed to destroy.
Third, the right was making a serious mistake in assuming that doing nothing about Iraq was inevitably more dangerous than doing something. The U.S. got caught with its pants down on 9/11, and the fear of it happening again was leading the Bush administration to formulate policies based entirely on negative evidence. The super-hawks advocating preventive war seemed more persuasive than those urging a more cautious approach because the former placed an ominous black box at the core of their deliberations — a black box containing all the horrors of our worst post-September 11 nightmares. But reasoning on that basis could be used to justify absolutely anything, and so, I concluded, it was a reckless guide to action.
None of my friends and colleagues on the right responded to the arguments in my email, and few even acknowledged receiving it. By breaking from the right-wing consensus in favor of unconditional bellicosity, I had gone rogue. Over the next year and a half, as the victorious invasion became a bloody mess of an occupation and these same friends and colleagues refused to admit — to me or to themselves, let alone to the public — that they had made a massive mistake, I drifted away from the right and never looked back. (There were other factors, too.)
My dissent had nothing to do with principles; it was a matter of prudence or judgment. On foreign policy, Republicans had become the stupid party. And so it remains 10 years later.
By: Damon Linker, The Week, March 22, 2013
“Most Antagonistic Toward Israel?”:That Would Be Ronald Reagan’s Defense Secretary, Something Lindsey Graham Should Know
When Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) warned on national television over the weekend that Chuck Hagel “would be the most antagonistic secretary of defense toward the state of Israel in our nation’s history,” either his memory served him very poorly — or he was simply lying to smear his former Senate colleague. For whatever Hagel’s perspective on Mideast policy may be, it would be absurd to compare him with the Secretary of Defense whose hardline hostility toward Israel became notorious during the Reagan administration.
That would be the late Caspar W. Weinberger, of course.
Weinberger, a longtime Reagan confidant, ran the Pentagon from 1981 until 1987, when he was forced to resign over his involvement in the cover-up of the Iran-Contra affair (a ruinous scandal that involved the secret sale of missiles to the Iranian mullahs and the illegal transfer of profits from those sales to the Nicaraguan contra rebels – and that almost sent Weinberger to prison along with more than a dozen administration officials).
In contrast to other members of the Reagan cabinet known for their sympathy toward the Jewish state, including Secretary of State George Shultz and the president himself, Weinberger developed a reputation not only for opposing Israel’s interests directly but for seeking to prevent any action, including counter-terrorist operations, that might upset Arab allies of the United States. Until the Iran-Contra scandal broke in 1986, Weinberger was perhaps best known for orchestrating the sale of AWACS jets – the highly advanced airborne surveillance, command, and control system built by Boeing – to Saudi Arabia. Opposed by Israel and much of the American Jewish community, the Saudi AWACS deal generated enormous controversy.
Weinberger’s views on the Mideast were often said to derive from his career at Bechtel Corporation, the mammoth international construction firm where, as general counsel, he had approved compliance with the Arab boycott of Israel. Construction in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states was a major source of profits for Bechtel, and the firm’s support of the boycott was so blatant that Edward Levi, a Republican attorney general, filed a civil lawsuit against the California-based company, which led to a consent decree and prolonged litigation.
Among the most outspoken sources on Weinberger’s record was retired Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North, the former Reagan White House aide and intelligence operative who oversaw the Iran-Contra fiasco In his 1992 memoir Under Fire, North explained what everyone in Washington had long known about the former Defense Secretary:
[Weinberger] seemed to go out of his way to oppose Israel on any issue and to blame the Israelis for every problem in the Middle East. In our planning for counterterrorist operations, he apparently feared that if we went after Palestinian terrorists, we would offend and alienate Arab governments – particularly if we acted in cooperation with the Israelis.
Weinberger’s anti-Israel tilt was an underlying current in almost every Mideast issue. Some people explained it by pointing to his years with the Bechtel Corporation…Others believed it was more complicated, and had to do with his sensitivity about his own Jewish ancestry.
As an Episcopalian whose paternal grandparents converted to Christianity — and who later worked at Bechtel, a company with a terrible reputation for anti-Semitism — Weinberger’s personal feelings about Jews and Judaism may well have been “complicated.” But his record as defense secretary was straightforward enough – and considering that Graham is a self-styled expert on Reagan administration foreign policy, the South Carolina senator certainly ought to know it.
By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, January 7, 2013
Hillary Clinton’s impressive career should, on paper, be a sign of women’s advancement in public policy and in society as a whole. That was until her detractors accused her of a higher-level version of the feigned “I have a headache” dodge.
Clinton is recovering from a blood clot in her brain. It’s a scary development, but her doctors say she is making a good recovery. But the chronology of her illness has spurred an absurd series of conspiracy theories, largely centered on the insulting idea that she was lying about being sick so she could avoid testifying before Congress about the Benghazi attacks.
It started with a fall, which Clinton’s staff attributed to dehydration from the flu. The fall led to a concussion. Treatment and testing after the concussion revealed a blood clot in Clinton’s brain, a condition for which she is being given blood thinners. The snide and illogical accusations when Clinton fell—that she was faking so she didn’t have to go to the grown-up version of a high school trigonometry test—look even more ridiculous now. And they follow the same politically-driven theories about the State Department’s handling of the Benghazi episode itself.
Initial intelligence from the attacks was that the episode stemmed from outrage in the Middle East over an Internet video of a film—actually, a “film,”—that denigrated Muslims. Later, intelligence showed that it was a planned attack. Those two assessments are not necessarily mutually exclusive; it could have been a planned attack accelerated by spontaneous anger over the film. But detractors of the Obama administration, hoping to turn a tragedy into a scandal that would fell President Obama’s re-election campaign, made it into a conspiracy by the State Department to trick the American people. They did manage to end the potential nomination of United Nations ambassador Susan Rice to replace Clinton at State, saying Rice misled the American public. Yet Rice was merely doing what public officials do in cases like this—delivering the information the administration had received from the intelligence community (and it borders on delusional to think that the Benghazi episode would make the difference for Mitt Romney in the presidential campaign).
In fact, it’s not surprising that early intelligence from any tumultuous event would be wrong or incomplete. That’s the nature of early assessments. People report what they know at the time, and it’s not always a full picture. It doesn’t make it a lie.
The same is true for Clinton’s illness. First, it’s laughable that Clinton—who has faced relentless scrutiny as a public figure on everything from her health care proposals to her marriage to her hair—is scared of a bunch of congressmen. And those who now question whether we were all given the full story on Clinton’s illness when it first surfaced are guilty of the same conspiracy mindset as those who think the Obama administration deliberately lied in the early hours after the Benghazi attack.
Serious illnesses aren’t always identified at the first symptom, which may not look like the symptom of something dangerous at all. Fainting could mean you have low blood pressure or are dehydrated. Or, it could be something more—there’s simply no way to know until a patient is tested. The only question here is whether Clinton’s initial fall was caused by the blood clot or her flu, but that doesn’t suggest a misinformation campaign. The woman has traveled nearly a million miles in her four years as Secretary of State. If there’s a surprise here, it’s that she didn’t pass out a long time ago from sheer exhaustion.
The technology exists for instant communication, and that has given people the impression that facts will be clear at the same pace. Stories take longer to unfold than that—whether it’s an attack on a U.S. mission or an illness.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, January 2, 2013