Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Gerecht on the Use of Force

One of the more interesting and accurate arguments made by neoconservatives about the American use of force abroad is that when we liquidate (what most people think are ill-advised) foreign deployments such as those in Lebanon or Somalia, Osama bin Laden and his ilk use it to make the case that the Americans are a “weak horse” and that if bloodied, we will retreat in disgrace.

The implication of this argument, particularly when it comes in the same breath as an argument for ever-more interventions, is that we should have stayed in Lebanon, and we should have stayed in Somalia. This is, to put it mildly, a fringe position. But Reuel Marc Gerecht has the candor today, in The New Republic, to admit this is what they mean. Describing how we should use force overseas, Gerecht advocates:

Air strikes and, yes, special forces deployments if the use of ground troops is called for (and it may well be). Historically, this certainly meant that the United States should not have run from Lebanon after we were bombed (we should have announced troop increases, our intention to stay, and very publicly deposited supplies on Beirut’s docks for the construction of American bowling alleys). And we should have doubled down in Somalia. (Why do you think Black Hawk Down was a “disaster,” Phil? I thought it was a resounding Ranger victory, one that mortally wounded Somali General Aideed. This became a political disaster in a pre-9/11 era; I think Republicans and Democrats would now likely handle this type of confrontation with a bit more stamina.) I’m not at all in favor of “lashing” out against targets willy-nilly. But if you can find terrorists who’ve killed Americans, kill them. (emphasis mine)

This is the vision that the neocons are offering. Americans occupying and constructing bowling alleys in Lebanon. Somalia was a “resounding Ranger victory.” But this analysis is either a fundamental denial of Clausewitz’s view of the relationship between politics and war, or else a basic proposal for empire. As Clausewitz wrote

The political object–the original motive for the war–will thus determine both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires.

[…]

The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose.

The question, then, becomes what political object does Gerecht have in mind? In Lebanon? In Somalia? It seems that given the sorts of views that have come from Gerecht in recent years, even a conservative conception of such political ends would require an imperial American policy, one which would persist in fanciful objectives indefinitely, with a determination unaffected by casualties, setbacks, or other developments that sprout from the fundamental flaws in strategic vision. It is difficult to imagine that the American people would support this vision if openly debated.

More on Klein (and Cusack)

Tim flays poor Naomi Klein’s impoverished reading of Milton Friedman below, but there are even more bizarre assertions in the interview (which is conducted, unfortunately, by a fawning John Cusack).

Klein claims that times of crisis, such as the aftermath of terrorist attacks, are the most fertile moments to “push through radical free-market policies” against the will of the American people. This, of course, defies all systematic study of such things, which has proved to the contrary that the State, not the private sector, is the beneficiary of such environments. For starters, go to the books by Bruce Porter or Robert Higgs. There is a wealth of literature out there on this topic, and any undergraduate with a passing interest in the subject should be familiar with it. Such knowledge would preclude making the type of nutty claim that Klein does.

But even if one limits his analysis to, say, life under the Bush administration, one would be hard-pressed to point to the “radical free-market policies” which the administration has successfully and quietly spirited into American society in the wake of 9/11. Remember, for example, the widely-debated and spectacularly unsuccessful Bush approach to trying to partially privatize Social Security. Or, for a broader look, refer to my colleague Steve Slivinksi’s conclusion two years ago that

Even after excluding spending on defense and homeland security, Bush is still the biggest-spending president in 30 years…

Total government spending grew by 33 percent during Bush’s first term. The federal budget as a share of the economy grew from 18.5 percent of GDP on Clinton’s last day in office to 20.3 percent by the end of Bush’s first term.

Those don’t sound like stealthily enacted radical free-market policies to me. To the extent that Klein gestures toward these facts in the interview, she seems to protest that she’s not against government exploitation of crises per se, but rather is disgusted that the beneficiaries of this largesse may include private sector companies. For example, Klein is aghast that “food” and “pest control” in Iraq are provided by private companies. The horror!

One might expect this type of nonsense from Klein, but it’s really disappointing to see John Cusack do the interview with his eyebrows raised about an inch and a half above his eyes, apparently floored by Klein’s analytical brilliance. A shame, really–the guy’s made some pretty good movies.

TechCrunch Exposes D.C. Trade Association Advocacy for REAL ID

In an excellent post, Michael Arrington at TechCrunch notes the advocacy of the Information Technology Association of America in favor of the REAL ID Act, our nation’s moribund national ID law.

His title “Conflicts of Interest: …” draws out nicely the schism that ITAA’s advocacy for REAL ID creates for its membership. They work to serve us when they sell products directly, but work to hurt us when they sell surveillance infrastructure to the government. Helpfully, he also provides links to information about the House and Senate bills to repeal REAL ID.

Asked in the comments how he would characterize himself politically, Arrington replies, “hard core libertarian.”

You Call That Rethinking?

In a maddening discussion with Robert Wright, AEI scholar David Frum promises a “rethinking” of his views on Iraq but, unsurprisingly, I suppose, provides no such thing. I’ll leave it to C@L readers to stomach as much of it as they can.

But at times like this, I am reminded of Anatol Lieven’s takedown of Eliot Cohen in The National Interest:

by contributing in this way to a hasty, poorly-planned military operation, it must be repeated that Dr. Cohen took on himself a measure of the moral, intellectual and political responsibility for precisely those U.S. administration mistakes in Iraq which he now denounces, and which have cost so many American lives. It is disappointing—though not surprising—that Dr. Cohen himself does not realize that this record demands from him, as an honorable man, a lengthy period of quiet, private reflection on his mistakes and the reasons for them.

Lieven is absolutely right, but if his advice were followed, housing prices in Northern Virginia could well plummet as the neocon commentariat flees for the hills to contemplate the err of their ways. We probably shouldn’t hold our breath.

Might Want to Remove the Plank from Your Own Eye First

Somehow I missed New York Sun journalist Eli Lake’s op-ed column earlier this week pooh-poohing NYU professor Barnett Rubin’s startling suggestion that the Vice President’s office was trying to take the debate on Iran in the direction of war. Mr. Lake’s snarky opinion column (and when did journalists start writing regular opinion pieces, anyway?) leaves a lot to be desired. Lake ascribes numerous claims to Rubin that Rubin never made, and has certain problems with sketchily leaked tidbits of his own that bear on his standing to judge others.

First, Lake introduces a claim as Rubin’s that Rubin never made. Lake’s second sentence is this, characterizing Rubin’s claims:

Any day now divisions of American tanks will be rolling toward Tehran as President Bush and the neoconservatives plunge the world into yet another disastrous war.

This would be an easy allegation to deflate, except Rubin never claimed that a ground war was imminent. Readers can view Rubin’s post here and decide whether Lake accurately characterized his claims. The terms “tank” or “ground war” don’t appear, far as I can see.

Mr. Lake appears to fabricate another supposed view of Rubin’s.

[T[he charge from Mr. Rubin amounts to an accusation of bad faith. In Mr. Rubin’s world, you see, Michael Ledeen, Newt Gingrich, or William Kristol do not write about Iran’s support for confessional murderers in Iraq because they have weighed the evidence, considered the regime’s history, or analyzed the testimony of experts.

No, anything these people say about Iran in September will be because Dick Cheney gave instructions, as if anyone who speaks plainly about Iranian supported terrorism or the regime’s nuclear-bomb making reflects a hidden agenda — for the Left it’s either oil or Israel, so take your pick.

This, again, bears no resemblance to the actual post that Prof. Rubin wrote. He didn’t say anything about Israel, anything about oil, or anything about bad faith. A rather less conspiratorial reading of Rubin is that he says nothing about the good faith of the above commentators, but rather thinks that their influence on U.S. national security policy over the past several years has been disastrous, that replicating their strategic malfeasance in Iran would be more disastrous, and that he hopes it doesn’t happen. As Barnett himself writes in the end of his post:

I hesitated before posting this. I don’t want to spread alarmist rumors. I don’t want to lessen the pressure on the Ahmadinejad government in Tehran. But there are too many signs of another irresponsible military adventure from the Cheney-Bush administration for me just to dismiss these reports. I am putting them into the public sphere in the hope of helping to mobilize opposition to a policy that would further doom the efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq and burden our country and the people of the Middle East with yet another unstoppable fountain of bloodshed.

The only imputation of bad faith is from Eli Lake.

Then, Lake moves from attributing to Rubin claims and views that Rubin doesn’t state and doesn’t seem to hold, to accusing him of making a similar claim to one that Seymour Hersh made previously and pointing out that Mr. Hersh’s prediction was wrong. I don’t think Mr. Lake wants to start lining up the predictions of people who agree with him about foreign policy against those of the rest of us and assessing them side-by-side for accuracy. But in any event Lake should know enough that criticizing one person for having bad information and then attempting to use that fact to discredit someone else sounds an awful lot like the bad faith that he falsely accuses Professor Rubin of ascribing to people who agree with him.

Finally, I suspect Eli Lake may want to be careful about pointing out how frequently false information insinuates itself into debates about security policy. Take, for one example, the July article authored by Mr. Lake titled “Iran Is Found To Be a Lair of Al Qaeda.”

In that story, Lake published a claim purportedly leaked to him that the National Intelligence Estimate judged that one of two senior al Qaeda leadership councils “meets regularly in eastern Iran.” Lake wrote that “there is little disagreement that a branch of al Qaeda’s leadership operates in Iran, [but] the intelligence community diverges on the extent to which the hosting of the senior leaders represents a policy of the regime in Tehran or the rogue actions of Iran’s Quds Force, the terrorist support units that report directly to Iran’s supreme leader.”

Unfortunately for Mr. Lake, the story was tersely refuted later that day by the National Intelligence Officer for Transnational Threats, Edward Gistaro. Asked at a National Press Club briefing whether the judgment Lake described was in the final draft report, Gistaro replied “No, it is not. I don’t think it was ever in the draft…. I read [the Sun article] this morning, and I thought, ‘I don’t know where this comes from.’” The transcript of the conference describes “laughter” in the briefing room after this revelation.

In the wake of such developments, and particularly in the wake of easily-drawn analogies to recent controversies, I think those of us who are concerned about the prospect of attacking Iran can be forgiven for at least a twinge of trepidation.