State of the Union

What Jackie Robinson Can Teach Rand Paul

Instead of recalling President Lincoln as a Republican leader during his recent address at Howard University, Senator Rand Paul could have used the occasion of the release of the new movie “42” to pay tribute to Jackie Robinson, the first African-American professional baseball player in the modern MLB, as well as to Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers manager who signed him.

I won’t review the film or try to discuss its very conservative message since I am quite confident columnist and baseball historian George Will will do that sooner or later. Suffice to say it would have made the late Jack Kemp, the Republican leader who launched the most serious outreach program to black voters, shed more than a few tears.

But that Robinson, a long-time Republican, a patriot with a strong “faith in hard work, free enterprise and economic independence,” and Rickey, “a ferocious Christian gentleman,” might find it difficult to choose the GOP as their political home today explains a lot about the Republicans’ “problem” with black voters.

I have no doubt that the majority of the young audience at Howard recognize that the free-market has been a driving force behind the huge achievements African-Americans have made in many fields, including sports and entertainment, and want to make it in the private sector themselves. They are probably also interested in learning about innovative ideas in dealing with poverty in inner cities. They are aware of the failed drug war, which results in a large population of African-Americans spending their productive lives in jail, and of the fact that blacks are the main target of the current policy of government-sanctioned killing known as “capital punishment.”

It’s also not a secret that many black voters share elements of the Republican conservative cultural agenda, including on the same-sex-marriage issue.

The main reason for the antipathy of so many black voters toward the GOP is not a result of their supposed dependency on Democratic-backed social welfare programs—which actually benefit many white residents in ultra-red states like West Virginia and Mississippi and white retirees who vote Republican. Instead, it’s an outcome of the GOP’s own post-1964 electoral strategy.

The fact is that the GOP embraced its Southern Strategy in the 1960s to win over white voters in the South who felt betrayed by the civil-rights and desegregation policies that were advanced Democratic presidents (and supported by many Republican lawmakers). It’s not really difficult to figure out why so many black voters lost that loving feeling toward Lincoln’s party after the GOP allied itself with the anti-civil-rights wing of the Democratic Party in the South, a bloc that switched sides and become a dominant force in the GOP, if not its public face.

And yes, I know: the Tea Party is not racist and even includes a few African-Americans. And being opposed to the policies of the first black president doesn’t turn one into a racist.

But unless you were in a coma over the last five years, you probably noticed the racism-tinged innuendos and vibes about Obama—born in Kenya? Muslim? un-American?—emanating with much hostility from conservative pundits and Republican activists. That’s why it would not be a surprise if Robinson or Rickey, were they still alive, weren’t attracted to a political movement that has become the closest thing to a regional white Southern party. (Robinson was alarmed enough at the prospect of Barry Goldwater as the party’s nominee: “If we have a bigot running for the presidency of the United States,” he warned, “it will set back the course of the country.”)

Some conservatives and Republicans might point out that Robinson and Rickey broke the color barrier in one segment of American society without relying on the power of the federal government, through the pressure of public opinion and the free market. Couldn’t we have gotten rid of segregation in the South in the 1960s in same way, and without congressional legislation and presidential leadership?

I personally doubt that. But I’ll leave you with this thought: if Republicans and conservative continue answering with a “Yes!” to the last question, they will continue to have the same problem with most black voters.

Leon Hadar, senior analyst at Wikistrat, a geostrategic consulting group, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.

The Sun Sets on the “Special Relationship”

I am not sure whether Margaret Thatcher would have subscribed to today’s neoconservative dogma on Israel or not—an issue that commentators have been debating here, here, and here—although the heads of the Henry Jackson Society, the leading neocon outlet in Britain, are certain that she would.

But in any case, British policy on the Arab-Israeli conflict has traditionally been overseen by the so-called “Arabists” in the Foreign Office—perceived to be the bastion of an elite detached from Jewish concerns—who operate on the axiom that what is good for Saudi Arabia and the other Middle Eastern oil states is good for Great Britain and vice versa. Occasionally pressure from the pro-Israeli Americans modifies that position.

Thatcher, like former Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, may have been considered a Friend of Israel (FOI), but unlike American presidents who were FOI, her ability to shape British policy towards the Jewish State was quite limited. (This episode of “Yes, Prime Minister” illustrates that point.)

More importantly, British foreign policy under Thatcher and her predecessors had been based, since the late 1940s, on the expectation that the United States should and would replace Great Britain as the hegemonic Western power in the eastern Mediterranean (overseeing Greece and Turkey) and later, after the Suez crisis, in the Middle East and Persian Gulf, following Britain’s imperial retrenchment. Postwar Britain lacked the economic and military resources to continue securing access to oil in the region, and for dealing with the never-ending conflict between Israelis and Arabs.

Hence when Thatcher warned the first George Bush that “this is no time to go wobbly” and that he had to force Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, she expressed the traditional post-Suez British view of the need to present a common Anglo-American face in the Middle East. My guess is that she would have pursued the same kind of policy that Tony Blair, her Labour successor, embraced during the second Bush’s Iraq War—perhaps with less enthusiasm about promoting democracy and nation-building.

The problem is that the United States is beginning to exhibit the same need for imperial entrenchment in the Middle East that Britain experienced after World War II, when it started reducing its military footprint in the region and got fed up with trying to resolve the conflict between Jews and Arabs.

The Brits ended up passing the Middle East torch to the Americans. But now, despite mounting federal debt and military fiascoes in Iraq and Libya, Americans seem to be stuck in the region as a declining hegemonic power, while the British (and French) continue free-riding on U.S. power. The “special relationship” has proved to be one-sided.

It’s true that the British have been more inclined to deploy troops to Iraq and Afghanistan than other U.S. allies have been, and the British joined the French in playing an active role in Libya. But in reality much of the military, and by extension financial, burden of “doing the Middle East” still falls on the United States, with Britain and other NATO members resisting pressure to increase their military budgets. In fact, both London and Paris have been pressing Washington to get more directly involved in the Syrian civil war and to take a more assertive position vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear aspirations, knowing full well that the U.S. will wind up paying most of the costs for new military interventions in the Middle East.

So I am not sure where Thatcher, who came to power during the height of American economic and military dominance, would stand on these issues. Would she be urging Barack Obama not to go wobbly on Syria and Iran? Or would she be calling for a major increase in British defense expenditures and for the strengthening Anglo-French military ties (as well as cooperation with Poland and Turkey), as part of or separate from NATO? Thatcher would probably continue to accentuate her Euro-skepticism. But what would her response be to the rise of German economic and political power, and would she try to form counter-balancing alliances? That no one can answer these questions with any confidence goes to show how much the world political and economic environment has changed since Thatcher’s time.

Thatcher had always operated under the assumption that America the Superpower would be there to protect Britain and its allies against global security threats like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. But without such a threat on the horizon, and under an international system that is taking a more multi-polar shape as American power erodes and the U.S. “pivots” to East Asia, it is doubtful that the relationship between the United States and Britain (which will cease to be “Great” if Scotland chooses independence) will remain central to either country’s foreign policy, or that the notion of a united Anglo-American front in the Middle East continues to be relevant.

American and British neocons may have been mistaken about the so-called Islamofascist threat highlighting common interests between Washington and London, particularly in the Middle East. But their complaints about President Obama’s decision to return the Churchill bust that the Brits had loaned to his predecessor may have had some validity—in the sense that America’s first “Pacific president” perhaps doesn’t feel that the relationship with the British is so special after all.

Such an attitude may reflect more than just Obama’s personal unsentimental view of our “cousins” across the Atlantic. Instead, it could turn out to be the start of a long-term trend that emerges from changing global priorities (away from the Atlantic and Middle East to the Pacific) and national demographics (less Anglo, more Latino), all of which make it less likely that what a British prime minister does in the future will matter as much to America’s policymakers as in the days of Bush I and Thatcher or Bush II and Blair.

Leon Hadar, senior analyst at Wikistrat, a geostrategic consulting group, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.

How Do You Say “Quagmire” in French?

President Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam with Gen. Westmoreland and South Vietnam's Lt. Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu and Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky  White House photo
President Lyndon Johnson in Vietnam with Gen. Westmoreland and South Vietnam's Lt. Gen. Nguyen Van Thieu and Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky  White House photo

Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American—adapted into films in 1958 and 2002—was inspired by the author’s experiences as a war correspondent in French Indochina in the early 1950s, in particular by his conversations with American aid worker Lee Hochstetter while the two were driving back to Saigon from a tour to Ben Tre province in the countryside in October 1951.

As the Swedish-born historian and Cornell University professor Fredrik Logevall recounts in Embers of War, during their ride to the city Hochstetter, who had served as the public-affairs director for the U.S. Economic Aid Mission in Saigon, lectured Greene about the need for a “Third Force” in French-ruled Vietnam, one not beholden either to the French colonialists or to their main adversaries, the guerilla forces led by Ho Chi Minh.

Ho’s fighters—the Viet Minh, a nationalist and communist movement—operated from Hanoi in the north of the country and were resisting French attempts to re-establish control over Indochina after the end of Japanese occupation in 1945, part of a wider strategy of restoring the French empire in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

But as Hochstetter explained to Greene, French efforts to defeat the Viet Minh militarily while denying the non-communist Vietnamese real independence were doomed to fail. The Vietnamese fighting on the side of the French against Ho had to be convinced that they were advancing the cause of democracy for their own country, the young American aid worker insisted. “The only way to make them so convinced was to build up a genuine nationalist force that was neither pro-Communist nor obligated to France and that could rally the public to its side,” writes Logevall.

In The Quiet American—set in 1952, and which Greene started writing that year in his hotel room in Saigon—the character of Alden Pyle was modeled after Hochstetter (and not, as some have speculated, after the legendary Cold War-era counterinsurgency strategist Edward Lansdale). Pyle’s views are described to the novel’s protagonist, a British war correspondent named Thomas Fowler (based on Greene himself), as follows: “There was always a Third Force to be found free from Communism and the taint of colonialism—national democracy, he called it; you only had to find a leader and keep him safe from the old colonial powers.”

That Logevall devotes an entire chapter to Greene’s experiences in Vietnam—beginning with the French occupation and ending with a similarly disastrous effort by the United States to pacify that Southeast Asian country—demonstrates his skills and creativity as a writer and historian.

The chapter about the writing of The Quiet American makes for a powerful narrative-inside-a-narrative. Greene’s novel not only foreshadowed the collapse of the remnants of the French empire in Indochina and the making and the unmaking of America’s Vietnam in the years to come; more importantly, and not unlike Logevall’s Embers of War, it highlighted the tragedies of trying to use military power to overcome the most potent political force in the modern era: nationalism. Both books tell of costly and futile efforts on the part of the French and the Americans—one could as well substitute the British or the Soviets—to advance fanciful universal ideologies (such as liberal democracy or international socialism) in the face of intractable local realities.

In a way, Alden Pyle is the tragic hero of an historical epoch that has not yet ended. In Logevall’s final chapter, against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, neoconservatives and liberal internationalists continue to fantasize about a Third Force, one that rejects pro-Western military dictators and the anti-Western Muslim Brotherhood alike and is expected to promote liberal-democratic values in Egypt, Tunisia, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and right now in Syria.

Substitute “Iraq” or “Syria” for “Vietnam,” and “American” for “French,” and the arguments that Logevall quotes from journalist Sol Sanders, writing in The New Republic in 1951, would sound familiar to readers of The New Republic today: “Beneath the layers of opportunists, French spies, and hangers-on, there is a hard nucleus of patriots who are fighting for an independent, libertarian Vietnam.” Before Ahmad Chalabi in Iraq, there was Bao Dai (the westernized Emperor of Vietnam) or Trình Minh Thế (a flamboyant colonel with ties to an exotic religious sect) in Indochina—favorites of the democracy-promoters in Paris and Washington.

Another effective way in which Logevall lays out his historical investigation is by introducing a series of “What if?” suppositions. History is “full of alternative political choices, major and minor, considered and taken, reconsidered and altered, in Paris and Saigon, in Washington and Beijing, and in the Viet Minh’s headquarters in the jungles of Tonkin,” explains Logevall, who insists that his narrative is “a reminder to us that to decision makers of the past, the future was merely a set of possibilities.”

Logevall’s starts his account in 1940, with the fall of France to Nazi Germany and implications that would have for France’s empire in Southeast Asia. He concludes that the decline and fall of European hegemony in Indochina was inevitable, and the pressing question for all major players in the region’s drama—for the French and the British, for the Chinese and the Soviets, for Ho Chi Minh and the noncommunist Vietnamese—was from the start: what were the Americans going to do?

Indeed, according Logevall, the United States had been a key part of the story going back to the Paris peace conference of 1919, when Ho—an admirer of America’s political ideals and of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln—tried in vain to approach President Woodrow Wilson, present him with “The Demands of the Vietnamese People,” and convince the Americans that he represented a group of rebels fighting for liberty against colonialism.

Wilson’s notion of making the world safe for democracy did not extend to the Vietnamese and other colored peoples. But Ho stuck to his conviction that the Americans would eventually support him in his quest for independence—and some, in spirit at least, did, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

This is where Logevall’s alternate history comes in. FDR and some of his leading foreign-policy advisors were staunch anti-colonialists who believed that the goal of World War II was to liberate everyone—Europeans and non-Europeans—from foreign occupation: Britain should be forced out of India, and France should not reclaim Indochina. So imagine if FDR had not died in 1945, and he and his anti-imperialist allies provided support for Ho, who had actually based Vietnam’s declaration of independence on the American one.

Logevall believes that history would have turned in a different direction if Roosevelt had been responsible for drawing the outlines of Washington’s post-1945 global strategy instead of President Harry Truman and the architects of the Cold War. In the case of Indochina, the Americans would have prevented the return of French rule, and Ho and other leaders of independence movements in the region would have allied with the United States.

Instead, thanks to Truman, U.S. policy in Southeast Asia became an integral part of Washington’s Cold War strategy for the next 20 years, with American policymakers propping up French efforts to maintain control of Indochina while fighting Ho—who was, after all, a self-proclaimed Communist. The Americans needed the French to help contain the Soviet menace in Europe, and so the restoration of the French empire in Southeast Asia was seen as advancing struggle against Communism.

The United States played a critical role in assisting the French in what became known as the First Indochina War, which ended with France losing and Vietnam being divided into a pro-Western state in south and a northern one led by Ho and backed by the Soviet Union and China. That was the turning point: thereafter, America’s policy blueprint vis-à-vis Vietnam did not really change until the fall of Saigon in 1975.

Yet there may have been a few opportunities to reverse U.S. policy and change history, according to Logevall. Rejecting French requests for support in the First Indochina War would have been one alternate scenario. (As it happened, however, President Dwight Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles were eager to help the French and draw the U.S. directly into the war. “Eisenhower actively contemplated taking the United States directly into the war and sought a blank check from Congress to free his hands,” Logevall notes.)

Or Washington could have pulled its support from Ngo Dinh Diem, South Vietnam’s staunchly anti-communist Catholic president, whose authoritarian methods—along with the corrupt practices of his family and political supporters—alienated Vietnam’s Buddhist majority.

Yet even if one agrees with Logevall’s assumption that Ho was first and foremost a nationalist for whom Communism was only an ideology that helped promote economic development and social cohesion, the context of the Cold War made it difficult for the U.S. to pursue policies that amounted to betraying real or imagined allies.

If historical outcomes are not predetermined, what accounts for the recurrence of certain glaring foreign-policy mistakes? “Somehow, American leaders for a long time convinced themselves that the remarkable similarities between the French experience and their own were not really there,” Logevall argues. “It was, for the most part, self delusion.”

At the center of this delusion lies the notion that in going abroad “in search of monsters to destroy” America is different from everyone else: the U.S. supposedly is not practicing cynical forms of Realpolitik, like the French and others, but making the world safe for liberal democracy and free markets. This explains the never-ending search for that elusive Third Force in Vietnam or Syria, a foreign faction that will of its own accord take up America’s most cherished values.

But genuine nationalists in Vietnam or Syria see in America a foreign power motivated mostly by its own interests. They may want the United States to assist their political struggles, but they don’t imagine America’s objectives are synonymous with their own freedom and independence.

And when Americans try to pretend otherwise—that ideals and not interests are what drive the U.S. to send troops to foreign lands for “regime change”—those on the receiving end of this generosity are not moved. As a young congressman who had visited Saigon in 1951 wrote in his journal: “We are more and more becoming colonialists in the minds of the people.” Unfortunately, John F. Kennedy as president would become one of the architects of U.S. intervention in Vietnam.

Leon Hadar, a Washington-based journalist and foreign-policy analyst, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.

How Capitalism Saved Chile

Driven by the wishful thinking that the political Zeitgeist is moving in their direction, pundits on the right sometimes project their own ideological leanings onto new movies or television shows, celebrating their supposedly libertarian or conservative orientation. They seem to believe, notwithstanding a director’s stated liberal views, deep inside he or she is actually a believer in the power of free markets or traditional cultural values.

Hence, while I enjoyed seeing “Avatar” in 3D, I found it difficult to buy into the notion promoted by some libertarians that the film provided a powerful defense of property rights. What I saw was what the director intended the movie to be, I think: a fierce attack on corporate power and a salute to third world indigenous politics with a strong anti-Western bias.

So I will refrain from labeling the new Chilean movie “No” a libertarian masterpiece or implying that its director, Pablo Larrain, is a secret fan of Friedrich Hayek. But then, the main protagonist in this film is an advertising executive who unlike his counterparts in “Mad Men” is portrayed as an agent of progress, one who not only wins a battle against a bunch of aging Marxists but who also leads a marketing campaign—celebrating individual freedom and the joys of consumer society—that helps topple a military dictator and give birth to a thriving liberal-democracy. So if Jean-Jacques Rousseau would have loved “Avatar,” my guess is that Milton Friedman would have probably enjoyed “No.”

“No” is one of those docudramas that, not unlike “Zero Dark Thirty,” “Argo,” and “Lincoln,” was “inspired” by real events, which means it combines truth with fiction. In this case, the truth is the national plebiscite that took place in Chile in 1988, in which voters were asked to decide whether military dictator Augusto Pinochet should stay in power for another eight years (a “Yes” vote) or whether there should be an open presidential election a year later (the result of a “No” vote).

It is also true that a marketing team employed by the anti-Pinochet coalition produced commercials to encourage the Chileans to vote “No” and that the ads ran during the 27 days of the campaign in which each side had 15 minutes to present their position nightly on state-run television.

But “Rene Saavedra,” the character of the advertising executive in the film, played by Gael Garcia Bernal (who starred as a young Che Guevara in “The Motorcyle Diaries“) is a composite of members of the pro-“No” advertising group. Which means that his personal story is fiction, although the director’s decision to shoot the film on low-definition tape used by television news crews in Chile in the 1980s creates a sense that we are watching a documentary from that era.

The apolitical Saavedra works for an ad agency making commercials for Chilean soap operas and Coca-Cola, raising a son on his own. When his left-leaning activist wife gets beaten up by police during anti-government demonstrations, Saavedra is approached by a member of the opposition who asks him to help run their campaign.

He reluctantly agrees but finds himself confronting strong opposition from the hard-line leftists who dominate the opposition forces, including his wife, when he proposes that the “No” campaign should be run in the same way he sells, well, soap operas and Coca-Cola.

What the Communist activists have in mind is old-style political propaganda, while Rene insists on launching a campaign that embraces the symbols and images of American pop culture and consumerism, or what Rene refers to again and again as “happiness,” the notion that freedom is synonymous with choosing your political representative as well as your consumer products, an idea contrary to the values of both the military dictatorship and the Marxist politicians.

The irony is that after launching an advertising campaign that promotes nationalist and militaristic themes a la fascist Italy, the marketing team of the pro-“Yes” faction—headed up by Rene’s former boss at the advertising agency—decides to incorporate “happiness” too, injecting humor and jazzy music into their campaign. But it’s very difficult to sell an old and brutal general as a pop-culture symbol; if anything, that kind of strategy only helps to demonstrate that the values of political and economic freedom, youth and optimism, are not compatible with those of a military dictatorship. There is nothing cool about death squads.

While the film doesn’t dwell too much on the political background of the Pinochet era, it did remind me of the debate taking place in Washington at the time, and in particular the thesis promoted by former UN Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. who in her “Dictatorships and Double Standards” essay lashed liberals who idolized Communist figures in Latin America (like Cuba’s Fidel Castro) even as they urged the U.S. to isolate and punish authoritarian right-wing figures like Pinochet. She argued that a form of constructive engagement with the Pinochets of Latin America could prove more effective in driving them from power.

And indeed, the free-market reforms Pinochet and his American-trained economic advisors (some of them taught by Friedman) had initiated helped create the foundations of an America-style consumer society where advertising agencies and the “happiness” values they promoted could flourish, a political-economic environment in which the pressure for liberalization was relentless and eventually forced Pinochet into retirement.

That, unlike Pinochet, the Castro family has not allowed Cubans to vote “No” may be a reflection of the totalitarian nature of Communism. But one wonders whether U.S. diplomatic engagement with Cuba and its bombardment by American businesses would not help propel economic and political change there, too.

Leon Hadar, a Washington-based journalist and foreign policy analyst, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.

Waiting for Senator Fulbright

My first reaction to Senator Rand Paul’s foreign policy address at the Heritage Foundation last week was that it was about time a U.S. Senator of one of the two major political parties would articulate traditional American principles of non-interventionism in a clear and concise way.

That Paul is also a Republican and a self-proclaimed conservative/libertarian political figure who is willing to challenge the neo-conservative interventionist orientation that has dominated the GOP foreign-policy agenda in recent years gave me a sense of hope that the Junior Senator from Kentucky would succeed in igniting a serious debate on America’s place in the world today.

It was also original and somewhat cool that he relied on both the renowned diplomatic historian George Kennan and President Ronald Reagan in preparing a foreign policy manifesto.

I didn’t know Kennan; Kennan wasn’t a good friend of mine; but I’m sure that Kennan (who died at the age of 101) would probably be turning in his grave if anyone would have suggested that he and Reagan had anything in common politically speaking, and especially when it came to foreign policy.

As Kennan saw it, “Reagan viewed the world through dangerous simplicities, not realist subtleties,” according to his biographer John Lewis Gaddis (George F. Kennan: An American Life) who added that Kennan, an intellectual elitist, a snobbish, and to extent, a bigoted WASP, suspicious of the masses, and with no great admiration to modernity–he even decried the invention of the car–”distrusted both happiness and California” and “probably would have distrusted Reagan, even if the president had tried to win his trust” (although before his death Kennan admitted that Reagan had helped end the Cold War). Read More…

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Should the Redskins Go Coed?

I was told recently that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) now allow young men and women who have Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, characterized by awkward and repetitive forms of social behavior, to join the ranks. “Aspies” may have difficulties functioning as part of a combat unit, but they are also very good with computers, and that makes them ideal recruits for high-tech jobs in a military force whose task is to fight and win wars.

That is the point one should highlight when the issue of gays in the military or women in combat is being discussed: winning wars. By that criterion, allowing gays to join and fight in the military was a no-brainer to me. The notion that gay men would not fit into framework of a combat unit, a “band of brothers” assumes that those “brothers” don’t already include more than a few anti-social types, not to mention, say, heterosexual weirdos or asexual creeps. Then there are those guys who supposedly would feel “uncomfortable” taking a shower with a gay guy, despite the fact that they are trained be ready to see the body of their comrades being blown up in combat.

Since the Pentagon lifted the ban on women serving in direct ground combat, the spin in the media has been that the debate over the role of women in combat is similar to the one we had about gays in the military, and only cultural Neanderthals would object to the idea of women leading a unit of marines to attack a military base in North Korea. Haven’t you seen “G.I. Jane”?

But guess what? “G.I. Jane” and “Alias’s” Sydney Bristow don’t exist in the real world but are a figment of Hollywood’s imagination, much like the notion popularized by Law and Order and other television cop shows that female detectives confront violent criminals on a regular basis.

Women do serve in the U.S. and other militaries, including in direct combat units, and in a way the new Pentagon rules only makes it official, to ensure that female soldiers serving in Iraq or Afghanistan receive equal pay and benefits. But the main question is whether women serving in combat units make the military more or less effective in executing its mission of fighting and winning wars. My approach to evaluating this is utilitarian, pragmatic, and conservative.

First, let’s get one issue off the table: I really don’t even want to get into the argument that women disrupt the unit’s fighting capability because their presence makes guys horny and supposedly ignites intra-unit rivalry between the men over the relatively few women. Since that is happening in almost every organization and business in America, I don’t see why the military should be considered a special case.

But I do have great skepticism over what seems to be becoming the conventional wisdom: that women as a group have the physical attributes to fight in combat units.

In my gym where I work out and lift weights I occasionally encounter a woman who is younger, taller, and more muscular than me and could probably beat and tie me up. And there are individual women who can and do perform active combat roles. Yet the idea that the goal of the U.S. military should now be “to provide a level, gender neutral playing field” just boggles the mind and reflects the kind of politically correct mumbo-jumbo that liberal pundits like to bombard us with.

Here is a commonsensical counter-argument: why do we continue to separate (segregate?) men and women in almost all sports and athletic competitions? In fact, there are different requirements for men and women in athletic competition, and they will probably be in place until science can change our entire biological makeup and the evolutionary process—when say, men are able to get pregnant.

Until that happens, here is a simple question: would you like to see the Redskins go coed and would you expect such a team to win the Superbowl? Well? That’s what I thought. So why would you want the Marine Corps “to provide a level, gender-neutral playing field” and also expect them to win the next war with China?

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Dreaming of Robert Taft, Getting John Bolton

After following Chuck Hagel’s Senate confirmation hearings and reading Daniel McCarthy’s thoughtful post asking “Can a Realist be a Republican?”, I want to remind TAC readers and others that they should not confuse a realist global strategy with a non-interventionist (or anti-interventionist) foreign policy.

In fact, for much of the Cold War and its aftermath, Republican foreign policy was synonymous with realism. It reflected an emphasis on protecting U.S. national interest measured in terms of military and economic power and dealing with the world as it is, as opposed to a preoccupation with transforming the existing international system based on American principles of liberal democracy.

It was never an either/or choice of course, but Republican administrations’ default foreign-policy position has historically been realism, which never precluded military intervention abroad or opposed the formation of alliances with foreign nations. The realists stressed that this extensive involvement in world affairs should be driven more by hard-core nationalism and less by the kind of vague universal principles that Oliver Stone (among others) argues should have guided U.S. diplomacy and national security (like sharing U.S. atomic secrets with the Soviets).

Indeed, as scholar Colin Dueck proposes in his Hard Line: The Republican Party and US Foreign Policy Since World War II Republican and conservative foreign policy post-World War II was very hawkish and nationalist in contrast with the earlier more anti-interventionist approach of Republican Robert Taft.

And I doubt very much that even President Dwight Eisenhower, who is now being romanticized as a prudent Republican foreign-policy president (one whose secretary of state bashed containment and called for rolling-back communism and employing tactical nuclear weapons), would have found it un-American to deploy drones around the world or to allow enhanced interrogation techniques.

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It’s Still Jon Huntsman’s Moment

House Speaker John Boehner is whining about how President Barack Obama wants to annihilate the Republicans and discard them to the dustbin of history, and the Democrats are warning that the results of the 2012 presidential race were harbinger of things to come and that the GOP is destined to go the way of the Whig Party. But they should consider the following proposition: if former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman had been nominated as the Republican presidential candidate last year, Barack Obama would not have delivered his second inaugural address last week (which suggests that Obama made a smart move by sending Huntsman to China as the U.S. ambassador).

Unlike Kevin Phillips I cannot recall how each of the districts in Oklahoma had voted in presidential elections in the last 100 hundred, but I am quite confident that unless it is discovered that Huntsman violated Edwin Edwards’s First Rule of Politics, there was a better-than-even chance that Huntsman would have won Colorado, Nevada, and Virginia, and under the best case scenario could have carried several states in New England, including Connecticut (and perhaps even Massachusetts), and on the West Coast, including Oregon.

And Huntsman would have won the race for the White House by running as a conservative committed to the principles of fiscal responsibility and prudent foreign policy, in contrast to an incumbent president with mediocre record of success in most policy areas.

The fact that Huntsman had been the Governor of Utah is by definition an indication that he is a conservative Republican. And he’s one who can also win the votes of independents and Democrats.

But then, one would ask, wasn’t that the political brand that former Governor Mitt Romney was supposed to sell in 2012?

The problem was that under the pressure of the ideologues in his party Romney failed in getting that marketing campaign going and instead let Obama and the Democrats design his political brand.

No less important, Romney may have the presidential look that would have gotten him hired to play the commander-in-chief for a movie in the 1980s. But he was too boring, too wooden, too uncool, and lacked that—je ne sais qoi? mean streak?—to play the president in a 2012 film. A former keyboard player in a rock band called “Wizard,” Huntsman could have given Obama a run for his money in the “coolness” department.

Bottom line: Huntsman would have won more independent voters, suburban and professional women, Hispanics and Asians, which was all Republicans needed to carry northern Virginia or Colorado. Case closed.

I am pointing all this out not because of my interest in Huntsman and his political career, but in response to the avalanche of op-eds and speeches about What Must Be Done about the GOP. Before you know, we’re going to have new think tanks, magazines and websites devoted entirely to “fixing the Republican Party.”

Well, it’s not nuclear physics. Yes, there are the demographic trends (which I discussed here and here and here) that require paying more attention to voters in the Northeast and the West Coast, to Asian American, young professionals, and women.

But overall, becoming Jon Huntsman’s Republican Party doesn’t require a Big Bang political-electoral revolution. Here are some simple ideas that can be packaged into five fortune cookies.

  1. The central focus on national debate in coming years would be on finding ways to fix (as opposed to abolish) the welfare state and readjusting U.S. strategy to the changing global balance of power. Republicans should understand that what Ayn Rand and John Bolton have to say about these issues is irrelevant and cannot be sold to the American people. Period.
  2. Not unlike George W. Bush, just be nicer to immigrants and especially to Hispanics and stop patronizing women.
  3. Come up with business-friendly proposals on climate change and practical ideas on guns, instead of in-your-face rhetoric.
  4. The “gay thing” is a done deal. So get over it and move on.
  5. And, yes, select an attractive presidential candidate.

Leon Hadar, a Washington-based journalist and foreign policy analyst, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.

Is Barack Obama Really a Realist?

At the risk of turning this site into an online seminar on international relations, I feel obliged to respond to comments made by my colleagues Daniel Larison and Noah Millman in response to my earlier post about Obama and foreign-policy realism GOP-style.

I think that this discussion is important because Republican leaders and conservative/ libertarian thinkers need to bid farewell to the neoconservative agenda and to embrace a new foreign-policy doctrine. That process should evolve out of the re-examination of U.S. global interests and result in the readjustment of American policies to the changing geo-political and geo-economic realities. But this debate hasn’t been taking place among Republicans and conservatives who seem to be ceding the control over it to President Obama, with Republican Chuck Hagel being now part of his national-security team.

I do agree with Noah that realism is an international-relations theory and that it is difficult to identify “realists” or their old intellectual rivals, the “idealists,” in the real world of foreign policy. But in the narratives we draw up about the debates over social and economic policies, “conservatives” and “liberals” play the leading role—even though, like “realists” and “idealists,” they are nothing more than “ideal types” to use Max Weber’s terminology, a construct that helps us make sense of the messy social and political reality around us by stressing the common characteristics of a certain phenomenon or school of thought.

So, for example, we all recognize and accept that there are conservatives who are “pro-choice” (in itself an ideal type) and who support gay marriage and some liberals who are “pro-life” and are opposed to the decriminalization of the use of marijuana. But we use the term “liberal” or “conservative” to describe the political views of someone, instead of detailing all his or her positions on political issue, even when some of his or her views are exceptions to the type.

Similarly, consider, for example, Democrat Zbigniew Brzezinski, who together with Republican Brent Scrowcroft is considered now by the Washington establishment as the elder statesman of American realism. Zbigniew is strongly committed to the main tenets of Realpolitik and argues that America’s. strategic interests, and not its devotion to lofty ideals like human rights. should determine U.S. foreign policy, especially when it comes to the use of military power, which explains why he supports expanding U.S. ties with China.

But then whenever the issue of American policy towards Russia comes up, “Zbig” is transformed into a flaming idealist, charging the Russians with the violation of human rights and repression of ethnic minorities, and urges Washington to punish Moscow. Why the difference between the attitude towards China and to Russia? Well, I invite you to lunch at your favorite Polish restaurant if you know the answer. Read More…

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What Would Kissinger Do?

Historians studying Russian and German foreign policy in the last century have tried to figure out whether the strategic thinking and diplomacy of Nazi Germany’s Hitler and the Soviet Union’s Stalin were driven by traditional national interests or by the ideologies of communism and fascism.

One way of analyzing this issue would be to ask what German or Russian leaders who were clearly pursuing Realpolitik-type foreign policies–say, Peter the Great in the case of Russia or Bismarck in the case of Germany–would have done had they been in Hitler’s or Stalin’s shoes. The general consensus tends to be that Peter the Great’s foreign policy during and after World War II would not have been so different from Stalin’s conduct; and that when it came to foreign policy, Hitler was clearly no Bismarck.

I am bringing this up in part to respond to the comments by my colleague Daniel Larison and other critics of my article on Obama’s brand of Republican realism. I did point out President George H. W. Bush and his foreign policy advisors as standard bearers of Republican foreign policy realism. So Larison brings up Libya as a way of demonstrating that Obama is no Bush I.

Well, if I am not mistaken Bush the Elder deployed hundreds of thousand of U.S. troops into Iraq, Panama and Somalia. In all these cases, Bush and his advisors justified the interventions in “internationalist” terms: Saddam violated international law by invading Kuwait; Panama’s leader was a drug dealer; and Somalia was facing a humanitarian crisis.

There is a clear realist argument to be made that those military interventions didn’t advance U.S. interests. And the only good thing that you could say about Desert Storm is that (in my view) Bush I decided not to invade Iraq and depose its leader, which he did in Panama.

So one must explain why a non-direct U.S. military intervention in Libya should be considered more “internationalist” and “interventionist” and less “realist” than the first Iraq war, Panama, and Somalia.

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Is Barack Obama a Republican Realist?

During the 2012 presidential campaign some of my libertarian friends would revert to the following talking-point: there is really no major difference between the foreign-policy agendas of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Obama has proved to be very different in his diplomacy and national security from the kind of peacenik he was portrayed as during his 2008 run for the White House, with the surge in Afghanistan, confrontation with Iran, military intervention in Libya, failure to challenge Israel, etc.

The bottom line was that Obama and Romney were supposedly cut from the same foreign-policy cloth, with both supporting an interventionist military approach in the Middle East and elsewhere. Therefore libertarians and conservatives who were critical of the neoconservative policies that had been promoted by President George W. Bush should not be fooled in the way some of them were in 2008 and should refrain from casting their ballot for Obama.

In fact, in advancing this Obama-and-Romney-are-foreign-policy-twins narrative, Republicans urged libertarians to vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket. The two Republicans were, after all, advocating more free-market oriented economic policies than the Democratic White House occupant. Many libertarians did that, or supported the presidential candidacy of Gary Johnson.

In retrospect, my personal decision to vote for Obama (which was denounced at the time) makes even more sense to me today, following Obama’s decision to nominate Chuck Hagel as his Defense Secretary than it did last November.

Consider this post-Romney victory counterfactual: president-elect Romney nominates John Bolton as his next Secretary of State (after the neocons veto his first choice, Bob Zoellick) and Joe Lieberman as his Pentagon chief (with the Democrats less hostile to this “bipartisan” nominee than the Republicans are in their opposition to the selection of Hagel).

And by the way, the budget deals negotiated between the Romney White House and Congress look not very different from those approved by Congress under Obama.

The point is that American presidents make a difference on issues of war and peace, while they have much less influence on economic and domestic policies. W. could force Congress and the American people into Iraq. He could not force them into privatizing Social Security.

But let me make one thing clear. I voted for Obama in order to deprive Romney and the members of his foreign policy clique from getting us into new military adventures and quagmires that would have made the invasion of Iraq look like a picnic on the shores of the Euphrates. It was either Romney or Obama (and I consider voting for a third-party presidential candidate a form of electoral masturbation: momentarily gratifying but not the real thing).

At the same time, I never considered Obama to be a non-interventionist or a member of the peace movement. In fact, both in terms of his public statements and policies, Obama reminded me of President George H.W. Bush and his top “realist” foreign-policy advisors James Baker and Brent Scrowcroft: favoring pragmatism and a muddling-through approach over the pursuit of grand designs and ideological crusades; selective and preferring short military engagements over full-blown wars; Teddy Roosevelt over Woodrow Wilson.

Indeed, much of Obama’s cautious response to the so-called “Arab Spring” recalled Bush I’s efforts to deal with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Communism. And the decision to kick Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait but not to invade Iraq provided a clear contrast between Bush I’s Realpolitik and the messianic foreign policy of Bush II. From that perspective, Obama’s leading-from-behind in Libya, Syria, and the rest of the Middle East, coupled with the acceleration of the military withdrawal from Iraq (and apparently from Afghanistan), are pure Bush I, which explains why many neocons hated Papa Bush with the same intensity with which they now despise Obama.

My more noninterventionist approach explained why I opposed the first Gulf War and the American invasion of Panama, although I applauded the reluctance by Bush I to intervene in the evolving civil war in the former Yugoslavia and his pressure on the then Likud government of Israel to halt the settlements buildup in the West Bank. I wish the father and not the son would have been occupying the White House after 9/11.

With the selection of Republican Hagel, an intellectual heir to the Baker-Scrowcroft Realpolitik tradition, Obama has taken a major step toward transforming his presidency into a replica of the administration of George H.W. Bush, at least when it comes to foreign policy.

In a way, much of what Obama has been advocating on domestic policy is not very different from what a Bush I administration (or Nixon, Ford or Eisenhower) would be doing, ranging from raising taxes, reforming immigration policy, or protecting the environment. Obama, in short, is not a socialist or a even a social-democrat, just a good old centrist Republican.

Leon Hadar, a Washington-based journalist and foreign policy analyst, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.

The Arab Spring: A Reality Check

A few days after the fall of the Mubarak regime in Egypt in early 2011, I published in TAC a somewhat bearish analysis of the prospects for liberal democracy in the Arab world with the headline, “Don’t Party Like It’s 1989“.

In particular, I dismissed the popular western narrative that attempted to draw a historical analogy between the Arab Spring and the collapse of Communism and rise of elected governments committed to political and economic freedom in Poland, Hungary, and the former Czechoslovakia.

I applied a different historical analogy. The 1848 revolts led by liberal movements in Europe had produced a political backlash from conservative forces and ignited a wave of nationalism. My point was that we should be ready for a long period of political upheaval that may not necessarily end with a clear victory for the “good guys” in the emerging narrative. This was a work in progress.

At a time when the major media celebrated the fall of Mubarak as a “revolution,” this sense of skepticism was rejected both by neoconservatives on the right, who argued that pro-democracy protests in Egypt and elsewhere represented a triumph of George W. Bush’s Freedom Agenda, and by liberal democracy promoters on the left, who explained that the problem with Bush’s strategy was its reliance on American military power. The left assumed that the end of military regimes in the Middle East would be followed by similar challenges to authoritarian monarchies in the region, and demands for free elections, individual liberty, free press, religious freedom, women’s rights, free markets, international peace, and, well, you name it.

That many young students and professionals who text, use Skype, and have Facebook accounts were among the demonstrators in Tahrir Square, and in fluent and idiomatic English expressed what sounded like liberal principles on CNN and Al Jazeera, only raised the expectations among members of the elite in the West that these were the intellectual and political descendants of Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel. Spring was indeed in the air, and anyone who doubted it was out of step with the reigning Come-the-Revolution Zeitgeist.

But two years after the Arab Spring began with the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, it seems that the Zeitgeist has changed dramatically. In November, The New York Review of Books, an unofficial organ of American liberal intellectuals, ran a cover story with the headline, “This Is Not a Revolution“. Not to mention the numerous op-ed, magazine commentaries, and books that have played around ad nauseam with the notion that the “spring” has turned into “winter.” That’s what happens when you rely on the wrong political weather forecaster.

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The Party of Silicon Valley?

Nate Silver had an interesting piece yesterday which concludes based on statistical evidence (as opposed to wishful thinking) that President Barack Obama and the Democrats had won the support of “80 or 90 percent of the best and the brightest minds in the information technology field,” who reside and work in the San Francisco Bay Area and its peripheries. Some of the numbers that Silver provides:

  • Obama won the nine counties in the Bay Area by margins ranging from 25 percentage points in Napa Valley to 42 percentage points in Santa Clara (and its Silicon Valley) to 71 (!) percentage points in San Francisco. Overall the difference in percentage points between Obama and Romney in the Bay Area was 49 percent compared to 22 percent in California.
  • Republicans have been losing every county in the Bay Area by double-digit margin since 1988 with the margin of loss continuing to grow with each election.
  • Among employees who work for Google, Apple, and eBay Obama collected between 89 percent to 97 percent of the itemized political contributions this year. Silver also refers to a study that indicates that between the two presidential candidates, Obama raised 83 percent of the funds among the ten American information technology companies featured on Fortune magazine’s list of the 50 most admired companies.

Add to these figures the fact that Obama, according to a report on CNBC, carried eight of the ten richest of the counties in the nation, including Fairfax and Ludlum in Virginia, and it becomes clear that Romney’s former chief strategist Stuart Stevens still doesn’t get it, having made the case this week is that Obama and the Democrats had won thanks to the support of the underclass and minorities and by promoting a liberal agenda.

As I noted on this site, one of the minority groups that Obama won were Asian Americans whose median annual income is higher than that of whites in this country, and that Democrats are trending very well among educated and relatively affluent voters like these precisely because of the more liberal positions they advocate on social-cultural policy issues like abortion, gay marriage, and drug legalization.

Indeed, as Silver noted in his analysis, libertarian Republican candidate Ron Paul raised about $42,000 among Goggle workers, much more than the $25,000 that Romney collected, concluding that “perhaps a different kind of Republican candidate, one whose views on social policy were more in line with those of the Bay Area and the cultures of the leading companies there, could gather more support” among the Silicon Valley types.

It does indeed make a lot of sense for Republicans and libertarians to start promoting a “Silicon Valley Republican” brand that in theory could start attracting young, educated, and affluent voters into the GOP. But my guess is that such a strategy would face many obstacles.

While the libertarian agenda on social-cultural issues like drug legalization and gay marriage was advanced on November 6, there is no evidence of any growing support for libertarian economic positions in general, and among members of the “creative class” in places like the Silicon Valley or Fairfax County in particular. For example, I doubt very much that many of these voters share the more skeptical libertarian view on climate change or care a lot about the future of the Fed.

In any case, I am also very skeptical that the Republican Party is going to suddenly change its positions on abortion or drug legalization (although we may witness less ideological rigidness on gay rights). Liberal Democrats are better positioned now to push for more progressive legislation on these issues, while young voters now associate the Republican brand name with xenophobia, religious intolerance, gay-bashing, and war-mongering. In that context, a Silicon Valley Republican sounds to many of them like an oxymoron.

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Huntsman (or Zakaria) for State

The guys at MSNBC allege that Senator John McCain’s campaign against the nomination of UN Ambassador Susan Rice as the next Secretary of State and his entire pre-occupation (obsession?) with the Benghazi thing is driven in part by racism. As someone who was accused of racism and misogyny after bashing another African-American female and foreign policy professional named Rice (“You probably hate your mom,” emailed an angry reader of a column in which I proposed that Condoleezza Rice was kind of an intellectual light-weight. See some of the reactions here). I beg to differ.

No. McCain is not a racist but a cranky old man (there I said it) who sounds like a parrot on crack when he goes on and on calling for arming rebels, changing regimes, bombing countries, and then invading them. I suppose that this is the point in which I need to state that McCain was a war hero (he was) and that we should thank him for his service (we should). But let me remind you that General Douglas MacArthur was fired from his job by a U.S. president; which brings me to my next point, that Republicans should retire McCain as their leading spokesman on foreign policy and national security, a position that has to involve more that just reading editorials from the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal on the Senate floor (I think).

But personally I do no think that Susan Rice would be a great choice for SoS and not because she is “unqualified.” Like Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski her main selling point is that she is an intellectual with advanced degrees from Ivy League institutions. But unlike those two and more like her namesake, she has never authored any groundbreaking book or article that tried to advance new ideas about America’s role in the world.

While I must admit that I have never followed her career closely, my impression is that Rice comes out of the liberal interventionist foreign policy wing of the Democratic Party which is the intellectual twin sister of neoconservatism on the political right (which explains perhaps why Robert Kagan has come to her defense).

Indeed, Rice was a driving force behind the Obama administration’s decision to take military action to oust Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi from power, and as Maureen Dowd suggests in the New York Times (quoting Senator Susan Collins), Rice’s initial insistence that the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was not perpetrated by Al Qaeda terrorists may have been driven by her concern that that “would destroy the narrative of Libya being a big success story.”

My guess is that if nominated to the job, Secretary Rice would go out of her way to placate McCain and other Republican critics by burnishing her humanitarian interventionist credentials, including by promoting “doing something” in Syria and elsewhere.

In any case, it does not make sense for Obama to pick-up a major fight with the Republicans over her nomination. And the idea of John Kerry getting the job instead of her is making me drowsy already, recalling what comedian Bill Maher said about Mitt Romney: “Ambien takes him when it cannot fall asleep.” What a bore, indeed.

So here is my idea. In the spirit of bipartisanship and a lot of common sense, President Obama should nominate another Republican Mormon who ran against him for president in 2012. Jon Huntsman would be perfect for job of the top U.S. diplomat. The former Ambassador to China and Singapore who is (supposedly) fluent in Mandarin and has some business experience is just the kind of person we need now at a time when the U.S. is shifting its strategic priorities from the Middle East to East Asia and responding to the rise of China as a geo-strategic and economic power.

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‘I Like to Be in America’

“Puerto Rico,
You lovely island . . .”
“I like to be in America!
O.K. by me in America!”
(From West Side Story, “America,” lyrics by Stephen Sondheim)

With much of the focus by Republicans on “demographics” and as conservatives review their positions on immigration and attitudes towards American Hispanics post-election disaster, they should be paying more attention to one historic vote that took place on Election Day 2012.

A majority of the electorate of Puerto Rico voted on that day to follow in the footsteps of Hawaii and Alaska in achieving full American statehood and becoming the 51st state.

Congress will still have to admit Puerto Rico before it can become a state, and it is doubtful that the Republicans who now control the House of Representatives would support a move that would probably result in Democrats winning two more Senate seats and increasing their numbers in the House.

After all, while the residents of the Atlantic Ocean island are not allowed to vote in U.S. presidential elections, close to 85 percent of stateside Puerto Ricans did vote for Barack Obama on November 6th. You do not have to be a political expert to presume that Obama’s margin of victory on the island would have been as wide as among Puerto Ricans in New York.

So expect the issue to become a central debating point in Washington and certainly among Hispanics, with Democrats pledging to support Puerto Rican statehood if they take the House in 2014.

More than 3,700,000 people live on the island that came under U.S. control in 1898 and an even larger number of Puerto Ricans (more than 4,600,000) reside in the 50 states and DC. As the second largest Hispanic group in the U.S., Puerto Ricans represent a significant electorate bloc.

And in the aftermath of the 2012 election, just as the party tries to recover from Mitt Romney’s abysmal performance among Latino voters, GOP opposition to admitting Puerto Rico into the union could help Democrats in promoting their Republicans-hate-Hispanics narrative even if GOP lawmakers suddenly declare their support for comprehensive immigration reform that until recently many of them decried as “amnesty” or if party activists draft Senator Marco Rubio to run for president in 2016.

For what it’s worth, the 2012 Republican Party platform did express support for the right of Puerto Rico to be admitted into the union and President Obama has yet to state his position on the issue. But according to a recent FOX News Latino report, most GOP House members are opposed to the idea, and with conservative House Democrats in decline, it is more than likely that Democratic members will back statehood if politicians in Puerto Rico decide to push the issue.

In any case, while Republican politicos will face an electoral dilemma — whether opposing statehood for Puerto Rico would antagonize Latino voters — conservative intellectuals will have to consider whether admitting a state whose official language is Spanish and one that would immediately become the poorest American state (with a median household income of about $18,000, half that of Mississippi, currently the poorest state) squares with the movement’s traditional principles that reject multiculturalism and bilingualism and discourage economic dependency on government largesse.

That stateside Puerto Ricans are a culturally segregated community that is largely poor (with the average income of its members lower than that of Cuban and Mexican Americans) raises the specter of an additional 4 million Puerto Ricans that will be in position to use their new political power to promote a distinct cultural identity and to squeeze more cash transfers from Washington.

At the very least, the dilemmas involving Puerto Rico’s prospects for statehood make it clear that the notion of winning the hearts and minds of Latino voters goes beyond making compromises on the issue of illegal immigration or picking Hispanics to run for political office.

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The GOP’s Asian-American Fiasco

photo: Lynda Irawaty (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
photo: Lynda Irawaty (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

If you are trying to figure out why the Republicans lost this presidential election and why they will probably continue to lose more in the future, forget for a second Latino voters (well, only for a second) and think for a few minutes about Asian-American voters.

In fact, let’s think about them strategically. Say you are a Republican politico who is analyzing the economic status, social mobility, and cultural disposition of various demographic groups and the voting behavior of their members.

And here is this bloc of voters who, let’s see, tend to gravitate to the private sector with many of them creating and managing small businesses. Actually, some of them belong to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, and most are doing quite well in terms of income and job security. They also are very family-oriented and subscribe to more traditional values.

Based on these and other social and economic indications, Asian-Americans as an electoral bloc should be natural political ally of a Republican Party that is, after all, committed to the principles of the free market, supports the interests of small businesses, and celebrates hard work and family values, which is probably the way to describe what Asian-Americans are all about.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney wanted to demonstrate to voters that energizing the private sector — and not growing government — is the most effective way to provide Americans with an opportunity to advance their economic standing. He had to only point to Asian-Americans, whose median weekly earnings have been greater than those earned by whites during the last decade and whose unemployment rate has remained relatively low even during the recent recession.

According to a 2011 U.S. Labor Department report Asian-Americans are more likely than either whites or blacks to be employed in the private sector, with more than 8 out of 10 employed Asian-Americans working for private companies. It also reported that the number of Asian-owned businesses expanded at the rate of 40.4 percent, a rate that more than doubled the national average between 2002 and 2007. In short, you would probably find very few Asian-Americans among the ranks of the “47 percent.”

Moreover, that many Asian-Americans trace their roots to countries that have been and still are under the control of Communist regimes that had repressed their families should have been another reason for many of them to vote for the party of Ronald Reagan and the other Republican Presidents with impressive anti-Communist credentials.

And, indeed, during the post-1945 era the majority of Asian-Americans voters that included refugees from Communist-ruled China, Korea and Vietnam tended to identify with the conservative and anti-communist agenda of the Republican Party. The majority of Asian-American voters went for Reagan, a Republican president whose economic principles, social values and foreign policy seems to be in line with theirs, as was his commitment to the notion of America as a nation of immigrants, that “sunny” disposition that reflected the open and tolerant cultural outlook of California, the home of scores of immigrants from China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan, and a state that overlooks the Pacific Ocean.

Republican George H.W. Bush still received 55 percent of the Asian-American vote compared to 31 percent for Democrat Bill Clinton. But already in 2004 it was Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry who won the majority (56 percent) of Asian-American vote.

And a majority of 73 percent of Asian-Americans ended up voting for Obama this year, up from 62 percent in 2008. The percentage of Asian-Americans going for Obama was higher than that of Latinos who voted for the Democratic presidential candidate (71 percent) and another traditionally Democratic leaning bloc of Jewish voters (70 percent).

Yet Romney in his campaign spent more time courting Jewish voters, by hugging Bibi Netanyahu and pledging to bomb Iran (but maybe not on his first day in office…) and by making a few empty gestures to the Hispanics (for example, by considering Marco Rubio for the vice presidency) while paying no attention to Asian-American voters.

So why are Republicans losing the Asian-American vote that could actually play a critical role in presidential elections? Why do Asian-Americans now tend largely to identify themselves as Democrats, with Korean-Americans resisting the voting trend among Asian-Americans and continuing to lean Republican — not unlike Cuban-American voters who remain a faithful Republican voting bloc among the pro-Democratic Hispanic community?

There are an about 17.3 million people of Asian or Pacific Islander descent in the United States (a number that includes also immigrants from India and South Asian), comprising 5.6 percent of the population. Many of them are concentrated in key “swing” states, like Virginia, Nevada and Florida and close to 80 percent of these voters took part in the 2012 election.

The main reason for the growing support for Democrats among members of this electoral bloc is that that younger and more educated Asian-Americans are drifting by large numbers to Obama’s party, very much like younger and more educated white Americans.

According to the Labor Department study, 57.5 percent of employed Asian-Americans who are 25 or older have an academic degree, a proportion that is 60 percent higher than among whites and more than twice that of blacks.

Moreover, 7.8 percent of jobs in high-tech industries are going to Asian-American workers, making them overrepresented there compared with their overall presence in the labor force (5 percent). And Asian-Americans are similarly well represented in science, technology, engineering, and math occupations, accounting for more than 9 percent of jobs there.

That social-cultural affinities and not economic interests seem to determine voting behavior explains why younger and more educated Asian-Americans tend to fit into the demographic profile of the educated and middle class professionals, the so-called “creative class” who reside in areas like northern Virginia and who made it possible for Obama to win this important “swing” state two election in a row — mirroring the trend of less educated rural and blue-collar Americans voting for the Republicans.

What’s wrong in Kansas for the Democrats is the other side of the coin of what’s right for them in Fairfax County, Virginia, the Research Triangle in North Carolina, and the concentrations of educated professionals in the Pacific Northwest. The average Asian-American (or white) high-tech entrepreneur, software engineer, or graphic designer may have benefited professionally and economically from the free-market environment of the 1990′s. But he or she feels less comfortable with a political party perceived to be dominated by white politicians that many see as being intolerant toward minorities, gays, women and, yes, immigrants.

But Republican leaders and voters don’t really share xenophobic and anti-immigration attitudes. Republican politicians of Indian-American ancestry (who converted to Christianity) have been elected as governors of Louisiana and South Carolina. And when Republican politicians, like former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, embrace an election platform that is tolerant of minorities and immigrants, the majority of Asian-Americans are inclined to support them.

The obsession of so many Republicans and conservatives with birtherism and with the president’s alleged Muslim faith only helps to accentuate the notion that Republicans are hostile toward immigrants and toward Americans who are non-white and non-Christian. Romney, a politician whose natural inclination was probably to sound more like
Schwarzenegger and Reagan, ended up under the influence of the likes of Michele Bachmann sounding like the late Sen. Jesse Helms.

The Republicans are probably not going to win the support of the majority of African-American and Hispanic voters anytime soon. But Republicans are now in danger of losing the votes of another important demographic group that could have been its natural political ally. And the same kind of electoral strategy that could draw young, educated, and professional Asian-Americas into the GOP would also attract their counterparts in the African-American, Hispanic, and American-Jewish communities.

Leon Hadar, a Washington-based journalist and foreign policy analyst, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.

We Are Not All Westerners Now

In Blind Oracles, his study of the role of intellectuals in formulating and implementing U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War, historian Bruce Kuklick equated these scholars with the “primitive shaman” who performs “feats of ventriloquy.”

We tend to celebrate foreign-policy intellectuals as thinkers who try to transform grand ideas into actual policies. In reality, their function has usually been to offer members of the foreign-policy establishment rationalizations—in the form of “grand strategies” and “doctrines,” or the occasional magazine article or op-ed—for doing what they were going to do anyway.

Not unlike marketing experts, successful foreign-policy intellectuals are quick to detect a new trend, attach a sexy label to it (“Red Menace,” “Islamofascism”), and propose to their clients a brand strategy that answers to the perceived need (“containment,” “détente,” “counterinsurgency”).

In No One’s World, foreign-policy intellectual Charles Kupchan—a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations—tackles the trend commonly referred to as “American decline” or “declinism,” against the backdrop of the Iraq War, the financial crisis, and the economic rise of China.

While I share Kuklick’s skepticism about the near zero influence that intellectuals have on creating foreign policy, I’ve enjoyed reading what thinkers like Charles Kupchan have to say, and I believe that if we don’t take them too seriously (this rule applies also to what yours truly has written about these topics), they can help us put key questions in context. Such as: is the U.S. losing global military and economic dominance and heading towards decline as other powers are taking over?

The good news is that Kupchan’s book is just the right size—around 200 pages—with not too many endnotes and a short but valuable bibliography. Kupchan is readable without being too glib. He is clearly an “insider” (he is a former National Security Council staffer) but exhibits a healthy level of detachment. And Kupchan displays a commendable willingness to adjust his grand vision to changing realities.

In a book published ten years ago, The End of the American Era: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Geopolitics of the Twenty-first Century, Kupchan advanced the thesis that an integrating European Union was rising as a counterweight to the United States, with China secondary to the EU. That was his view then. The thesis has since been overtaken—let’s say, crushed to death—by the crisis in the eurozone and the failure of the EU to develop a unified, coherent foreign policy. But unlike neocons who spend much of their time trying to explain why, despite all the evidence to the contrary, they have always been right, Kupchan doesn’t even revisit his now defunct thesis.

While this suggests that we should treat his current book and its claims that the global balance of power is shifting from the United States and the “West” and towards the “Rest”—non-Western nations like China, India, Brazil, and Turkey—with many grains of salt, we should nevertheless give Kupchan credit for pursuing a non-dogmatic, pragmatic, and empiricist approach to international relations.

Kupchan may once have worked on implementing the liberal-internationalist agenda of the Clinton administration, but the views advanced in his latest book—in particular his pessimism about America’s ability to “manage” the international system and his emphasis on the role that history and culture play in relationships between nation-states—place him in the intellectual camp of realist foreign-policy intellectuals like George Kennan and Henry Kissinger, at a time when not many of them are around in Washington.

Kupchan’s thesis that America and its Western allies are losing their global military, financial, and economic power, and that the rising non-Western powers are not going to adopt Washington’s strategic agenda, may not sound too revolutionary these days, when even the most non-contrarian strategists and economists working for the Pentagon and Wall Street recognize that the dominance of the West is on the wane.

But in a chapter titled “The Next Turn: The Rise of the Rest,” Kupchan provides the reader with the “hard cold facts” as he skims through forecasts made by government agencies and financial institutions predicting that China’s economy will pass America’s within the current decade. And while America is still overwhelmingly the greatest military power on the planet, it is only a question of time, according to Kupchan, before China overtakes the United States in this arena as well and contests America’s strategic position in East Asia. “The Chinese ship of state will not dock at the Western harbor, obediently taking the berth assigned to it,” he concludes.

What lends Kupchan’s overall theme a certain conservative and Kennan-like quality is the challenge he poses to the reigning ideological axiom shared by U.S. and Western elites since the end of the Cold War: the notion that the core ideas of the modern West—enlightenment, secularism, democracy, capitalism—will continue to spread to the rest of the world, including to China and the Middle East, and the Western order as it has evolved since 1945 will thus outlast the West’s own primacy.

Even the most doctrinaire neocon assumes that American and Western hegemony must come to an end at some point. But that won’t matter since the Rest will end up being just like us—holding free elections, embracing the free markets, committed to a liberal form of nationalism and to the separation of religion of state. Such values and practices will guarantee that rising states like China and India bind themselves to a liberal international order based on functioning multilateral institutions, free international trade, and collective security.

Kupchan doesn’t buy this vision. The “Western Way” is not being universalized, he argues, and the international system looks more and more like a mosaic of nations, each following its own path towards modernization, a path determined by unique historical circumstances and cultural traditions that may not result in anything like our own liberal and democratic principles.

Hence, China can embrace a form of “communal autocracy,” Russia chooses a system of “paternal autocracy,” while the Arab world follows the route of “religious and tribal autocracy.” Iran remains a theocracy, and other non-liberal political orders may flourish in parts of Latin America and Africa.

In a way, Kupchan is doing here what foreign-policy intellectuals do best, inventing catchy labels to describe existing trends in China, Russia, and the Arab world that are familiar to anyone who follows current events. Kupchan argues, however, that these trends are quite enduring and that the United States and Europe should deal with this reality instead of pursuing policies based on wishful thinking—expecting, for example, that the Islamists ruling Egypt and the communist-fascists in Beijing will eventually be replaced by a bunch of liberal democrats. It ain’t going to happen, Kupchan predicts. Free elections can in fact lead to the victory of anti-Western and anti-American leaders, while capitalism is just a system that allows governments to harness wealth for aggressive nationalist policies.

As many conservatives would point out, the notion that we are all taking part in an inexorable march towards enlightenment, prosperity, and liberty that culminates in the embrace of liberal democracy, representative government, and free markets here, there, and everywhere is only one version of history, described sometimes as “Whig history.”

What is basically the story of the emergence of constitutional democracy in Britain and America has been applied broadly to describe the political and economic development of Europe and West in general from around 1500 to 1800—and to explain why the West prospered and rose to global prominence while other parts of the world, like the Ottoman Empire and China, stagnated and declined.

Kupchan himself subscribes to a Whiggish narrative, in which decentralized feudal power structures and the rise of an enlightened middle class that challenged the monarchy, aristocracy, and the church led to Europe developing modern liberal states and capitalism, while the Reformation exposed religion to rational inquiry and unleashed bloodshed that ultimately caused European societies to accept religious diversity. The growing costs of the modern state forced monarchs to share power with ever larger classes of citizens, while the rising middle class provided the economic and intellectual foundations for the Industrial Revolution, which in turn improved education and science and established the military power that allowed the West to achieve superiority over the more rigid hierarchical orders of the Ottoman Empire, India, China, and elsewhere.

Francis Fukuyama in The Origins of Political Order has argued that this Whig version of history may help explain how Britain and America developed. But in other parts of Europe, such political and economic changes as the rise of the modern state and notions of citizenship and political accountability were driven in large part by the villains of the Whig narrative, including monarchy and the Catholic Church.

There have always been different paths towards political and economic modernity, not only in contemporary China, India, Iran, and Brazil, but also in Europe and the West between 1500 and 1800—and later, with the rise of communism and fascism. Russia is an example of a nation whose road towards economic growth has been very different from that taken by the Anglo-Americans, or for that matter, the Germans, the French, or the Chinese.

Kupchan could have provided us with a more simplified set of arguments to support his thesis—that China and Iran are not “like us”—by recognizing that the political and economic transformation of different European states was not based on a standard model of development. We therefore shouldn’t be surprised that Egypt and Brazil are also choosing their own non-Whig paths of change and growth.

Contrary to Kupachan’s narrative, as the historian John Darwin argues in his masterpiece After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire, Europe’s rise to pre-eminence was not a moment in the long-term ascent of the “West” and the triumph of its superior values. “We must set Europe’s age of expansion firmly in its Eurasian context,” Darwin writes, and recognize that there was nothing foreordained about Europe’s rise—or its current decline. Great powers like the Ottomans, the Safavids, the Mughals, the Manchus, the Russians and the Soviets, the Japanese and the Nazis have risen and fallen for reasons all their own. Today the Rest may be rising. But it has never been anyone’s world.

Leon Hadar, a Washington-based journalist and foreign policy analyst, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East.

Disseminating American Ideals

Americans are once again surprised to learn that the rest of humanity doesn’t always share their hopes and dreams — or even their basic set of values. Hence, in the aftermath of the massacre in Afghanistan of 16 people in the hands of an American soldier, some pundits have been trying to resolve what they consider to be a paradox of sorts.

While the accidental burning of Qurans by U.S. government employees in Afghanistan last month triggered violent protests outside NATO that took at least 29 lives, the intentional mass murder of Afghan civilians, including nine children in Kandahar on March 11, have led to a few mostly peaceful anti-American demonstrations.

That most Afghans seemed to have supported the February 2006 decision by a judge to execute an Afghan aid worker for converting to Christianity or that many Pakistanis refused to condemn the assassination of leading politician Salman Taseer by his own security guard who disagreed with Mr Taseer’s opposition to Pakistan’s blasphemy law, are two other examples of incidents that have dramatised the wide gap between what we tend to regard as the American secular tradition and the continuing powerful role that religion tends to play in the lives of Afghans, Pakistanis and other people who, on paper at least, are considered to be America’s allies in the war against terrorism. Read More…

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The Reality of American Power: Why Robert Kagan Is Wrong

As a life-long hypochondriac, I was laughing out loud when reading the tragic-comic inscription on the tombstone located in the cemetery in Key West, Florida: “I Told You I Was Sick!”

I could imagine the poor guy confronting family and friends and insisting to no avail that what he had was more than just the common cold or the seasonal flu.

“You are not sick” is the kind of reassuring message that Robert Kagan is sending to the nation’s foreign policy hypochondriacs aka “declinists” in his new nonfiction book The World America Made, contending that America is in tip-top military and economic health and ready to take care of the rest of the world. He recalls that the same kind of hypochondriacs had complained that America was really, really in decline in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

But, as the sad case of our late Key Westerner demonstrates, even hypochondriacs do get sick. In the same way, great powers do decline, both in relative and absolute terms. Hence American global economic power started to decline relative to rising economic players like Japan and Germany in the post-1945 era, and relative to China and India more recently. Read More…

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What Happens After an Iran-Israel War?

Notwithstanding the neverending stream of all those based-on-reliable-intelligence-sources analyses, it is doubtful whether these same analysts would be willing to bet whatever is left of their 401K retirement accounts on their predictions that Israel will — or will not — attack Iranian nuclear sites this year.

And while research institutions have conducted interesting exercises to try to figure out the military, diplomatic and economic repercussions of a confrontation between Israel and Iran, the dictum that no military plan survives the contact with the enemy applies also here — in addition to the unintended consequences, blowbacks and the proverbial ‘black swans’ that are bound to show up even in the unlikely scenario under which Israel achieves all or most of its military goals.

If I can put my ten cents worth of strategic thinking, it seems to me that the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the American fiasco in Iraq helped tip the balance of power in the Persian Gulf and the Levant in the direction of Iran and its allies. And that made it more likely that Israel and other Sunni Arab players that regard the Islamic Republic as a threat to their core national interests would use all their available resources to deprive Iran from having access to a military instrument that would allow it to formalize the new regional balance of power.

In his magisterial study of the 1812-1814 military campaigns in Europe, Russia Against Napoleon, historian Dominic Lieven suggests that while Tsar Alexander recognized that France would never be able to control Europe, he also concluded that the price of adhering to Napoleon’s Continental System would have undermined Russia’s position as a great power and that the Russians had no choice but to use the full power of their military to prevent that from happening.

My guess is that Israel, as well the Saudis and their Arab-Sunni allies, know that it would be possible to contain a nuclear Iran — in the same way that Russia could have embraced a cost-effective strategy to contain Napoleon’s France. But as long as Israeli leaders believe that they have a realistic option of blocking Iran’s nuclear program — and by extension, of setting major constraints on its ability to assert its position as a regional power — they will probably use their military capacity. The Saudis and their Gulf partners would probably cheer them behind close doors while publicly condemning them.

But as quite a few Israeli and American military experts have warned, a military strike on Iranian facilities would not achieve the declared Israeli goal of ending Iran’s alleged nuclear military program and the expected costs in terms of Israeli casualties could be very high.

Moreover, if Iran gives the green light to its Shiite Hezbollah allies in Lebanon to attack Israel and mobilize the Shiites in Iraq and the Persian Gulf to retaliate against American and Saudi targets, Tehran would be in a position to strengthen its regional power. The ayatollahs would also be able to exploit an Israeli attack to ignite Iranian nationalism and win support even from those Iranians who actually oppose the ruling clerics and would like to see them removed from power.

And while the Obama administration insists that it wants to apply peaceful means to get Iran to freeze its nuclear enrichment program, it is not clear that Washington and its Europeans allies would succeed in coming up with a diplomatic formula that would be acceptable to Iran and to Israel (and its supporters in Washington) or that the Americans would be able to prevent Israel from taking military action against Iran. Those of us who believe that an Israeli military attack would not serve American and Israeli interests and may actually help consolidate the power of Iran in the Middle East and that of the clerics in Teheran should also recognize that President Barack Obama — who probably agrees with these assumptions — is not in a position for a diplomatic confrontation with Israel during a presidential election year. Read More…

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