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Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats
By Matthew Yglesias
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Hoboken, NJ: 2008
272 pages, $25.95

The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, are the central event of the contemporary politics of national security, and the sense that traditional internationalism is somehow inadequate to the challenges in this area has been the crux of its eclipse.

Nevertheless, this perception, no matter how widely held, is essentially false.

...

Liberals seek reciprocal reductions in national sovereignty wherein every nation commits to abide by certain standards in the fields of human rights, proliferation, environmental protection, and so on. An isolationist would let each country go its own way. The Bush model, in contrast to these, but in echo of the imperialist tradition, seeks an asymmetrical sovereignty wherein the United States is unencumbered by rules, while seeking to impose them on others.

Somewhere between the two extremes of Ron Paul/Charles Lindbergh brand of isolationism and the neoconservative dream of militant American imperialism lies the sweet spot of responsible engagement with the world, and blogger wunderkind Matthew Yglesias sets out to find it and define it in Heads in the Sand. While the subtitle faults both political parties for screwing up the journey to that magical foreign policy mecca, the book itself is forward-looking, more addressed to recently empowered (and future empowered) Democrats, even as it takes the obligatory swipes at the disasters of Republican foreign policy over the past eight years. Been there, done that ... the author moves us on to examining why the opposition party has refused to be oppositional and why, exactly, it has failed to advance a strong argument for what Yglesias calls "liberal internationalism"--the credo that served America well for decades before 9/11 came along and everyone in power seemed to lose their minds, their perspective and their sense of history.

Yglesias traces the lineage of modern-day liberal internationalism from its father, Woodrow Wilson, down through the ages to today, with a long stop at Truman--for Truman, it seems, is often the lodestone that the neocons point to when they claim to be the true heirs to America's role of leadership in the world. While it's true that Truman's willingness to drop the bomb lends itself well to the fever dreams of Perle & Company quite conveniently, there was a lot more than a big, big bomb and decisiveness to Truman's actions. Yglesias rightly argues that lifting actions out of the contexts of their times is a poor way to use any sort of guide at all, and that America's most enlightened presidents have managed to keep the nation safe. After all,  even before "terrorism" got its sleek new creds and name as the bogeyman of the new century, it's been hanging around in the form of non-state actors "terrorizing" states and their agents for a couple of centuries. Somehow, we managed to muddle along with a wide-angle view of the world and scads more respect from other countries without resorting, as Yglesias notes, to a one-trick-pony paranoia:

Internationalists were able, moreover, to make counterterrorism a high-level security policy without making a "war on terror" the organizing principle of U.S. foreign policy. Rather, the main goal remained what it long had been: to continue to extend the effort launched by Roosevelt and Truman to bring Wilson's vision of a liberal world order closer and closer to reality.

In such a world, citizens of different countries would meet each other through commerce, tourism, and the global communications network, not as soldiers on the fields of battle. Governments would interact through diplomacy, arbitration, and international institutions, rather than through threats of force. Fighting terrorism, the visible and immediately deadly threat to this vision, was a necessary and vital task but not, itself, the animating idea of national policy.

In Yglesias's telling, while the neocons seized the opportunity to impose the views of military imperialism upon the nation, in hindsight, one can spot the trail leading up to having such a view of America take hold, despite previous vigorous public rejections of such a role. Liberal war hawks have been with us for half a century, urging a muscular spread of democracy for reputedly humanitarian reasons (indeed, Yglesias calls Clinton's intervention in Somalia and Yugoslavia "humanitarian militarism"). The author rightly notes that to those not paying attention--or those keeping score of action and not rhetoric--the end results can look the same, whether one is arguing from a a stance of neocon American exceptionalism or from the liberal humanitarian model:

To act in the manner suggested by the most committed interventionists would require the United States to essentially proclaim itself above the rules of the international system--free to attack any country that we deemed unworthy. The advocates of such policies fancied their commitment to humanitarian ends a crucial distinguishing factor from the unilateral nationalists of the right, but from a structural perspective their claims were essentially identical.

No less odd than the bed-sharing of left-wing humanitarian interventionists and right-wing imperialists is the bunking up together of conservative isolationists and lefty pacifists; non-intervention, Yglesias points out, has the same result on the subject country whether one is Pat Buchanan or the Dalia Lama. But there is a world of difference in the political philosophy that takes such circuituous routes to the same destination (a distinction lost on supposed liberal Ron Paul supporters to this day). Similarly, the world's largest military under Clinton is still the world's largest military under Bush, with the twist, as Yglesias notes, that "Bush simply wants a powerful military but wants it to do less humanitarian work."

Liberals were unable to clearly articulate to the American people a broader view of foreign policy beyond "invade and kill" in the wake of 9/11 for several reasons: the reign of the war hawks within the Democratic Party, the fear of non-hawks to be seen as weak, the feeling of panic, and a general muddle-headedness about foreign policy in general on the part of Democrats, most of whom (if they're not hawks) long ago surrendered the realm of international relations to the Republican Party, preferring to focus on bread-and-butter domestic issues (obviously, this emphasis has changed in the past eight years). Additionally, the wrong lessons learned under the Clinton administration lingered. Yglesias remarks, "What the liberal hawks had learned from Bosnia was not a doctrine about the use of force or the role of human rights in foreign policy, but a kind of disdain for the aesthetics of antiwar politics." More problematically, they also naively underestimated the determination of the neocons to take control of the situation and drive it to their own ends:

The extent to which Democratic willingness to use force in the 2002 flowed from a distinctive set of principles, as opposed to being a reflection of generic "hawkishness," went unarticulated. Liberals, by not understanding where their opponents stood, wound up confusing themselves at the worst time--on the eve of a disastrous war underpinned by principles whose existence they barely understood, much less were prepared to criticize.

In the losing-our-minds phase in the latter half of 2001 and well into 2002, Democrats also seemed bound and determined to be as tough, as mean, as militaristic as Republicans, often making theatrical use of distancing themselves disdainfully from the "loony left"--and often castigating any voice of reason that called for inspection, diplomacy, or even time to think through long-term policy implications of preemptive war. This dismissal, in retrospect, is shameful, and the testeronic posing ridiculous and repellant in hindsight.

... liberal hawks continued with the tradition commenced in late 2001 of treating disagreements with people to their left as more significant than disagreements with those to their right, even though the reins of power were exclusively in the hands of the right. The motivations for taking this stance were complicated, but prominent among them was the illusion of control. Casting one's lot with the antiwar faction meant disavowing any effort to influence the course of national policy. Casting your stance as an argument for war, by contrast, kept you on the team and perhaps in a position where policymakers in positions of actual power might listen to you.

John Kerry in 2004 tried unsuccessfully to finesse his stands, and the current crop of Democratic candidates early on used each other's public statements and legislative votes to bludgeon each other with, demanding apologies, justifications, reversals, recommitments ... all pointing still, Yglesias would argue, to more attention being paid to the drama of it all than to the substance. Some hard long-term work is called for here, not just in regards to Iraq, but in rethinking America's role in the world in the coming decades. And Yglesias insists--vigorously--that we jettison the notion and the argument that this was a good war, poorly executed. He returns to this point repeatedly throughout the book: America needs to be disabused of this idea of mere bad implementation, or we are doomed to repeat it. Worse, we're doomed to listen to the same salespeople in positions of power pitch us the same lame pro-invasion stands in similar circumstances. Think of Iraq as Groundhog Day with the same talking heads and a different place on the map, over and over and over ....

At a minimum, there's ... no reason to believe that the invasion of Iraq was a good idea ruined by poor implementation, rather than an idea whose execution went badly because the underlying idea was fatally flawed. As such, it fails to provide any questions or issues that may arise. Even worse, its utility to liberal hawks is itself a major problem.

It allows the very people whose dominant position inside progressive circles helped to drive the Democratic Party off the cliff in the first place to retain their positions of influence without substantially modifying their underlying worldview.

This, of course, is an important source of its appeal. It's also the essence of the problem. The incompetence line is a dodge, a way for liberal hawks to acknowledge the grim reality of the war without rethinking any of the premises that led them to support it in the first place. From a narrowly political point of view, this may be adequate to allow Democrats to regain control over U.S. foreign policy, but it offers no assurances that doing so will actually fix any of the main problems the Bush administration has created.

Any insistence on the "good idea, badly implemented" line of thinking rules out the real places where constructive thinking and policy can take hold. "Improving our ability to execute missions abroad," says Yglesias, "is much less important than improving our strategy for when and why to intervene." And, he complains, "a significant number of people are proposing that we essentially keep doing the same thing, except with a larger army, and hope for better results."

That way, of course, lies madness. Yet pointing this out still gets one labeled as naive and foolhardy in certain circles, even liberal circles still, with devotees of humanitarian militarism still rooting for the spread of democracy. One of the best services Yglesias does in this book is really boiling down the illogic of this entire "spreading democracy at gunpoint" rubric in one succinct paragraph:

... if democracy's spread is inevitable--or even semi-inevitable--then it hardly seems reasonable for the linchpin of the global democratic community to undertake great risks and massive expense to try to spread it to one particular country. If anything, faith in democracy's appeal should encourage a policy of caution, one that takes the view--similar to the containment of the Cold War--that if the world's democracies focus on maintaining their own security, prosperity, and a reasonable degree of unity, authoritarian alternatives will eventually collapse without dramatic invasions.

This book marks what we can hope is the first of many progressive forays into discovering a new way to be in the world--which just happens to be an old way, updated to the 21st century and unapologetic about viewing military intervention as a final resort.

Originally posted to Daily Kos on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:10 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Correct me if I'm wrong, but (5+ / 0-)

    Wasn't Yglesias a hawk in 2003?

  •  We cannot define terrorism or aggression that (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rhutcheson, First Light

    does not brand the USA as a terrorist state and an aggressiive war state unless we use this definition: Terrorism is violent acts that the US government doesn't like. Violent acts that the US approves of is humanitarian intervention. Aggression  is acts of war that the US does not approve of. Acts of war that the US approves of is national defense. If you remove whether the US approves or naot and try to define it without respect to the approval of the US government you find that the US is the primary promoter of acts of terror and aggression in the world.

    This is just to say Forgive us victory tastes delicious so sweet and so cold

    by Dave the Wave on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:22:56 AM PDT

    •  And the one which conveniently tries to (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      subtropolis, rhutcheson, First Light

      exempt itself from all supranational jurisdictions, going so far as to not sign, oh, I don't know, the Beijing Rules (1989), the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990; the only nation besides Somalia which hasn't done so), the land mine ban, the cluster bomb ban, has worked to sabotage the Incernational Criminal Court and hasn't signed its Roman Statute.

      Moral superiority? Please.

      Omne malum nascens facile opprimitur, inveteratum fit plerumque robustius. - Cicero

      by Dauphin on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:32:16 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm in favour of abiding by the decision of (4+ / 0-)

    the Military Court of Nuremberg: Any offensive war not approved by the United Nation constitutes the ''supreme international crime.''

    It wasn't genocide which caused nazi leaders to be sentenced to death: It was, first and foremost, offensive war without necessary authorisation.

    Now, about that ICC...

    Omne malum nascens facile opprimitur, inveteratum fit plerumque robustius. - Cicero

    by Dauphin on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:30:03 AM PDT

  •  one sentence summary, in projection: (7+ / 0-)

    The Democrats have at least stepped onto the road to philosophical rehabilitation by nominating a Presidential candidate who articulates the concept that the use preepmtive war denotes both a wrong and a doomed foreign policy.

    "Well, yeah, the Constitution is worth it if you can succeed." -Nancy Pelosi, 6/29/07.

    by nailbender on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:30:51 AM PDT

  •  The true source of the problems came well (6+ / 0-)

    before the election of 2000.

    The problems reside in one foul-mouthed dictator:
    DICK CHENEY.

    When will we hear this repudiated?

    "Republicans value you until you're born but only Democrats care about you after that." -Tom Harkin

    by ezdidit on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:31:51 AM PDT

  •  Hmmpft (0+ / 0-)

    I would like to comment on this but I just don't know what to say. Seems to me the individual parties have been making it up as they go. What exactly is the end game for the Republicans? The Democrats? The Netroots? Have they even been described? I doubt it.

    To the Israeli on the street the end game is destruction of the Palestinians. Does the book cover this? 911 is only a symptom of [the] "central event of the contemporary politics of national security". The central event is Muslim relations. And if it weren't for domestic issues like privacy and abortion rights I would bet the Democrats would love to allow the Republicans to stay this course so they don't have to.

    [the] "White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war." -Scott McClellan

    by plok on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:31:53 AM PDT

    •  life is about making it up as one goes (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nowhere Man

      Endgame? I'm not sure you know what that really means. Or are you one of those Armageddon fetishists?

      And i take issue with your assertion that the consensus in Israel is that the "destruction" of the Palestinians is a goal to be sought.

      And take off those blinders. Not everything revolves around the Middle East. The US has a long, long history of this sort of thing.

      "They're telling us something we don't understand"
      General Charles de Gaulle, Mai '68

      by subtropolis on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:52:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm not a Revelationist (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        subtropolis

        "Endgame" is a term I hear every time I watch a documentary about Israel. But that is not my issue. My issue is the disconnect between the man on the street in America and our foreign policy. We're in transition. It was only a few short years ago that CNN was showing images of Palestinians holding up pieces of rockets that were fired from Israel, and they were showing the camera man the "Made in USA" stamp on it. I don't think the average American really thinks our national security is tied to Israel or Iaqi oil. If it is our leaders have failed to make the case. The only time we hear defense of our policies it's from some Christian Zionist nutjob.

        I for example never really gave a crap about Palestine and Israel killing each other until I learned about our involvement in it, and our reigious investment in it. If we have a strategic reason for supporting Israel I don't have a problem with that. But that case has not been made to Americans.

        [the] "White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war." -Scott McClellan

        by plok on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:21:18 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I misunderstood you (0+ / 0-)

          But i stand by my comment about this not being solely about the US against the Arabs. It may be sold as that for the time being. But the roots of it go far deeper than the Middle East. That just happens to be the main stage for the moment, given the oil crisis we're acing. But i'd argue that oil also isn't the only factor.

          re the US involvement in the Israel/Palestine troubles, i agree with that. I think that both nations have been the victims of a wider strategic conflict.

          "They're telling us something we don't understand"
          General Charles de Gaulle, Mai '68

          by subtropolis on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:27:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  That's cool (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            subtropolis

            But I get very bummed out by this idea that our national security depends on China, for example, being capitalist.
            Now while I personally happen to agree that trade is good and a rising tide lifts all boats and all that market driven stuff, I don't happen to believe it makes America safe. I will never believe it. Because it makes us look weak. And it puts our security in the hands of suits, Christo-Warriors and overpaid mercenaries. And I don't think those folks are smart enought to do the real substantive things that keep us safe (intelligence). After all, Osama and Zawahiri still walk the streets and taunt us on a weekly basis.

            [the] "White House press corps was too easy on the administration during the run-up to the war." -Scott McClellan

            by plok on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:40:32 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  This just obfuscates the reality. (1+ / 1-)
    Recommended by:
    NY Dem
    Hidden by:
    another American

    The Iraq war and the US interventions in the middle east are ALL about Israel and the neocon/zionist dreams of "Greater Israel".
    The zionists are the "liberal hawks" responsible for our imperialistic policies.
    A frank recognition of their influence is what is needed.

    •  Not really. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      First Light

      You imply that the US is subservient to Israel. I would argue that it's the other way around.

      For example, several years ago the United States forced Israel practically at gunpoint to stop selling arms and weapon technology to China. When an Israeli delegation came to the US they were treated with contempt - something which sends a very clear message in diplomatic circles - something like ''you, slave, are mine.''

      Israel's interests and the United States' interests are mostly congruent, but when they aren't, Israel comes to heel.

      Omne malum nascens facile opprimitur, inveteratum fit plerumque robustius. - Cicero

      by Dauphin on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:40:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah right.... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        esquimaux

        That's why the US buries the Liberty investigation.
        That's why the US publicly opposes new settlements but keeps sending Israel the money to build them.
        That's why the US opposes Iran's nuclear program but says nothing about Israel's.
        That's why the US says nothing about the recent Israeli attack on Syria.
        Etc., etc., etc.

        Yeah right!

        •  It's not because the US serves Israel, (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          subtropolis, another American

          but because the US determines that it's in its best interest that its ally in the region does these things.

          It's not in the nature of things for the weak to dominate the strong.

          Omne malum nascens facile opprimitur, inveteratum fit plerumque robustius. - Cicero

          by Dauphin on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:53:14 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Sorry (0+ / 0-)

            I don't think ANY US government could be so stupid as to think our policy in the mideast is to our advantage.
            The strong in this case is AIPAC relative to the US congress.

            •  And how, pray tell, can AIPAC (0+ / 0-)

              sanction the US Congress should they refuse to do its bidding?

              And the US policy in the Middle East had worked out remarkably well up until the Iraq War: Saudi Arabia was in the US' pocket, as was Israel, and the US also managed to win over Egypt (which is about as much a democracy as my cats are dogs). It wasn't a nice policy, nor a legal one, nor supportive of human rights, but it worked, after a fashion.

              Now, though, everything's begun to fall apart. Perhaps something better will be conceived then?

              Omne malum nascens facile opprimitur, inveteratum fit plerumque robustius. - Cicero

              by Dauphin on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:02:47 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I'm sure (0+ / 0-)

                you've heard of campaign financing.

                •  Come on, it's not the only source of campaign (0+ / 0-)

                  finance. Most members of Congress seem to be willing to whore themselves out to anyone for any conceivable bit of tat anyway, so it's not like AIPAC hasn't got competition.

                  By Your reasoning, it would be far more logical for the US Congress to be dominated by, I don't know, Saudi Arabian and Iranian interest groups.

                  Omne malum nascens facile opprimitur, inveteratum fit plerumque robustius. - Cicero

                  by Dauphin on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:08:30 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Perhaps (0+ / 0-)

                    you can explain why all national candidates appear before AIPAC and swear their undying love for Israel.
                    Why must Obama reassure "the Jewish community" of his fealty?
                    Why is there no open discussion of US/Israel relations in the media?

                    •  Because the US has a deep-seated interest (0+ / 0-)

                      in Israel being a dominant force in the Middle East. It owes its existence to the United States (the Arab countries would have wiped it out long ago sans US support, nuclear weapons or not) and it faithfully, though sometimes grudgingly, follows the US' orders.

                      It is an excellent proxy for all the dirty activities the US cannot afford to carry out by itself and a faithful vassal, faithful because it has no choice other than to be faithful.

                      That is why everyone is silent - because everyone's complicit. It is a convenient, though dirty relationship, and no-one will endanger it, neither Democrats not Republicans. Anyone suggesting an alternative would be shredded by the media for this very reason. And this is why I would predict that Obama's policies towards the Middle East, should he gain the presidency, will be different in tenor and form but not in substance.

                      Omne malum nascens facile opprimitur, inveteratum fit plerumque robustius. - Cicero

                      by Dauphin on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:28:25 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                    •  Besides, You haven't addressed any of (0+ / 0-)

                      the points I've made, preferring to change the subject.

                      Just as an aside.

                      Omne malum nascens facile opprimitur, inveteratum fit plerumque robustius. - Cicero

                      by Dauphin on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:34:54 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  #1 (0+ / 0-)

                        Dear Ambassador Khalilzad,

                        I understand that today the UN Security Council met regarding the situation in Gaza...

                        I urge you to ensure that the Security Council issue no statement and pass no resolution on this matter that does not fully condemn the rocket assault Hamas has been conducting on civilians in southern Israel... All of us are concerned about the impact of closed border crossings on Palestinian families. However, we have to understand why Israel is forced to do this...

                        The Security Council should clearly and unequivocally condemn the rocket attacks, and should make clear that Israel has the right to defend itself.... If it cannot bring itself to make these common sense points, I urge you to ensure that it does not speak at all.

                        Sincerely,

                        Barack Obama
                        United States Senator

                      •  #2 (0+ / 0-)

                        from Haaretz:  

                         Obama, Clinton, McCain to vice-chair Israel 60th anniversary panel

                           U.S. Democratic senators and presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are scheduled to join Arizona senator and Republican presidential hopeful John McCain as vice-chairmen of the National Committee for Israel 60th....

                           The committee will also be co-chaired by former American presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and every living former U.S. secretary of state, including Henry Kissinger, have signed on to serve on the committee as well.

                        Change we can believe in!

                      •  Sorry to post again (0+ / 0-)

                        But the diary you linked to provides all the evidence we need to see his fealty.

            •  so, you're saying they know it's a disadvantage? (0+ / 0-)

              I'm having some difficulty understanding your reasoning here. You seem to be suggesting that the US is—with eyes wide open—putting itself at a disadvantage by kowtowing to the Israelis.

              Regardless of one's position on US foreign policy in the Middle East, don't you think that the US government is "looking out for #1"? Or, do you really believe that they are a pack of simpering geeks, in office for the sole purpose of selling the nation out to those dastardly jews?

              "They're telling us something we don't understand"
              General Charles de Gaulle, Mai '68

              by subtropolis on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:06:30 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Israel is a client state of the US (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            First Light

            Israel is not allowed to act in their own interests without approval of the US. For example in 2005 when Israel wished to export high tech weaponry to China they were ordered by Bush not to and they were publicly humiliated. They obeyed of course .

            This is just to say Forgive us victory tastes delicious so sweet and so cold

            by Dave the Wave on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:02:24 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  re the Liberty (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Dauphin

          Were the US to have made a big stink about that, they would have lost a lot of leverage over the Israelis at a time when the big fear was that the Soviets would put nukes into play in Egypt and Syria (and some say they did). It's not that one dominates the other—that's black/white thinking and serves only to muddy things. Each has something to offer the other.

          "They're telling us something we don't understand"
          General Charles de Gaulle, Mai '68

          by subtropolis on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:00:11 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I can't think of anything (0+ / 0-)

            that Israel has to offer the US.
            What are those things?

            •  look at a map (0+ / 0-)

              Am i going to have to bring up the library comment again?

              "They're telling us something we don't understand"
              General Charles de Gaulle, Mai '68

              by subtropolis on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:21:18 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I guess (0+ / 0-)

                you are free to avoid the question if you wish.
                What are those things Israel has to offer the US?

                •  An ally in a volatile region. (0+ / 0-)

                  It's the only nation that's a willing ally of the United States in the Middle East. Most everyone else runs the gamut from mildly disliking the United States to hating its guts.

                  Omne malum nascens facile opprimitur, inveteratum fit plerumque robustius. - Cicero

                  by Dauphin on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:36:33 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I know (0+ / 0-)

                    from personal experience that that is not true.
                    For example - the Saudis are staunchly pro-american, they have been loyal friends and were very opposed to the USSR.  Likewise with the gulf states.
                    Their problem with the US is our support for Israel and pressure on the governments from their citizenry (and they are very much subject to pressure).

                    •  And Saudi Arabians are very much friendly towards (0+ / 0-)

                      the US, yes? The moment there is a hint of unrest in the kingdom the Saudis fall.

                      Omne malum nascens facile opprimitur, inveteratum fit plerumque robustius. - Cicero

                      by Dauphin on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:44:43 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                      •  I'm not sure what that means. (0+ / 0-)

                        But the Saudi royal family is very subject to pressure from the Wahabi religious faction.  The Wahabis are very influential with lower-class Saudis and exact a price for their support of the royal family.
                        Upper class Saudis despise the Wahabis but certainly haven't prevailed against them in terms of public opinion.
                        There are parallels in the US.

                        •  My point is that Saudi Arabia could (0+ / 0-)

                          well face a coup sometime in the future, or a court faction unfriendly to the US could take charge, which would render the alliance void.

                          Neither of these problems afflict Israel, which knows that its existence is dependent upon the US' goodwill.

                          Omne malum nascens facile opprimitur, inveteratum fit plerumque robustius. - Cicero

                          by Dauphin on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:56:08 AM PDT

                          [ Parent ]

                      •  Saudi Monarchy was install by British Imperialist (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        szilard

                        The Saudi kings were installed in power by British troops with American backing to serve western corporate interests. Saudi Arabia is one of the most repressive governments in the world, yet the big media almost never cover its routine human rights abuses. Like Israel, it serves as a giant military base for western imperialism.

            •  Israel is a de facto military base for the US gov (0+ / 0-)

              The biggest (by far) recipient of US military aid has long been Israel. The Pentagon considers the country another one of its forward bases.
              It is a great tragedy how many  Jews have been hoodwinked by Zionism into throwing in their lot with US attempts to dominate the arab world. But support for Zionism is declining among Jews, which is the beginning of an historic and very necessary change.

        •  Yeah right (0+ / 0-)

          In general Israel does what it is told by the US government. It is not a seamless arrangement, but despite minor differences, Israeli policy come from the White House in both Republican and Democratic administrations.

    •  Yeah, just like Honduras! And Vietnam! (0+ / 0-)

      Speaking about obfuscating reality, you need to go to a library or something. The roots are much deeper than you think.

      "They're telling us something we don't understand"
      General Charles de Gaulle, Mai '68

      by subtropolis on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:54:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  "The incompetence line is a dodge." (4+ / 0-)

    Yup. And there were too many people who fell in on the wrong side of this for it to ever be fully reconciled, IMHO. The incompetence line will win out, i think, because the truth is too much for too many to accept.

    Great review!

    "They're telling us something we don't understand"
    General Charles de Gaulle, Mai '68

    by subtropolis on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:37:47 AM PDT

  •  "cruz of its eclipse" ? (0+ / 0-)

    I don't normally get so picky, but if this is an accurate quote, then the book seems to have bypassed the usual editing process:

    The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, are the central event of the contemporary politics of national security, and the sense that traditional internationalism is somehow inadequate to the challenges in this area has been the cruz of its eclipse.

    "cruz" isn't a word; perhaps "crux" was intended?

    But "crux of its eclipse" doesn't make a whole lot more sense. I gather that Yglesias is saying that "traditional internationalism" has been eclipsed by other foreign policy approaches (or the lack thereof.) Well, yeah.

    But then, to say "the sense... has been the crux" doesn't work well either. I think he meant that "traditional internationalism [has been eclipsed]" mainly because of "the sense that traditional internationalism is somehow inadequate to the challenges in this area".

    Maybe this passage was misquoted, but it doesn't bode well for the book.

    I'm Nowhere Hussein Man, and I apologize for this comment.

    by Nowhere Man on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:46:53 AM PDT

    •  My typing mistake, not his (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nowhere Man, SciVo

      Fixed. Thanks.

      •  Beat me to it :-) (0+ / 0-)

        Not that I could correct the post, but I did a search on the word "crux" at Amazon, and it showed up in the right place. Thanks.

        (Ah, the wonders of the Intertubes...)

        I won't be complacent this time. Been there, done that, got the orange jumpsuit.

        by Nowhere Man on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:56:13 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  Typos aside, (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nowhere Man, argeec3

      the assertion is, I think, wrong. The central event of contemporary national security policy was the disappearance of the Soviet Union and the shift from a bipolar world to a unipolar world (which is--I suspect--on its way to becoming a multi-nucleated world).  

      Neoconservatism--so called--begins at the point when containment policy becomes irrelevant. It begins with the new question: "What is the role of the single superpower given this new international landscape?" 911 simply provided the opportunity for the musings of the seminar room to give way to the bloody reality of the battlespace.

      It is true that muscular liberalism was the reigning policy of the Cold War, but this backward glance at consensual foreign policy provides almost no historical precedence for guidance going forward.

      Is that a real poncho, or is that a Sears' poncho? - Frank Zappa

      by JoesGarage on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:17:56 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I think that's the crux of the problem (0+ / 0-)

        Although -- and maybe I'm just being picky again, but -- I'd say that neoconservatism begins with its own answer to the question, "What is the role of the single superpower given this new international landscape?" Liberals certainly recognized that America was -- briefly, as it turned out -- the world's lone superpower; but our defined role for America was very different from the neocons'.

        And yes; the seeds of the bush administration's foreign "policy" were in place well before 9/11. Even bush's pre-election disdain for "nation building" (now replaced by a disdain for... well, anything that's not on today's message) was a clear signal that they were more unilateralist. How much so was yet to be seen.

        I won't be complacent this time. Been there, done that, got the orange jumpsuit.

        by Nowhere Man on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:50:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Speaking of Truman... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    esquimaux, rhutcheson

    He gave an unequivocal 'no' to the Dulles brothers, who wanted him to go ahead with a coup against Mossadegh and democratic Iran in the 50s, all in the guise of protecting the country from the USSR's 'encroaching' communism. In reality it was for Churchill and British Petroleum. Truman was having none of it; he recognized that Iran was evincing the first true secular nationalism in the modern Middle East and he wanted to foster that, not strangle it in the crib.

    Unfortunately Eisenhower wasn't as sharp on the subject and let the Dulles bastards, I mean brothers, snow him. The rest, sadly, is history.

  •  Democracy (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    szilard, argeec3, rhutcheson, First Light

    Liberal war hawks have been with us for half a century, urging a muscular spread of democracy for reputedly humanitarian reasons....

    Nobody's been spreading democracy for a half century. They've been spreading other things, but it democracy doesn't smell like that.

    Yglesias, like Peter Beinart before him, is simply attempting to justify the same kinds of policies that brought you Vietnam, the installation of the Shah, the Bay of Pigs, decades of warfare in Central America and Afghanistan, the propping up of dictatorships in Pakistan, etc.

    Don't forget that the neocons were almost all Democrats -- or at least working for Democrats like Scoop Jackson -- back in the early 1970s. They didn't change the way they thought, just their party affiliation, and there are plenty of other Democrats who are at least willing to go along for the ride -- like the 29 Senators who voted for the Iraq AUMF.

    Me, I'm waiting for Dennis Perrin's Savage Mules: The Democrats and Endless War.

    "I think we need a president who isn't afraid to say, 'I'm gonna change my mind. I made a mistake.'" --George McGovern, 1972

    by darrelplant on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 10:54:55 AM PDT

  •  Woodrow Wilson is Godfather of the Neo-Cons (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    szilard, esquimaux, Dauphin, rhutcheson, SciVo

    Ever since college, I've had nothing but contempt for Wilsonian Internationalism -- his advocacy of the 14 Points, including leniency towards Germany and support for the League of Nations at the Versailles Conference, being the sole bright spot in his record.

    Wilson intervened in Central America and the Caribbean more than any other President, generally invoking American moral authority and paternalism -- in service of United Fruit, and other corporate interests.

    In 1916, the slogan "He kept us out of war" got him re-elected; by the time he was sworn in, he had taken us to war to "make the world safe for democracy."

    After the Versailles Peace Conference, he took the my-way-or-the-highway approach to defending the Treaty and the League of Nations; his holier-than-thou moralism led to the defeat of both. Wilson's failures led to the collapse of the Progressive Movement and the discrediting of the word Progressive -- which is why FDR called himself a Liberal.

    FDR's Good Neighbor Policy is the best model for Progressive Internationalism; Truman was correct in pursuing a Containment Policy towards the Soviet bloc, but the bi-polar mindset it engendered led to lost opportunity after the Chinese revolution, and the ultimate tragedy of Vietnam.

    JFK effectively handled the Cuban Missile Crisis, but his muscular Liberal Internationalism had more in common with Wilson and Truman than FDR; the pro-Iraq-war Liberal hawks had more in common with that approach, than the Enlightened Self Interest practiced by FDR.

    •  It's true, (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dauphin, rhutcheson, SciVo

      After the Versailles Peace Conference, he took the my-way-or-the-highway approach to defending the Treaty and the League of Nations; his holier-than-thou moralism led to the defeat of both. Wilson's failures led to the collapse of the Progressive Movement and the discrediting of the word Progressive -- which is why FDR called himself a Liberal.

      Wilson's Global Progressivism was--like domestic Progressivism of the late 19th and early 20th century--paternalistic, bourgeois, racialized, and Christianized. The Progressive Movement was not the progressive movement as it is loosely understood today.  

      Is that a real poncho, or is that a Sears' poncho? - Frank Zappa

      by JoesGarage on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:32:01 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Woodrow Wilson is Godfather of the Neo-Cons (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      szilard, esquimaux, rhutcheson, SciVo

      And after successfully running as "the peace candidate" in 1916 the liberal Democrat Wilson immediately plunged the US into war (reminds one of the liberal Democrat Lyndon Johnson running as the "peace candidate" against the Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964, only to massively escalate the invasion of Vietnam once re-elected).

      Wilson also imprisoned Eugene Debs for speaking out against the draft. Hundreds of other anti-war activists and socialists were arrested or deported by Wilson's Attorney General in the notorious and unconstitutional Palmer Raids. It was the grandfather of the McCarthy era repression.

      This is why we need an antiwar movement that is independent of the political parties.

      •  Funny Coincidence (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rhutcheson, First Light

        And after successfully running as "the peace candidate" in 1916 the liberal Democrat Wilson immediately plunged the US into war (reminds one of the liberal Democrat Lyndon Johnson running as the "peace candidate" against the Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964, only to massively escalate the invasion of Vietnam once re-elected).

        Another 48 years later we have another "liberal democrat" who will be running as a "peace" candidate.  This one hasn't taken any options off the table.

  •  Too Old a Paradigm (0+ / 0-)

    While I applaud the effort of Yglesias, and this posting, I think there are some key points to reality missing in the argument.  First, the reaction to the Clinton administration saving lives in Bosnia is more to the point than the disaster of Iraq.  Many on the left (and the right) whose initial knee jerk criticism to intervention in Bosnia failed the test of history.  There are times when indeed military humanitarianism is called for.  There is tyranny in the world.  To view every effort as yet another outcome of "imperialism," is to negate confronting acts of violent oppression.  The question of "The State" is indeed a worthy project that must be examined by progressives.  Isolationism, however, is not and will not in the 21st Century and beyond be a sustainable argument by either side—left or right.  Technology, shifting demographics and resource needs have rendered isolationism in any form obsolete.  The latter may seem obvious but many leftists still do not fully comprehend this.  Getting back to the point.  The issue for the US and the role of international engagement cannot be solved without examining the role of our country in the Middle East.   Our policies in the Middle East, not just for oil, are probably the number one reason why we as progressives have not had a comprehensive examination of international engagement beyond the paradigms Yglesias refers to.  There is one institute that progressives have not fully understood and recognized as shaping policy today (including HRC’s willingness to bomb Iran).  Note: I am not referring to the Cato Institute or other familiar rightwing think tanks.  I am directly referring to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (http://www.washingtoninstitute.org). Here both sides (Rethug and chicken hawks) that Iglesias refers to hangout and share agreement on Middle East policy that drags down all progressive international engagement.   The role of international engagement by the establishment, as pointed out by Yglesias, and the author of the blog, has been narrow; what has NOT been narrow has been the progressive thinkers who have responded with human rights and the rule of international law.  So please, let’s make a distinction between grassroots movements and establishment policy.  We need to engage in both but to argue that progressives have lost or not found "a way" is to suggest that there is some missing magical formula.  There is not.  There are, however, tools at our disposal.  These are the same: open debate, international standards and recognition of history.  The paradigm of progressives being lost is getting quite old and tired.  We want diplomatic engagement, we want to face down tyranny and we want to remain the check on the establishment regardless of the party in power.  That, I argue, is and has been and should be our role as progressives.  Our shortsighted is the lack of recognition that we continue to see things solely as a fight about ideology vs. pragmatics (e.g., chicken hawks).  We are not here to help run the system.  We are here to ensure human rights. And we are certainly not here to throw intellectual self-pity parties.  The way to win is to take action and to recognize our advancements.  We have won Iraq, civil rights, the environmental debate and we are about to win the healthcare debate.  Are there still struggles?  Yes.  Should we discredit the Washington Institute for Near East Policy?  Yes.  We must, however, move beyond the notion that ideology and action must be in some perfect alignment.  This struggle will never cease.  It is the struggle of humanity and its nature.  We can learn from history—as we come to understand internationalism as a result of the latter part of the 20th Century—but we should not dwell.  We have opportunities in the 21st Century (China, India, and so on).   We can right the wrong of the last seven plus years that is why we continue to fight.

  •  Picking your battles (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rhutcheson, First Light

     Every person and every nation sooner or later has too pick their battles if they're lucky enough to get the choice that is. The U.S. has done a pretty lousy job of it since WW2 and even before. WW2 we didn't get to pick we were tossed in. WW1 was questionable and all of the banana republic wars in between were for Big Corp. interests. Today we seem to go to war at the drop of hat. That's because we can. Like a bristling bully it seems we see threats everywhere and  think we have the right and even the obligation to intervene in others business. Napoleon thought he had the same right so did, Mussolini and Hitler. Too many in the world we've become the new  bully on the block with a smile button on. It seems our new foreign policy is "do as we say, not as we do or else!"

    "It's better to die on your feet then live on your knees" E. Zapata

    by Blutodog on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 11:54:13 AM PDT

  •  Truman and Korea (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    szilard

    Regarding Truman:  It's not Truman's decision to drop the A-Bomb that I think is critical here (a decision I profoundly disagree with).  I think it is more relevant as to how Truman entered the Korean War.  I believe the Korean War is the first time the U.S. entered an international conflict without a declaration of war from the House, a direct violation of the constitution and a systematic assault on the separation of powers.  The House has never recovered from this and subsequent Presidents have used this precedent to justify all sorts of interventions.  It doesn't matter to me whether or not one agrees with the intervention. The issue is the constitutional separation of powers and the usurpation of a power specifically designated as belonging to congress by the executive branch.

    Regarding Wilson:  One difference between Wilson and Bush is that Wilson did not start WW I.  Although I profoundly disagree with Wilson's decision to enter this European conflict (because it was not in the U.S.'s interests), nevertheless Wilson responded to something that already existed.  

    The Iraq War is specifically Bush's creation.  He started it, manipulated propaganda to get the populace behind it, he invented it.  It's totally his.

    Dharmajim

  •  The US needs a military (0+ / 0-)

    large enough to defend US territory, but no larger.  Given that, there wouldn't be much of a problem with US foreign policy.

  •  Thanks for the review (0+ / 0-)

    this book is on my list!

  •  Clinton's Somalia adventure? (0+ / 0-)

    The last time I checked, it was George H.W. Bush who invaded Somalia. Bill Clinton was just the inheritor.

    The sleep of reason produces monsters.

    by Alumbrados on Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 05:05:08 PM PDT

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