Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Gerson’s Lament

In the WaPo today, Michael Gerson worries that conservatives have “beg[un] to question the importance or existence of moral ideals in politics and foreign policy.” But Mr. Gerson’s idealism, on display in Iraq, has been revealed as delusion. The war in Iraq has sown carnage and instability rather than “freedom” in Iraq, killed nearly 4,000 Americans, and bled more than half a trillion dollars from the pockets of American taxpayers, rather than making us more secure.

The distinction at the heart of the debate over foreign policy is different than that described by Mr. Gerson: it is not between instinctive opponents and proponents of radical change, but between the empirical and the notional—between, on the one hand, those who adhere to observable reality, drawing from history and social science, and, on the other hand, those who rely on the abstract ruminations of essayists in comfortable chairs.

Like so many proponents of the Iraq disaster, Mr. Gerson writes as if the past 5 years never happened, demonstrating himself to be a steadfast adherent to Max Weber’s ethic of ultimate ends and in opposition to Weber’s ethic of responsibility. The former, in Weber’s nomenclature, determines that “if an action of good intent leads to bad results, then, in the actor’s eyes, not he but the world, or the stupidity of other men, or God’s will who made them thus, is responsible for the evil.” The latter, by contrast, acknowledges the importance of outcomes: “he will say: these results are ascribed to my action.” Weber warned that “in the world of realities, as a rule, we encounter the ever-renewed experience that the adherent of an ethic of ultimate ends suddenly turns into a chiliastic prophet.”

There’s really a bit of irony in all this. After all, it was President Bush who once told a confab of religious writers that

The culture needs to be changed. I call it, so people can understand what I’m talking about, changing the culture from one that says, “If it feels good, do it, and if you’ve got a problem, blame somebody else,” to a culture in which each of us understands we’re responsible for the decisions we make in life. I call it the responsibility era. …

Governor Spitzer Gets It Right

In a Cato TechKnowledge newsletter issued today, I’ve updated the world on the status of the REAL ID Act.

One of the more interesting recent developments is the decision by New York Governor Eliot Spitzer to break the link between driver licensing and immigration status. He and the Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner announced the policy September 21st.

De-linking driver licensing and immigration will reduce unlicensed driving, uninsured driving, hit-and-run driving, insurance costs for legal drivers, and roadway injuries. Linking driving and immigration status is a requirement of REAL ID, and Spitzer’s move is another nail in the coffin of this national ID law.

In my TechKnowledge piece, I laud the governor’s action as follows:

Spitzer is not willing to shed the blood of New Yorkers to “take a stand” on immigration, which is not a problem state governments are supposed to solve anyway.It’s a welcome — and somewhat surprising — move, to see a Democrat and law-and-order-type former attorney general resist mission creep in a state bureau and hold fast to the federal system devised in the constitution. But he’s done the right thing. Thanks most recently to Governor Spitzer, and to state leaders from across the ideological spectrum, REAL ID is in collapse.

The move has subjected Spitzer to withering political attacks from Republicans. The attack most embarassing to witness, though, comes from “relatives of 9/11 victims.”

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.