Topic: Foreign Policy and National Security

Return of the Liberal Interventionists

When Chris Preble and I released “Failed States and Flawed Logic,” the Dean of the Wilson School at Princeton, Anne-Marie Slaughter, offered what I thought was a pretty cutting critique. While admitting that “Rhetorically, the distinctions between these positions…are relatively easy to elide,” Slaughter criticized Chris and me thus:

Preble and Logan lump together such unlikely bedfellows as Robert Kaplan, Niall Ferguson, Frank Fukuyama, Steve Krasner, Gerald Helman and Steve Ratner, David Laitin and James Fearon, Sebastian Mallaby, Max Boot, Tony Lake and the entire Clinton foreign policy team as neo-colonialists — all perceiving the principal threat to the U.S. as failed states and the optimal solution as a new era of colonialism, with far more altruistic motives and international supervision. Preble and Logan in turn worry that all of this is a justification for a massive nation-building enterprise that will ignore sovereignty and usher an extraordinarily costly and difficult era in which the U.S. will take on the task of turning all “bad” or weak states into mature democracies to ensure our safety, using military and non-military means.

I thought this was a pretty good point. After all, there’s got to be some daylight between, say, Max Boot, an open advocate of American Empire, and, say, Anthony Lake, no? 

Well, crack open the op-ed page of the Washington Post this morning, and you get this from Brookings’ Susan Rice, Anthony Lake, and Donald M. Payne, on what to do in Sudan. Get ready:

It’s time to get tough with Sudan again.

After swift diplomatic consultations, the United States should press for a U.N. resolution that issues Sudan an ultimatum: accept unconditional deployment of the U.N. force within one week or face military consequences. The resolution would authorize enforcement by U.N. member states, collectively or individually. International military pressure would continue until Sudan relented.

The United States, preferably with NATO involvement and African political support, would strike Sudanese airfields, aircraft and other military assets. It could blockade Port Sudan, through which Sudan’s oil exports flow. Then U.N. troops would deploy — by force, if necessary, with U.S. and NATO backing.

If the United States fails to gain U.N. support, we should act without it. (Emphasis mine.)

All of a sudden, I’m not so sure any more that Slaughter’s critique holds all too well. 

The real difference between the neoconservatives in the Bush administration and the liberal interventionists on the other side of the aisle seems to be that for Bush’s interventions, there’s at least a plausible, not to say persuasive, case that American interests are at stake. 

In the case of the Dems’ preferred guerre du jour, there’s simply no national interest justification; the case for war, in this case, is made in the hazy language of international law and in contravention of the principle of sovereignty itself. (Indeed, Sudan has reportedly provided helpful cooperation in the war on terror, something that does affect the U.S. directly.) 

For liberals, as for neocons, states only get to be states when we say so, and apparently Susan Rice and Anthony Lake have taken it upon themselves to determine that Sudan’s statehood isn’t acceptable anymore.

The tendency to make all the world’s troubles our own, the ultimate disregard for the United Nations and beneath it the entire Westphalian order, the false hope in the utility of military power to solve protracted political problems…these fundamental principles are all shared by the Bush administration. Given that the WaPo op-ed’s authors are representative of the Dems’ heavy hitters on foreign policy, maybe it’s too early to get excited that Dems could bring a less militaristic foreign policy, should they grab the reins from the Republicans. The wars they’ll start will just be further detached from genuine U.S. interests.

Republican Congressman Demands Answers!

Via Doug Bandow, here’s an illustration of the depth of analysis we’ve come to expect from our Congress on foreign policy issues:

Why do they hate each other? Why do Sunnis kill Shiites? How do they tell the difference? They all look the same to me.
Trent Lott

Let’s not wonder why we’re in such a mess overseas. This tells you all you need to know. God help us.

Military Manpower Problem Solved!

Americans who worry that the U.S. military has been stretched to the breaking point to wage the endless war in Iraq and fulfill a vast and growing number of commitments around the world can rest easy.  Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has found a vast new pool of military personnel–in Montenegro.  Skeptics might point out that Montenegro has a population of 630,000, and may, therefore, not be much help on the manpower front.  But such people are just the chronic defeatists we hear so much about. 

Admittedly, it might seem a tad humiliating for the secretary of defense of the world’s sole remaining superpower to go, hat in hand, to a tiny country and ask for military assistance.  But when said superpower insists on fighting unnecessary and counterproductive wars, it can’t let pride get in the way of seeking aid.  With Iraq and Afghanistan both heating up, though, we need more realistic options than to court mini-states as strategic partners.

Harpers Denounce Border Plan, ID Systems

A prominent Harper spoke out this week against the plan to require passports or passport-‘lite’ ID cards for crossing the U.S.-Canada border. That’s Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. 

He is no relation to the Cato Institute’s director of information policy studies, Jim Harper, who spoke out about the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative’s PASS card system two weeks ago

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) sounds like a wonderful thing. It’s hard to be against travel. But WHTI is actually about shrinking commerce and travel among the friendly countries in our region.

In the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, Congress pushed the Department of Homeland Security to create an “automated biometric entry and exit data system” for people crossing the borders. A prominent proposal is the PASS card, which stands for People Access Security Service. It is envisioned as a card containing an RFID chip that is to be given to passport holders. The chip would alert the DHS when a person arrives at a border crossing. 

“Pre-positioning” data by sending an electronic signal from 30 or more feet sounds like it would make border crossings go faster. But moving identification data is not what takes time at border crossings — it’s checking to see if the person and the identity information match up. 

An RFID-chipped PASS card would mean that lots more information about American citizens’ movements would be collected. It’s a system not just verifying that travelers are citizens or legal aliens — it’s a system for collecting information about our comings and goings, yet another dimension of our lives revealed to the government to do with as it will.

Congress seems held in thrall by national ID systems. Last week, the House passed a bill to require showing identification cards for voting. And, of course, we already have the REAL ID Act, which by May 2008 will have states issuing drivers’ licenses and ID cards to national standards (sharing driver information nationwide, too) — if states comply. Harper of the Cato Institute testified to a New Mexico legislative committee about that issue last week. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that compliance with the REAL ID Act will cost $11 billion dollars nationwide.

Identification seems to offer an easy technological quick-fix for ailments like illegal immigration and terrorism. But what most of these schemes would do is further regiment and control law-abiding people while merely inconveninencing criminals, terrorists, and any other threat with a modicum of sophistication and motivation.

My book Identity Crisis has more on this and all other facets of identification.

Islam and Enlightenment

Let me start by saying that I was not and am not a supporter of the Iraq war, and personally I’m an old-fashioned skeptic about religion. But I was appalled to hear Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a leading Islamic scholar, declare on an NPR interview show on Tuesday that the Pope’s statements “themselves are acts of violence.”

Interviewer Diane Rehm wanted to make sure what she’d heard. She asked him, “You’re saying that the language itself is an act of violence?” “Of course it is,” Nasr replied. Discussing the violent reaction to the Pope’s quotation, he declared, “He who uses the sword shall perish by the sword.”

Later in the show, Rehm read a quotation from a column by Anne Applebaum, who wrote that westerners of all political stripes “can all unite in our support for freedom of speech - surely the Pope is allowed to quote from medieval texts - and of the press. And we can also unite, loudly, in our condemnation of violent, unprovoked attacks on churches, embassies and elderly nuns.”

Asked for his reaction, Nasr said that such violence was “not unprovoked–it is provoked.” “Because words are violence?” asked Rehm. “Of course,” replied Nasr, “of course.”

I want to be careful not to pick out obscure members or adherents of any philosophy and draw large conclusions from them. But Nasr is not so obscure. He’s a distinguished professor at a leading American university. He holds a Ph.D. in the history of science and philosophy from Harvard and is the author of more than 20 books, from publishers including Oxford University Press. His university held a conference honoring him, titled Beacon of Knowledge. The website of the Seyyed Hossein Nasr Foundation declares him “one of the most important and foremost scholars of Islamic, religious and comparative studies in the world today.” So it seems fair to say that Nasr is not an oddity; he’s a recognized Islamic scholar.

And that’s why it’s so shocking to hear the claim that words “are acts of violence” from such a distinguished scholar. A scholar, we might note, who teaches at George Washington University, named in honor of the great Enlightenment statesman. I don’t want to believe that we are faced with a clash of civilizations, much less World War III. But if Islamic scholars who teach at great American universities believe that violent attacks “on churches, embassies and elderly nuns” are “provoked” by the words of a religious leader in a university speech a thousand miles away, then we certainly have a clash of world views.

The west went through the wars of religion and emerged with a modern understanding of toleration. We have learned through bitter experience that we can worship God without forcing everyone else to worship in the same way. We allow our neighbors to practice their religion, we practice our own or none at all, we criticize views we deem unsound, and we accept that our own views and faith will also be subject to criticism.

What we forswear is violence in response to words. In the present crisis we should seek peaceful dialogue between Muslims and Christians, not to mention Jews and freethinkers and all the others who share our world. But we who live in Enlightenment societies should not apologize for the fact that freedom of thought and freedom of speech sometimes lead to hurtful words.

Instead, we should reaffirm our own commitment to free speech - “hate speech” laws, anyone? - and urge Muslims to appreciate the benefits of liberal values, such as liberty and prosperity and social harmony. And we should hold Muslim leaders to the same standards we expect of western leaders, both civil and religious: we expect them to condemn, yes, “unprovoked” violence.

Cross-posted from Comment is free.

Cheney’s Questions: Still Unanswered

I worry that this is so old and worn that everyone’s seen it already, but the NYT ran an article on April 13, 1991, that quoted then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney’s response to questioning as to why the US military didn’t depose Saddam in 1991:

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, elaborating today on Mr. [GHW] Bush’s sentiments, said that sending the United States military to finish the job violates a number of “basic principles” about setting clear-cut military objectives to support policy goals.
 
‘What Kind of Government?’

“If you’re going to go in and try to topple Saddam Husein, you have to go to Baghdad,” Mr. Cheney said. “Once you’ve got Baghdad, it’s not clear what you do with it. It’s not clear what kind of government you would put in place of the one that’s currently there now. Is it going to be a Shia regime, a Sunni regime or a Kurdish regime? Or one that tilts toward the Baathists, or one that tilts toward the Islamic fundementalists? How much credibility is that government going to have if it’s set up by the United States military when it’s there? How long does the United States military have to stay to protect the people that sign on for that government, and what happens to it once we leave?”

Sure hearkens back to Brent Scowcroft’s remark that “The real anomaly in the Administration is Cheney.  I consider Cheney a good friend—I’ve known him for thirty years. But Dick Cheney I don’t know anymore.”

The President’s Prerogative to Torture

Tom Palmer links to this truly remarkable clip of a recent presidential press conference.  In it, David Gregory asks the president what his reaction would be if a US operative were captured in Iran or North Korea and subjected to the type of treatment the administration is currently arguing for.  The response is typical Bushian avoidance and obfuscation, but the president over and over makes one point that I think is totally wrongheaded.

He repeats (I’m paraphrasing) that “you cannot ask a young intelligence officer to violate the law.  They will not violate the law…And that’s why we need to clarify and codify [our new] Common Article 3 interpretation so that officers have a defined standard to go by.”

The answer, of course, had nothing to do with the question, but I think President Bush isn’t making sense here.  Bush is trying to play to the ”ticking nuke” scenario that we’ve heard so much about.  (Whenever somebody starts with an absurd hypothetical and then starts reasoning backward in order to make policy, you know you’re in trouble.)

Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, took up this issue in the Wall Street Journal the last time the president was trying to defend torture.  Bowden argues that apropos of John McCain’s last attempt to pass a law prohibiting American torture (successful, but arguably negated by a signing statement from Bush)

Cruel treatment of prisoners is already banned. It is prohibited by military law and by America’s international agreements. American citizens are protected by the Constitution. I see no harm in reiterating our national revulsion for it, and maybe adding even a redundant layer of legal verbiage will help redress the damage done to our country by pictures from Abu Ghraib and reports of widespread prisoner abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Bowden got to the bottom line about torture, too, without any doe-eyed illusions about the nature of war:

The point the White House is missing here is that even with important captives like Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, official authorization for severe interrogation is not necessary. Just as there is no way to draw a clear line between coercion and torture, there is no way to define, a priori, circumstances that justify harsh treatment. Any attempt to codify it unleashes the sadists and leads to widespread abuse. Interrogators who choose coercive methods would, and should, be breaking the rules.

That does not mean that they should always be taken to task. Prosecution and punishment remains an executive decision, and just as there are legal justifications for murder, there are times when coercion is demonstrably the right thing to do.

That, it seems to me, is an essential point, and totally runs against Bush’s current protestations.  The president is arguing that, in the ticking time bomb scenario, the intelligence officer will just stand there, twiddling his thumbs and waiting for the Sears Tower to implode, because he doesn’t have preauthorization to slap around the terrorist.

That’s absurd.  People commit murder in extreme circumstances, and they have the chance to explain the extreme circumstances in a process of law.  Sometimes the circumstances are so extreme that they’re exonerated.  The point is that most murders don’t occur under such extreme circumstances, and you want the law to govern the broadest possible swath of situations.  The guy who beat up the terrorist–in contravention of the law–and in so doing defused the ticking time bomb and saved Chicago is going to be a national hero, should that ever happen.  No judge would convict him, no president would refuse to pardon him, and it’s hard to believe there’d even be much international outrage.

But Bush’s approach is to assume a lifeboat ethics hypothetical, and then reason backward to make the law.  (Bush even concedes during the interview that as to an intel officer in the ticking time bomb scenario, ”I know nobody’s gonna prosecute ‘em.”)

Bush should worry less that an intelligence officer is going to sit on his hands and watch the time bomb tick, and worry more about what writing torture into law would do for everyday interrogations.