Thursday, July 26, 2007

Realism and Idealism in the Middle East

On Friday I wrote about Michael Oren's new book Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East 1776-Present with respect to the role played by idealism and realism in US policy toward the Middle East. I wrote at the time, when I was about halfway through the book,
[Oren] hasn't said it yet - maybe he's saving it for his conclusion - but one thing I've noticed is interesting. When power - or the threat of power - was used appropriately in pursuit of both idealist and realist goals, the outcome was generally favorable.

[...] When power was used - or not used - strictly for narrow economic or political interests, the result did not fare so well.
Now that I've finished the book (and highly recommend it), I can say that that was essentially his argument, but with one clarification.
By responsibly wielding its strength and consistently upholding its principles, the United States might yet transform its vision of peaceful, fruitful relations with the Middle East from fantasy into reality.
That is, US policy toward the Middle East cannot be based solely on a cold, detached realpolitik, but must also include recognition of American "idealist" values. At the same time, however, power and focus on strategic interests is a necessary component, otherwise American policy becomes aimless and consists of seeking peace at all costs. Oren argues that this (mistaken) approach was followed by presidents like Kennedy, Carter and Clinton. Let me add now, that lest you think this is some partisan screed, Oren is equally as critical of Republican administrations and saves some of his harshest criticism for Nixon and Reagan, the latter of which he argues (and I would tend to agree) pursued the very realpolitik policies in the Middle East that he denounced in US policy toward the Soviet Union.

The greatest value of Oren's book is that it provides a full, detailed, comprehensive history of American dealings with the Middle East, from interactions at the government level all the way down to tourists and missionaries. For a region of which too much of our historical knowledge comes piecemeal from movies, fiction, and spotty and incomplete histories, this book is a great asset to American understanding of its past dealings with the Middle East, including what has worked and what hasn't. Historically, and particularly in the post-War period, the most coherent approaches to the region have combined the concepts of power and ideals, and some of the least coherent approaches have focused just on one or the other.

Truman recognized the imporance of combining American power and American ideals in pursuit of US interests, and generally enjoyed success when he did so. In 145, the French bombed Syria in order to put down a riot that broke out after France reneged on its promise to withdraw from Syria. Four hundred people were killed as a result. Truman sent a cable to de Gaulle warning of serious consequences from the Americans or British if he didn't withdraw his troops back to barracks, and de Gaulle readily complied. Another example, a perfect example in fact, was the Truman Doctrine, pledging financial aid for Greece and Turkey. The idea was to rebuild their economies to the point where democratic governments could take hold and serve as bulwarks against Soviet expansionism. This would later serve as the model for the Marshall Plan.

Despite his frequent recognition of the importance of American ideals in foreign policy, this wasn't always the case with Truman. Where he did solely pursue strategic interests with no inclusion of American values, he experienced some of his greatest foreign policy blunders and headaches. The best example came as a result of riots that had broken out in Egypt. Truman feared the Soviets would take advantage of the chaos and attempt to gain a political foothold in Egypt.

As a result, Truman told Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA officer and grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, to "identify an Egyptian nationalist figure, 'a Moslen Billy Graham,' who could restore order in the country and enroll it in a NATO-like Middle East Defense Organization." The nationalist figure Roosevelt found turned out to be Gamal Abdel Nasser, who would cause headaches for the US in the Middle East for years to come. In addition to focusing on a figure solely to restore order, Truman's biggest mistake was forgetting what it was that made NATO (and still makes it) so successful: the common ideals held by each of its members. This was also what the Middle East lacked, making any Middle Eastern NATO doomed from the beginning.

Truman's installation of Nasser in power in Egypt proved to cause trouble for Eisenhower as well. After Nasser nationalized the Suex Canal, France, Britain and Israel coordinated an attack on Egypt. Rather than support its traditional allies of France and Britain (we didn't really become close with Israel until after 1967), the US strongly opposed the attack, and backed Nasser, humiliating France and Britain. Nasser didn't return the favor. Soon after, he started to turn strongly against the US, denouncing it as the new imperialist power in the Middle East. It turns out, the administration had started to consider overthrowing Nasser even before the Suez crisis, but based mostly on a cold calculation of strategic interests, decided keeping Britain and France from gaining an advantage in the Suez was most important.

Where "ideals" did play a role in this decision-making, that the US should side with an independent Egypt rather than colonial Britain and France, it was a misconception of what American ideals consisted of, one that would be repeated many times in dealings with the Middle East. This misconception was that independence for former colonies was so important, that it didn't really matter who took control, so long as he was a native of the country. I'll touch more on this later, but while independence is indeed an American ideal, independence followed by dictatorship is not. I would argue that an independent dictatorship ruled by the whim of a tyrant is the worst possible outcome - worse even than being a colony of a constitutional democracy or monarchy. Nevertheless, it was unofficial American policy at least as far back as the Wilson administration.

Oren argues that Kennedy had the opposite problem: it was too idealistic, with little tendency to project power in the Middle East. Kennedy also had the romantic idea that an independent ruler of Middle Eastern countries was the same thing as a democratic ruler, that independence automatically meant democracy. Eager to repair relations with Nasser, who had turned on its original patron, the country that put him in power, Kennedy gushed effusively about how the founding of the United Arab Republic (the short-lived union between Egypt and Syria) came on George Washington's birthday, and how the Arab states were like a young American confederation, eager to form a union. Nasser responded by promoting the overthrow of a pro-American regime in Yemen. He also consistently violated cease-fire agreements the administration tried to broker between Israel and Egypt.

Oren has very little time for the Nixon/Kissinger policy toward the Middle East, arguing that it was one of the worst examples of pursuing strategic interests even at the cost of American ideals. The administration's policy toward Israel was especially awful. When Jordan tried to get the PLO out of its country, Syria threatened to back the PLO. Jordan turned to the US for help, but we declined, out of fear of drawing the Soviets into the conflict on the Syrian side. Instead, we turned to Israel to take military action to drive the PLO out of Jordan. Despite being asked to go to war based on the interests of the United States and an Arab state, with comparatively few of its own interests at stake, Israel nevertheless quickly agreed, even though war proved unnecessary in the end.

The response of the US to Israel was less than gracious. A year later, after the terrorist assassinations at Munich, the US failed to respond out of fear of Angering the Soviets during negotiations on Vietnam and nuclear stockpiles. When the Nixon administration tried to secure Egyptian-Israeli peace, it continually pushed for Israeli territorial concessions. Nasser, meanwhile, continued to break any cease-fire the parties were able to broker, in one case by moving Soviet-made missiles into the truce zone. When Israeli PM Golda Meir received intelligence that Egypt and other Arab states were planning an offensive in 1973, she thought about striking Egypt pre-emptively. Kissinger, however, talked her out of it, arguing that international opinion would be against Israel.

The war initially proved to be a disaster for Israel, but DoD warned against supplying Israel, because it would hurt the US war effort in Vietnam. Since it was known that the Soviets were supplying the Arab states, this argument seems pretty silly. What were we fighting for in Vietnam if not to contain the spread of Soviet political and military influence throughout the world - precisely what was happening in the Middle East. To not counte Soviet involvement in the war would betray the very reason we were fighting in Vietnam for in the first place. Oren sums up the dismal Middle East policy of the administration, arguing,
By concentrating almost exclusively on global strategic factors, the US failed to prevent a regional conflict and, by dallying on diplomatic efforts, may even have hastened its eruption...Could realism alone suffice to rectify this devastation and clear a path toward peace? The dispiriting answer was provided in Geneva.
Oren's analysis of the Ford administration, probably because of Kissinger's continued presence, was not much kinder than that of the Nixon administration. But let's focus on one particular incident. During a border dispute between Iran and Iraq, Kissinger urged th Iraqi Kurds to rebel against Iraqi rule. They did, but were quickly crushed by the Iraqi military. When the Kurds appealed to Kissinger for help, he ignored them, saying "Covert action should not be confused with missionary work." Seems to me a perfect way to lose allies and support.

Carter's policy toward the Middle East made many of the same mistakes as Kennedy's: failure to project force, rudderless idealism with no regard to strategic interests (except with the Carter Doctrine, which came far too late), willingness to assume independence from colonial rule was in itself an American "ideal," regardless of what type of regime took power and a willingness to assume dictators were the legitimate representatives of their people. In that case, Carter not only ignored power altogether, but it's idea of what the "faith" part consisted of was entirely misguided.

Like I said before, Oren reserves a great deal of criticism for Reagan, but that doesn't mean he didn't have a great deal of respect for Reagan. In essense, Oren argues, his policies toward the Soviet Union were correct, but he failed to apply the same principles to his Middle East policy. Instead, he pursued the very course he rejected in his dealings with the Soviets. In fact, Reagan was almost given an impossible task having to deal both with the Soviet Union and the rise of terrorism and extremism in the Middle East. Oren argues that Reagan's policy of backing Arab secularists against Muslim extremists, and supporting Israel against Soviet proxies ultimately proved incompatible. His support for Israel came from its willingness to fight with the West against communism.

Nevertheless, "he regarded oil as America's paramount interest in the Middle East, and resisted any Israeli action liable to jeopardize it." This included supplying AWACS surveillance aircraft to the Saudis, despite knowing that thee Saudi regime funded anti-Western Wahabbist propaganda in order to bolster its own legitimacy. The administration also suspended a strategic cooperation agreement with Israel when Arab states protested its attempt to annex the Golan Heights. The US also failed to support the Israeli raid on the Osirak nuclear facility, and Reagan even sent Jeane Kirkpatrick to confer with the Iraqi ambassador to the UN, who was drafting a Security Council resolution condemning the raid.

The administration oversaw the withdrawal of the PLO from Beirut to Tunis, "only to boycott the organization thereafter and then, in the final volte-face, engaged in diplomatic dialogue with Arafat." Reagan also backed himself into a corner in his dealings with Arafat. When the first intifada broke out, Arafat was in Tunis and was just as surprised as the US. Furthermore, he found he had no control over the Palestinians. Needing to bolster his own position and "legitimacy," he "renounced terrorism" and agreed to recognize Israel. These had been the two conditions set upon Arafat for recognition by the West, and when he met them, the US had no choice except to accept the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians and to open contacts with Arafat.

The notion that he represented Palestinians was, of course, silly since he had absolutely no control over the intifada, but Reagan made the same mistake as past presidents in failing to note the difference between an indigenous leader who claims to represent the people, and a legitimate, democratic government. By setting only these preconditions, the Reagan administration allowed Arafat a fait accompli. Of course, he soon proved how little trustworthy he was, when he refused to condemn an Abu Abbas attack on an Israeli beach, and the US broke off contacts once again.

Another perfect example of how Reagan's Middle East contradictory policies got so tangled up in one another is his policy toward Iran and Iraq. After the administration tried to deter state sponsors of terrorism (Iran's support for Hizbollah attacks and kidnappings) proved ineffective, it got word that "moderate elements" in the Iranian regime (sound familiar?) would obtain the release of the hostages in return for antitank missiles needed for its war against Iraq. The administration agreed, and began funneling arms through Israel. Naturally, when it came time for Iran to make good on its end of the deal, it refused to rein in Hizbollah and launched missile boat attacks against Kuwaiti oil tankers. The Reagan adminstration therefore began arming Iran and Iraq at the same time, undermining the rationale for supporting Baghdad as a bulwark against Muslim extremists in Iran.

Despite his approach in dealing with the Soviet Union, Reagan nevertheless pursued in the Middle East the very policies he had sworn off as failures in dealing with communism. He made many of the same mistakes as past presidents, both assuming indegenous dictatorships were what American "ideals" consisted of, so long as they were under self-rule. Unlike past presidents, Reagan knew in his dealings with the Soviets that these were indeed mistaken assumptions, which makes his application of them in the Middle East that much more puzzling and tragic. Oren summed up the Reagan policy toward the Middle East with the following:
"Reagan proved incapable of coping with the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iran-Iraq War and tensions between secular and Islamic regimes." He suggests that the American people simply did not realize this because their attention was on Europe and the beginning of the fall of Communism, as well as myths perpetuated by Hollywood of the Middle East as a mystical place and terrorists as more bumbling and comical than dangerous and tyrannical.

Oren gives Bush 41 higher marks on this issue, though his reaction is mixed. While the administration wasn't necessarily right from the start, it knew enough to change course rather than stick to a strict pursuit of material stategic interests, but then only to change back again. After Iraq began massing troops on the border with Kuwait, the US actually had two strategic interests at stake: Kuwaiti oil or Iraqi oil. As a result, it attempted to remain neutral on the issue. A 1990 National Security Directive states "Normal relations between the United States and Iraq...promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East." Oren argues, "The White House continued to value Iraq for exercising a crucial constraint on Iran, and even exerting a moderating influence on the Palestinians." This is all to explain the famous April Glaspie quote that the US had "no opinion on Arab-Arab conflicts" that probably gave Saddam the final incentive to cross into Kuwait.

Oren argues, however, "America in the past had tried to stay out of the Middle East disputes...only to be violently dragged into them, and the conflict in the Gulf was unexceptional." In the end, the Bush adminsitration recognized the right decision, but after the war, the strategic calculation framework fell quickly back into place. After encouraging the Shia and Kurds to rebel against Saddam, the Bush administration decided against going to Baghdad and ousting the regime, leaving the Shia and Kurds to get crushed by the Iraqi army, with unintentional help from the US. Colin Powell, meanwhile, spoke for the administration when he said that he "saw a chastened, but still militarily viable Iraq as an American asset" in countering Iran.

With the Clinton administration, Oren sees a lot of similarities with Kennedy and Carter. But Oren is actually somewhat sympathetic towards Clinton. Despite his continued willingness to negotiate with Arafat, despite the tyrant's inability to rein in terrorists, Oren argues that Clinton had no love for the dictator. When Arafat, after another failed round of negotiating at Camp David in 1999, told Clinton he was a great man, Clinton replied, "I am not a great man. I am a failure, and you have made me one." The Clinton administration's desire for peace not linked to any real strategic interests was best illustrated by the scene that took place in Paris at the US Embassy. After another failed round of negotiations, when Arafat was trying to make his getaway to avoid having to go through further discussions, Madeleine Albright chased him down the embassy driveway in her heels yelling for the Marine guards to "Close the gate! Close the gate!" Oren sums up Clinton's Middle East policy with the following:
In general, Clinton rfrained from resorting to force as a means of securing America's interests in the Middle East. There seemed little need.

[...] He had refrained whenever possible from projecting American military strength against Islamic extremists, but then discovered that the extremists were determined to bring the battle to the US
Once again, seeking peace for its own sake was not enough, and once again left American policy in the region rudderless.

Oren also argues that the American people share some of the blame for the misdirection in America's Middle East policy.
The American people should also have grasped the danger. Terrorist assaults, ending with the Cole and going back to hijackings and assassinations of the early 1970s, had become a reality of American life.

[...] Yet, confident in their military, Americans still had difficulty conceiving how a group of untrained men from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon could penetrate their country and attack its most prominent city and capital.

[...] Reluctant to confront the danger at its sourcees, overconfident in its military, and still deluded by Middle Eastern myths, Americans were ill prepared for the ultimate jihadist aggression.
Oren speculates some, "influenced by the theories of [Edward] Said and [Noam] Chomsky, believed that Arabs and Iranians had far more to fear from Americans than vice versa." He also places some of the blame on the "fantasy" aspect of his title, arguing that movies and fiction gave a romanticized notion of the Middle East, to the extent that "Many...might have wondered why the inhabitants of so mystical a land, flying airliners rather than carpets, would strike at the United States, a nation that had never harmed them."

There seem to me to be two additional lessons to learn from Oren's history, that he doesn't get into, beyond the appropriate balance between power and ideals. The first, which I've already touched on, is that many of the headaches America experienced in the region came not from a failure to apply "ideals" to foreign policy, but a mistaken notion of what those ideals were. This goes back at least as far as Wilson, who argued for self determination and an end to colonialism, but failed to take into account the nature of the regimes that would replace the colonial administration. As I've mentioned, independence is a necessary ideal, but not sufficient on its own. It must also be accompanied by some sort of legitimate rule whereby the needs and desires of the people are appropriately addressed by the government. From Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy in Egypt, through to Carter throughout the Middle East, Reagan in the Palestinian Territories and Bush 41 in Kuwait after the Gulf War, American policy has addressed "ideals," but has done so incorrectly. As a result, the outcome is often worse, both for the people of the country and for US strategic interests, than what came before.

The second lesson one could draw from Oren's history is that when American policymakers have pursued strategic interests with little regard to American values, they mistakenly assumed that the dictators had the same interests as the United States, and that they would act in good faith. Time and again this proved to be false, as Nasser turned against the US after we had sided with him against our traditional allies; as continued attempts to negotiate with Arafat proved fruitless as he continued to support terrorism, whether covertly or overtly; as Iran failed to uphold its end of the bargain it reached with the Reagan administration to secure the release of American hostages in Lebanon; and as Saudi Arabia continued to fund anti-Western Wahabbist propaganda that would eventually inspire terrorist attacks that killed thousands of Americans.

Whenever we trusted dictators and tyrants enough to try to deal with them, they usually left us disappointed. They received a great number of benefits from American backing, including international legitimacy and material concessions from the US, but had no concept of good faith and therefore left us worse off then we were initially. This, obviously, should give caution to those who say, were we to negotiate formally with Iran or Syria, that the worst that can happen is that nothing comes of the talks and we prove their intransigence. History has shown that these talks can actually be a negative for the United States, giving up much even if nothing is agreed upon, and getting nothing in return.

Oren does not have much to say about the Bush 43 administration, mostly because the verdict is still out. He is quite critical of the way in which the war was carried out, but he does make this claim, which will prove to be as controversial as it probably is true.
More than any other post-war President, Bush mapped the course of America's meandering relations with the Middle East.

He was the sum of many of America's diverse experiences in the region, a warrior-diplomat...and a warrior evangelist...In the manner of Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt, Bush expressed few qualms about projecting force...Yet in the fashion of Theodore's fifth cousin, Franklin, Bush was deeply appreciative of the value of oil and reluctant to alienate its suppliers, especially in Saudi Arabia. He shared Andrew Jackson's solicitude for American trade with the Middle East...

[...] Bush gravitated towards the...popular and politically influential evangelical churches. This made him the spiritual heir and not merely the genetic descendant of Professor George Bush who in the 1840s advocated the creation of a Jewish state, and of the colonial theologians who warned of the dangers of militant Islam...Along with this religious zeal, however, the president also espoused the secular fervor of the neoconservatives...who preached the Middle East's redemption through democracy. The merging of sacred and civic missions in Bush's mind placed him firmly in the Wilsonian tradition. But the same faith that deflected Wilson from entering hostilities in the Middle East spurred Bush to decide in favor of war.
Oren is not wearing blinders with regards to Iraq. He knows everything that has gone wrong, and he details the mishandling of the aftermath of the war. He also knows the failings in US policy towards the Middle East in a broader, historical sense. But, as he puts it:
The history of the US-Middle East relations, I reminded myself, was not one of unqualified kindness and altruism. American oil companies pumped billions of barrels of Arabian oil not for the betterment of the indigenous population but for their own enrichment. Successive administrations had backed the oppressive regimes that advanced America's interests and conspired to overthrow popular leaders. Yet for all its demerits, the record of American interaction with the Middle East is rife with acts of decency and graced with good intentions. The United States was unrivaled in introducing modern education and health care to the area, in extending emerrgency relief and building infrastructure, in obtaining freedom of colonized nations, and in attempting to achieve security and peace. On balance, Americans historically brought far more beneficence than avarice to the Middle East and caused significantly less harm than good.
He is optimistic about the US's venture in the region, so long as it is accomplished by "prudent demonstrations of America's powerand firm, but tolerant applications of its faith (meaning democracy, not Christianity --ed.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

To Talk Or Not To Talk

I hate to beat up on Andrew Sullivan around these parts, but sometimes it really is too easy. Yesterday he posted a video of a public hanging in Iran, rightly noting the barbarity.
A young woman is hanged, as a mob shouts "God is great!" The method of hanging is not by knocking someone off a gallows. It's an excruciating, slow ascent. The woman struggles for a long time.
After coming real close to drawing a moral equivalence between the Bush administration and the Iranian regime, he finishes with an observation about "this barbaric justice."
This is part of a regime we are trying to negotiate with.
Perhaps I'm wrong, but this seems like me to be disbelief, and to be a tacit acknowledgment that there is no arguing in good faith with a regime that acts like this. But it's hard to tell, because Andrew has been all over the map in the past over what to do with Iran.

24 May 2005
We are fighting a global war with the manpower for a minor spat. Technology can only do so much. And when you further consider that, in order to win, we need to deal with Syria and Iran at the very least, you can see the scale of our problem.
03 March 2006 (Speaking of a development in Iraq that "merit[ed] cautious optimism"):
Scott McClellan has confirmed that Zalmay Khalilzad has been authorized to negotiate with Iran solely on the issue of Iraq...And so, as I put it the other day, "sometimes the darkest days are inevitable - even necessary - before the sky ultimately clears."
06 September 2006:
Fighting does not merely mean brute military force. It can mean more skillful global diplomacy with other great powers to isolate Iran's regime, better counter-insurgency tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan, covert military action, expanded intelligence, as well as subtle but real support for the people of Iran.
07 September 2006 (in response to a reader who said we need to talk to Iran):
Practically speaking, I'd pour many more troops into Iraq, especially Baghdad, ratchet up the diplomatic isolation of Iran, encourage the domestic unrest in that country, and wait till we have a functioning executive branch in Washington.
How do you isolate someone while at the same time negotiate with them?

22 October 2006:
At some point, Washington may have to talk to Iran and Syria - or face meltdown.
09 November 2006 (In response to Bush 41 advisers Gates and Baker):
Daddy's back to clean up the mess. Between Gates and Baker, we may have to talk to Iran. What other options are there?
07 December 2006 (This one's a little convoluted. Get ready to be confused):
Many neoconservatives argue that Iran has precisely the opposite intention, and so we have no leverage; and even if we did, Ahmadinejad is not someone any rational actor can negotiate with. I don't want to go all Baker-Hamilton on you, but both sides may have captured parts of the truth. Let's assume the neocons are right (and I think they are) about the nature of the Tehran regime.
Did you get that? Neocons argue the regime is so bad that you can't negotiate them. Put simply, Ahmadinejad is an irrational actor and another rational actor simply cannot deal with him. Andrew agrees with that assessment. You would infer from this that he too would find it difficult to negotiate with an irrational actor. But you'd be wrong. From the same post:
And why not talk to the regimes in Syria and Iran? If they are what the Bush administration says they are, the diplomacy will go nowhere, and we can then be seen to have at least tried.
This assumption that diplomacy is either advantageous or neutral is rather common. There is a third possible outcome. We've seen in the past how negotiating with dictators who are acting in bad faith (and, as Andrew agrees, are not rational actors) can actually be a net negative for us, whether it increases a state's prestige in parts of the international community or encourages dictators to pursue their own agenda, knowing we're going to talk to them no matter what they do.

29 May 2007 (Responding to an argument from Juan Cole for engagement with Iran):
I'm still a skeptic, but see few other good options right now...
His latest comment seems to suggest that little will come as a result of negotiating with such a barbaric regime, but it's hard to tell.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Politics of Cynicism

Putting aside Obama's unhesitating willingness to meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, Cuba, Venezuela and North Korea (no word yet on whether Robert Mugabe and Omar al-Bashir feel left out) without expecting a thing in return from those leaders, let's turn to this comment from Obama in the YouTube debate
COOPER: Senator Obama, how do you address those who say you're not authentically black enough?


OBAMA: Well...

COOPER: Not my question; Jordan's question.

OBAMA: You know, when I'm catching a cab in Manhattan -- in the past, I think I've given my credentials.

So Obama couldn't get a cab because the New York City taxi drivers are racist? According to this website, 95% of New York City cab drivers are immigrants, and 70% of all drivers are South Asian. Are the Pakistani cabbies racist? I don't know what he means by "in the past" but I get the feeling that even when he's not running for president Obama usually dresses pretty well. So the cab driver would rather forgo a fare from a well dressed man, with the possibility of a good tip, because that man is black?

It doesn't really matter though, because it was just Obama pandering to the Al Sharpton race-hustler crowd, who claim he's not black enough. So he had to prove his bona fides, by giving an instance of where he was the victim of racism. But then he continues:
But I do believe in the core decency of the American people, and I think they want to get beyond some of our racial divisions.
Here, he's talking to everyone else in the country. Even though he just disparaged all hard-working New York City cabbies as racist, he's sure we're good people and want to get beyond race. The seems to me to be rather, well, cynical.

If Obama were smart, his example of when he was the victim of racism (and I don't doubt that he has been) for him to pull out in later debates to pander to Sharpton and his ilk would be a time when he was targeted by one person, not an entire group that consists of 40,000 people.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Am I Ernesto Cardenal?

Daniel Larison responds to my post on the relationship between God and freedom with an argument I wasn't expecting.
This liberation theology, not unlike Marxist liberation theology before it, is a perfect example of how Christians twist and distort the Faith to suit the supposed political needs of the moment.
This is interesting, because as a conservative and as a conservative Catholic, I've never had to defend myself against such charges before. So, sure, I guess insofar as we were discussing liberty from a perspective of religion, then yes, I guess you can call it "liberation theology" if you insist. But no, I don't see the connection between this argument and Marxist liberation theology. Let's go to the source of the Church's problem with Marxist liberation theology, Benedict XVI writing as Cardinal Ratzinger.
Nothing lies outside political commitment. Everything has a political color.

[...] An attempt is being made to recast the whole Christian reality in the categories of politico-social liberation praxis.
I'm making no attempt to "recast the whole Christian reality" or even part of the Christian reality. The salvation we receive because Christ died for us and rose from the dead is not contingent on joining some sort of worldwide crusade for democracy. I am not claiming that the "Christian reality" can only be seen through temporal political activism. I am pointing out that the teachings of the Catholic Church argues for political freedom, not that you're going to hell if you don't take up arms to create democracies everywhere you find injustice.
The view arose that the existing theological tradition was no longer adequate...

[...] [This] school...[cut] off the path to theology in its prior form and so encourag[ed] people all the more to produce new constructions.
Again, I don't see how this applies to me. I'm not reorienting the theological tradition Benedict speaks of in any way. I never even brought up theology.
The challenge evidently called for new answers which were not to be found in the existing tradition.
Again, I don't see how this applies to me. Benedict's illustrates his problem with Marixst liberation theology with the Sermon on the Mount. Liberation theology, he argues, takes an event in the Bible, such as the Sermon on the Mount where God sided with the poor, and chooses to interpret in according the "Marxist dialectic of history," arguing that God favored class struggle. Any attempt to disagree, furthermore, was a sign that you were part of the oppressor class, determined to hold on to power. Nevermind that this was all contrary to Church teaching and tradition, but it was the way they interpreted the Bible - and you had to agree.

Fortunately for me, the Church already has a position on the issue of temporal authority - and I happen to agree with it. Larison actually concedes this point when he turns the debate to which type of regime would best provide for a "society and government...well-ordered according to prudence, justice, charity, moderation."
To the extent that a liberal democratic government can realise these virtues or allows people to realise them, we can say that it does not stand in opposition to what God wills. It might even be argued (though I would not necessarily argue this) that this is the regime best suited for cultivating such virtues.

[...] Those who gave it much thought routinely came down, of course, in favour of monarchy...
Well, ok. But this isn't really what Bush and I are arguing. Bush has not argued that democracy, per se, is "God's gift to mankind," but that freedom is. I agree that there could be a distinction here. If freedom and liberty were still able to thrive in a monarchy, perhaps Larison would have a point. But in the last century, events have shown time and again that monarchy isn't up to the task, and that a democratic form of government is now the best suited to govern accordingly. That may not always be the case, but it is for now.

Larison also mentions a couple times that even today, Catholics are obligated to respect "legitimate authority," regardless of regime type. I also agree with this - particularly since he always qualifies authority with the word "legitimate." This is, indeed, also Church teaching.
The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them
But a regime is only legitimate if it serves the common good.
Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed.
Further, the Catechism lays out what constitutes a legitimate regime.
Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a "moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility"

Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, "authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse."
I'm hard pressed to think of a country today that this applies to that isn't a democracy.

Nevertheless, it is Larison's last two sentences that makes me realize we'll probably never agree on this issue.
Against the sweep of that tradition, the liberation theologians have on their side the Declaration of Independence and the occasional passage from Algernon Sydney. How could it be that I remain convinced that liberation theology is bunk?
If having the Declaration of Independence on my side makes me a liberation theologian, I'm ok with that.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Is Realism Realistic?

Jonah and Andrew Stuttaford are having a fascinating debate (Andrew pt 1, pt 2; Jonah pt 1, pt 2) over at The Corner on the topic of the idealism and the national interest. Andrew argues that the national interest, narrowly defined, is all a government is obligated to pursue - and all they should pursue. Jonah is having none of it.
Realists work on the assumption that government follow their national interests which they then define in incredibly narrow terms of power, security and money. In effect, realists are a breed of utopian because they expect governments to be purer than the people they represent.

Second, I think it is impossible identify clear and bright lines between what is morally right and what is right simply in terms of national interest. Cost benefit analysis is unreliable when dealing with the question of, say, whether we should honor a commitment to an imperiled ally or persecuted minority. We dishonorably abandoned the Kurds and Shiites during the first Gulf War in the name of realpolitick and we paid a price in terms of realpolitick later.

It's not really a surprise that I'm on Jonah's side in this one. The biggest problem with realism, narrowly defined to mean increasing power - latent and actual - is that it has often focused almost entirely on the near term. Little attention was paid to long term consequences. I'm currently finishing up Power, Faith and Fantasy: America in the Middle East, 1776 to the Present by Michael Oren - an incredibly interesting study that, among other things, examines what has driven American policy towards the Middle East. Oren shows how the quest for power and America's "faith" - that is, both religion and the more secular American values of freedom and liberty, have often come into conflict with one another in influencing American policy (and European policy, when he focuses on that as well).

He hasn't said it yet - maybe he's saving it for his conclusion - but one thing I've noticed is interesting. When power - or the threat of power - was used appropriately in pursuit of both idealist and realist goals, the outcome was generally favorable. A few examples include freeing the Americans held captive by the states of Barbary or intervening in Egypt to put down riots in which hundreds of Jews were killed - and then setting up clinics and shelters for anyone who needed them. In the latter case, the United States earned goodwill from both the British and French (for putting down the riots) and the Egyptian people (for the clinics and shelters) - and at no time before intervening could the United States have known the the results would turn out the way they did. A strict reading of the national interest would have cautioned against flexing too much military muscle in what the British determined "their" territory, especially at a time when Anglo-American relations were not at their best.

When power was used - or not used - strictly for narrow economic or political interests, the result did not fare so well. The first example was the Armenian genocide. Despite being urged by nearly all sides - including a bipartisan Congress - to intervene, Wilson refused. He did this for two reasons. First, he did not want to put the Western missionaries in the Ottoman Empire in a position of being harmed or used for blackmail. Though most people pointed out that they could just leave for a while, and then return, he still refused. The second reason was his desire to avoid having the fight the Ottoman Empire. In the end, the US still wound up at war with Germany, but Wilson still tried to avoid declaring war on the Ottomans. The result, of course, was hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions dead. Another result was America's comparatively small role in determining the political future of the former Ottoman Empire after the war. Instead of Wilson's 14 Points, we got European mandates - and we know how successful that was.

Which brings me to my next example. Wilson is often maligned for his policy of democratization, but what is often overlooked is that very little of his Fourteen Points plan - or his larger plan for self-determination and democracy - was ever fully implemented - especially not in the Middle East. He argued, "the other nationalities which are now under Turkish rule should be assured an undoubted security of life and an absolutely unmolested opportunity of an autonomous development." Instead, because of a combination of Congressional opposition at home and European reluctance to lose vast territories as well as their land and sea trading routes and, in Britain's case, their route to India, we ended up with the the mandate, this vague system whereby enlightened rule by the Europeans was supposed to ready the various territories for democracy - which would come at some unstated date. I'm not automatically opposed to this concept for developing states - a debate for another time - but needless to say, there was room for improvement on the enlightenment front.

So we'll never know if Wilson's immensely idealistic plan - fully implemented - would have worked. There is plenty of reason for doubt. There are other problems I have with Wilson's policies, most imporant of which was his emphasis on seeing national groups ruled independent of colonial rule, regardless of whether or not the leaders of these new entities were actually democratic - which they usually weren't. Nevertheless, I don't think it would have been worse that the outcome of the European policies, which were based solely on narrowly construed economic and political interests.

A final example of where narrowly defined self interest, absent any hint of idealism, has led the United States into a predicament was the founding of Saudi Arabia and the discovery of vast quantities of oil. I hate to bring this up less I sound like economic interests like oil aren't of huge importance. Nor do I want to sound anything like Chalmers Johnson, but there is something to the idea of blowback. When Ibn Saud conquered the Arabian peninsula and established the state of Saudi Arabia, the United States refused to officially recognize the state for a time due to the nature of the new regime and the means by which it took power. But that quickly changed with the discovery of vast quantities of oil.

From that point onward, little attention was paid to the nature of the House of Saud, with a few exceptions. When Ibn Saud asked for $10 million in Lend Lease aid during WWII, Roosevelt rightly pointed out that the program was meant to advance democracy in its fight against tyranny, and given the nature or his rule in Saudi Arabia, Ibn Saud could get stuffed. For the most part however, all attention remained on the oil, and keeping it from the Germans during the war, and in times of peace, Britain and France. We see the result of these policies still today. Again, the vital importance of oil to our economy is not lost on me, but I think it also attests to the importance of American values in addition to strategic interest. Critics of democratization point out that elections in Saudi Arabia would almost guarantee Wahabbists in power and the creation of a virtual terrorist state. I'm not trying to draw a moral equivalence here with the terrorists, but surely we bear even the slightest bit of responsibility for the current state of affairs.

In closing, I should also mention that I think Jonah is right that "it is impossible identify clear and bright lines between what is morally right and what is right simply in terms of national interest." It may not be the national interest as realists define it, but its importance should not be ignored. If we avoid intervening - or even doing anything - in a genocide on the scale of Rwanda or Darfur, it's hard to convince people that American really actually cares about freedom or liberty or any of that "nonsense" - at least for non-Americans. That makes it all the more difficult to get the job done the next time we do have to intervene or engage in military action that realists approve of, because we've disillusioned so many people as to our intentions. Realists were critical of Bush not going to war with the UN, not because they had any love for the UN, but b/c it would have shared the burden, making it easier for the US (I find that debatable, but thats also for another time). Why they would want to make it more difficult on us to fight a war because they didn't want to fight in someplace like Kosovo or Rwanda is beyond me.

UPDATE: Andrew responds to Jonah here, and I think largely concedes Jonah's (and my own) point.
The Kurds and the Shia: You say that we abandoned the Kurds and the Shia in 1991 in the name of Realpolitik. Actually, no, we abandoned the Shia (we protected the Kurds, at least to a degree) for a mixture of reasons, not the least of which was the belief that we (and, remember, that much of the Gulf War coalition would have melted away) would not have been able to handle what might have been unleashed as a result. There are some who would say that the experience of the last four years would show that was true. We'll never know. In a way, however, this is all something of an irrelevance. It's rare that Realpolitik will throw up one, "right" answer. I could have made a case (and would have done, had anyone asked me) based on Realpolitik that the Coalition should have gone on to Baghdad. If they had done, and if it had worked (two big ifs), not only would a dangerous opponent have been overthrown, but a humanitarian disaster would have been averted.
So Andrew essentially argues that the decision not to help the Shia and/or to go on to Baghdad was made on an assessment of the national interest - and he's right, since driving policy at the time were the godfathers of realism Brent Scowcroft and James Baker. But then he also argues that he would have made the case, based on the national interest, that we should have gone on to Baghdad. In other words, an assessment of the national interest could yield two completely different outcomes.

What I (and Jonah) have been trying to say is that there are many ways to determine the national interest, and that the one that includes some rationale based on American values as well as power considerations will likely have the better result. Not always, but more often than not.

I would also add that the Shia revolted because we told them to, saying we'd back them. This was based on a combination of idealism (promoting freedom) and national interest (weakening Saddam's hold on power). It was only later, after the Shia revolt had begun, that we decided not to help them - and that decision is still giving us headaches today.

I think the best way to put it is that the "hard" realists, unlike idealists, may think democracy is a nice thing to have, but have little faith in the transforming power of American values. Idealists are not blind to the concept of national interest, they just argue that those values are an important tool for realizing the national interest.

Foreign Fighters in Iraq

The LA Times had a "gotcha" story on Sunday in which they tried to refute administration claims that the regimes in Iran and Syria are intimately involved with helping the foreign fighters that have made up the overwhelming majority of suicide attacks in Iraq. Their big scoop is that about half of the fighters in US custody come from Saudi Arabia and not Iran or Syria.
Although Bush administration officials have frequently lashed out at Syria and Iran, accusing it of helping insurgents and militias here, the largest number of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq come from a third neighbor, Saudi Arabia, according to a senior U.S. military officer and Iraqi lawmakers.

About 45% of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia; 15% are from Syria and Lebanon; and 10% are from North Africa, according to official U.S. military figures made available to The Times by the senior officer. Nearly half of the 135 foreigners in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis, he said.
Well, a couple things about this. First, half of the foreigners in US custody are Saudi. That doesn't really mean half of ALL foreign fighters are Saudi. Maybe US forces broke a particular terrorist cell made up mostly of Saudis who knew each other or came to Iraq together. It really doesn't tell us much. Second, and more important, the first paragraph correctly describes the administration's argument: that Iran and Syria help the insurgents - with training, financing, supplies, base of operations and transit across the border into Iraq. The second part of this paragraph doesn't really address the first part though. They tell us the nationality of these fighters: about half Saudi. No one's saying, however, that the fighters are all Iranian and Syrian, just that they've been at the forefront of helping these fighters.

The question they don't address here at the beginning of the argument is where the terrorists are coming from immediately before they enter Iraq? Is it the two countries with the longest border neighboring Iraq? That would be Iran and Syria. Certainly, the fighters come from elsewhere besides these two countries - even as far away as Europe. But when they get to the Middle East, where do they go? Which government gives them the supplies, money, safe haven and their mission? Once we find out who these countries are, it would seem more logical to prevent these states from continuing to support these terrorists rather than relying on tracking every would be terrorist down in every country (not that we don't do that too - but we don't only do that).

Well, the LA Times articlee gives us a profile of an average Saudi terrorist in Iraq. Guess how he came into Iraq? Guess whose border he crossed - certainly not despite any attempt on that country to prevent such smuggling across their border.
The fighter, a young college graduate whose mother was a teacher and father a professor, had been recruited in a mosque to join Al Qaeda in Iraq. He was given money for a bus ticket and a phone number to call in Syria to contact a handler who would smuggle him into Iraq.
Of course, it takes until the end of the article before they decide to mention this. What else did this individual do while in Syria that we don't know about? It would be great if the Saudi government stopped promoting radical Islam and endorsing these kinds of mosques, and if we were a little less chummier with the Saudis (and I don't just mean Bush). It would be equally as great, not to mention more productive in stemming the flow of terrorists into Iraq, if the Syrians and Iranians stopped giving support, and turning a blind eye to others who give support to these terrorists.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Thoughts on Freedom

There's been a lot of buzz about David Brooks' column from yesterday (being held ransom behind TimesSelect) on his meeting with the President, particularly this one sentence from when the conversation turned to democracy.
Bush is convinced that history is moving in the direction of democracy, or as he said Friday: “It’s more of a theological perspective. I do believe there is an Almighty, and I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom. And I will tell you that is a principle that no one can convince me that doesn’t exist.”
That single sentence has taken a lot of criticism from the blogosphere. A lot of it has focused on political philosophy and the challenges of introducing the idea of freedom in the Muslim world, but there has been a different, and as equally interesting, critique of this notion, namely that it trivializes the freedom we experience in God. David Kuo:
"I believe a gift of that Almighty to all is freedom," Bush said. How completely correct and how outrageously wrong he is. God does give us freedom. But that gift of freedom is not a freedom based on a form of government - it is the freedom to live as individuals with total, complete, and utter free will. It is the freedom to choose or to reject God, the freedom to choose or to reject God's gifts. THAT is God's gift of freedom. To confuse that gift with a form of government reflects both theological and political naivety.
Daniel Larison:
Immanentist ideologies and substitute religions stand in opposition to the Gospel. Compared to the liberation from sin and death that Christ has accomplished, how insignificant is political liberty! This does not mean that the latter is itself undesirable, but that it is hardly the chief priority of God’s salvific plan for man, and it is precisely for the salvation of men from sin and death and not their amelioration of their political status that God became man.
Ross Douthat:
The gift of freedom that Christ promises is far more real than anything else in this world, if Christian teaching on the matter is correct. On the other hand, there's nothing that's political about that promise, and the attempt to transform God's promise of freedom through Jesus Christ into a this-world promise of universal democracy is the worst kind of "immanentizing the eschaton" utopian bullshit.
And so on...

There's a common theme in all these, that because the religious is much more important than the political and worldly, that the political and worldly essentially doesn't matter and that the religious shouldn't influence the political and worldly. I strongly disagree with this.

Are they right that Christ's promise of freedom is "far more real than anything else in this world?" Of course. But does that mean God doesn't care about the conditions in which we live while here on earth? I don't think so. This is a trap I've seen Kuo fall into before. that Christians should focus more on Christ and less on politics. Of course, the first part is correct, but I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. There is a clear role for the state laid out in the Bible, the most obvious being Christ's call To "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's." Does God not care how man is then treated by the state? Does human dignity given by God to mankind not include treatment by the state? I don't think so. As long as we're here in this world, we should be living our lives as Christians - and that doesn't just mean worrying about ourselves, but about the rest of God's creation as well.

The simple truth is that t00 many people live lives devoid of any trace of dignity given to them by God. Kuo recognizes this, as he is often mildly scolding those who read his blog for not giving enough to the poor (even Americans, who, as a whole, are overwhelmingly give the most of their time and money to charity than any other country in the world), so I'm not sure why it is suddenly irrelevant when it comes to how people living in other countries are treated by their governments. Does it pale in comparison to "the liberation from sin and death that Christ has accomplished," as Larison believes? Of course. Does it still matter very much? Yes.

To begin with, the teachings of the Catholic Church, to which I belong, are very clear on the relationship between God, the people and governments. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), man has the freedom to do both good and evil, but that he is truly free only "in the service of what is good and just." That is, having freedom is different from being free, and the choice do do evil "is an abuse of freedom."

With respect to governing institutions, the CCC is equally as clear. It argues that authority governs according to the consent of the governed, that is that "Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself," and that "the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens." But this does not mean that any old despot can rule if the people initially say so.
"Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed."
And without serving the common good, that authority loses it's legitimacy.
"Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, 'authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.'"
The Bible itself also has plenty to say about how people should be governed - and it overwhelmingly sides with freedom. Peter tells the Elect Pilgrims that it is the will of God that they live as free men, using their liberty to honor God. Peter is not just referring to the freedom man has in Christ's death and resurrection, but also to man's status while in this life with regards to governing authorities, as well as how they live their individual lives. The question then becomes whether governance over such a people should be entrusted to a king or to some other form of leadership, and what that should be. For the most part the Bible speaks of kings, but it is made clear, in Samuel, Judges, Kings, Proverbs and elsewhere, that the king also serves at the will of the people, so to speak. There's even references to what would later become known as democracy. In Exodus, Moses' father-in-law Jethro tells him that he cannot carry out all of his responsibilities on his own, and that he should pick honest men from among his followers to represent the people. In Deuteronomy, however, Moses does Jethro one better, and tells the Israelites to pick from among themselves "wise, understanding and knowledgeable men...and I will make them heads over you."

So we establish that, as Peter said, liberty and freedom for man is God's will. Kuo even accepts this, when he talks about "the freedom to live as individuals." What is that other than individual liberty? And who controls our individual liberties here on Earth? The question then becomes, what kind of government today can best uphold mankind's right to liberty and to live as free men? Does God care more about a people being governed by a hereditary king or about a people being governed by a system that respects human dignity and liberty? I'd have to guess the latter. So if a system of heriditary government (constitutional monarchies by and large no longer being run by the monarch) can no longer respect those gifts of dignity and liberty, and no longer governs with the consent of the people, do we stick with the king or do we stick with the consent of the governed?

The men who founded this country seemed to think it was the latter. They believed men were created equal and given unalienable rights by their Creator. Furthermore, they believed the role of governments was to secure these rights. In other words, the consent to govern came from the people, just like it did in the the time of the Old Testament and in Christ's time. When kings could no longer be trusted to govern according to the will of the people, or forgot that they served at the will of the people, Jefferson, Madison and their colleagues decided it was time to try something different. They even found it important enough to fight a war over.

Does that mean we're to start a war wherever injustice is found? Of course not, and though Bush's rhetoric sometimes gets the better of him, he hasn't done anything like that. In fact, I very much doubt "democracy" was the sole, or even the initial reason he started the war. I just find it too hard to believe that the Bush that campaigned as a realist would suddenly become such an idealist (even with 9/11 as a catalyst). I believe that like everyone else in the government and in our intelligence agencies, he believed that Saddam posed a threat to the United States, and came to the conclusion, rightly or wrongly - thats for another debate, that a free and democratic society would not produce leaders like Saddam Hussein. I believe it was the security threat of terrorism and WMD that made Bush realize the status quo of how we deal with dictatorial regimes had to change. Now, if you want to argue that the "how" of this democratization idea has been found wanting, I'd probably be likely to agree. Again, that's for another debate, but suffice it to say a lot of our commitment to democracy has consisted of settling for the group or individual least hostile to American interests and calling it democracy. In other words, what the US has been doing for decades - the status quo.

But the point of this post was to address those who make the argument that because "the liberation from sin and death that Christ has accomplished" is more important than our time here on Earth, that the latter somehow becomes completely irrelevant. I don't agree that democracy - or, more accurately, freedom - is just a nice thing to have but that God doesn't particularly care one way or the other. I'm going to side with Jefferson who argued that our Creator does care about how we are governed in this life, that He gave us all the same rights, that governments are created to uphold those rights and that politics in this world is very much connected to our belief in that Creator.

As for Bush's comments, I don't know if history is moving in the direction of (liberal) democracy, though I would like to think so. I'm under no illusions that democracy would create a perfect world, or some kind of utopia, and I doubt Bush is either. But given Churchill's description of democracy, it would make the world less worse than it otherwise might be. That's all. And while I don't know what the future holds for democracy, I absolutely think a thoroughly justifiable theological case can be made, that while God's greatest gift to man is freedom through Christ's dying and resurrection, that freedom, human dignity and liberty here on Earth are also great gifts from God - and the best way those gifts can be realized in this day is through liberal democracy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Military Money

Andrew Sullivan links approvingly to a blog called The Spin Factor that claims that Ron Paul leads in contributions from those employed by the military. Andrew gushes that Paul has a "staggering 52.53% of all military contributions." Taking the bait, I checked out the link and found that, sure enough, in dollar amount, Paul comes in first - with a grand total of $23,000. McCain comes in second with only two-thirds of what Paul has, at $15,000.

Does this mean the military is turning on the war? Is the military being co-opted by the "stab-in-the-back righties," as Andrew puts it? Is a "staggering" percentage of the military flocking to the one anti-war Republican because they've been betrayed by the administration, as Andrew would have you assume? Well, not really.

With a cursory search of the list of individual donors, you'll find Paul's military money comes from a total of 23 people (6 Army - including civilians, 9 Navy - including at least 1 civilian, 5 USAF, 1 USMC - which The Spin Factor forgot to search for and 2 Veterans Affairs employees), many of whom gave $1,000 or more each. Scrolling through the list of McCain donors will show, that while he may have a lower dollar amount, he has more than twice the number of donors employed by the military, at 55 (18 Army, 17 Navy, 11 USMC, 7 USAF and 2 Veterans Affairs employees). A cursory search finds only one of those is a civilian, employed by the US Navy Memorial, and one is a midshipman at the Naval Academy - Jack McCain IV.

So Paul might be able to dive into his, err, thousands Scrooge McDuck style, and McCain's donors might not give as much, but in the end it's the votes that decide the candidate, and if we're going to infer anything from these numbers, it's that John McCain would beat Paul 55-23. That would mean the military is still in favor of aggressively pursuing victory in the war.

But can you infer anything about the opinions of the military by these contributions? Of course not - it's taking an opinion poll of 78 people. It means absolutely nothing. Moreover, it's a total of 15,000 and 23,000 to the respective campaigns - statistically insignificant given the millions each campaign has raised. And, as The Spin Factor pointed out, this only takes into account those who listed their employer. But Andrew Sullivan is still going to link approvingly to it, probably without bothering to actually look at the data, simply because it validates his love affair with Paul, his opposition to the war and his hatred of the Bush administration.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Neville or Winston?

Lynne Olson, the author of Troublesome Young Men, has an article in Sunday's Washington Post arguing that Bush has more in common with Neville Chamberlain than he does with Winston Churchill. The comparison to Chamberlain seems forced and not really based on much factual evidence.

Like Bush and unlike Churchill, Chamberlain came to office with almost no understanding of foreign affairs or experience in dealing with international leaders... He surrounded himself with like-minded advisers and refused to heed anyone who told him otherwise.
Bush had little experience with foreign affairs coming into office. Fair enough. But at least he had the foresight to surround himself with people who were eminently qualified to speak on foreign affairs. Whether you agree with them or not, and whatever you thought about their performance in Iraq, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Powell, etc. can not be said to have had limited foreign relations experience (this, of course, is why the American system of picking a cabinet is better than the Parliamentary system, but that’s for another day). Nor were they all that like-minded coming into office. Cheney and Rumsfeld were national power conservatives, Rice was the realist, Wolfowitz the neoconservative, Powell the liberal hawk and so on.

Chamberlain on the other hand, had the Viscount Halifax at the Foreign Ministry, who had made the rounds from Agriculture to Education, and whose only foreign affairs experience to note was Viceroy of India, which didn’t really help much when it came to Germany. His Secretary of State for War, the Baron Hore-Belisha, spent his career before that at the Transport Ministry and the Board of Trade. His Secretary of State for Air, Kingsley Wood, had been Minister for Health and Postmaster General.
Nonetheless, he was convinced that he alone could bring Hitler and Benito Mussolini to heel.

The comparison to Bush here is completely off. Chamberlain completely misjudged the threat. He underestimated Hitler and Mussolini’s power, their motives and their drive, and he assumed it was a threat that could be fixed with shuttle diplomacy. He was indeed naïve about human nature, and the nature of tyrants. Bush has made no such mistake. Whatever else his faults may be, he has no false assumptions of the threat we face, nor does he assume that peace is the natural desire of dictators and tyrants.

In the months leading up to World War II, Chamberlain and his men saw little need to build up a strong coalition of European allies with which to confront Nazi Germany -- ignoring appeals from Churchill and others to fashion a "Grand Alliance" of nations to thwart the threat that Hitler posed to the continent.Unlike Bush and Chamberlain, Churchill was never in favor of his country going it alone.

[...] After the League failed to stop fascism's march, Churchill was adamant that, to beat Hitler, Britain must form a true partnership with France and even reach agreement with the despised Soviet Union, neither of which Chamberlain was willing to do.

The truth, of course, is that Churchill spent years refusing to give the Soviets anything in return for their fight against the Germans on the Eastern front. He refused for years to open the second front and scolded the Soviet ambassador whenever the issue was brought up, saying the Soviets had “no right to make reproaches against us.” After El-Alamein, Churchill began to realize that, going forward and especially after the war, the Soviets growing power was becoming a major threat to the West. He wanted the West to take Berlin so the Soviets couldn't get it. Roosevelt often had to keep the peace between Stalin and Churchill when they met. Of course, the Soviet fight against the Germans was crucial to the Allied victory, and I doubt even Bush would insist the Soviets stop fighting the Germans so the Americans could have the whole fight. This really wasn’t much of a “Grand Alliance” though, and if anything its pattern of “take and give very little other than unintentional legitimacy” is very similar to our relationship with Saudi Arabia and Egypt today. Their counter-terrorism efforts have been immensely useful, but we try to avoid giving them anything and would be more than happy to have nothing to do with them if we could get away with it. Churchill’s Grand Alliance, by the way, about which he wrote a four volume history, was first and foremost the English-speaking peoples, especially Britain-America-Australia, the same alliance of forces currently fighting in Iraq.

Philip Klein also points out at the American Spectator blog, "Churchill, of course, was arguing for a "Grand Alliance" to confront Germany militarily, while opponents of the Iraq War were arguing for a grand alliance to confront Saddam diplomatically so America could avert military action."

As was true of Bush and the Republicans before the 2006 midterm elections, Chamberlain and his Tories had a large majority in the Commons, and, as Macmillan noted, the prime minister tended to treat Parliament like a lapdog legislature, existing only to do his bidding. "I secretly feel he hates the House of Commons," wrote one of Chamberlain's most fervent parliamentary supporters. "Certainly he has a deep contempt for Parliamentary interference."

Churchill, on the other hand, revered Parliament and was appalled by Chamberlain's determination to dominate the Commons in the late 1930s. Churchill considered himself first and foremost "a child" and "servant" of the House of Commons and strongly believed in the legislature's constitutional role to oversee the executive (even when, after becoming prime minister, he often railed against MPs who criticized him). In August 1939, when Chamberlain rammed through a two-month parliamentary adjournment just weeks before the war began, Churchill -- then still a backbencher -- exploded with anger in the House, calling the prime minister's move "disastrous," "pathetic" and shameful." He encouraged his anti-appeasement colleagues to mount similar attacks against Chamberlain, and when one of them, Ronald Cartland, called the prime minister a dictator to his face in the same debate, Churchill congratulated Cartland with an enthusiastic, "Well done, my boy, well done!"

To support the comparison between Bush and Chamberlain on this point, Olson compares Bush’s actions in office with Churchill’s rhetoric while out of office. She seems to ignore the fact that British politics are much more partisan within parties than American politics. It is not unusual for there to be intra-party divisions like the one that pitted Churchill against Chamberlain, or Michael Heseltine against Thatcher, or most of the Labour Party against Blair. So Churchill’s comments while out of office show little more than that he was as partisan as the next British politician. It’s his actions while in office that matter, and as Olson points out, he would frequently rail against the MPs when he was in office. I don’t think this means Churchill had no respect for Parliament, I think Olson is right that he had great respect for it. I also think Bush respects Congress and its role in American government – they both just got caught up in the natural flow of partisan politics.

Likewise, Churchill almost certainly would look askance at the Bush administration's years-long campaign to shut down public debate over the "war on terror" and the conflict in Iraq -- tactics markedly similar to Chamberlain's attempts to quiet his opponents. Like Bush and his aides, Chamberlain badgered and intimidated the press, restricted journalists' access to sources and claimed that anyone who dared criticize the government was guilty of disloyalty and damaging the national interest.

Actually, Churchill despised the BBC (which at the time WAS the British media) as they had essentially censored him throughout the 1930s. John Reith, the head of the BBC, openly admired Hitler and Mussolini. Ironically, he was Minister of Information under Chamberlain – not really the minister someone wants when they are contemptuous of the media. When Churchill became PM, Reith could no longer block him, but deemed it “awful” that Churchill was the premier, and, incidentally, thought Churchill was concentrating too much power in his office by making himself Defence Minister as well as PM, essentially giving himself the power to run the war.

Churchill, by contrast, believed firmly in the sanctity of individual liberties and the need to protect them from government encroachment. That's not to say that he was never guilty of infringing on them himself. In June 1940, when a Nazi invasion of Britain seemed imminent, he ordered the internment of more than 20,000 enemy aliens living on British soil, most of them refugees from Hitler's and Mussolini's fascist regimes. But as the invasion scare abated over the next few months, the vast majority were released, also by his order. "The key word in any understanding of Winston Churchill is the simple word 'Liberty,' " wrote Eric Seal, Churchill's principal private secretary during the early years of the war. "He intensely disliked, and reacted violently against, all attempts to regiment and dictate opinion. . . . He demanded for himself freedom to follow his own star, and he stood out for a like liberty for all men."

Err, she argues that Churchill would have been against Bush’s indefinite detentions, but then point out that Churchill not only did the same thing, only more so. He not only detained thousands of civilians, but he did so based solely on their country of origin, something I'm pretty sure Bush has never done. She argues that Churchill ordered their release months later, but there were still 14,000 “enemy aliens” interned on the Isle of Man nearly a year later, and probably long after that. Furthermore, other civilians from Axis countries were limited in where they could go, were forced to check in with the authorities every day and had a curfew.

Incidentally, Andrew Sullivan approvingly links to Olson's article based on this point about detainees. He argues:

Churchill would be appalled by the indefinite suspension of habeas corpus and even more by the shameful adoption of torture by the Americans. He was a realist, a pragmatist and a defender of actual liberty.
Oops, that's inconvenient. Besides proving that all Andrew Sullivan does these days is post these kinds of meaningless and vapid attacks on Bush, it also shows that's he's not really one for facts. Anyway, back to Olson.

Throughout her article, Olson argues Bush and Chamberlain, unlike Churchill, concentrated too much power in their respective offices. However, like I mentioned before, Churchill went as far as to create new posts that he assigned to himself in order to have the greatest ability to run the war. Also, if Bush had known about the bombing of an American city, like Churchill knew about Coventry, and kept it quiet in order to protect crucial intelligence, he would have been impeached and probably arrested long ago. Also, she points out, perhaps unintentionally, with her quote from Eric Seal, how Churchill felt about allowing others to take control. “He intensely disliked, and reacted violently against, all attempts to regiment and dictate opinion…He demanded for himself freedom to follow his own star.” That sounds a lot to me like “He didn’t like other people telling him what to do. He did things the way he wanted.”

Finally, she belittles our opponent compared to Churchill's defeat of Germany (which, I think, America had something to do with as well).

But Churchill would snort, I believe, at the administration's equation of "Islamofascism," an amorphous, ill-defined movement of killers forced to resort to terrorism by their lack of military might, to Nazi Germany, a global power that had already conquered several countries before Churchill took office in 1940.

At The Corner, Steven Hayward points out that Churchill was actually ahead of his time in understanding the seriousness of Islamic radicalism. But as for unconventional conflict, surely Ms. Olson knows Churchill was again PM from 1950-1953, when the British faced both the Mau Mau and the Malayn uprisings, both of which they were unable to put down until well after Churchill had left office - and even then they didn't really win

Like I said earlier, I don’t know if Bush is like Churchill, but I’m fairly certain he has little in common with Chamberlain. I also tend to think Olson puts Churchill on a pedestal that is perhaps a bit too high, and in doing so makes unfair contrasts to Bush. Churchill was not perfect, and neither is Bush. She argues, “As the world's two most prominent and powerful democracies, the United States and Britain had a responsibility to serve as exemplars of democracy for the rest of the world, Churchill believed. But to be fitting role models, he argued, both countries had to do their best to ensure that the "title deeds of freedom" were strongly safeguarded within their own boundaries.”

I agree - I think both America and Britain are the best examples of freedom and democracy in the world today. That we are perhaps the two countries with the greatest immigration crises in the world is no coincidence. But like Churchill said about democracy, we’re not perfect – and we won’t always be perfect – but we’re better than everything else.