Posts Tagged ‘Foreign policy’

Report card on the candidates’ foreign policies

February 25, 2016


Although I call myself a liberal, I find myself agreeing with writers for The American Conservative these days more than I do with writers for supposedly liberal publications such as The Atlantic.

The editors of the American Conservative published useful summaries of the candidates’ views on foreign policy issues, although with their evaluations, which I agree with.

Their evaluations are based on the idea that (1) the United States should not attack countries that do not threaten us, (2) the United States should not intervene in foreign conflicts that do not concern us and (3) the main mission of the American military should be defense of the homeland rather than world military supremacy.

It is noteworthy, though, that all six issues on which TAC editors focus are problems which the USA has created itself – problems that would not exist if Washington did not seek world military supremacy and had not tried to destabilize Ukraine, conquer Iraq, overthrow Libya and Syria and wage cold war against Iran.

There are less urgent, but more important, problems that we Americans should be thinking about:

  • How to manage our economic relationship with China, the main rival for the United States economically.
  • How to reduce the number of nuclear weapons and the threat of nuclear war, accidental or otherwise, with Russia, the only nation that has the power to destroy the United States militarily.
  • How to help Mexico achieve political stability and economic progress, the only long-range
  • How to work with other nations to mitigate (it is too late to prevent) the threat of global warming.
  • How to manage international trade in a way that benefits Americans and our trading partners (the TPP isn’t it).

But The American Conservative editors are not wrong to focus on the issues they do.  The first step toward making things better is to stop making them worse.


A 2016 Foreign Policy Report Card by the editors of The American Conservative.

The fruits of American foreign policy

June 18, 2015

John Michael Greer, writing on his Archdruid Report blog, described how American foreign policy has led to Russia and China joining to create a Fortress Eurasia that is beyond the reach of U.S. military power.

Just as the great rivalry of the first half of the twentieth century was fought out between Britain and Germany, the great rivalry of the century’s second half was between the United States and Russia.

If nuclear weapons hadn’t been invented, it’s probably a safe bet that at some point the rivalry would have ended in another global war.

As it was, the threat of mutual assured destruction meant that the struggle for global power had to be fought out less directly, in a flurry of proxy wars, sponsored insurgencies, economic warfare, subversion, sabotage, and bare-knuckle diplomacy.

In that war, the United States came out on top, and Soviet Russia went the way of Imperial Germany, plunging into the same sort of political and economic chaos that beset the Weimar Republic in its day.

The supreme strategic imperative of the United States in that war was finding ways to drive as deep a wedge as possible between Russia and China, in order to keep them from taking concerted action against the US.

That wasn’t all that difficult a task, since the two nations have very little in common and many conflicting interests.

gadd600spanNixon’s 1972 trip to China was arguably the defining moment in the Cold War, the point at which China’s separation from the Soviet bloc became total and Chinese integration with the American economic order began.

From that point on, for Russia, it was basically all downhill.

In the aftermath of Russia’s defeat, the same strategic imperative remained, but the conditions of the post-Cold War world made it almost absurdly easy to carry out.

All that would have been needed were American policies that gave Russia and China meaningful, concrete reasons to think that their national interests and aspirations would be easier to achieve in cooperation with a US-led global order than in opposition to it.

Granting Russia and China the same position of regional influence that the US accords to Germany and Japan as a matter of course probably would have been enough.

A little forbearance, a little foreign aid, a little adroit diplomacy, and the United States would have been in the catbird’s seat, with Russia and China glaring suspiciously at each other across their long and problematic mutual border, and bidding against each other for US support in their various disagreements.

But that’s not what happened, of course.


A foreign policy for Americans

June 16, 2014

The U.S.  role as the “world’s only superpower” is unsustainable.  We Americans need to give it up, and behave like a normal country instead.

A normal country’s aim is peace and prosperity for its citizens, not world military supremacy

hubris_172349597-3A normal country will go to war to defend itself, and to defend allies to which it is bound by treaty, but not invade foreign countries to achieve vague goals or because of hypothetical or imaginary threats.

A normal country will not interfere in the internal politics of foreign countries, nor give billions to foreign dictators to use against their own people.

The USA was once a normal country.  The reason we changed was because of the unique threat posed by Hitler and the Nazi regime.   Hitler aspired to world domination (a goal that we Americans rightly regarded as insane) and he had to be stopped.  We Americans woke up to that fact too late.

After World War Two we Americans saw Stalin and the Soviet regime as a threat equivalent to Hitler.  We committed ourselves to a generation-long global duel with the USSR and the world-wide Communist movement, which ended with Ronald Reagan making peace with Mikhail Gorbachev and the later break-up of the Soviet Union.

That was the point at which the U.S. government could have decided to relax and tend to the nation’s internal needs.   Instead policy-makers such as Paul Wolfowitz thought that the goal of the United States should be to maintain its position as the world’s only super-power, and to keep itself safe by crushing any potential rivals.


Saudi Arabia displeased with new U.S. policies

October 24, 2013

For decades the keystone of United States foreign policy in the Middle East has been the unwritten alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

saudi-arabia-festivalThe deal was that Saudi Arabia would be a reliable supplier of oil to the United States and would recycle its oil income by investing in the U.S. economy and buying American weapons systems.  In return, the United States would support Saudi interests and defend the Kingdom from radical movements such as Al Qaeda and dangerous neighbors such as Saddam’s Iraq and the Ayatollahs’ Iran.

Now this alliance is falling apart over President Obama’s willingness to make peace with Syria and Iran.

I think this was bound to happen sooner or later.  The interests of a backward, theocratic monarchy are not the same as the interests of the United States.

I respect President Obama for his willingness to pursue an independent policy, and I hope he succeeds.   He faces great obstacles.  Saudi wealth gives the Kingdom great influence in American politics, and Obama also faces opposition from Israel, the third member of the unwritten alliance.

The best policy for the United States to follow is friendship with all Middle Eastern nations who are willing to be friendly to the U.S. rather taking sides in conflicts within the region.


What should be U.S. goals in the Middle East?

September 13, 2013

WikipediaMiddleEastmapThe conflicts in the Middle East are too complex for me to easily grasp.  I don’t kid myself that I understand them simply from having read a few books and magazine articles.

There is a struggle between poor people and working people versus a wealthy upper class and foreign corporations.   There is a struggle among democrats, theocrats and nationalists.   There is a religious struggle between Sunnis, Shiites and other Muslim factions and among Muslims, Christians, Jews and other religion.  There is a struggle by corporations and governments inside and outside the region for control of oil and gas fields and of pipeline routes.  There is a struggle between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.  There is a struggle for power and influence among Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey and other nations within the region, and among the USA, the UK, France, Russia and other powers outside the region.  Probably there are other important factors that I neglected to mention.   I can’t disentangle them all.

But each and every one of us Americans has the ability and responsibility to decide is what my country’s goals should be in regard to the region, and how far we should go to implement this goals.

I think that the best way for Americans to assure a supply of oil and natural gas is to have good relations with the nations that produce oil and gas and to build up our own economy so that we can afford to pay a fair price.   Taking sides with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states against their rivals in the region is not a dependable strategy for getting access to their oil.

Syria_regionI think that the best way for Americans to encourage other nations to give up poison gas, bio-weapons and nuclear weapons is to assure them that they do not need these weapons to deter attack.  The more the U.S. government threatens and bombs foreign countries, the more they will want weapons of mass destruction as a deterrent.

Back in the days when Israel’s existence was threatened by the Arab League, I thought the United States government should protect that country from attack.  If such a situation recurred, I suppose I would feel the same way.  But for now, the U.S. guarantee encourages the current Israel leadership to think they can attack foreign countries with impunity.   This is dangerous in the long run, even for Israel itself.

I think the best way to fight terrorists is to treat them as criminals and not as warriors.   U.S. actions create terrorists, when we arm and pay them to attack governments we’ve designated as enemies, or when we kill indiscriminately and raise up enemies bent on taking revenge.

I think the best way to promote freedom and democracy is to show friendship to governments that are free and democratic.  When a dictator is overthrown, the best way to help the new government is to provide practical aid, including helping to liquidate the government debts left over from the previous regime.  If the U.S. government was really interested in promoting freedom and democracy in Egypt, it would not have given the former regime $1 billion a year to buy U.S. weapons to use against their own people.

I think the best way to deal with governments that commit atrocities is to bring charges before international courts against the individuals responsible, based on evidence and proof.

I think the mission of the U.S. armed forces should be to defend the U.S. homeland, to defend U.S. allies to which our country is bound by treaties and to protect the lives of individual American citizens abroad.

I had a quiz with the original version of this post, but I deleted it because of apparent lack of interest and because the results would not have been meaningful.  However, I would be highly interested in comments about the goals of U.S. policy in the Middle East and about when the U.S. government would be justified in using military force.

High-tech spy agency messes up on basic spying

July 10, 2013

U.S. intelligence agencies have a technological capability that makes me feel as if I’m living in a science fiction novel.   They capture, record and retrieve millions of telephone, Skype and e-mail conversations, from Brazil to Germany.  Yet they can’t keep track of one high-profile fugitive.

imagesSomehow some higher-up got the idea that Edward Snowden was on a flight to Bolivia with President Evo Morales.   It appeals clear that, in violation of international law, they pressured the governments of France, Spain and Portugal to deny him landing rights, and the government of Austria to demand his plane be searched when he landed in Vienna.

The demonstration of the subservience of these governments to the United States, and the alienation of Latin American governments, did great damage to the effectiveness of U.S. diplomacy, all based on bad information and bad judgment.

Earlier a U.S. request for extradition of Snowden from Hong Kong was rejected because it was not filled out in accordance with Hong Kong law.   An extradition request from Ireland also was rejected for similar reasons.   As Casey Stengel supposedly said, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

The management expert Clayton Christiansen has written about how companies fail, even though they can do things no other company can do, because they scorn maintaining the ability to do common, low-end things that everyone can do.   This is an example of what he meant.  Hubris, meet Nemesis.

Click on Snowden: towards an endgame for brilliant analysis and writing by Pepe Escobar of Asia Times.  If you only have time to read one link, click on this one.

Click on On Snowden, has Putin been playing 11-dimensional chess? for an interesting speculative article on the Corrente web log.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the U.S. intelligence agencies were victims of malicious mischief by the Russian FSB.  Neither would I be surprised if the Ecuadorians in their London embassy put some misinformation into the hidden listening device they’ve known about for weeks, but only just now revealed.

At this point, is anybody certain of Snowden’s present whereabouts except the Russian government, Wikileaks and Snowden himself?

Click on Business failure and the neglect of low-end skills for my post on Clayton Christiansen.

Holiday weekend links roundup

May 25, 2013

Here are links to articles on military and foreign policy I found interesting, and you might find interesting, too.

Words of Peace and Acts of War David Bromwich examines the strange fact that President Barack Obama articulates as well as anyone why perpetual warfare, indiscriminate drone killings and Guantanamo Bay detention contradict American ideals and the rule of law, and yet he acts as if he somehow were helpless to stop doing it.

A Profound Lack of Self-Awareness.  “B Psycho” analyzes the contradictions in President Obama’s terrorism speech Thursday.

Military Quietly Grants Itself the Power to Police the Streets Without State or Local Consent.  Jed Morey of AlterNet says the U.S. military may have crossed a Rubicon.

Spycraft in Moscow .  Philip Giraldi makes the case in The American Conservative that Ryan Fogle, arrested in Moscow recently on espionage charges, really was a CIA agent, and speculates on why the Russian government chose to publicize the case.

Iran Hangs on in Quiet Desperation. Pepe Escobar of Asia Times explains how the clerics on Iran’s Guardian Council have rigged the results of the June 14 Presidential election by refusing all the serious opposition candidates permission to run.  I wouldn’t want to live under Iran’s government, but I don’t think the country’s governance would be improved by dropping bombs.

John Quincy Adams on Independence Day

July 4, 2012

John Quincy Adams gave a Fourth of July speech to the House of Representatives in 1821, with good advice to those who think it is the mission of the United States to impose our version of freedom and democracy on other nations.

America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government.  America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.  She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, equal justice, and equal rights. She has … respected the independence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own.  … …

John Quincy Adams

Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.  But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy.  She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.  She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.  She will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.

She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.  The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force.  The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished luster the murky radiance of dominion and power.  She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.

And later near the end of the speech.

Her glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of mind. She has a spear and a shield; but the motto upon her shield is Freedom, Independence, Peace.

Click on Speech on Independence Day by John Quincy Adams to read the whole thing.  Hat tip to Daniel Larison.

What’s the matter with the Republicans?

June 26, 2012

Two of the smartest people I know are conservative Republican political science professors, but the following poll doesn’t say much for the average level of thought in the Republican Party.

Above are the results of a poll conducted by Benjamin Valentino, a political scientist at Dartmouth College, in late April and early May.

He found that an overwhelming majority of Republicans polled think it is important that the United States be the dominant power in the world, but they don’t want to increase taxes or cut social programs to pay for it.

In fact, a majority of Republicans say “none of the above” when given the choice of raising taxes on rich people, cutting military spending or cutting Social Security and Medicare in order to reduce the federal government’s annual budget deficit.  Somehow I don’t think that means they are reconciled to deficit spending.

A majority also believe that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003, and that Barack Obama was born in another country.  Where does this misinformation come from?  Karl Rove?  The Koch brothers?  Glenn Beck?  Fox News?  Talk radio?  Tea Party rallies?  E-mail chain letters?

But I’ll say one thing for the Republicans, and that is that they know where they stand.

Nearly 85 percent of Republicans call themselves “conservative” or “very conservative” while fewer than 50 percent of Democrats call themselves “liberal” or “very liberal.”   That’s why the Republican leaders are conservative, but the Democratic leaders, with a few exceptions, aren’t very liberal.

Click on YouGov for the complete poll results.   There are many more interesting nuggets.

Click on A most unusual foreign policy poll for comment by Daniel Drezner, a political scientist at Tufts University.

Hat tip to Hullabaloo.

Drifting toward war with Iran

January 31, 2012

In this interview, Vali Nasr, a professor of international politics at Tufts University and a former adviser to the U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, says the Obama administration has backed the Iranian government into a no-win situation—accept economic sanctions that will destroy the country economically, or risk a war with the United States and its allies that will destroy the country physically.

President Obama’s intentions toward Iran are, as usual, hard to interpret.  I have read commentators who say his earlier talk of dialogue with Iran a setup to show that the Iranians are unreasonable so that he could organize an anti-Iran coalition and justify anti-Iran sanctions, covert action and threats.  I have read commentators who say his anti-Iran sanctions and threats are a setup to neutralize war hawks in the United States and Israel.

Whatever his intentions, the threat to block Iran’s oil exports is a threat to destroy the Iranian economy.  The Iranian government must choose whether to surrender or fight.  The Obama administration would no doubt reply that all the Iranian government has to do to end the sanctions is to give up its nuclear program—that is, its ability to defend itself.  The Associated Press reported in my morning newspaper that Israeli hawks are openly pressing for an attack on Iran while the country is still unable to retaliate.

War to change the Iranian regime is a risky business.  We would risk loss of access to Persian Gulf oil and a worldwide economic crash.  We would risk military confrontation with China and other countries.  We would face the certainty that the surviving Iranians would be committed to revenge against the United States and Israel, and the likelihood of a new regime that actually would be completely fanatical and irrational.

Stepping back from this brink would be a risk to the President’s re-election.  Continuing in the present policy would be a risk to the country.  President Obama has said all options are on the table.  One of these ought to be diplomacy.

Click on The Iranian oil embargo blowback for insight from Pepe Escobar of Asia Times on the impact of an Iranian oil embargo on the economy of Europe and the rest of the world..

Hat tip for the video to Glenn Greenwald.

Covert U.S. propaganda for Uzbek dictator

November 30, 2011

David Trilling in Foreign Policy magazine described the Obama administration’s support for one of the world’s most cruel dictators.  His article told how the U.S. Department of Defense finances covert propaganda via the Internet in support of the Karimov regime through its subcontractor, General Dynamics.

Gas-rich Uzbekistan, the most populous of the formerly Soviet Central Asian republics, has been ruled since before independence in 1991 by strongman President Islam Karimov, who is regularly condemned in the West for running one of the world’s most repressive and corrupt regimes. 

Freedom House gives Uzbekistan the lowest possible score in its Freedom in the World report, while watchdog groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported on widespread torture and forced child labor. 

The respected Russian human rights group Memorial says Karimov holds more political prisoners than all other post-Soviet republics combined, often through an “arbitrary interpretation” of the law.  The overwhelming majority of those convicted are somehow linked to Islam.  Memorial has found that thousands of “Muslims whose activities pose no threat to social order and security are being sentenced on fabricated charges of terrorism and extremism.”

Nonetheless, with Pakistani-American relations at a desperate low, Washington now seems more eager than ever to make overtures to Tashkent. In the past, Karimov has responded to U.S. criticism by threatening to shut down the supply route to Afghanistan.  In 2005, after Washington demanded an investigation into the massacre of hundreds of civilians in the eastern city of Andijan, he closed the American airbase at Karshi-Khanabad. 

So Washington’s expressions of disapproval have given way to praise. In September, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautiously commended Tashkent for its “progress” on political freedoms, and, more significantly, President Barack Obama moved to end restrictions on military aid, in place since 2004. Then, during an Oct. 22 visit to Tashkent, Clinton thanked the Uzbek leader in person for his cooperation. A State Department official traveling with her said he believed Karimov wants to leave a democratic legacy for “his kids and his grandchildren.”

Source: David Trilling | Foreign Policy.

 This is an example of both the militarization of U.S. foreign policy and the privatization of the U.S. military.  Relations with Uzbekistan are a part of foreign policy and should be the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State, but this has been taken over the U.S. Department of Defense and a private armaments manufacturer.  Note, too, that the pro-Karimov propaganda is directed at the world public, including the American public, which is being led to believe it comes from an objective source.

All this is necessary, it will be said, in order for the United States government to project its power on a global basis—in other words, for empire.  But as the United States becomes an empire, it ceases to be a republic.

Click on Propagandistan to read the whole article.

Incidentally, General Motors Corp. has opened an engine plant in Uzbekistan.  It will employ 1,200 workers.  Click on GM Opens Plant Where Clinton Talked “Rights” for details.

Click on Choihona for news updates on Uzbekistan.

Click on Human Rights Watch for more on Uzbekistan.

Americans want our wars to be crusades

June 27, 2011

Muslims often say the word “jihad” is misunderstood.  They say the word “jihad” means struggle, and the “great jihad” is the struggle against your own sins and weaknesses, while fighting enemies on the battlefield is a “lesser jihad.”

The use of the word “crusade” by Americans is just as broad.  When we Americans use the word “crusade,” we mean a fight for good against evil.  Movements for social reform or religious revival are called crusades.  A “crusading reporter” has a mission to expose corruption and social evils.  General Eisenhower’s memoir of the Second World War was entitled Crusade in Europe.

We Americans like to think of our wars as crusades, as righteous struggles to eliminate evil.  We are reluctant to go to war unless it is a crusade, and we don’t have any staying power unless we convince ourselves we are in a crusade.  We don’t like to think that our government wages war out of economic self-interest or for geopolitical advantage, just like other governments, and we become cynical and angry when we find out that it does.

We were told our Revolutionary War was a crusade against the tyranny of King George III.  We were told the Mexican War was a crusade to extend American freedom from sea to shining sea.  We were told our Civil War was – on both sides –  a crusade against the enemies of American freedom.  We were told that the Spanish-American War was a crusade to liberate the Cubans and Filipinos from the tyranny of Spain.  We were told American intervention in the First World War was a crusade to make the world safe for democracy against the threat of Kaiser Wilhelm’s despotism.

Disillusionment held us back from crusading against Nazi Germany – rather the Germans declared war on us.  But Hitler really was as evil as our government’s propaganda said he was.  The Allies may not have been morally pure, and the Second World War may not have made the world safe for democracy, but we look back on that war as a good war, a war that saved the world from totalitarian barbarism.

After the Second World War came the Cold War.  Stalin arguably was as evil, or nearly as evil, as Hitler, but it was hard to present the Cold War as a crusade because, unlike the Second War War, its aim was only to create a barrier evil, not to eradicate it.   American interventions in Korea and Vietnam quickly became unpopular because they were not crusades.  They did not promise an end to evil.

Nations with an aristocratic tradition regard war as a normal activity.  The purpose of a hereditary aristocracy, after all, is to breed people trained from birth for fighting and military leadership.  They don’t require high moral justifications for war.  But we Americans don’t like to face the fact that we go to war for economic, geopolitical and other morally impure reasons.

During the 1991 Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush said it was about “jobs, jobs, jobs” – meaning that the U.S. economy required us to control the oil of the Persian Gulf.  This explanation met with indifference, and we soon were told that Saddam Hussein was equivalent to Hitler.