Comments (61)

Best Response
Dec 2, 2016

Let's hear what our new Secretary of Defense has to say on the matter:

Incidentally, I've never been more conflicted about a political appointment in my life. On one hand, you have the type of leader who only comes around once a century, a man for whom I would abandon my family and take up arms again if he asked. On the other hand, he's being appointed by a man into whose mouth I would not piss if his guts were on fire. I have the weirdest war boner right now.

The biggest problem with our foreign policy IMHO is our blatant inconsistency. I should probably start by saying that I'm personally against interventionism, having once been the metaphorical tip of the diplomatic spear. That said, if interventionism is your thing, you need to apply it evenly and it often requires several coats.

Where we get a black eye and a reputation for imperialism on the world stage is that we only intervene in situations where there is a direct political or economic benefit to us (most often around resources over the past several decades, though perhaps a bit less so recently). For example, we were all too eager to intervene on behalf of Kuwait, a country the size of Rhode Island with a total population of 2 million in 1990, yet we didn't lift a finger to end the genocide in Rwanda a couple years later, which claimed up to an estimated 1 million lives in a 90-day period in 1994. No oil? Sorry Rwanda, you're shit out of luck.

The same goes for (predominantly Islamic) terrorist states today. We're all too eager to go after the Muslim states we don't like, but Saudi Arabia? No way, you guys are aces with us. Nevermind the fact that you're among the most repressive regimes on Earth, your human rights record is abominable, and, oh yeah, you financed the assholes who flew planes into the World Trade Center. We're all good, just keep that oil flowing.

If you're going to be the world's policeman (bad idea) you absolutely must maintain the moral high ground. Sadly, at that we have failed miserably, repeatedly, and consistently.

To wrap up where I began, perhaps Mattis is a step in the right direction. Most of our recent SecDefs have had no military experience whatsoever, and of those who do, you have to go all the way back to Caspar Weinberger to find one who even achieved the rank of Captain. In other words, there hasn't been real military leadership in that role in generations. Is that important? Time will tell. But Mattis is keenly aware of the human cost of war and, as a rule, the baddest guy at the bar usually isn't the one starting the fights.

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Dec 5, 2016

I can tell you put a lot of thought into this but you're missing the same historical knowledge that plagues journalists. Sadam was testing the waters on the eve of the fall of the soviet union, to see what the dynamic would be like in this new world. The US was on the sidelines in the situation diplomatically before he invaded Kuwait (something we thought was a big bluff). He didn't think we would be eager to intervene after what happened in the Vietnam war, and he wanted to control 20% of the worlds oil. Containing Sadam was US policy.

Rwanda? Different story. We had a bad experience in Somalia. It was politically, Belgian's territory since it was formerly a colony. The UN already had a "peace keeping" force there.

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Dec 5, 2016

Exactly. One has to look at the historical context to understand the "inconsistency." John Bolton made this point recently in an interview with Tucker Carlson where Carlson was hitting him pretty hard on the Iraq War and how he's a neo-con and not a Trumpian, so-to-speak. Bolton made the point in his defense that nation-building and/or interventionism makes sense only in some cases, but in many cases it does not.

For me, I wholly reject the libertarian worldview that the U.S. should retreat from its perch and focus on itself, letting people fight and kill if that's what they want to do. In an ideal world, this libertarian, non-interventionist mindset seems to make sense, but the world isn't ideal. Take Syria, for example. Let me fully admit that 3 years ago I was a total non-interventionist on Syria (I think I may have even written on WSO that we should stay the f*ck out of Syria--it wasn't our fight). But look at the aftermath--there's a humanitarian crisis that is overwhelming Europe. The refugee situation is so bad that it probably led to Brexit and it may ultimately lead to the dissolution of the European Union. You bet your ass that Angela Merkel and David Cameron wish they had intervened in Syria when they had the chance.

The larger point is, when it comes to certain aspects of foreign policy, one needs to play chess--one needs to look ahead to the consequences of intervening and not intervening. The genocide in Rwanda, while abhorrent, simply did not pose an existential threat. The Syrian civil war, on the other hand, caused the whole region to meltdown, sending millions of refugees pouring into Europe, causing an existential threat to the survival of the European Union. Deposing Hussein in Iraq and Ghadaffi in Libya appear to have been horrible mistakes because of the resulting power vacuums. Especially in the case of Ghadaffi, this should have been apparent.

Dec 7, 2016

I don't quite see what historical knowledge he has missed? You appear to be making the exact same point as him? The point specifically being that an inconsistency exists because intervention is contingent on an economic or political gain?

From my understanding the US was quite happily backing Saddam when he was tilting the geopolitical tide in their favour, but they moved to "contain" him as you say as he went a bit out of control:

https://foreignpolicy.com/2013/08/26/exclusive-cia...

Dec 5, 2016

I'm with you on Mattis, as a jarhead I love him. he might scare liberals but the fact is he'll pull Trump's head out of his arse re: torture, among other issues, and I do think your last sentence is true and he'll temper any potential recklessness. Or so i'm really, really hoping.

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Dec 7, 2016

This is a really great response. However, please permit me to disagree with a couple minor points.

First, I totally agree with the idea that our inconsistency is the biggest problem with our foreign policy. However, I disagree that it is an** inconsistency of application**, and instead submit that it is an inconsistency of execution. It is perfectly fine for the US to only exercise our moral superiority when it is in our interests. This is commonly referred to by foreign policy experts as* "American Hippocratic Power" and is hugely valuable to us as a nation. It provides us the ability to say one thing, do the opposite, and receive the full benefit of both. However, it is up to the executive to balance this power. War is necessarily an unpopular endeavor, and it must not be subject to political expediency. In other words it is up to the president to do what is right, regardless of what is *easy.

No example proves a better example of this inconsistency of execution than Vietnam (and it's predecessor Korea). These two wars also happen to be the progenitor of US foreign policy inconsistency, in nearly every situation besides perhaps Desert Storm. This was a war we should have easily and decisively won, quickly. What happened?** Foreign policy became hostage to the vagaries of domestic democratic opnion.**

Every four years the war effort was under intense scrutiny by people who didn't have the faintest clue about military operations. This caused the President (nearly all of which also had no clue about military operations) to use the military operations in Vietnam as a tool for political headlines; abandoning strategic locations for small, indecisive victories which resulted in a positive headline for them, then turning around and re-capturing (many times unsuccessfully) the previously abandoned strategic interest. Although the president is Commander-in-Chief, he has no business in the execution of a military campaign, especially if he is unqualified (ie civilian background)

As far as the middle east goes though, it's hard to make any sweeping generalizations. Nobody hates Saudi Arabia more than me, and it's a good thing I'm not president or I would nuke them immediately for their involvement in 911 (not to mention the benefits to the US oil industry). However, Saudi is a bulwark to Iran, and Iran is the biggest existential threat to mankind over the next 25 years.

Still, we can analyze what has been done: which is essentially the creation of a giant shit-show. This is an unpopular opinion, but I often argue that an Islamic state with rebel groups and state-sponsors perpetuating chaos in the region is actually a better position than a hostile Iraq *(even before you consider the national energy security threat). The result of Iraq II is a low-cost, low-reward improvement from Sadaam's regime. Unfortunately this result was not the goal. If it had been the goal, we could have achieved the low-cost portion of the equation, by "Pulling a Syria" and just droning the sht out of Baath party military structures (like we did to Baghdad)

What's even worse about engaging Iraq, is that we did so at the cost of Afghani occupation, where the terrorists we were hunting were, until they fled to Pakistan, where we were not willing to chase them. This again is the inconsistency of execution. We totally destabilized Afghanistan in our pursuit for bin-Laden, and as well we should have. However, Afghanistan itself was not our enemy (like Iraq was), and there was no benefit to destabilization, not even incremental. If we wanted to maintain our credibility in the world theater, we should have stayed and nation-built. Indeed, we gave it a half-ass attempt and failed through president Kargazi (or whatever the fuck his name was), but ultimately we totally failed to clean up our mess, and squandered the opportunity to create an ally, instead causing the middle-eastern world to double down and increase the funding for terrorists, rebels, and groups opposed to American interests. Part of the reason we failed is our total disengagement from the region, discussed below.

Here in the story "Along Came a Spider". President Barack Obama was elected promising an immediate end to Iraq. Due to the fickle nature of the American populace, and his inability to balance American Hippocratic Power (again, squandering the opportunity nation-build in a destabilized Iraq and instead of developing another anti-Iranian, oil-producing ally) we gave the keys to the kingdom, to any sand-shitting monkey with a Koran and a twitter account (and as much black-gold as they could steal). Meanwhile, the spider takes this democratic weakness and exports it to the Western World selling it as American Moral Superiority, when in fact, this was amoral. It was politically expedient, and monetarily cheap, for him and his coat-tails - no one else.

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Dec 5, 2016

Your point about American retreat is key. John Bolton, when pressed about his support for Iraq, rightfully noted that Iraq wasn't a singular decision--it was hundreds of decisions over the course of a decade. In my view, deposing Hussein in Iraq and nation-building was a mistake--it was the first critical mistake. But the most critical mistake was squandering a decade of progress by turning tale for political expediency--regardless if we should have gone into Iraq, the nation was relatively stable. With that move of political expediency alone Obama sealed his fate in history.

Dec 2, 2016

A couple of big issues:
- "National interest" is extremely hard to determine, because often the long-term unintended consequences of intervention are not taken into consideration or severely discounted. On top of that, they're obviously very hard to predict. On balance, our elections discourage this sort of long-term thinking.
- A hefty chunk of anti-American sentiment is produced by intervening (in certain cases/places (e.g. Iran, Cuba)), so it is not completely clear that combating anti-American sentiment is categorically a reason for intervention.

That's not really a thorough answer, but hopefully it contributes something to the discussion. A lot of this comes down to whether one is a "realist" or "liberal" in IR. I consider myself a defensive neoclassical realist and thus lean toward the heavy emphasis on determining what our national interest is and not trying to play world policeman just to sweep up other countries' messes. At the same time, I'm for the US driving international cooperation on various issues.

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Dec 5, 2016

On point.

Dec 5, 2016

Intervention should be a method of last resort, I think that is what has been forgotten. Over the past two Presidencies for sure and in numerous cases before since the end of WW2 we have had Presidents who have cared more for their own legacy regarding the perception of being on the right side of history from a human rights perspective but have given what appears to be little though to what could happen after. Removing a dictator in certain parts of the world where brutality is an ingrained part of life is a dangerous move. There are parts of the world where the enlightenment hasn't yet happened, they may have technology and live in a "modern technological world" but the populations of these countries are far from what the western world would consider with the times. It is sad but sometimes it really does take someone who is so dark that he could have people shot in the head in the middle of the street to keep order. It sounds horrifying but a single death to keep the thin fabric of society from completely falling apart and turning into modern Iraq, Syria, Libya, to some extent Egypt, Georgia, and possibly Turkey may well be in the good of the masses.

I'm personally against intervention I ascribe more to Theodore Roosevelt mantra of "speak softly; carry a big stick" This should be the governing rule of foreign policy. Do little but when you have to strike, bring the fucking thunder.

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Dec 5, 2016

@Eddie Braverman points out that the U.S. is inconsistent, but doesn't that bring us back around to OP's original question? The world traditionally looks at intervention as national interest vs. humanitarian relief. The U.S. is keen on being practical, so therefore we only opt to intervene for the former purpose. This is the world that was created post-WWII when we stepped away from isolationism. When Harriman, Acheson, Bohlen, and Marshall wanted to put together the Marshall plan, the language was very altruistic but in reality Harriman was a banker and wanted to be part of the team getting a piece of the market action. The Truman doctrine even had the appearance of getting involved in any country around the world where democracy was at threat of being defeated. At this point, everyone wanted to get away from this language, to ensure we didn't over extend ourselves.

So, now the U.S. has to choose between being stupidly suckered in to giving our men and other resources for serving other countries that are in turmoil or choosing a more practical path. I think that whether to intervene or not is a hard question to think about. Whose responsible for all of the casualties? Can the U.S. be the policeman for countries unable to defend themselves? Do you expend yourself with nothing in return? Why should we? If we can at least help out a little with a very modest approach and less activity, does that trump every other possible route?

For example, Obama was dovish on intervening so used less boots, more drones, less aggression, more diplomacy. I don't think he was wrong, even though a lot of suffering has been happening around the world in Syria, Gaza, and Iraq for example. If we chose to inject ourselves fully into these conflicts $3.6trillion could easily become $9t or $12t. Our first military death in Syria came just a week and a half ago when only one soldier died. We are using airstrikes and small numbers of men to fight in Syria and similar numbers in Iraq. In Gaza, no major military operations prevailed, just modest aid packages. Despite the high casualty and cost numbers, America is not highly represented in that. This is a question that requires us to think about the realities of these situations and to really focus on the security aspects of world turmoil versus how 'good 'of a country we can be as citizens. We can't be the good guys and a practical country that takes good care of its resources.

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Dec 5, 2016

The problem is that the US isn't protecting human rights. Otherwise n.1 on the list would be Saudi Arabia.

The US administrations since Clinton have been using the excuse of human rights abuse to invade countries whose leaders do not bow down to the American leadership. Serbia, Iraq.
Then the human cost became too high and under Obama they resorted to fund and arm mercenaries to take over countries, to replace their governments with groups willing to bow down to US interests.

So the US worked with communists Kurds and Salafists in Syria, nazis in Ukraine, Muslim Brotherhood for Egypt and Lybia, all groups whose human rights record is despicable but that's what the US found willing to cooperate with them.

All belong to the list of targets createdby Neocon ideologists Kagan and Wolfowitz (the 5th would be Iran) for the ''New American Century''.

The 4 in particular had a very standard executed plan:
-use US trained NGOs to start protests for democracy locally
-use extremist groups to start violence, thus forcing governments to crack down
-cry in Western media about ''human rights abuse against democratic opposition''
-gather consensus about military intervention and regime change

Now, military intervention was mostly rejected regardless because very few were willing to participate, regime change happened.

Most notable case the false accusation that Assad used Sarin gas against protesters, when it was protesters that actually used it.
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22424188 Or that Yanukovich police sniped protesters at Maidan, when it was ''someone else'' who did it.
http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31359021
Conspiracah? Well, not anymore.

Conclusion: it's not about human rights protection. It's plain imperialism, masqueraded as the former.

Kinda why I'm glad Trump will refrain from this misguided, chaotic and fallacious foreign policy.

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Dec 6, 2016

You sound very . . . Russian.

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Dec 5, 2016

Nah, born, raised, residing in Italy.

And if I really have to align with someone's vision of foreign policy, that'd be Ron Paul.

I disagree with his view on ISIS as he'd let them be and that's one case I could justify intervention in case of lacking alternatives. Other than that, I'm quite the libertarian kid.

Then again, according to Washington Post, Ron Paul is a Russian propagandist...

Dec 5, 2016

As someone who was born, raised, and is residing in Washington, D.C. and who knows A LOT of federal employees and people who work in intelligence, let me just say that you give WAAAAAY too much credit to the U.S. federal government's ability to coordinate a singular foreign policy strategy and to completely hide their intentions from everyone, and to maintain this deception from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican administrations.

I love that South Park episode about how George W. Bush was trying to get people to believe that the federal government was involved in 9/11 because it was better for people to fear the feds than to believe them to be incompetent (which they largely are).

Dec 5, 2016

Well I don't go as far as saying that the 9/11 conspiracy is a government conspiracy.

There is a degree of coordination but the results on the field are actually pretty bad. So I'm not exactly saying the US government is all powerful. Just active. And even when regime changes happen, the US strategy of nation building has been largely a failure.

Most of the strategy I described in my other post is taken from things like this:
https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2016/... Long read, but certainly worthy to understand the mindset of US foreign policy strategist, from their own words and far from needing Russian aligned websites to tell me that.

Or you can just read the papers of Wolfowitz and Kagan.

Dec 5, 2016
Virginia Tech 4ever:

As someone who was born, raised, and is residing in Washington, D.C. and who knows A LOT of federal employees and people who work in intelligence, let me just say that you give WAAAAAY too much credit to the U.S. federal government's ability to coordinate a singular foreign policy strategy and to completely hide their intentions from everyone, and to maintain this deception from liberal Democrat to conservative Republican administrations.
I love that South Park episode about how George W. Bush was trying to get people to believe that the federal government was involved in 9/11 because it was better for people to fear the feds than to believe them to be incompetent (which they largely are).

This. I've worked in gov and people get wide-eyed about it wondering how did I make it out alive! In reality, people in government are just normal folks that want to get home to their spouses and kids everyday like the rest of us. T.V. and government leaders' incompetence is a combination that makes people really believe that there's some nefarious conspiracy, when they couldn't have that much power even if it was their true darkest wishes. Which it is not.

Dec 7, 2016

Completely agree with you neink. Incredible amount of misinformation in the mainstream media due to lack of education and changes in the media landscape. When i read the FT on foreign policy for example I just want to puke.

A couple things to add:
Freedom, human rights, democracy - all western inventions, and while the liberal agenda of spreading those aggressively may be in part well-intentioned, its mostly an excuse for US imperialism; applies only when it fits their national interest (e.g. SA, Kuwait, Qatar - some of the worst human rights violators on this planet, yet nobody bats an eye).

US has a democracy, which means the population has to somehow be bullshitted into spending money for things that are not in the immediate interest of the country.

Ideological foreign policy making (which has been incredibly ignorant and naive in the US's case) does not work. It seems noble on the surface, but its results are far worse than if you pursue a realist / rational foreign policy in accordance with international law, which for example (and most probably to the surprise of many of you) Russia practices. One cannot understand US foreign policy without reading Kissinger or Brzezinski "the grand chessboard" - both fantastic reads.

The arrogance of using this hypocritical attitude of 'the moral high ground' is beyond me. What bothers me most is not even that they breach other country's national sovereignty on a regular basis, which is understandable for a world leader to do, but the constant bullshitting and propaganda that flows our way rationalising it as ethical behaviour.

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Dec 5, 2016
Guggenbuhl:

Completely agree with you neink. Incredible amount of misinformation in the mainstream media due to lack of education and changes in the media landscape. When i read the FT on foreign policy for example I just want to puke.

A couple things to add:Freedom, human rights, democracy - all western inventions, and while the liberal agenda of spreading those aggressively may be in part well-intentioned, its mostly an excuse for US imperialism; applies only when it fits their national interest (e.g. SA, Kuwait, Qatar - some of the worst human rights violators on this planet, yet nobody bats an eye).

US has a democracy, which means the population has to somehow be bullshitted into spending money for things that are not in the immediate interest of the country.

Ideological foreign policy making (which has been incredibly ignorant and naive in the US's case) does not work. It seems noble on the surface, but its results are far worse than if you pursue a realist / rational foreign policy in accordance with international law, which for example (and most probably to the surprise of many of you) Russia practices. One cannot understand US foreign policy without reading Kissinger or Brzezinski "the grand chessboard" - both fantastic reads.

The arrogance of using this hypocritical attitude of 'the moral high ground' is beyond me. What bothers me most is not even that they breach other country's national sovereignty on a regular basis, which is understandable for a world leader to do, but the constant bullshitting and propaganda that flows our way rationalising it as ethical behaviour.

Oh yeah Brzezinski is another one I'd highly advise to read to understand the way of thinking of US FP strategists.
You could easily start quoting his work and people will tell you to stop copying from RT or Sputnik.

As for the high moral ground, the West lost it in the same moment the Soviet Union collapsed and thus it didn't need to be morally superior any longer. Cooperation with questionable groups or inviduals like Pinochet or Talibans was an exception, now it's the norm.

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Dec 5, 2016

Washington's Farewell Address would have served us good if we had followed it before our ME involvement. At this point we really can't go back into our shells because the ME hates us. Clean up the mess and get back to fighting battles we can win.

Dec 5, 2016

These discussions worry me. Too often people use the US' foreign policy as a justification for the phenomenon of global jihad.

Hindsight is 20/20. Looking back, Iraq was clearly an awful idea. But what does it say about the culture in the ME, that you need a despot like Saddam to keep a lid on sectarian violence?

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Dec 6, 2016

Excellent discussion.

Dec 6, 2016

i worked with a politician once, i ended up paying for 2 lunches and 4 dinners

Dec 7, 2016

i think we should be like the old Roman empire - annihilate all trace of those who target our citizens. the war in Iraq was FUBAR from the get-go. Instead of fighting a war they wanted to win hearts and minds. this is why we had to go door to door in places like Fallujah twice. Several friends of mine fought in Fallujah (two didn't make it out) and they told me that the were not allowed to destroy buildings or mosques and properly target terrorists.

If they had let our boys off the leash the bastards would have felt the full might of our war machine and they would have been buried so far underground that they would have never come out again. Maybe that would have been overkill but you only need to hand that kind of ass whooping once to show you mean fucking business. the very threat of us invading would taper terrorist ambitions so we would need to be less physically interventionist.

we are a super power and should act like it. proportional response was the worst thing to happen to this country's security since WW2.

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Dec 5, 2016

Agreed that if--IF--you fight a war, fight to win. Fighting a half-hearted war is as absurd as the idea of being a little bit pregnant.

Dec 7, 2016

the idea that you think ideologues would somehow stop being ideologues because of crushing defeat is asinine. I can understand your perspective from the standpoint of intimidating China not to try some dumb shit but terrorists who blow themselves up in the name of a cause do not give a single shit about how "defeated" they are - if anything it would probably motivate them more. What you are advocating is the victimization of an entire country in the hopes that we kill all the terrorists who could possibly rise up, civilians be damned.

Dec 6, 2016

They would stop being ideologues because they would all be dead.

And I don't buy the "that would just create more anger/hate towards us" argument. We made an extremely imperialistic and warlike Japan our bitch.

Dec 7, 2016

terrorists dont care for the people they hurt but if there was a new reality as described in my post above, i think the people around the terrorists: their neighbors, friends, acquaintances, hell maybe even family would be more vigilant and probably turn them in if they suspect them of something because they would know that if they start something, they would ALL pay for it. you might need to wipe out a neighborhood only once and that will send an example. And we wouldn't wipe it out just for fun but if terrorists are holed up in a mosque or building and we cant go in without casualties, we blow it up regardless of who is in there. If they have no respect for their culture and people, why should we? And if the people in there with them allow themselves to be slaughtered all in the name of protecting this person and their heinous crimes well then in my book they are just like them and they deserve no mercy.

I agree with @Virginia Tech 4ever" that we should be reluctant to get involved in wars but if we do we should fight like we mean it. knowing the consequences, people will police their countries, neighborhoods and homes a lot better and while we might not eradicate them all there certainly wouldn't be enough to go around to create armies and take on entire governments. history tells us that scorched earth policy is absolutely effective and only fools think that the sensible answer to people who do us violence is to join hands around the camp fire.

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Dec 7, 2016

History repeats itself. Love your neighbor as yourself. The enemy is not as far as it seems.

Love your neighbor as yourself. The enemy is rarely the men in opposing uniforms.

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Dec 7, 2016
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Dec 8, 2016
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Absolute truths don't exist... celebrated opinions do.