Foreign policy updates A rolling list

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This is a list of links to resources on foreign policy that I have come across since putting the syllabus together.

Monday, December 1, 2008

I can’t really believe that this is the only matter of principle that President Bush thinks might have been compromised in Iraq, but here it is, from an interview with ABC News.

GIBSON: Was there a time when you thought, if I do this I will be compromising my principles –

BUSH: Yes.

GIBSON: – some decision where you really thought that that was at issue?

BUSH: Yes.


BUSH: The pullout of Iraq. It would have compromised the principle that when you put kids into harm’s way, you go in to win. And it was a tough call, particularly, since a lot of people were advising for me to get out of Iraq, or pull back in Iraq, or – and rather than listen to – I mean, I listened to a lot of voices, but ultimately, I listened to this voice: I’m not going to let your son die in vain; I believe we can win; I’m going to do what it takes to win in Iraq.

The question about this principle is always the same. How many deaths is it worth to achieve a victory rather than a defeat? It’s very very very hard to give an answer other than “zero.”.

(I’m treating “it’s important to win” as independent of, “it’s important to win to prevent additional bad consequences if, say, other countries don’t regard our threats as credible.”)

In fairness, he comes right up to the edge of saying that the war was not justified given that Iraq had no meaningful nuclear weapons program. Surely there’s an unstated principle of not starting pointless wars.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Admiral Fallon, briefly head of Central Command, speaks on just about everything. I found his remarks about China especially eye-opening. Yikes!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Here’s a name you don’t expect to see as a major foreign policy advisor to a Democrat: Brent Scowcroft. What does it mean? It means unwinding Iraq and concentrating on settling the Israel-Palestine issue.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Democracy in Afghanistan? Not really a goal. Off the record, that is.

conversations with several Obama advisers and a number of senior military strategists both before and since last Tuesday's election reveal a shared sense that the Afghan effort under the Bush administration has been hampered by ideological and diplomatic constraints and an unrealistic commitment to the goal of building a modern democracy -- rather than a stable nation that rejects al-Qaeda and Islamist extremism and does not threaten U.S. interests. None of those who discussed the subject would speak on the record, citing sensitivities surrounding the presidential transition and the war itself.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sensible remarks about Russia.

Monday, November 3, 2008

One last Khalidi bit, from the prickly Christopher Hitchens. Let no one leave my company thinking there is anything dodgy about Rashid Khalidi.

Friday, October 31, 2008

More Khalidi. Why listen to me? Read what the man has to say for yourself.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I’m torn about whether to comment on a mini-issue in the waning days of the campaign: Obama’s connection with Rashid Khalidi.

On the one hand, I know Khalidi. We worked together for the Human Rights Program at the University of Chicago. I think he’s a great guy and I have learned a lot from him. He’s a persuasive critic of Israel who advised the PLO delegation to the Madrid talks in 1991. But he’s mainly an academic who cares very deeply about the world he studies. We weren’t colleagues long enough to be friends but I hope that we would have been if things had worked out differently. So I feel that I should stand up for him, in my own small way.

On the other hand, I worry that commenting on this is counterproductive. It’s like saying that Obama is a Christian rather than a Muslim. It’s true, but the whole ‘debate’ rests on the false premise that it matters whether he’s one or the other. To participate in this sort of discussion is, in part, to accept the toxic premises.

But I’m better placed than most to comment on this and the truth is important. So, with considerable trepidation, here I go.

Every major figure in American politics supports a “two-state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This will not work if it isn’t legitimate for people who have the respect of high American officials to communicate sympathetically with the organization that would make up the Palestinian state. The Americans have made it clear that this won’t be Hamas. That leaves the PLO. That said, the claims that Khalidi was a “spokesman” for the PLO in Lebanon or a member at any time are false. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

For what it’s worth, Khalidi is unenthusiastic about Obama’s likely policies towards the conflict: “I’m unhappy about the positions he’s taken, but I can’t say I’m terribly disappointed. … People think he’s a saint. He’s not. He’s a politician.”

Ugh. I just heard a snippet from cable TV in which Rashid is characterized as being anti-semitic. I think it was inadvertent, but these things really must be confronted head on sometimes. I am certain that is utterly false.

p.s. I’m not alone.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Iraq war supporter Robert Kaplan reconsiders.

does Iraq meet the parents’ test? Can you look parents in the eye and tell them it was worth losing their son or daughter over? As awful as it sounds, quantity matters here, for it says much about the scope of violence that is unleashed for the sake of a higher good. If there were, say, 500 sets of parents you had to look in the eye, the answer might well be yes, it was worth it, given where Iraq is today and what might have been had we not toppled Saddam. But at more than 4,000 and counting, the answer for years to come will still be no.

I won’t comment on his moral mathematics except to say that the number is much, much, much higher. He left out the Iraqis.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A staunch defense of McCain on foreign policy grounds by Charles Krauthammer. At least someone is staying home on the right this year!

For what it’s worth, I agree with a lot of what he says. Specifically, I think it’s unfair to conclude that McCain is “erratic” based on what he has done in the campaign. Any Republican running this year would have to scramble and it’s easy to look calm and commanding when you’re comfortably in the lead. McCain has an incredibly long public record. I don’t understand why people who agree with him would ignore that and concentrate only on the past three months.

Here are two guesses. First, they’re genuinely offended by the choice of Palin, especially if friends in the party who they regard as more prepared were passed over. Second, they aren’t ignoring the incredibly long public record. We’re seeing old disagreements that were papered over in the past. Colin Powell was never enthusiastic about Iraq. As for Kenneth Adelman, I had forgotten that he turned on the war. This is from a story in 2006.

Kenneth Adelman, a lifelong neocon activist and Pentagon insider who served on the Defense Policy Board until 2005, wrote a famous op-ed article in The Washington Post in February 2002, arguing: “I believe demolishing Hussein’s military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk.” Now he says, “I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national-security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent. They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era. Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional.”

Fearing that worse is still to come, Adelman believes that neoconservatism itself—what he defines as “the idea of a tough foreign policy on behalf of morality, the idea of using our power for moral good in the world”—is dead, at least for a generation. After Iraq, he says, “it’s not going to sell.” And if he, too, had his time over, Adelman says, “I would write an article that would be skeptical over whether there would be a performance that would be good enough to implement our policy. The policy can be absolutely right, and noble, beneficial, but if you can’t execute it, it’s useless, just useless. I guess that’s what I would have said: that Bush’s arguments are absolutely right, but you know what, you just have to put them in the drawer marked can’t do. And that’s very different from let’s go.”

It’s hard to tell whether Adelman thinks that the neo-conservative project is feasible but was incompetently bungled in Iraq or if he’s saying that it can’t ever work. McCain said the first thing. If Adelman really believes the second, that would explain why he would break with McCain. He would be giving up the whole idea of national greatness and using American military power to spread American values on the grounds that it just can’t be done.

At least George Bush is sticking with the team.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Musings about the possibility that Al Qaeda will do something corresponding to the US election. Oh boy.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The financial mess isn’t strictly on topic but it is obviously important for pretty much everything. And it’s something that a lot of us are worried about. I thought that this article by Dani Rodrik does a good job of (a) identifying the possible causes and (b) explaining why we don’t really know how to apportion the blame.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Kenneth Adelman is endorsing Obama? Colin Powell I understand. His biography intersects with McCain’s in fascinating ways, but he hasn’t ever been a real hawk. Adeleman has; as he puts it, “my views align a lot more with McCain’s than with Obama’s.” Nonetheless, there it is.

Fareed Zakaria, a big name among foreign policy intellectuals, is for Obama too. He was surprised too when he felt the pull to Obama, last December. As he wrote then, “I never thought I'd agree with Obama,” that identity matters more than experience.

It’s interesting how much these characters are putting on the conduct of the campaigns and on the choice of Sarah Palin. I understand the latter but not the former. Maybe I should take campaigns more seriously.

Here’s how Obama looks to Her Majesty’s government.

Finally, here’s what it’s like on the border between the Kurdish and Iraqi armies. That “border” is inside Iraq, I remind you.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Nicholas Lemann has an article comparing Obama’s and McCain’s foreign policy views in this week’s New Yorker (it’s not online, the link is to the table of contents). I thought it was more revealing about Obama than McCain. It gives us some idea about what shifting the focus of US foreign policy off of Iraq would really mean.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Isn’t violent conflict between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq inevitable given their “ancient hatreds”? Well, no. They had working social rules in the past and they can live by them again. Of course, it’s hard to do that when people at the top are trying to gain power by forcing ethnic and religious divisions. But there’s nothing inevitable about it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New Peter Galbraith article on Iraq: Is This a ‘Victory’? The basic idea is that Iraq after the surge is now split into three parts, each with its own army. There’s the government that is dominated by the SIIC party, formerly the SCIRI party; it is a Shiite party that has always been aligned with Iran. There are what we call “The Awakening” or “Sons of Iraq” representing the Sunnis; the Iraqis call them “Baathists”, after Saddam Hussein’s political party, the Baath party. And, of course, there are the Kurds.

The Sunnis turned on the Al Qaeda like groups in their midst, accepting American money and weapons in return. Oddly enough, they didn’t like being attacked by religious fanatics and their affiliated sociopaths. Who would have guessed that? The government wanted the Americans to stay as long as they were fighting the Sunnis. But now that the Americans are supporting the Sunnis too, the government is no longer so enthusiastic about having the Americans stay. So it announced support for Obama’s plan to leave during the summer.

Galbraith thinks that the government will remain in the hands of Shiite parties aligned with Iran. These parties have no intention of accommodating their enemies from the Baath party. Their reasons may well be good ones: remember the story about the nails in the head from the other Galbraith article we read. Since that is so, he does not think that the government can ever be a stable ally of the US, much less a fledgling democracy.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The New York Times pinned our candidates down for extended discussions about Iraq and published an article comparing their plans. They’re a little clearer about their goals, but not by much.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Robert Kaplan argues that Afghanistan is important. Juan Cole is not so enthusiastic.

Incidentally, if you’ve been doing foreign policy research, you’ll want this handy guide to keep the various the Kaplans straight.

Before charging off to Afghanistan, the military had better be sure it understands what happened in Iraq. Bing West analyzes the surge. Basic story: Sunnis in Iraqi turned on the Al Qaeda-types because they’re too brutal and crazy. (West puts it the other way around in crediting “the decency and strength of the American troops”.) The Americans were there as the alternative. I believe this because it’s the way things have gone for groups like Al Qaeda in places like Algeria and Egypt. The devout members of normal society who might support an Islamic revolution get turned off by the violence. The only successful Islamic revolution was the Iranian one in 1979.

Murray Feshbach says that Russia is in big trouble due to a poor public health system.

This reminds me to ask Michael Klare about one of my pet theories: the Soviet Union collapsed because oil prices collapsed in the 1980s. Come to think of it, there are probably a lot of costs and benefits of high (or low) energy prices that I haven’t thought of. Maybe I’ll ask him an open ended question and see what he says. That’s usually smarter than flogging your pet theories. But it’s sooo much less satisfying.

Monday, September 29, 2008

The outgoing Prime Minister of Israel says astonishingly dovish things about the West Bank and Iran. He wouldn’t have gotten away with that in the debate in Mississippi!

The LA Times has more on who might have been behind the bombing in Sryia. Here are the lead paragraphs.

When Syria deployed thousands of soldiers along its frontier with northern Lebanon this month, some here feared that the Syrians were preparing to retake a country their military had dominated until it was pushed out in 2005.

But now, after a bombing Saturday that was the deadliest in Syria since 1986, analysts are wondering whether the troops were defensive, meant to stop an imminent attack from Lebanon-based Sunni Muslim militants inspired by Al Qaeda and sometimes trained in Iraq.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Syria may well support Hezbollah and Hamas. But it’s misleading to say that they support terrorism, period. After all, someone set off a big bomb in Damascus. There may well be room for some “enemy of my enemy” deals between the US and Syria. Syria’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas may make such deals objectionable, but that’s a different point.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

According to my notes from the foreign policy debate, Senator McCain’s aims for the Iraq war include “victory” and “honor” for the US and leaving Iraq as a “stable ally” and “fledgling democracy”. He thinks all of these goals will be achieved if the US continues to follow the strategy known as “the surge”.

Senatory Obama’s overarching goal is to take the focus off of Iraq in order to address problems elsewhere. He wants to “end the war responsibly.” He conceded that the surge had brought down violence. I don’t believe that he conceded that continuing it would achieve Senator McCain’s goals, though he did not contest the point either. Perhaps that is what Senator McCain has in mind when he says that Senator Obama refuses to acknowledge the success of the surge.

It’s evident that a responsible end to the war is a much less ambitious goal than achieving victory, honor, and the rest. Both candidates treated the issue that way. But they left us with some questions.

  1. How much less ambitious is Senator Obama’s goal?
  2. How much more would achieving the more ambitious goal cost than achieving the modest goal would cost?
  3. What, exactly, are the risks of lowering our expectations as Senator Obama proposed? That is, what might happen, how likely is it to happen, and how much would it cost to deal with it if it did happen?
  4. What, exactly, are the risks of maintaining a focus on Iraq and not addressing other problems? What might happen, how likely is it to happen, and how much would it cost to deal with it if it did happen?
  5. How much is Senator Obama’s position driven by the view that Senator McCain’s goals cannot be achieved at all and how much is driven by the view that they cannot be achieved at reasonable cost?
  6. How great a cost is Senator McCain willing to pay in order to achieve his goals? How much are victory and honor worth to him, for instance?

Did Senator McCain say he would leave US troops in Iraq for 100 years? Here’s the controversial quotation in context. Basically, he anticipates stationing US military forces in Iraq much as they are stationed in Europe, Japan, and Korea. That is, Senator McCain does not anticipate indefinite fighting. But he does anticipate an indefinite US military presence. He believes that the public objects to keeping the military in a long war but that they do not object to stationing the military in peaceful foreign countries for a long time.

Finally, here’s what Henry Kissinger said about negotiating with Iran.

Monday, September 22, 2008

James Fallows will be speaking at CMC tomorrow night.

... that's Tuesday, Sept 23, I will be there too. Will be speaking from 6:45pm to 8pm at the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum at Claremont McKenna College. Free and open to all comers; location here. Stated topic is the right foreign policy for whoever succeeds GW Bush. Also intend to talk about recent news out of my current homeland of China (Claremont being part of my original homeland of the SoCal “Inland Empire”), and even the upcoming presidential debates. See you there.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I read a trio of post-war interviews and short pieces by Bernard Lewis. It’s hard to pin down exactly what he thinks about a number of specific issues. But it’s fairly clearly that he believes that democratic government can flourish in the Middle East and that it is tremendously important for the US to show strength. There are several remarks about the superiority of the Soviet Union’s approach to the region that are revealing as well.

  1. Islam and the West: A Conversation with Bernard Lewis. Q & A with the press on Thursday, April 27, 2006
  2. Bring Them Freedom, Or They Destroy Us. Cheery title for a lecture he delivered on a cruise ship, believe it or not.
  3. Was Osama right? Wall Street Journal opinion piece urging the US not to show weakness in Iraq.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

One of our authors for next week, Steve Coll, has a blog through the New Yorker. One of his recent entries revisits the Bush Doctrine and Brent Scowcroft’s opinions about the Iraq war.

It might be interesting to compare Condoleezza Rice’s essay “Promoting the National Interest” with her later piece “Rethinking the National Interest”. The first was written in 2000 as a statement of Bush’s views. The later was written in 2008 in defense of what the Bush administration had done. They’re very different. Among other things, that highlights some of the difficulties we face in trying to figure out what our candidates might do.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

According to Barton Gellman, Vice President Cheney supported the Iraq war in part to intimidate other countries. Gellman’s sources told him that Cheney didn’t really believe that Iraq itself was much of a threat. How about that. Hear the interview on Fresh Air (start around the ten minute mark if you want to skip straight to the Iraq stuff) or read the articles in the Washington Post.

This probably isn’t too helpful for your immediate research, but an excellent source for the origins of the modern Middle East out of the settlement of the First World War is David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace.

As long as we’re talking about books, Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower is an excellent book on Al Qaeda. Jim Mann’s The Rise of the Vulcans is about the theoretical debates about foreign policy that led to the Bush Doctrine.

Finally, here are two additional sources on the characters we’re going to read on Thursday, the realists. First, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s case against going to war in Iraq: “An Unnecessary War”. Second, Jeffrey Goldberg’s article on Brent Scowcroft’s relationship with the second Bush administration. Scowcroft was the National Security Advisor in the first Bush administration.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Frontline did an excellent two part series on Iraq.

Colin Kahl is an Obama foreign policy advisor (I think). He’s one of a group of bloggers at the Washington Post’s Intel Dump sub-site.

Foreign Affairs has foreign policy statements from all of the major candidate in this election cycle. It’s also the place to go for the establishment view of foreign affairs.

You might want to consider McCain’s reaction to 9/11 in the light of today’s discussion. Fortunately, the New York Times published an article entitled “Response to 9/11 Offers Outline of McCain Doctrine.” Here’s a paragraph from near the beginning.

Within hours, Mr. McCain, the Vietnam War hero and famed straight talker of the 2000 Republican primary, had taken on a new role: the leading advocate of taking the American retaliation against Al Qaeda far beyond Afghanistan. In a marathon of television and radio appearances, Mr. McCain recited a short list of other countries said to support terrorism, invariably including Iraq, Iran and Syria.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Jeffrey Goldberg’s profile of John McCain in this month’s Atlantic Monthly is extremely interesting.

Goldberg’s op-ed in the New York Times is also worth reading.

Terry Gross’s interview with Andrew Bacevich is both interesting and moving. Bacevich is a history professor at Boston University with an extensive background in the military.

I see Bacevich also has a comment on the surge in the Atlantic.

This page was written by Michael Green for The Election, ID-1, Fall 2008. It was posted September 15, 2008 and updated May 08, 2018.
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