Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What McCain and Lieberman Don't Understand about Foreign Policy

A few days ago, Joe Lieberman wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal about foreign policy, praising John McCain and blasting Barack Obama and the Democratic party. In the article, he nonetheless praises Al Gore (with whom he ran in 2000, of course) as promoting a "freedom-focused foreign policy, confident of America's moral responsibilities in the world, and unafraid to use our military power." He says that John McCain alone understands "the difference between America's friends and America's enemies."

In short, Lieberman – like Bush and Mccain - understand foreign policy as a crude morality play. In short, they believe: The USA is Good. Everything we do is Good. Likewise for Israel. Anyone who doesn't support everything the USA and Israel do is against the Good. Our enemies are Evil. Talking with Evil is pointless. You can't negotiate with the devil. Anyone who proposes we do so is weak, na├»ve, or, worse, an appeaser. Negotiation is, by definition, appeasement. Such people, McCain, Bush, and Lieberman believe, do not understand Reality.

These are horribly destructive attitudes. Worse, such attitudes exemplify what they accuse their opponents of: naivete. The world is not divided into good and evil. Neither are individual people, by the way. Other nations, even our "friends," do not regard us as automatically good. We pursue our own economic and political self-interest more often than The Good. Others know this and expect this.

This is not an adult foreign policy.

The Lieberman/McCain/Bush view is absolutely grounded on a misunderstanding of what happened in the 1930s and its meaning. Indeed, the morality tale of WWII is about the only foreign policy or history these people know.

And they get the history wrong:

1. The error of Chamberlain was not negotiating with Hitler – it was giving in. Talking was not the error.
2. The other great error of foreign policy in that era was the failure to form an alliance with the USSR against Germany. Lieberman/McCain can't admit this, because it would mean negotiation with evil people.
3. The USA did not wage war against Hitler to stop the holocaust.

The truth, also, is that Hitler's insatiable desire for world conquest is a very poor model to use for foreign policy. The conclusion that any adversarial power is "just like Hitler" teaches all the wrong lessons. Let's be blunt: the lesson that we draw from confronting Hitler is that the only possible reaction was to wage war. The Lieberman/McCain view leads to that same conclusion with any of America's adversaries: the only "real" solution is war. That is why they supported war as a first resort in Iraq. It is why electing McCain means war with Iran. Don't doubt that for one minute.

This attitude is dangerous and deadly as nuclear weapons proliferate. It leads to pollitical and economic instability. And it only creates more enemies. It also causes us to make poor choices. Under Reagan, such attitudes helped create the Mujahedin in Afghanistan that led to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Their "friendship" blinded us to the dangers. Such attitudes caused us to blindly support Iran under the Shah, leading to another enemy. They turned Cuba from another tinpot island dictatorship to a half century of humiliation. Such attitudes, as exemplified by McCain and Cheney in their anti-Russian rhetoric, threaten to turn Russia from an annoyance to a real problem. (We can only thank God that Republicans have been able to handle China in a grownup fashion).

It is also profoundly contrary to the morality values Lieberman and McCain pretend they support. This was the same right-wing attitude during the Cold War that abhorred any negotiation with the USSR as "appeasement." It was the same attitude that regarded the Yalta and Potsdam conferences as immoral sellouts. It was the attitude that got us into Vietnam and made it impossible to get out.

War is not the only answer to powers that oppose us. It is rarely a good answer, in fact.

I do not mean, however, that morality has no place in foreign policy. Consider Woodrow Wilson, who demanded that democracy and freedom be the cornerstones of US foreign policy, who nonetheless advocated negotiation and conciliation with our enemies. Consider Eisenhower and Kennedy, who both sought a modus vivendi with the Soviet Union while fashioning the ideology of human rights, democracy, and liberty that America adopted during the Cold War.

Finally, consider the words of the Father of our Country. Here are some excerpts from George Washington's farewell address in 1796 discussing foreign policy. Think about them in terms of Iran, Iraq, Israel, Cuba, and China.

His proposed policy and overall reasoning:
"Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all. Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it? It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great Nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example of a people always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence. Who can doubt, that, in the course of time and things, the fruits of such a plan would richly repay any temporary advantages, which might be lost by a steady adherence to it?"

His attitude to dividing the world into "friends" and "enemies."

"[N]othing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular Nations, and passionate attachments for others should be excluded; and that, in place of them, just and amicable feelings towards all should be cultivated. ... Antipathy in one nation against another disposes each more readily to offer insult and injury, to lay hold of slight causes of umbrage, and to be haughty and intractable, when accidental or trifling occasions of dispute occur. So likewise, a passionate attachment of one Nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite Nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest, in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter, without adequate inducement or justification. It leads also to concessions to the favorite Nation of privileges denied to others, which is apt doubly to injure the Nation making the concessions… Excessive partiality for one foreign nation, and excessive dislike of another, cause those whom they actuate to see danger only on one side, and serve to veil and even second the arts of influence on the other. Real patriots, who may resist the intrigues of the favorite, are liable to become suspected and odious.

His attitude towards overuse of economic sanctions:

"Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest. But even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand; neither seeking nor granting exclusive favors or preferences; consulting the natural course of things; diffusing and diversifying by gentle means the streams of commerce, but forcing nothing[.]"

To summarize my points:
Foreign policy is not the struggle of Good versus Evil. Rather, it is a constant practice we must engage in to promote our interests while maintaining peace and stability as best we can. Diplomacy is our primary and most powerful tool. The use of force is not just a last resort – it is generally a symptom of the inability to conduct foreign policy properly. McCain and Lieberman (who may yet run together) exemplify a naive and dangerous foreign policy that will lead to war, political instability, and resulting economic damage. Such attitudes and policies tear at whatever good globalization has and can do, and ultimately leave the United States of America far less safe.


Raised By Republicans said...

Most of the stuff from the Washington quotations refers to specific policies towards Great Britain but in vieled language. He wasn't thinking of the Barbary Pirates for example. With regard to "commercial policy" he wasn't talking about avoiding economic sanctions, rather he was advocating free trade rather than merchantilist trade.

I'd also quibble about the advisability of a pre-1939 alliance with Stalin. In the 1930s it was far from clear whether Hitler was worse than Stalin or the other way around. The Czechs probably thought it was Hitler, the Finns thought it was Stalin and the Poles were probably split on the issue.

But leaving aside historical debates: the main point I think is what LTG says about McCain and Obama. I mainly agree with him (although, I'm little less offended by McCain calling out Russia's increasingly authoritarian government).

Check out this clip from Chris Mathew's interview with a right wing bonehead about appeasement and foreign policy.

History Buff said...

Diplomacy is definitly important and should be engaged in with war being the last resort, but a country must have that playing card in it's arsenal and show that it is not afraid to use it. As Teddy Roosevelt said "Speak softly, but carry a big stick."