Today is the prelude of God’s goodwill and the heralding of the salvation of mankind. In the temple of God, the Virgin is presented openly, and she proclaimeth Christ unto all. To her, then, with a great voice let us cry aloud: Rejoice, O thou fulfillment of the Creator’s dispensation.
Gideon Rachman found Rubio’s speech in London too heavy in its emphasis on the “special” relationship:
The problem with the speech, as I saw it, was that it was too redolent of George W. Bush circa 2003. It was fully of windy tributes to Britain and America‘s shared tradition of fighting for liberty, Churchill and Roosevelt, the Special Relationship, the “will and moral courage of free men and women”, our best days lie ahead…etc, etc. I am sure it was all well meant. It may even have been sincere. But while, on one level, it was obviously flattering to a British audience, that kind of rhetoric is still suffering from Bush and Blair’s misuse of it, in the run up to the Iraq war. Perhaps there will soon be some global crisis – in which Britain and America once again stand shoulder-to-shoulder – and we can listen to the old numbers about the “special relationship” and the fight for freedom, without any sense of discomfort or irony. But that moment has not yet arrived. And I thought the audience’s tepid applause at the end of Senator Rubio’s speech, reflected that feeling [bold mine-DL].
The most jarring moment of the speech for the audience may have come when Rubio included the Iraq war on his celebratory list of the things that the U.S. and Britain had done together. Including the invasion of Iraq as one of the “vitally important achievements” of the U.S.-U.K. alliance would be tin-eared and clumsy if the speech had been in the U.S., and it was even more so in London. Most people in Britain and America probably look back on that debacle now as an example of how dangerous and harmful the “special” relationship between our countries can be. It is certainly not something that a British audience would want to be reminded of ten years after the invasion. Especially in Britain, the Iraq war represented everything unhealthy and lopsided in a relationship in which Britain joins the U.S. in foreign wars no matter how unwise or unnecessary they are and receives absolutely nothing in return. Rubio didn’t dwell on it, but the fact that he mentioned the Iraq war in a positive way underscores just how oblivious he was to how poorly the rest of the “special” relationship talk would be received. Considering how prominently resentments over Iraq figured in the British debate over intervention in Syria, the inclusion of the Iraq war as a highlight of U.S.-British cooperation in a speech given in Britain is the sort of thing that only a committed interventionist would do.
This description of Marco Rubio’s recent speech at Chatham House in London is quite misleading:
At a time of vigorous debate within the Republican Party about the United States’ global role, the first-term senator from Florida is articulating a worldview that places him neatly between the GOP’s tea-party-led isolationist wing and its more established interventionist wing [bold mine-DL].
That may be what Rubio would like people to believe about his foreign policy, but it’s not true. He sought to distinguish himself from both “isolationists” and “hawks” in his AEI speech earlier in the fall, but there is no good reason for the rest of us to accept his preferred rhetorical framing. Rubio may say that “hawk” is an obsolete term, but it is more accurate to say that he doesn’t want the baggage that is associated with the hawks in his party.
Reading through the latest speech, it is hard to miss that Rubio chooses to adopt very hawkish positions on almost every issue. He is predictably in favor of more Western meddling in Ukraine to oppose Russian influence, rejects the deal with Iran, wants more support for the “moderate opposition” in Syria, and complains once again about instability in Libya that resulted from the war he supported. Most of the speech is geared towards flattering his British audience by placing great emphasis on the alliance with the U.K. and the importance of NATO, and as such most of it is anything that a conventional hawk from either party might say, but at no point does Rubio find fault with other hawks in his party nor does he ever seem to disagree with them about anything.
When Rubio says that “talk of hawks and doves is 20th century Cold War language that no longer applies,” he is just trying to obscure the fact that in virtually every debate he comes down reliably on the side of hawks. When asked where he falls on a spectrum between Paul and McCain, he avoids the question because the answer (McCain) is obvious and politically toxic. He may not always adopt the most hawkish position possible in every debate, but he can be counted on to insist that the U.S. pursue an activist and meddlesome foreign policy. He is firmly in the interventionist camp, but based on his more recent speeches he evidently doesn’t want to be perceived as a hawkish caricature. Rubio would like to be on the record in favor of more aggressive policies almost everywhere, but he still wants to be thought of as the more reasonable alternative to reflexively hawkish members of his party.
National Review‘s editors suggest an implausible response to Ukraine’s protests:
“Europe” should therefore make every effort — and offer every financial, economic, and political guarantee — to persuade Yanukovych and his supporting cast of oligarchs to break with Putin’s Russia and sign onto an association agreement with the European Union that will more than compensate them for Putin’s threatened trade war [bold mine-DL].
As Julia Gray mentioned in the post I linked to earlier, trade with Russia accounts for approximately one-fifth of the country’s GDP. The EU has so far shown no interest in providing remotely enough compensation to begin to offset the effects of lost trade with Russia, and it is doubtful that most Ukrainians would favor the “decisive separation” from Russia that the editors see as the ultimate goal of all this. Indeed, the more that trade with the EU has been cast in terms of being a “civilizational choice,” the less attractive it has appeared to Ukrainians that might otherwise see the benefits of it. It is impractical at best to seek a “decisive separation” between two countries that have been bound together both culturally and economically over such a long period of time. Like the misguided idea of bringing Ukraine into NATO, it substitutes the preferences of hawks in the West for what most Ukrainians want.
The other major flaw with this proposal is the assumption that Ukraine represents a “major” strategic prize. Mark Adomanis reviews the numbers and reaches the opposite conclusion:
Ukraine is not a “prize,” it’s a rapidly aging society that is one of the most demographically unstable in the planet.
As he said in an earlier post, “winning” Ukraine would mean taking on a new burden:
An objective look at the numbers tells you that Ukraine is not an asset but a major liability, a country that is likely to need massive infusions of resources just to stay on its feet.
Considering the EU’s recent problems, it makes little sense for them to make the larger commitment that NR’s editors want. It isn’t just a “long shot,” as they say. It is a seriously flawed policy that is likely to increase regional tensions to no one’s benefit.
What’s at stake in the streets of Kiev is the future of the European continent — and American prosperity and security. An inward-looking America is averting its attention from its own most important interests and highest ideals.
It would be easy to laugh this off as typical hawkish overreaction, but the assumption that something extremely important is at stake for the U.S. and the world in Ukraine’s protests is one that seems to be all too widely-held. It’s simply not true. First, Ukrainian political independence is not imperiled, and European security certainly isn’t. It should go without saying that American prosperity and security are not involved, but it has to be said. Ukraine’s economic dependence on Russia would not have been ended by the EU’s association agreement, and it was this dependence that ultimately made it impossible for Ukraine to finalize the agreement over Russian opposition. More to the point, as Mark Adomanis points out, “the idea that Ukraine is the secret to some geopolitical great game is anachronistic nonsense.” The only thing at stake in this dispute is whether Ukraine opted for a closer relationship with the EU at very high short-term cost or accepted something very much like the status quo for the foreseeable future. It’s just not that dramatic or significant for any countries except Ukraine and perhaps its immediate neighbors. The “future of the European continent” definitely does not hang in the balance.
For a much more balanced and reasonable interpretation, I recommend Julia Gray’s commentary. She explains why Ukraine is currently caught in limbo between the EU and Russia, and why it is likely to stay there in the near future:
When Ukrainians took to the streets almost a decade ago, they probably thought they were choosing a future that put them more firmly in line with Western Europe. But the current government probably sees that it’s gotten as far as it can feasibly go down that road [bold mine-DL]. EU enlargement is not likely to materialize any time soon, and Russia is happy to make life worse for Ukraine in any way it can.
In the case of the Ukraine, however, the people clearly see their future more with Europe than tied solely to Russia. It is in the United States’s interests to see European-style liberalism triumph over retrograde Russian-led rejectionism. When the United States does not stand up rhetorically for liberal principles [bold mine-DL], it only strengthens Russia’s hand and demoralizes those who want something more. There is nothing sophisticated about dictatorships, and the last thing Ukrainians need is the continuance of Chicken Kiev attitudes among our senior statesmen. Ukraine has a choice between East and West. Under tremendous pressure from Vladimir Putin, Yanukovich has chosen East. Ukrainians have taken to the streets to demand West. It’s time to stand up for the rightful demands of the Ukrainian people.
First, it is true that significantly more Ukrainians approve of the association agreement with the EU rather than joining Russia’s customs union. According to one poll, 45% preferred the former and just 14% preferred the latter. I can understand the pro-EU position, since integrating economically with Europe is likely to prove beneficial to Ukraine in the long run, but it’s worth bearing in mind that it still represents a minority of Ukrainians. That doesn’t make the minority wrong in what it wants, but it tells us that “the Ukrainian people” are at best seriously divided over what should happen to their country. Pro-EU protesters may have “rightful demands,” but how is it conceivably America’s business to treat the demands of a minority of the people in another country as if they represented the entire country? What good could possibly come of American meddling in what is ultimately an internal Ukrainian argument?
Let’s also understand that this is not really a struggle over “liberal principles.” Leaving aside the fact that some of the protesters are virulent Ukrainian nationalists of the worst kind that are not the least bit interested in liberal principles, the current dispute is over pulling Ukraine out of Moscow’s orbit or maintaining the status quo. Some Westerners seem to believe dragging Ukraine away from Moscow to be so important that the preferences of most Ukrainians should be ignored and the “correct” outcome should be reached, but it’s a mystery why the U.S. should follow their advice. It is not up to our government to be more Ukrainian than the Ukrainians’ own leaders.
Since Rubin invoked George H.W. Bush’s 1991 “Chicken Kiev” speech here, it might be useful to remember what the “attitudes” associated with it were. Among other things, Bush said this:
We will support those in the center and the Republics who pursue freedom, democracy, and economic liberty. We will determine our support not on the basis of personalities but on the basis of principles.We cannot tell you how to reform your society. We will not try to pick winners and losers in political competitions between Republics or between Republics and the center. That is your business; that’s not the business of the United States of America [bold mine-DL].
That was a sensible and responsible position then, and it remains so today. It was foolish trying to “pick winners and losers” as the USSR was breaking up, and it is no less foolish to try doing this in the internal politics of former Soviet states. That is their business, and it is not the business of the United States of America.
Nate Cohn writes that Scott Walker could be a unifying consensus candidate for Republicans in 2016, but he offers this caveat:
To a certain extent, Walker is benefitting from caution and obscurity. Last year, I could have easily written that “Rubio could be a voter or a donor’s first choice, not just a compromise candidate.” Perhaps Walker will disappoint, too. After all, Pawlenty shared Walker’s impressive electoral record in competitive states, but apparently lacked the chops to pursue the presidency [bold mine-DL]. There’s no way to know whether Walker’s prepared until he runs.
The Pawlenty comparison is useful, but it may already give Walker too much credit. Like Pawlenty, Walker is being touted as a serious consensus candidate for Republicans because he doesn’t seem to have much competition for the role, and he is being elevated to top-tier status long before he deserves to be almost solely on the grounds that he was elected in a traditionally Democratic state. Unlike Pawlenty, he cannot yet even boast of being re-elected in such a state. Pawlenty’s candidacy famously had no discernible rationale except that his name wasn’t Romney, but at the moment a Walker candidacy would seem to have even less of a reason to exist. The argument for Pawlenty was that he would be able to combine his working-class background and evangelical Christianity with a quasi-populist agenda that would separate him from the rest of the field, but as we discovered this was never a very good argument. The argument for Walker is even less compelling, and it amounts to little more than the fact that he isn’t any of the other likely candidates.
Beyond that, the case for Walker as a successful presidential candidate is quite weak. Cohn assumes that Walker can win over Christian conservatives in early contests despite the fact that he does not dwell on social and cultural issues, but it is impossible to imagine Huckabee and Santorum prevailing in Iowa without having done this. Walker and Bush may have “overt religiosity” in common, but Bush benefited from having no major competition for religious conservative votes in 2000. Walker could easily have two or three rivals (possibly including Santorum) whose ability to mobilize evangelical and other religious conservative supporters is probably better than his. Walker’s appeal may not be limited to the South as Huckabee’s was, but there is not much reason to assume that he will outperform Southern rivals in the South. Hailing from a neighboring state might give Walker an advantage in Iowa, but no past winners on the Republican side have come from a neighboring state and the candidates that did collapsed long before the caucuses. As far as I can tell, the idea of a Walker candidacy is interesting to journalists and pundits that are already tired of the hype surrounding Christie, but it seems to be appealing to few others.
Dana Milbank makes an exceptionally poor case for reinstating the draft:
There is no better explanation for what has gone wrong in Washington in recent years than the tabulation done every two years of how many members of Congress served in the military.
It shouldn’t take much time to recognize that this makes no sense at all. There are probably at least a dozen better explanations for political dysfunction and incompetence in Washington than the lack of veterans in Congress, and it is strange to think that filling up Congress with more people with military experience would remedy any of these other problems. It is possible that members of Congress would be less willing to permit presidents to wage so many unnecessary wars if more of them had previously served in the military, but even that is far from certain. There is no reason to believe that having more members of Congress with military experience would improve the functioning of the legislative branch. Even if there were some reason to think this would work, it is a very inadequate reason to propose reinstating the draft.
The things that Milbank declares to be “no coincidence” are, in fact, coincidences. Mounting debt is the result of decades of refusing to raise sufficient revenues to pay for a steadily expanding and increasingly expensive welfare state. It has nothing to do with electing people that haven’t served in the military. Greatly expanding the size of the military and using the military as a gigantic social experiment will in all likelihood add to the debt. Having more Congressmen with military experience won’t necessarily produce more legislative compromise, and it is sloppy to assume that participation in a national institution will make someone less partisan or more ideologically flexible. Depending on how Milbank’s expanded military is used, bringing back the draft could produce large numbers of radicalized citizens angry that they were forced to fight in the latest foolish and unnecessary war. Universal conscription guarantees nothing except the diminution of the freedom of Americans. Bringing it back would yield nothing but greater disaffection from and hostility to the government than already exists.
Zachary Keck lists the reasons why Israel isn’t going to attack Iran. One reason is that an attack would be harmful to Israel:
Meanwhile, a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would leave Israel in a far worse-off position. Were Iran to respond by attacking U.S. regional assets, this could greatly hurt Israel’s ties with the United States at both the elite and mass levels. Indeed, a war-weary American public is adamantly opposed to its own leaders dragging it into another conflict in the Middle East. Americans would be even more hostile to an ally taking actions that they fully understood would put the U.S. in danger.
Keck also notes that an attack would give Iran a significant boost in international sympathy while wrecking nascent cooperation with regional Arab governments. The most important relationships that Israel has around the world would be strained by an attack, since virtually every government would be obliged to denounce their illegal and (as far as most of the world is concerned) unnecessary military action. Even if some of these governments tacitly supported an attack, they could not say so publicly, and they would be at pains to deny claims that they privately agreed with the action. An attack on Iran gains Israel virtually nothing in the short term at potentially very high cost over the longer term.
That may help to explain why Netanyahu has so little support within the Israeli national security establishment for attacking Iran. Keck continues:
Many former top intelligence and military officials have spoken out publicly against Netanyahu’s hardline Iran policy, with at least one of them questioning whether Iran is actually seeking a nuclear weapon.
This may be the most important reason why an Israeli attack is so very unlikely: too many of the people tasked with the responsibility for carrying it out don’t believe that it is worth doing. Unless that changes dramatically in the next year or so, it seems very unlikely that Israel would assume all the risks of starting a war with Iran.
Jonathan Tobin makes another ignorant Geneva/Munich comparison, and adds this bit of silliness to it:
But as bad as the Iran deal was, the real analogy to Munich is the way in which Obama and Kerry not only ignored the concerns of the nations endangered by an Iranian nuke—Israel and Saudi Arabia—but also excluded them from the negotiations. Like the Czechs who were told by Chamberlain that they had no choice but to accept the dismemberment of their country, Israel and the Saudis have been callously told they can either like the deal or lump it.
It might not seem possible to make an even more ridiculous comparison between the Iran deal and the Munich conference at this point, but Tobin has done it. The effect of Munich was to redraw international boundaries, deprive one state of part of is territory, and create the conditions for its eventual conquest. It was hardly the first time that Great Power diplomacy reached an agreement at the expense of a small nation, but it is one of the more egregious examples of it. Czechoslovakia had a very real and immediate stake in the major powers decided. Israel and Saudi Arabia have nothing comparable at stake in these talks, and it would be bizarre to think that either of them should be included.
Frankly, Israel and Saudi Arabia have no more stake in the negotiations with Iran than Turkey or Egypt or any other country in the region. Their objections have been loud, but that’s irrelevant. One might as well complain that Pakistan and Armenia were “excluded” from the negotiations. It is especially absurd to complain about Israel’s “exclusion” from these talks when it isn’t even party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. As a nuclear-armed state that doesn’t belong to the NPT, Israel has about as much business criticizing Iran’s compliance with the treaty as North Korea.