Saturday, May 17, 2008

George Bush Flunks His Final Exam in Foreign Policy 101

Wikipedia is usually useful in establishing a neutral frame of reference:
Diplomacy is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of groups or states. It usually refers to international diplomacy, the conduct of international relations through the intercession of professional diplomats with regard to issues of peace-making, trade, war, economics and culture. International treaties are usually negotiated by diplomats prior to endorsement by national politicians. In an informal or social sense, diplomacy is the employment of tact to gain strategic advantage, one set of tools being the phrasing of statements in a non-confrontational, or polite manner. Diplomatic recognition in international law is a unilateral political act, with domestic and international legal consequences, whereby a state acknowledges an act or status of another state or government. Recognition can be accorded either de facto or de jure, usually by a statement of the recognising government. Recognition of a government implies recognition of the state it governs, but not vice versa ... De jure recognition is of course stronger, while de facto recognition is more tentative and more connected with effective control of the recognized state over its territory .....
To save time this morning, I'll let a couple of other articulate observors make my points.

Jon B. Alterman is director and senior fellow of the Middle East Program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies. Prior to joining CSIS, he served as a member of the Policy Planning Staff at the U.S. Department of State and as a special assistant to the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.

So, first I present exhibit 1, Alterman on Bush:

It has become impossible to credibly argue that the Bush Administration's Middle East policies have advanced the national interests of the United States.

On every issue that the administration has prioritized -- promoting Arab-Israeli peace, liberating Lebanon from Syrian and Iranian influence, democratizing Egypt, stabilizing Iraq, and containing Iran -- America's foes have grown stronger and its allies have grown weaker. Even more troublingly, virtually all of these problems are worsening as the administration prepares to leave office.

The problem is not merely one of happenstance or bad luck. Instead, it has to do with fundamental errors in analysis and planning, an intolerance of ambiguity, and a deeply flawed assessment of the capacities of American power. . . .

But there was an equally important failing. That was the conviction that among the most powerful tools that the U.S. government could use against its foes was withholding recognition and refusing dialogue. It is hard to find a single instance in which such boycotts were effective. Rather than being on the ropes, the targets of those efforts -- Hamas, Hezbollah, the Syrian and Iranian governments, and more -- are all far more secure than they were two years ago. That's not a birth pang of democracy, it's a whiff of failure.

Next, exhibit 2, a conservative columnist who needs no introduction, David Brooks, channels Barack Obama from his interview notes:

. . . . . Obama being Obama, he understood the broader reason I was asking about Lebanon. Everybody knows that Obama is smart (and he was quite well informed about Lebanon). The question is whether he’s seasoned and tough enough to deal with implacable enemies ... Obama compared Hezbollah to Hamas. Both need to be compelled to understand that
they’re going down a blind alley with violence that weakens their legitimate claims ... [but] ... if they decide to shift, we’re going to recognize that. That’s an evolution that should be recognized.

The debate we’re going to be having with John McCain is how do we understand the blend of military action to diplomatic action that we are going to undertake. I constantly reject this notion that any hint of strategies involving diplomacy are somehow soft or indicate surrender or means that you are not going to crack down on terrorism. Those are the terms of debate that have led to blunder after blunder.
Obama said he found that the military brass thinks the way he does:
The generals are light-years ahead of the civilians. They are trying to get the job done rather than look tough.
I asked him if negotiating with a theocratic/ideological power like Iran is different from negotiating with a nation that’s primarily pursuing material interests. He acknowledged that
If your opponents are looking for your destruction it’s hard to sit across the table from them ... There are rarely purely ideological movements out there. We can encourage actors to think in practical and not ideological terms. We can strengthen those elements that are making practical calculations.
Obama doesn’t broadcast moral disgust when talking about terror groups, but he said that in some ways he’d be tougher than the Bush administration. He said he would do more to arm the Lebanese military and would be tougher on North Korea.
This is not an argument between Democrats and Republicans ... It’s an argument between ideology and foreign policy realism. I have enormous sympathy for the foreign policy of George H. W. Bush. I don’t have a lot of complaints about their handling of Desert Storm. I don’t have a lot of complaints with their handling of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In the early 1990s, the Democrats and the first Bush administration had a series of arguments — about humanitarian interventions, whether to get involved in the former Yugoslavia, and so on. In his heart, Obama talks like the Democrats of that era, viewing foreign policy from the ground up. But in his head, he aligns himself with the realist dealmaking of the first Bush. Apparently, he’s part Harry Hopkins and part James Baker.

This column by Brooks corroborates my thinking. Obama can insert a terminal punctuation to the Bush-McCain apostasy in American foreign policy. We can believe in our hopes and Obama's promise for a restoration of our American traditions of realism, sanity and legitimate leadership of the free world.

Obama is the one who can put America Barack on track!


  1. Vigilante, Well written and thoroughly documented and researched, as usual. This is precisely why I value your writing so much and visit here regularly.

    Having said that, I cannot agree fully with this analysis or your conclusions.

    It ignores completely the on-going war in Afghanistan (the war Obama likes) and misreads the occupation of Iraq (the war Obama hates).

    I'm not defending Bush here, and I'm certainly not lifting any blame he deserves for the foolish invasion of Iraq, but those two military adventures (Iraq and Afghanistan) are the canvas on which all further discussion must be painted.

    I'd like to offer you two suggestions for your review. The first (with which I already know you will thoroughly disagree) is Rick Moran's analysis of the same Obama interview you quote from so freely: OBAMA FLUBS HAMAS, HIZBULLAH MULLIGAN. I hope you won't just blindly condemn the aritcle, but instead see how a different case can be made for the very situation you analyze. And I don't agree with Moran, but his argument deserves consideration, as does yours.

    Second, and perhaps more important, please listen to this story from NPR, that is far, far away from any of your points, but paints a magnificiet picture of the reality of Iraq. Songs of Sadr Provide Soundtrack for Shiite Militia. This story completely BACKS UP your position on Iraq and proves that occupations CANNOT BE WON.

    In summary, I feel the reality lies somewhere between you and Rick Moran.

    (I feel the slings and arrows already coming my way)

  2. Wizard, Thank you for your response. The scope of your comment is rather wide-ranging and I preemptively apologize for not doing justice to it. That said, here's my best effort:

    The thrust of this column was not substantive policies, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, or anywhere else. I was opining on the process of policy and its component instrumentalities (war-war vs. jaw-jaw).

    As a fervent supporter of Barack Obama, I do not expect to agree with all of his positions. Specifically, I don't think Obama agrees with me that (a) Hamas and Hezbollah are legitimate political parties by Middle Eastern Standards (b) a good part (not all) of Lebanon's slipping down the slippery slope of political polarization can be directly attributed to the catastrophic invasion by Israel in July 2006, (c) Hamas leaders are the duly elected leaders of the people living in the Gaza strip. [I could go on, but you get my point.]

    Moran? Moran seems to waste a lot of his readers' time on why Chicago politics, however he chooses to characterize them, somehow disqualifies Obama from pontificating on Lebanese politics. I don't follow.

    But thanks for the NPR link on Sadrist Songs. I encourage readers to follow your last link. I continue to believe that Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mehdi Army militia are one of the building blocks of a future unified Iraqi polity. As an Iraqi insurgent, he is true nationalist. Any one who supports the present American-led offensive against his followers in Sadr City must be one who seeks to prolong our occupation as long as possible.

  3. I strongly support a two-state solution -- a democratic Palestine based on law and justice that will live with peace and security alongside a democrat Israel.


  4. What do you know? Country Radio Stations Shockingly Ban George Bush's voice because of his conducting John McCain's campaign beyond American shores. Currently, 147 country music stations have instituted the ban. idvpxf

  5. getalife, I hope you did realize that entire story was a hoax. There is no ban. Bush remains popular among Country Radio audiences. Oh, and they still play Lee Greenwood, too.

    Every station, every Program DIrector, every organization, every person in the article doesn't exist. I live in Jackson and I'm in the radio business,

    The story was a joke. And so is Elisberg.

  6. Ho ho ho. Get a Life, Getalife! & read your news, too!

  7. I apologize for the length of this comment, but I feel it has to be put out there on the table. The Booman Tribune posts the answers to Chris Mathews' dust-up with Kevin James. (What a MSM smackdown that was!), going into considerable detail about the difference between contending with Hitler and his Nazis on the one hand and Ahmadinejad and Hezbollah OTOH. All of it is worth a read, but here's the money part:

    ... and Neville Chamberlain isn't reviled by history for traveling to Munich and holding discussions with Adolf Hitler. He is reviled for handing over the Sudetenland to Hitler without a fight, as if that would make the problem of National Socialism go away. Chamberlain made a gamble for peace. He tried to spare the world a catastrophe. And, remember, while Germany lost the war, England lost their empire.

    Ultimately, Chamberlain made the wrong call. He did so in part because he so wanted to avoid war. He also misjudged his enemy. And that is the real key. Hitler did not have limited territorial objectives, but nearly boundless territorial ones. And everywhere he sent his armies he intended to commit atrocities of unprecedented and unimaginable savagery. Not only that, but he had the military wherewithal to carry these ambitions out.

    And the question we need to ask McCain, Lieberman, and Bush is, how does modern day Iran resemble Nazi Germany in any of these respects? They have no military wherewithal to seize and hold territory. They are making no territorial demands. Their human rights record is fairly deplorable but nothing compared to Saudi Arabia or Zimbabwe.

    If you ask Iran what they want, they want assurances that we won't attack them, not the other way around. They would like normalized relations and a lifting of sanctions. It's hard to see how they have much of anything at all in common with Nazi Germany.

    The one area where there is a similarity is in their anti-Semitic pronouncements, and in their aid to groups that commit and have committed lethal acts against innocent Jews. As long as Iran engages in this rhetoric and behavior, they have to be considered as a hostile nation. They cannot be rewarded or appeased for their irresponsible actions.

    But that doesn't mean that we can't talk to them. It means that if we are going to give them anything we must get something in return.

    Iran is more powerful because we toppled Saddam Hussein and insisted on letting the Iraqis elect a Shi'ite-dominated government. They now have an ally in Iraq, rather than an implacable foe. That may have been a strategic error on our part, but it not Iran's fault. We must now live with the consequences of our actions. We have a weaker negotiating hand than we had before Bush became president and ran our foreign policy off the rails.

    But Iran did not suddenly become as powerful as Nazi Germany. They do not require appeasement, nor do we need to attack them now before they get stronger. They cannot and will not attack Israel, except by proxy. And we have no good reason not to talk to them in the interests of peace.

    Yes, they are our enemies and the enemies of Israel. But talking to them is not appeasing them. Neville Chamberlain didn't make a mistake by talking to Hitler. He made a mistake by caving in to his demands. No one is suggesting that we cave in to Iran's demands. And Iran isn't about to conquer half of Central Asia and exterminate 9 million innocent people if we get our strategy wrong. Enough of the warmongering. It's time to have a little diplomacy for a change.

    Since Chris Mathews asked the question, it's only right that the answer should be on record.