Posts Tagged ‘Foreign policy’

While Americans and Australians wait to see what their respective stimulus packages end up containing, some foreign policy discussion is going on – Robert Farley and Matt Yglesias discuss the viability of the Human-Cylon Alliance.

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Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power by Fred Kaplan (Wiley, 2008).

I just finished reading this book last night and posted a review to my weRead app on Facebook; here’s a copy of what I had to say:

(4.5 out of 5)

An excellent examination of the foreign policy ideas that drove the Bush administration into the Iraq quagmire.

What I found most valuable in this book is that Kaplan distinguishes the different viewpoints that existed – pre-9/11 vs post-9/11 Bush; Rumsfeld and Cheney’s belief that displays of America’s military might would prompt a wave of democratic reform; the more “pure” neoconservatism of Wolfowitz and co.; Powell’s multilateralism and Rice’s evolving philosophy.

Yet at the same time, Kaplan argues – convincingly – that a flawed notion unified and motivated this group of people to move largely in the same direction. That notion was that in the post Cold War world, the United States had the capacity to use its power to impose change for the better; that they could do so anywhere and everywhere, and that the more they did so, the easier the task would become.

Kaplan concludes by evaluating the implications of this failed approach for the prospect of future interventions that could achieve genuine humanitarian good. In the context of the current crises in Gaza, Congo, etc. (not to mention Afghanistan and Iraq), and with the Obama administration about to take the reins, the issues he raises are of vital importance.

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It must be nice to be such an ignorant neoconservative hack who regurgitates American talking points that one can attack people for being left-liberal hacks who regurgitate American talking points without betraying the slightest awareness of irony.

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As the crow flies

Applying this reasoning, our new Minister for Foreign Affairs should be Jim Turnour, since the division of Leichardt is closest to Papua New Guinea:

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Hat-tip to Toaf for pointing me to this video, in which Pepe Escobar discusses the broader context of the South Ossetia conflict. He points to the United States’ foreign policy approach in Eurasia – which he sees continuing along the same lines under either McCain or Obama – as prompting Russia to push back against its growing encirclement by potential threats. It’s well worth watching the entire clip as Escobar traces the development of the situation from the fall of the USSR to the emergence of the “new Cold War”:

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Andrew Bolt continues to ramp up the argument that teh Left is made up of communist sympathisers with love in their hearts for (non-communist) Mother Russia. It’s more straw men and caricatures, and really does nothing more than give his commenters another chance to agree that anyone not organising a march today against Vlad Putin must obviously hate America.

Except that the Right conservatives moderates appear to be exempt from having to act to demonstrate their convictions. Here’s a question – where is the Right on Georgia? If this is, as Bolt and the Boltheads assert, the start of “the new Cold War”; if the current renegade military actions of Russia pose a grave threat to the stability of Europe and the security of democratic states; if the free nations of the world need to send a clear signal to Russia that its ambition to bring down a new Iron Curtain will be resisted forcefully, then why aren’t they out there pressing their government to stand up to Russia?

The fact is, the brand of conservatives who espouse this kind of philosophy see grave threats at every turn. The end result is that:

Perpetually exaggerating threats leads to, well, perpetual exaggerations, whether about a bad guy’s wickedness or a good guy’s virtue. On such faulty edifices are constructed unnecessary wars, those most murderous of foreign policy mistakes.

In a world of black hats and white hats, it’s easy to appear serious and stern – but it is much harder to act that way. So Bolt and his ilk content themselves with sitting back and condemning others for inaction. They don’t even need to worry about whether the actions they propose are going to be effective, practical or even possible.

So where is the Left on Georgia? Well, I’m here. And other people are around, too. We’re trying to take a realistic perspective on the situation and on what can be done, rather than just pontificating about what might be done. What is the Right doing?

ELSEWHERE: Glenn Greenwald points out another factor that contributes to the fact that people have more to say about the United States’ actions:

Whatever one’s views are on the justifiability of each isolated instance, it’s simply a fact that the U.S. invades, bombs, occupies, and interferes in the internal affairs of other countries far more than any other country on the planet. It’s not even a close competition.

UPDATE: Matt Yglesias discusses Welch’s commentary about the hysteria-based foreign policy.

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The Hollowpedia

Upon reflection, the issue that I think stands out from the McCain campaign’s apparent Wikipedia copy-and-paste doesn’t relate to plagiarism and attribution. Copying others’ words has a lengthy tradition in political speechwriting, as evidenced by radio and press coverage of a claim made against Obama by Hillary Clinton.

What strikes me is this – during a major international crisis that has military, diplomatic and humanitarian ramifications, the McCain campaign consulted Wikipedia in developing their response. Why did they need to look anything up on Wikipedia? Did they not have a foreign policy advisor who could tell them about the relationship between Georgia and Russia? In short, where was the foreign policy expertise?

The more I try to picture it, the more I imagine that the communications staff had a conversation along the lines of this (NB: In my imagination, all of the staff working for the McCain campaign are old guys with white hair – even the interns):

STAFFER A (let’s call him Toby): Hey, the Senator will need to show that he understands the history behind this current situation. Do we have someone in the campaign who knows about Georgia?

STAFFER B (and let’s call him Sam): Well, there was that guy with the giant tufts of hair growing out of his ears. Didn’t he say he was from Savannah? And that mailboy over there is wearing a Braves cap.

TOBY: No, I think that’s the wrong Georgia. This one is over near Czechoslovakia.

SAM: Then I’m out of options. Is there anyone in the Bush administration who might know?

(laughter ensues)

TOBY: Boy, you’re funny.

SAM: Why don’t we just look it up on the Wiki? The Senator will never know about anything we get from the Internet.

TOBY: Great idea, little buddy. We’re like the Batman and Robin of speechwriting.

SAM: Okay, now how do we spell Georgia?

A common criticism of Obama seems to be that he has too many, or relies too much on, advisors. But if it keeps him from going to the wisdom of the crowds in an area as complex as foreign policy, I think the world might be all the better for it.

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Bolt makes use of the current rising body count in Georgia’s South Ossetia region to consider, “How the next president would handle a war.” On the face of it, his proposal is a reasonable one:

How would the next president of the US react in a crisis – say, a war unexpectedly unleashed by a superpower? Barack Obama and John McCain have been set a test with Russia’s attack on Georgia

Fortunately, a savvy blogger such as Bolt can save himself the effort involved in actually analysing what the respective candidates said by simply linking to and quoting from his fellow Rightards. And that is exactly what Andy does, drawing firstly on a comparison by Roger Kimball that concludes:

To recap: John McCain forthrightly condemns Russia’s behavior and demands that Russia withdraw unconditionally. Obama wants to turn the mess over to the UN.

Andrew has to save his brainpower for the gymnastic contortions involved in maintaining an worldview in which all major problems (such as the moral decay of modern society) and non-problems (such as global warming) can be accounted for by a single entity. But let’s exert the mental energy that Andrew was unwilling to expend – let’s conduct our own analysis of the statements made by McCain and Obama.

These quotations are taken from the statements made by the Presidential candidates, as reproduced on their respective campaign web sites. We’ll just take the parts of what each candidate said that weren’t mentioned in the source Bolt took his content from.

Obama said:

Over the last two days, Russia has escalated the crisis in Georgia through it’s [sic] clear and continued violation of Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. On Friday, August 8, Russian military forces invaded Georgia. I condemn Russia’s aggressive actions and reiterate my call for an immediate ceasefire. Russia must stop its bombing campaign, cease flights of Russian aircraft in Georgian airspace, and withdraw its ground forces from Georgia … Russia also must end its cyber war against Georgian government websites. Georgia’s territorial integrity must be respected.

McCain said:

The U.S. should immediately convene an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council to call on Russia to reverse course. The US should immediately work with the EU and the OSCE to put diplomatic pressure on Russia to reverse this perilous course it has chosen. We should immediately call a meeting of the North Atlantic Council to assess Georgia’s security and review measures NATO can take to contribute to stabilizing this very dangerous situation. Finally, the international community needs to establish a truly independent and neutral peacekeeping force in South Ossetia.

To recap: Barack Obama forthrightly condemns Russia’s behavior and demands that Russia withdraw unconditionally. McCain wants to turn the mess over to – well, not just the UN, but pretty much every multilateral body of which the US is a member.

The lesson in this is simple – Bolt, or anyone else, can make a statement on a complex issue such as foreign policy in relation to a warzone look however they like, by SNIPping the parts they don’t want to acknowledge. Bolt can save himself having to even do that by quoting his fellow travellers instead. But such truncations are inevitably going to be flawed. Whether you agree or disagree with what Bolt says, it is worth taking the time to read the whole of the source he is criticising.

P.S.: Just out of interest, let’s see what the actual President had to say, if we chop out most of the content of his statement in a Bolt-like manner:

The United States is working with our European partners to launch international mediation, and with the parties to restart their dialogue.


UPDATE: Bolt has propagated the same rubbish in his Hun column today. I have posted a comment to his site and pasted it in the comments below.

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Greg Sheridan, Serious Foreign Policy Expert:

I ran into Beazley at this year’s Australian American Leadership Dialogue in Washington, DC. The dialogue, founded by Melbourne businessman, Phil Scanlan, is the most important initiative in private diplomacy in Australian history.

As well as reminding us of the important circles in which he moves, Greg pulls out some of his greatest hits:

The Bush administration, for all its sins, real and imagined, has given life to the doctrine that the US should spend a lot of time cultivating allies. Certainly this has been particularly the case with Australia, Japan and South Korea.

So long as those allies are entirely dependent on and in agreement with the United States. Anyone who isn’t can fuck off. Foreign policy under Bush has resulted in the United States having an increasingly small circle of obedient friends.

Obama is likely to be less instinctively committed to these alliances but, to look at it from the opposite point of view, will be less shackled by Cold War-style thinking, which can have its limitations.

Two obvious alternatives beckon. Either Obama’s foreign policy is a Jimmy Carter-style disaster because he never comprehends the essential workings of global power.

Or alternatively Obama could produce a brilliant foreign policy, which comprehends the essentials from the past, but is unhesitatingly in touch with all the contemporary issues, from climate change to energy costs to global pandemics and all the rest of the new agenda issues.

Sheridan demonstrates his ability to intuit precisely what Barack Obama is thinking and yet make diametrically opposed predictions about the possible outcomes.

McCain of course is profoundly steeped in all the verities of the Cold War.

Either man will represent a break from the Bush years.

QED. Seriously, Sheridan barely mentions McCain in this entire article, but he has proven that he won’t be Bush Mk III. How? Because Greg Sheridan said so.

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I read Greg Sheridan’s latest drivel yesterday and had it earmarked for blogging, but it was so baffling that I didn’t know where to begin.

Thankfully, Sean at the Road to Surfdom and the commenters on his article have taken care of the job.

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