Tag: rudy giuliani

The President Has an Opportunity on Afghanistan. Will He Use It?

AP Photo/David Guttenfelder

There are not going to be many better opportunities to change course in Afghanistan than the one presented by the killing of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad. It may be worth highlighting how ripe an opportunity this is:

  1. The politics on the Hill are changing. It probably comes as no surprise that Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Jim McGovern (D-MA) would like to end the Afghanistan war, but their “Afghanistan Exit and Accountability Act” has brought on co-sponsors like Tea Party stalwarts Reps. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) and Justin Amash (R-MI). This means that in the days and weeks to come, there will be Republicans on television and radio making the case for withdrawal. That could have a profound effect on where the debate goes from here. On the Senate side, establishment Republican graybeards like Richard Lugar (R-IN) seem to be indicating that their patience is wearing out.
  2. Wired-in reporters like Time’s Joe Klein are saying that they believe dramatic drawdowns are coming. Here he goes so far as to suggest that the United States may draw down to roughly 20,000 troops before the end of next year.
  3. Gen. Petraeus is going to have a very full plate running the CIA, and will have his attention focused on running the sorts of operations like the one Sunday that got bin Laden. Moreover, his replacement, Gen. John Allen, is a Marine, which Tom Ricks suggests makes him “likely to be skeptical of Army support structure, and…likely [to] be comfortable with an austere infrastructure during the U.S. drawdown in Afghanistan.”
  4. Silly statements by political leaders could misinform the public in useful ways. It was absurd for Rudy Giuliani to say that getting bin Laden was “like taking out Hitler,” but if frames like World War II keep coming up, and if the war against al Qaeda is thought of in analogy with wars against powerful states, historically, once you get the head guy, the war’s over. Everyone knows that’s not the case with a maintenance problem like terrorism, but the public, like Giuliani, is probably casting about for some place where we can call this thing over and move on.
  5. The neoconservatives and liberal imperialists’ numbers have thinned and they have spread themselves too thinly. Between Iraq, Libya, and Afghanistan, the public seems to be tired of war. And my impressionistic sense is that the public increasingly has had it with the median writer at the New Republic or Weekly Standard.
  6. The giant debt. The fact is that cutting military spending can’t singlehandedly solve the long-term debt problem, but the zeitgeist of the day, austerity, has a way of clarifying minds about whether using their children’s credit card to pay $100-plus billion per year for a nation-building mission in Afghanistan is really worth the cost.

In short, the president has increasing political cover, a clear pivot point, a widely-appreciated need, public deference, and sound strategic logic for dramatically scaling back in Afghanistan. If he spends a nickel of every dollar of political capital he spent on Obamacare, he can do this. On the other hand, if he fails to seize the opportunity, he’ll have no one to blame but himself.

If he needs some ideas, he could start here or here.

The Remnants of “War on Terror”

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani appeared on Fox News Sunday this weekend to argue against the Obama administration’s plan to try some alleged terrorists in New York courts. He did not acquit himself well.

Giuliani argued, for example, that criminal defendants aren’t tried “at the scene of the crime.” Criminal defendants are almost always tried in the jurisdictions where their crimes took place (not at the actual crime scene, of course). Giuliani’s insistence on misstating basic criminal procedure showed that he was twisting to score points against the administration. This is inappropriate political use of terrorism issues.

But Chris Wallace roasted Giuliani—with quotes from Rudy Giuliani. Of prosecuting the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, Giuliani said: “[Y]ou put terrorism on one side, you put our legal system on the other, and our legal system comes out ahead.” Giuliani said that the trial of Zacharias Moussaoui shows “that we can give people a fair trial, that we are exactly what we say we are. We are a nation of law.”

As he did during his failed presidential campaign, Giuliani appears caught in a terror-warrior time warp. He criticized the Obama administration for eschewing the regrettable phrase “war on terror,” and he betrayed no awareness of what has dawned since 9/11 on the rest of the country: Terrorism seeks overreaction on the part of victim states. Cool, phlegmatic prosecution of terrorists deprives them of rhetorical victories that empower them by drawing others to their side.

Neoconservatism and Militarism

Matt Yglesias identifies a puzzle, comparing Cold War/Irving Kristol neoconservatism to today’s Weekly Standard Wilsonianism:

[E]ven though the high-level theoretical content of the realpolitiker 70s version of neoconservatism and the Wilsonian 2000s version of neoconservatism seem very different, the operational content is extremely similar. You have support for higher defense budgets, a tendency toward threat-inflation and hysteria, a belief in an aggressive military posture and extensive saber-rattling, hostility to negotiations, and hostility to international law both in theory and in practice. This was initially presented to the world as a “realistic” alternative to lefty critiques of US support for anti-communist dictators and more recently appeared as an “idealistic” critique of lefty reluctance to launch wars, but the continuity between the views is enormous.

What Matt doesn’t say is why the policy outcomes stayed largely the same despite shifting theoretical sands.  I think this piece by Brian Schmidt and Michael Williams can help shed some light on the problem.

Irving Kristol's Medal of Freedom Award (Paul Hosefros/The New York Times)Irving Kristol’s Medal of Freedom Award (Paul Hosefros/The New York Times)

A social order based purely on narrowly egoistic interests, neoconservatives argue, is unlikely to survive — and the closer one comes to it, the less liveable and sustainable society will become. Unable to generate a compelling vision of the collective public interest, such a society would be incapable of maintaining itself internally or defending itself externally. As a consequence, neoconservatism regards the ideas at the core of many forms of modern political and economic rationalism — that such a vision of interest can be the foundation for social order — as both wrong and dangerous. It is wrong because all functioning polities require some sense of shared values and common vision of the public interest in order to maintain themselves. It is dangerous because a purely egoistic conception of interest may actually contribute to the erosion of this sense of the public interest, and the individual habits of social virtue and commitment to common values that sustain it.

In this context consider the worshipful treatment of men like Teddy Roosevelt and Rudy Giuliani by neoconservatives, and neoconservatives’ utter contempt for libertarians and individualism.  For neocons, the higher defense budgets and militarism, the aggressive military posture and extensive saber-rattling, the nationalism, were in some sense ends in themselves rather than rationally calculated means to defend the country.  Without an enemy and a grand national project — note in the article to which Matt points Kristol’s admonition that “statesmen should, above all, have the ability to distinguish friends from enemies” — the society would descend into a variety of individual pursuits — family, profit, local community, learning — that provide no unifying politics.  Again, for Kristol, “a nation whose politics turn on the cost of false teeth is a nation whose politics are squalid.”  A grand national project, be it a global proxy war against the Soviet Union, a crusade to end terrorism, or even a recurring fetish for space travel, provides unifying substance for the country.

The trouble, as Matt rightly observes, is that you can’t explicitly just go around glomming onto whatever rationale provides the best argument for militarism and nationalism today. The citizens of the country seem unlikely to support costly and destructive policies based on the idea that it’s all for their own good.  I am reminded of Ed Crane and Bill Niskanen’s apt reference to neoconservatism as “a movement with a head but no body,” meaning that it lacked indigenous support at the grassroots level.  So the obvious play for neocons was to sew the neoconservative head onto the conservative nationalist body.  To justify endless war, the idea of “real America” being under siege by both an insular and tweedy academy (in Schmidt and Williams’ story, the scientific-rationalist realists) and an array of foreign devils allowed a group of radical ideas to strike a conservative pose:

In foreign policy as in domestic policy, neoconservatism claims to represent the majority of real Americans, to speak on their behalf, and to defend the validity of their beliefs in their virtues and values (and their place as the basis for the national interest of the United States), just as vociferously as it has represented those values against the depredations of elites in the culture wars. Although a high proportion of neoconservatives are intellectuals — and are often part of what would be considered an academic elite by any standards — they are able to represent themselves as outsiders shunned and victimized by liberal (and realist) intellectuals in precisely the same way that real people are, and for the same reasons — for expressing what the people really know in an elite cultural environment dominated by self-interested, self-righteous, and yet culturally decadent liberal elites.

In this reading, trying to ground the policy outcomes in a coherent theory of international politics is bound to be fruitless.  The policy outcomes themselves are designed to provide a centripetal counter to the polity’s natural tendency to fly apart.  On this point Schmidt and Williams cite Midge Decter (“domestic policy was foreign policy, and vice-versa”) and Robert Kagan (“there can be no clear dividing line between the domestic and the foreign”).  I think there’s something to this.