Foreign Policy, Realist Theory

The Wages of Terrorism and Illusion

Our duty is to the United States…We should be friendly to all nations, and in any crisis we should judge each nation by its conduct in that crisis. We should condemn the misconduct of any nation, we should oppose its encroachment upon our rights with equal vigor…according to what it actually does on the given occasion with which we have to deal.

Theodore Roosevelt, America for Americans, Afternoon Speech in St. Louis, MO, May 31, 1916

On October 7, Israelis were the victims of a brutal terrorist attack by Hamas, the titular government of the Gaza Strip. Far from being any kind of justified military response, it was an orgy of deliberate civilian murders, rapes, and even beheadings that violated every moral and legal rule of war. Israel is now engaged in a bloody invasion of Gaza to attempt to eliminate Hamas for good. Whether it will succeed remains to be seen.

This latest war is yet another round of violence in a perennially violent region of the world.  As I mentioned in my previous post “Dominus Flevit”, Israel and Palestine have had the misfortune of living at the crossroads of empires for millennia. Israel was an independent nation for only about 500 years and otherwise lived under occupation by stronger powers for the rest of its life. Opponents of the Gaza invasion call for a “ceasefire now”. Israelis would undoubtedly say “And then what?”  “Negotiation – for what?”  The pat answer is “peace”, but there are many kinds of peace. Israelis know that in the Middle East, the only peace that has lasted is the peace of subjugation and the grave. They are understandably determined to do whatever is necessary to avoid suffering that fate yet again.

However, the Palestinians have learned this lesson too, often at the hands of Israel itself.  Originally, their own fellow Arabs betrayed them by taking over the state that had been granted to them in the 1948 United Nations partition that created Israel. Since Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza in the Six Day war of 1967, they have lived under Israeli occupation, which became increasingly onerous after Israeli politics shifted right in the 1990s. The prospect of a peaceful transition to a Palestinian state envisioned by the Oslo Accords was steadily and brutally rejected by Israel in the form of forced Jewish settlement of the West Bank. Indeed, when Palestinian protesters chant “From the River to the Sea”, they are simply adopting a similar slogan previously chanted for Israelis by some members of the present government of Binyamin Netanyahu.

Into this cauldron of ethnic and religious hatred blindly strode Uncle Sam, first as part of the Cold War rivalry, and then because of American dependence on Arab and Iranian oil. As we reduced this dependence, we had an opportunity to distance ourselves from the region. Realist foreign policy theory (see this) would dictate that our only real national interest there was to prevent domination of the region by Iran, Russia or another power.  This goal appeared to be realized as Turkey became a player and Israel was on the verge of rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. If the JCPOA agreement with Iran limiting its nuclear program had been preserved, Iran’s ability to become a hegemon in the current mix of powers would have been stymied and a stable balance of power achieved.

Instead, the US has willingly taken on the primary responsibility for achieving the impossible dream – a lasting peace in the region that addresses all the warring parties’ grievances.  When this inevitably failed, we then became responsible in their eyes for their miseries, even more than those who are actually inflicting them.  To preserve diplomatic flexibility, we should have openly criticized and taken concrete steps to pull the Netanyahu government back from its settlement policy fueling the anger behind Hamas, Hezbollah and other radical elements. We also should have withdrawn our troops from Syria and Iraq to again avoid being further tarred with responsibility for the region.

However, the Biden Administration’s first response was to go beyond support and tie America even closer to Israel. In trying now to respond to the carnage in Gaza by calling for a humanitarian pause, it risks appearing feckless and indecisive in a culture that prizes strength. The President’s aid package for Israel seeks a total of $14.3 billion of military assistance. All of this aid should be in the form of loans and not grants, which would serve two purposes. First, Israel is a rich country and should not need free money to finance its defense. Secondly, it concentrates the minds of Israeli leadership on the limits of American support and thus the need to curb it’s settlement policy and West Bank expulsions. If they do so, we can potentially forgive the loans. It would be a small price to pay for reducing tensions in the region. Moreover, any aid plan should be voted on in a separate bill, not rolled into a grab bag of aid for Ukraine and other projects. It is far past time for our role in the Middle East to be fully considered, debated and voted on in the Congress. Finally, we should withdraw our forces from Syria and Iraq to prevent them from becoming free targets and further enflaming resentment against the US.

The Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman once tersely said “War is hell”. As a veteran himself, TR certainly knew this was true and was proud no American servicemen died during his presidency. If we are to avoid it occurring in the Middle East, we will need to reduce our involvement and withdraw our gaze over the horizon rather than court seeing our blood and reputation run in the trenches. This should have been the goal of every President and, hopefully, will become the goal of President Biden before it is too late.  

Foreign Policy, Realist Theory

Afghanistan – What the President Should Have Said

My fellow Americans

Two decades ago, a group of terrorists killed almost 3,000 in Washington and New York in a brazen attack they thought could break the spirit of the American people.

They were spectacularly wrong.

America came together and struck back, driving both the the Al Qaeda terrorists and their Afghan enablers out of power.  Al Qaeda’s leader Osama Bin Laden and many of his henchmen now lie dead at the hands of our courageous American soldiers.  Afghanistan was given an opportunity to build a new government that respected both international law and the aspirations of its own people.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban learned a lesson about the limits of their power.  But, so have we.  

While the United States can effectively defend itself and our values at home against our enemies, we cannot impose those values on other nations.  In today’s world, there is no superpower anymore. We live in a world of independent sovereign nations, each with the right and power to defend their own values and goals so long as they do not threaten our own. Indeed, as a nation founded on the concept of e pluribus unum – out of the many, one – we have a unique ability to succeed in this new reality.

We also live in a world where traditional military force can be challenged by new kinds of power.  Whether the attacks come through terrorism, cyber warfare, or other new forms of conflict, America must be ready to respond in unity and consistent with the principles of our constitutional democracy. I am prepared to discuss with Congress new ways to authorize and respond to future foreign attacks of the old and new kind.

In the end, the best way to strengthen America against these new challenges is to strengthen the American people here at home.  It is time for us to unify to defeat the challenges of hopelessness, ignorance and division that weaken us here at home.  We cannot be the beacon of liberty to those struggling against dictatorship if we betray our commitment to expanding the American Dream for our own citizens. It is this challenge I call you to meet now and will continue to do so in the coming months. 

While the world has changed, some things remain the same.  As one of the first and most powerful democracies, we must always be an advocate of human rights against those who wish to keep their people in the darkness of dictatorship.  The new Afghan government must respect those rights if it wishes to be fully accepted into the community of nations. We will insist on protection of those who worked for those rights and will offer sanctuary for them and those who helped our troops in their mission. It is who we are, and we can do no less. 

We learned from our experience in Afghanistan that America is not all powerful.  Nevertheless, rest assured the power of our people, our ideas and our nation endures, because of you and your fellow Americans.

Thank you, and God bless the United States of America.

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New Nationalism News

AUGUST 10, 2021

Repeal of Iraq War Authorizations

The forever war in Iraq is now close to officially ending. A bipartisan bill to repeal both the 1991 and 2002 Authorizations for Use of Military Force (AUMF) has cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and may have the 60 votes necessary to pass the Senate. The bill has previously passed the House.  Now we must repeal the 2001 AUMF that authorized not just the war in Afghanistan, but also the ill-conceived “War on Terror” that spawned American military interventions across the globe.

Chinese Purchase of American Farms

This article from the American Conservative magazine tells how the Chinese are taking advantage of the decline of the family farm to buy up American farmland and agricultural assets. It is one more example of the monopolization of our food production.  A bill has been filed in Congress to stop any further sales of farmland to China and prohibit currently-owned Chinese farms from receiving farm subsidies. It should be passed as soon as possible.

Wall Street’s Buying up of Single Family Homes

The owner-occupied home has been the bedrock of the American family for generations.  However, Wall Street investment firms are now using their financial clout to buy up single-family homes as rental properties. It is one of the drivers of high home prices.  We should be using our antitrust and federal tax laws to discourage their use of financial market power to monopolize the American Dream.

Wall Street is buying up family homes. The rent checks are too juicy to ignore – CNN

A Harvard Professor’s Praise of Nationalism

Prof. Stephen Walt of Harvard University is a leading advocate of the realist theory of international relations that I believe should replace liberal hegemony as the basis for our foreign policy (see this post). Here he gives faint praise to nationalism for its natural ability to unify societies to face challenges like the pandemic. Maybe he had to temper his support to avoid problems with his globalist colleagues. 

Watching the Olympics and Defeating COVID-19 Have Nationalism in Common (