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« NPR: "A Handful of Southern Democrats" Joined Republicans to Block Controversial Civil Rights Appointee | Main | NATION IN CRISIS: Obama’s vacation plans in jeopardy »
March 06, 2014

Ben Domenech: Reject Naïve, Overly-Idealistic Foreign Policy, Whether It's the Left's Conceit of Rational, High-Minded State Actors, or the Right's Neoconservative Idealism

Well, if it weren't already apparent, I'd say that neocon idealism is officially dead.

Many people -- especially those on the left, of course, plus those who are bewitched by sharply-creased trousers -- call Obama's foreign policy "realist." It is nothing of the sort. It's the left's version of idealism.

For 50 years, the left endeavored to defend Soviet aggression by constantly casting it as defensive in nature. Read Howard Zinn, or listen to Oliver Stone's simpering apologism, and you'll hear the same claim a dozen times: Every evil, murderous act committed by the Soviets was caused by justifiable fears of US aggression.

Of course, we should note this fear-of-the-aggressor apologism is highly selective; Zinn, Stone, and fellow travelers never offer a defense of the United States based on the US' quite-legitimate fear of Soviet aggression. They excoriate the US, for example, for attacking the Taliban, despite the rather ample evidence of justified US fear of the Taliban and their guests, Al Qaeda. Thus, the Soviet Union is relieved of responsibility for brutally crushing the Czechs in the Prague Spring of 1968 -- an invasion of 200,000 Soviet troops with 20,000 tanks -- but America receives no such dispensation on the basis of the 3000 murdered Americans of 9/11.

If this pro-Soviet agitation were limited to the pages of The Nation, it would not be cause for great alarm. The problem is that Obama is so steeped in this Zinnian narrative that he conceives of virtually every dictator's viciousness of being, somehow, the product of American Imperial Sin, and has therefore cast his entire foreign policy as one of No Threatening Moves.

From the "Russian Reset" to blocking Polish anti-ballistic-missiles, Obama's Plan A for the defense of the United States is little more than "don't scare the Russians," or "don't scare the Iranians," or don't scare any country or non-state actor which is, itself, scary.

There's an inch of truth in the idea that countries act out of fear, just like there's an inch of truth in virtually everything. But Obama seems to read the Russian/Soviet narrative, issuing from its state propaganda organs and relentlessly re-transmitted by its reliable toadies in the US and Europe, as if is an honest account of Soviet/Russian intention. In fact, 90% of it is false. As Hillary Clinton recently observed, Hitler's pretext for invading Czechoslavakia was to save the German ethnics of the Sudetenland from the predations of ethnic Czechs and the untermenschen Slavs.

People are rarely honest about their actual motivations for committing horrific acts, and few are more dishonest than tyrannical politicians backed by a state media and a totalitarian system of punishing internal dissent.

So sure, some amount of Russian foreign policy is based on fear, and some of that fear can even be credited as rational; but so is part of the American foreign policy, and so is the foreign policy of the UK, and France, and Australia, and India and every other country on the face of the earth.

But most of Russian foreign policy is rooted in simple Want. Putin Wants something resembling the Soviet Union back. Putin Wants to surround his country with satellites and satrapies.

And the way to keep someone from acting on his more repulsive Wants is to assign a cost to achieving those Wants such that he will restrain himself from acting on every Want.

I don't actually fault Obama for speaking of an idealistic foreign policy, one in which peace is maintained largely by countries simply not threatening each other. It's a noble goal. I wish for that goal myself.

But it is extremely naïve, not to say dangerous, to act as if the meaningless action of Wishing for something to be wills it into existence.

My problem is that he not only has no Plan B -- the more realistic, tough-minded plan for when Plan A (almost inevitably) fails -- but that he slurs his fellow Americans by suggesting that they're too stupid and crude-minded to Wish for Plan A to work.

Nope. We do wish for Plan A. We do wish Putin would understand that real strength is demonstrated not by how many millions you can bully and dominate, but by how many millions you can set free.

I wish Putin would understand this. I wish every aggressive tyrant would understand this.

But wishing is not a plan, and it's a slur to claim that anyone who speaks of a realistic Plan B -- in which force and coercion are employed against those who only understand force and coercion -- is a "warmonger" who doesn't himself wish peace.

Thanks to @BenK84 for linking this in the morning news dump.

Update: Jim Geraghty makes the case for a robust Plan B.

Dear World beyond Our Borders,

These are your choices:

A world where the United States government and its military, supplied by corporations you find distasteful, responds to aggression and provocations through shows of force and military interventions. These interventions — sometimes on a large scale and sometimes on a small scale — inflict regrettable but inevitable collateral damage on civilians. These actions are ones that in the past you have labeled “imperialist” and “aggressive” and that prompt you to lament that the world is being run by “cowboys” and — the post-millennial all-purpose pejorative label — “neocons.”
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A world where the United States government and its military do not respond this way, and disputes about territory, ideology, and power beyond our borders are hashed out by the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, the Pakistanis, the Saudis, various jihadist factions (including those so violent and bloodthirsty that not even al-Qaeda wants to be associated with them), terror-for-hire groups like the Haqqani network, and anyone else who wants in on the brawl....

Pick one. There is no “Option C” where the United Nations suddenly becomes an effective, respected peacekeeping force. There is no “Option D” where the world’s strong men and brutes are talked into taking up yoga and become calm, mellow guys, eager to hug it out.

Yup. Hope is not a Plan.


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posted by Ace at 11:55 AM

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