It’s amazing the extent to which mainstream opinion in so many different spheres of politics and policy is made up of people trying to find some way to apply obviously failed ideologies in some novel-ish way. I feel like the intellectual climate in American politics right now would be familiar to people who studied the Soviet Union in the early ’80s, when it was clear that what was going on just wasn’t going to cut it, but the will to stop believing just wasn’t there yet.
I just had a sort of sublime moment reading a post by one of our faves here, Daniel Larison. He’s written versions of the same post probably dozens of times, essentially it’s the one where some media figure says we should arm Syrian rebels to have some sort of proxy conflict with Iran, and Larison says that’s really not such a good idea. This one, though, struck me especially not only in how common and even hackneyed the arguments for arming the rebels were, but for how basic and intuitive the counterarguments are, how much effort it must take just to not believe them and go on with the tired old Contra-redux shtick we keep invariably hearing. I couldn’t help but have this moment of bewilderment contemplating the gulf between them. Obviously, screwing around with one country’s allies isn’t going to make them play ball on other issues. It’s incredible that the operating ideology of how the Middle East operates is still some variation of shock and awe/”all those people understand is force” after all we’ve been through. I would attribute it to racism, but I think it’s really just a lack of understanding of how power works on the part of insipid pundits who take their own power for granted. People like to be respected for the authority they have, even if that authority is merely just that they’re a human being, with power that doesn’t extend beyond their own skin. By denying that, or trying to take it away from them, you make them angry and scared, perhaps willing to do desperate things they would not otherwise do. I don’t know if I’ve said it this way before, but the only thing that’s really insane about the right-wing in this country is their assumptions. If you accept their received wisdom (and it’s all received at this point) about union goons and brown reconquistas and black helicopters, then where they take it from there is entirely logical. If nothing else, conservatism is based on a fear of losing power, for a certain part of the electorate. You could really break this country’s two coalitions into the (white) group that’s afraid of losing power on one hand, and the (nonwhite) groups that want to gain power and a rump (white) group that doesn’t care or sympathizes on the other. This is largely why a more moderate GOP is not yet in the cards–the only way they’ll compromise on power is if they worry they could lose it all, and they’re not all that worried about that yet.
The basic gist of it is that, people will do a lot to gain more power, but they’ll do anything to avoid losing it. Losing power in the form of an allied government would probably make any sort of deal with Iran completely impossible, since they’d feel the need to make up that power elsewhere, most likely through nuclear weapons. It’s in everyone’s interest for there to be less nukes on this planet, though (a) that is not worth fighting a war over, and (b) we tolerate less stable regimes having them than Iran. Still, the common sense solution here is just to leave well enough alone. If America merely made an effort to show respect even to regimes we despise, it would go a long way toward better foreign relations. If we actually stopped messing with other nations’ internal affairs, we might be on our way to peace as a country. It isn’t always that simple, but at the moment it really could be. The serious threats to America have not been lesser in a century.
Also, this is neither here nor there, but I initially thought the author of the piece was the Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, which seemed like a really odd choice to write a warmongering article. It’s not, though, they just have similar names that got confused in my head. (Rachel Kleinfeld =/= Rebecca Kleefisch)
[I]n the case of allegations of anti-Semitism, Hagel has not even apologized. He has remained silent… Why would anyone think he was an anti-Semite? … Nebraskan Jewish activists and officials have said he was hostile, and none … have come forward to counter that allegation. [...] Perhaps there are answers, and perhaps Mr. Hagel actually has no problem with “the Jews.” But one purpose of confirmation hearings should be to find out.
Funny how eye-popping pieces of OMG WTF can often be buried in otherwise banal reports of Washington goings-on:
[T]he CIA engages in a controversial practice known as “signature strikes,” targeting groups of military-age males whose identities are not known but who bear certain characteristics—or signatures—associated with terrorism. Under new protocols, the strikes, sometimes referred to as “crowd killing,” may still be permitted but would likely be more heavily regulated.
Does that description strike anyone else as a smidge insane?
Think about that. Some CIA folks point at a random group of scary mooslems, ponder a collective gut feeling that said brown people bear terrorist “signatures” and then rain drone-borne hellfire down upon them on a hunch. I.e.: mass execution without any actual information on any of the individuals involved. Seriously!?
For more brain-melting WTF, here’s a legal analysis of this CIA “kill groups of swarthy fuckers” strategy:
The vast majority of drone attacks conducted by the U.S. have been signature strikes – those that target “groups of men who bear certain signatures, or defining characteristics associated with terrorist activity, but whose identities aren’t known.” In 2010, for example, Reuters reported that of the 500 “militants” killed by drones between 2008 and 2010, only 8% were the kind “top-tier militant targets” or “mid-to-high-level organizers” whose identities could have been known prior to being killed. Similarly, in 2011, a U.S. official revealed that the U.S. had killed “twice as many ‘wanted terrorists’ in signature strikes than in personality strikes.”
Despite the U.S.’s intense reliance on signature strikes, scholars have paid almost no attention to their legality under international law. This article attempts to fill that lacuna. Section I explains why a signature strike must be justified under either international humanitarian law (IHL) or international human rights law (IHRL) even if the strike was a legitimate act of self-defence under Article 51 of the UN Charter. Section II explores the legality of signature strikes under IHL. It concludes that although some signature strikes clearly comply with the principle of distinction, others either violate that principle as a matter of law or require evidence concerning the target that the U.S. is unlikely to have prior to the attack. Section III then provides a similar analysis for IHRL, concluding that most of the signature strikes permitted by IHL – though certainly not all – would violate IHRL’s insistence that individuals cannot be arbitrarily deprived of their right to life.
Aside from torturing people and continuously escalating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, can someone tell me again how different the current administration is versus the former when it comes to extreme tactics to prosecute the never-ending “War on Terror™”?
This should be interesting. Nobody seems to think Romney will win or even do all that well, which is probably a decent prediction. Romney’s foreign policy is centered around white-hot attacks on Obama that nobody outside the far-right really believes or cares about, and many of them will be difficult-to-impossible to bring up in a scenario where Obama is standing right next to him, since all of them pertain more to the imaginary Obama of Clint Eastwood’s chair than the real deal. For example, if Romney accuses Obama of launching an apology tour, Obama could simply ask for the dates, places and content that Romney objected to. Since the tour never existed, Romney will have a difficult time coming up with something even remotely compelling, and he’ll be giving Obama a chance to harshly berate Romney as he did on the Libya exchange in the last debate. He’d probably lose yardage from that play is all I’m saying
I think this is a pretty good summation of what to expect:
Based on his public statements, Romney’s understanding of these issues ranges from poor to mediocre, and the more he is forced to answer in detail the more difficult things will become for him. Obama’s goal will be to draw him into exchanges that force him to do this, and the extent of Romney’s loss will be determined by how often Romney can escape from those exchanges without blundering. Romney’s goals will be to survive the evening without inflicting any major wounds on himself, and to distinguish himself from George W. Bush enough that most viewers don’t think his foreign policy would be a disaster waiting to happen.
The only remaining question is whether Romney tries to “moderate” his foreign policy statements, something he conspicuously hasn’t done in his ever-more-unctuous attempt to say anything in order to win the presidency. Sadly, voters tend to make decisions based on their gut instinct and emotional reactions to the candidates instead of any sort of factual rigor, so this has borne some fruit. But foreign policy has been notably absent in these plans, so I wonder if we’ll see any change.
I would like to add my voice to those complaining about the agenda on the foreign policy debate, which is going to be more than half devoted to the Middle East. It’s rare that a large chunk of the electorate is going to pay attention to foreign policy in any way, so why not use the opportunity to discuss important issues and places that don’t make the front page very often? Proving again that the purpose of news organizations is to exploit rather than to convey the news, the format seems engineered to force maximally hawkish stands and to create tense and “newsy” moments, rather than to illuminate the public. Spending fifteen minutes on Iran and “red lines” is incredibly unfortunate, since this issue is exhaustively covered by the media out of any sense of proportion to whatever consequences an Iranian bomb might conceivably have.
Believe it or not, there are things going on in the world that don’t involve presidential debates! Such as possibly massive changes in Europe due to this:
Germany‘s opposition party, the Social Democrats (SPD), has closed the gap on Chancellor Angela Merkel‘s Christian Democrats following the selection of her former finance minister to lead their general election campaign next year.
Polls show that the choice of Peer Steinbrück as the SPD challenger last week has given the party a significant boost in its attempt to oust Merkel. The SPD is now enjoying its highest level of support in a year.
A Forsa survey shows that the SPD has gained three points from a week earlier to 29% after the selection of the feisty, plain-speaking 65-year-old. Merkel’s party dropped three points to 35%.
The combined support for the SPD and the party’s preferred partner, the Greens, is now 41%, marginally ahead of the 39% support for the ruling centre-right coalition.
This could well be a polling bump, but I suspect it isn’t only that. Merkel’s party has lost ground in local elections recently, and she has been in power for about seven years now. Weariness is to be expected: in most democracies that’s when people start to get antsy, start seeking new leadership. Not to mention her pious incompetence on finding any sort of solution to the euromess–which hurts Germany too, incidentally, since those are their main trading partners–should make this a doable task for the generally unimpressive German left (two election victories in thirty years!). For the sake of the planet, let’s hope they’ve got it in them.
Also, it would appear that the British public is just about done with Cameronian austerity, Tories now trail Labour by 14 points in the polls, a margin that just seems to keep expanding. Admittedly, the election probably won’t take place there for another two years and much can happen, but it turns out that Cameron’s new vision of conservatism has turned out to be not all that new. I have little doubt his party will make him stick with austerity to the bitter end.
All in all, it’s not looking good for those who want to dismantle the welfare state (theirs in the case of Cameron, mostly others in the case of Merkel) in order to create “confidence.” Several years in, the only thing their electorates are confident of is that there needs to be a change of direction.
So Mitt Romney went ahead and decided to hit Barack Obama in the one area everyone knows is his weakest point, the one area where the public might still turn him out of office. You know, the economy jobs the deficit bailouts foreign policy (really?):
“The president characterized as bumps in the road — the developments of the Middle East, we just had an ambassador assassinated. Egypt has elected a Muslim Brotherhood or person as president. Iran is on the cusp of having nuclear capability,” Romney said in an interview with NBC News. “We have tumult in Syria and also Pakistan, and I don’t consider these bumps in the road. I think this is a time for American leadership domestically; the president’s policies are a continuation of the past four years. We can’t afford four more years like the last four years.”
Which is well-timed for this survey to come out:
Americans trust the federal government to handle international affairs more than at almost any point in nearly a decade, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday. The poll, conducted from Sept. 6-9 as part of Gallup’s annual Governance survey, showed that 66 percent of the 1,017 polled have a “great deal” or a “fair amount” of trust in the federal government’s ability to handle international problems, higher than at any point since mid-2003. Only 33 percent claimed that their faith in Washington’s ability to handle foreign affairs was “not very much” or “none.”
Thirty-three percent–that’s really just the hard partisans there. Obama’s approval rating on foreign policy is decidedly lower than 66%, but the poll nonetheless shows no public dissatisfaction at all with the direction of foreign policy, at least none that is exploitable by Romney since he presumably has all the people who have a problem with it locked up. And yet he continues to waste his precious time trying to bust down a door that might as well be made of neutronium.
I suppose I should discuss why it makes sense he wouldn’t abandon this critique. Campaign strategy is set and executed based on assumptions. You start with polls and focus groups to give you an approximation of what Joe Sixpack is thinking, and since that’s not perfect you use intuition and political acuity to try to fill in the gaps. For Romney to change his strategy on foreign policy would involve changing his assumptions (since he’s clearly not going based on what the data tell), which is something that he and his staff are probably not all that willing to do. They’re invested in these assumptions, professionally and personally. One of those assumptions is that the public is deeply offended by the way Barack Obama comports himself on the international stage, a “flaw” they press relentlessly. Part of this theme’s premise is no doubt the influence of Dan Senor, who in addition to being one of the most notorious screw-ups of the Bush years is apparently one of Romney’s closest aides, even advising him on non-FP subjects like his vice presidential choice. Something tells me this guy isn’t going to shrug and pivot to a platform of pure realism, or even studied vagueness. He’s the very definition of a stand-patter when it comes to hawkery.
And the results have been disastrous. Assuming that Senor is the one pushing Romney to take these stands so frequently and aggressively, he’s managed to put Romney at a far weaker position relative to Obama on foreign affairs than his domestic people have, where it’s more or less even (which is still pretty bad under the circumstances, mind you). His campaign in the latter case has been heavily evasive and abstract, likely by design. But the results have been nothing like foreign affairs, where muddling along has apparently never been an option. It’s impossible to know how many votes Romney has lost with this shtick, but it’s not impossible to gauge how much time has been lost because Romney feels the need to continually go on the attack on an issue stacked heavily against him, rather than on one where Obama is shaky. Refocusing his campaign on economic issues at this point would seem to be imperative, but it appears that Romney could not care less about those issues. Instead, the “No Apologies!” act gets another engagement, rolling forward mostly due to bureaucratic inertia like the Bay of Pigs invasion. This is merely the latest bad decision dictated by a bad strategy developed by tone-deaf political dummies, and in the highly likely event Romney loses in six weeks, one will have to wonder whether the apparent strategy of seizing on any statement that could possibly be construed as a foreign policy misstep absent context and howling about it was really a smart decision in a country where only 1/3 of the public has a problem with the status quo.
Thank goodness he’s a far worse politician than any of us could have imagined.
I just don’t think this is going to happen:
“Bottom line, I think Netanyahu is frightened and scared, and feels that the fate of Israel rests on his shoulders. This is not all a show. In addition, I think he feels he is helping Romney by whipping up Israeli-US tensions. He understands Romney is in bad shape and thinks he is making things uncomfortable for Obama this way.”
Of course, Liel says, this is a high stakes game of risk. For now it appears Obama is likely to win the election, “and then there will be the price to pay. Not on Iran. Those differences will disappear after the elections, but on every other issue, Obama will exact his revenge.”
For example, “Obama will not lift a finger to support Israel when the Palestinians request to be recognized as a sovereign state at the UN, and we will lose 150 to 15.”
Agreed on Iran. There’s no reason to believe he won’t follow his stated course there, stupid as it might be, though I agree with Emily that Iran isn’t about Iran. As for the last point, anything’s possible, but I find this extremely unlikely. Obama ordering Susan Rice (or whoever replaces Rice should she ascend to become Secretary of State) to abstain from a veto on a Palestinian sovereignty resolution would not only mark a dramatic U-Turn, it would be an optimal mixture of bad politics and bad policy. Ultimately, a UN Resolution is merely a piece of paper–Palestine’s future as a nation is contingent upon Israel granting it, and there’s no reason to think the UN would make the Netanyahu government more likely to enter negotiations. The Resolution would be interpreted as a slight and an insult domestically, which would benefit Netanyahu politically, a man well versed in exploiting such situations because he learned how to do so from the best (i.e. Republicans). It would, in fact, most likely be counterproductive, strengthening the hand of settlers and colonists by making Israel even more internationally isolated. So Obama would have to take on a shitstorm of political controversy (including much of his own party’s Congressional wing) for something that would bring literally no benefit. Nothing Obama has done suggests he would take such an action merely out of pique, he’s not that petty or stupid.
In fact, while it’s hard to deny that Netanyahu is trying (and largely failing) to play a role in the presidential election, doing so will not have many direct consequences for him. Even if Democrats retake the House, there’s no way foreign aid to Israel gets cut or eliminated. While a second-term Obama would not have to face the voters again, both left- and right-wingers forget that he would still face constraints, including his own party’s Congressional Wing, which is far more AIPAC-friendly than its base (though there are, to be sure, some AIPAC supporters there too). I suppose it’s possible that Obama could order his UN Ambassador to abstain from vetoing some Israel-related resolutions, but even that might not happen. Antagonizing the pro-Israel types without really gaining anything elsewhere strikes me as bad politics, and again, while Obama’s thinking on many areas has been fuzzy, he’s given no indication that he even disagrees with the AIPAC contingent on this stuff.
No, the most likely scenario going forward is the status quo, only one in which Netanyahu’s complaints and suggestions are ignored by John Kerry’s State Department. Considering Netanyahu’s actions currently and for the past three years, the Obama Administration will have to conclude that they cannot trust the PM and that it will be impossible for them to have any kind of relationship with him, which is likely correct. Considering that Netanyahu is probably going to continue as PM after he faces the voters next year, it means a few more years of wariness and mistrust between the two leaders until one or the other leaves office. This will probably be worse for Israel than the U.S., but it won’t make all that much of a difference. I suppose it’s possible that Netanyahu’s actions in America will weaken his reputation in Israel as an effective politician, as the article suggests, but I wouldn’t expect much more to come of all this.
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