Reading through Henry Nau’s Conservative Internationalism, I found that one of the main problems with the book is its completely arbitrary and bizarre definition of internationalism. Nau writes:
Internationalist in the American case thus refers to a commitment to spread freedom abroad and move beyond the balance of power to a world of democracies. It does not mean simply a change in the balance of power among democracies, which realists may favor, or a transformation of international institutions, which liberal internationalists envision. It means an increase in the number of domestic regimes that become free. (p. 23)
There are internationalists that think this should be one foreign policy goal among many, but this is not what makes them internationalists. To define internationalism in this way is to exclude the vast majority of Americans that identify as internationalist in one way or another. Except for Wilsonians, internationalists do not necessarily endorse a “commitment to spread freedom abroad.” Nau takes for granted that this is “the goal of foreign policy” for all internationalists. According to the recent Pew survey, most Americans and most members of the Council on Foreign Relations don’t consider the promotion of human rights or democracy to be a top U.S. foreign policy priority, much less the goal of foreign policy. In fact, CFR members are now less likely than the general public to identify either of these as a top priority of U.S. foreign policy:
If we took Nau’s definition seriously, we would have to conclude that internationalists are a distinct minority in America, but this is obviously not the case.
Zbigniew Brzezinski is strangely confident that the EU and Ukraine can work out a new deal, but the terms he describes would seem to make it a non-starter for both sides:
In the next months some sort of a deal between the EU and Ukraine can still be contrived. To facilitate it, the EU must be more receptive to Kiev’s need for economic and financial support. Ukrainians have to realise that European taxpayers are not enchanted by the prospect of paying for the misdeeds and corruption of the current Kiev elite. Belt-tightening will be the necessary precondition for an agreement as well as a test of Ukraine’s resolve in asserting its European aspirations. Kiev will also need to show that the outcome of elections is not determined by the imprisonment of political rivals.
This would require that the EU agree to offer more generous terms that it previously refused to offer because it didn’t want to get in a “bidding war” with Moscow. That doesn’t seem likely to happen. It would also seem to require Yanukovych to release his rival from prison, but this already proved to be one of the more significant deal-breakers. If such a deal could have been worked out at an earlier point, it is likely too late now that Yanukovych’s political survival is threatened. Having come this far to derail the deal, it is implausible that Moscow would not follow through with its threatened economic punishment. As Mark Adomanis notes in a recent article, accepting the deal with the EU is no longer politically possible for Yanukovych:
It would cause too much short-term harm to the Ukrainian economy by inflating an already huge current account deficit and would likely spark retaliatory Russian trade sanctions. It’s also worth considering that, at this point, signing the association agreement would be an unmitigated display of weakness, and [one] that someone in Yanukovych’s position can ill afford that type of display.
Adomanis goes on to say that since Yanukovych’s priority is to retain power, he needs to delay economically painful reforms for as long as he can to give himself any chance of winning the next election. “Belt-tightening” is the last thing that he will want to accept. Having provoked the opposition, he cannot now afford to alienate the rest of the country with reform measures that are bound to be unpopular.
James Traub and David Ignatius make a similar and very odd claim in their latest pieces. Traub writes:
Instead of George Bush’s “if they hate us, we have to explain ourselves better,” the national mood has become “if they hate us, we’re leaving.” Where is the national groundswell of support for Obama’s potentially ground-breaking diplomacy with Iran? Nowhere. He’s on his own.
Ignatius said something very much the same:
But to complete the agreement, and ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is truly peaceful, Obama will need strong support from Congress and the public. Right now, it’s hard to imagine that he will get it. The public doesn’t want war, but it doesn’t seem to like entangling diplomacy much, either.
These are odd things to say for a few reasons. First, the polling evidence that exists suggests that the public is overwhelmingly in favor of diplomacy with Iran on the nuclear issue, and a majority approves of the interim deal reached with Iran. Is that a “groundswell” of support? I’m not sure, but what would substantial public support for diplomacy look like if it doesn’t include broad majority approval? It’s not as if there are going to be massive rallies to celebrate a highly technical diplomatic agreement.
On what grounds does Ignatius say that the public doesn’t like “entangling diplomacy”? It all depends on what the diplomacy achieves, I suppose, but the evidence from just this year suggests that when the public is presented with a diplomatic solution–even one that most believe won’t work–most are more than ready to give it a chance if it means that the U.S. isn’t fighting another unnecessary war.
Support in Congress for a nuclear deal with Iran is a different story, but that’s not because public support fr it is lacking. Public support for diplomacy in general and for negotiations with Iran in particular already exists. The evidence for that in just the last month has been impossible to miss, so how is it that both Traub and Ignatius missed it? I suspect that the reason both jumped to the wrong conclusion here is that they equate support for international engagement with an endorsement of an activist U.S. role in the world that most Americans don’t favor. If more than half of Americans agree with the statement that the U.S. should “mind its business,” they take that to mean something far more absolute than the respondents intended.
P.S. Paul Pillar noticed Ignatius’ mistake first.
As usual, The Wall Street Journal wants the U.S. to meddle where it’s not needed:
The protests could also set Ukraine on a better course, and that should be the U.S. goal. At a minimum the Obama Administration can make clear to Mr. Putin that he will pay a price if he stokes violence or promotes a crackdown. It would also help if President Obama found his voice for a change on behalf of freedom and the West.
The editorial happens to be commenting on protests in Ukraine, but the conclusion could just as easily be about any other country in the world. It follows the standard script of hawkish whining: 1) describe recent events in a foreign land; 2) lament that the U.S. has not yet inserted itself into the middle of whatever is happening; 3) insist that the U.S. issue unspecified warnings and threats to whichever regime(s) may be involved; 4) make no attempt to assess whether the recommended actions make sense, advance any U.S. interests, or would make any constructive difference; 5) then attach a partisan complaint that the current president is insufficiently devoted to promoting “freedom.” The problem is not that the argument is always the same, but that it routinely fails to explain why the U.S. should interfere, it never considers what the potential downside for the U.S. and the country in question may be, and it needlessly turns almost every event overseas into an ideological struggle that requires U.S. “leadership.” Despite the fact that the burden of proof is supposed to be on the side of those demanding greater U.S. involvement in a foreign dispute, there is never the least effort to demonstrate that increased U.S. involvement is appropriate or that it would achieve anything desirable. It is simply something that “must” be done because it is what the U.S. is supposed to do.
So does it make sense for Ukrainian or American interests for the U.S. to engage in open and direct competition for influence with Russia? There doesn’t seem to be any good reason for the U.S. to do this, and doing so risks escalating tensions between the U.S. and Russia over a dispute where America has almost nothing at stake. States that have been the object of U.S.-Russian rivalry in recent years have fared poorly because of it, so it seems unwise to add Ukraine back to the list. The truth is that Ukraine’s orientation matters more to Moscow than it does to anyone in the West, and it seems extremely unlikely that the U.S. or any group of Western governments is prepared or willing to bear the costs that a feud with Russia over this issue might entail. Is Moscow likely to respond to American threats by backing down, or is it more likely that the Russian government will perceive American warnings as a challenge to be defied? If Washington says not to promote a crackdown, doesn’t that perversely give Moscow a reason to do that in order to show that it doesn’t take orders from our government? There doesn’t seem to any plausible scenario in which active U.S. involvement in this dispute helps anyone in Ukraine, and at no point would it advance a single American interest. It would seem to be nothing more than meddling for meddling’s sake.
Chrystia Freeland joins in exaggerating the significance of protests in Ukraine:
But as in 1989 the most important fault line in the world [bold mine-DL] today runs through a cold, crowded, euphoric public square in Eastern Europe.
Freeland is wrong about this, but her op-ed is interesting as a window into the thinking of people that say such things. If one assumes that there is a “global struggle between democracy and authoritarianism” going on, and if one also believes that the competing factions in Ukrainian politics represent different sides in this struggle, it might almost make sense to think that the most important fault line in the world runs through Kiev. It would still be overlooking a number of more important and dangerous fault lines in East Asia or the Near East, but it would make a certain amount of sense. Since there is no such global struggle to speak of, and the different factions in Ukraine represent competing interests inside one country, all of this effort to impose a grand ideological interpretation onto these events is misguided and wasted.
If there is competition today between “democratic capitalism” and state capitalism, that is obviously a dramatically different kind of competition from the one between the U.S. and the USSR. Thinking of it as a continuation or extension of the latter, as Freeland does, is simply wrong. There is nothing like the Cold War going on today, nor is there even a “cool war” between two ideological camps. Democracy is not at stake in the contest in Ukraine, so we should stop pretending that it is.
Charles Krauthammer complains that Obama isn’t doing more about protests in Ukraine:
The U.S. response? Almost imperceptible. As with Iran’s ruthlessly crushed Green Revolution of 2009, the hundreds of thousands of protesters who’ve turned out to reverse this betrayal of Ukrainian independence have found no voice in Washington. Can’t this administration even rhetorically support those seeking a democratic future, as we did during Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004?
It would be appropriate for the U.S. to warn Ukrainian authorities against using force against peaceful protesters, but beyond that there wouldn’t seem to be anything that the U.S. could or should do publicly in this instance. If there is one thing that the administration should have learned over the last four years, it is that Obama should not offer even limited rhetorical support to a foreign protest movement unless there is some intention to follow it up with real support. In the Ukrainian case, U.S. interference would be especially unwise. As corrupt and bad as Yanukovych and his government may be, they have been duly elected to their positions. It cannot be the role of the U.S. to take sides in purely internal political disputes in countries with elected governments. The protesters are currently seeking to force the removal of a democratically-elected president, so one could say that they are interested in a “democratic future” provided that the right people are in power.
At least in 2004, Yanukovych and his allies had reportedly rigged the election for their benefit, so there was potentially some justification for public criticism from Western governments. Nonetheless, it was still foolish for the Bush administration to interfere and take sides in Ukraine’s internal dispute, and it would be even more foolish for Obama to do it after having made so many unnecessary comments on foreign uprisings over the last few years. There is no reason for Obama or other U.S. officials to lend support, rhetorical or otherwise, to one side in a Ukrainian political contest. It would be wrong for the U.S. to express preferences for the outcome of an election campaign, and it would likewise be wrong for the U.S. to throw its support behind one political faction. Not only is it the wrong thing to do in principle, but it also will make it that much more difficult to deal with the Ukrainian government in the future while it is controlled by the party that the U.S. has publicly opposed.
Krauthammer wants the U.S. to throw a tantrum and then to throw some money at Ukraine. He asks, “Why not outbid Putin?” The better question is: “What conceivable U.S. interest is served in bribing the Ukrainian government to accept a trade agreement that will probably provoke a severe Russian response?” Krauthammer doesn’t bother considering the consequences of what he proposes, but just throws a fit about something that displeases him and then moves on.
Nikolas Gvosdev explains why the political turmoil in Ukraine would continue even if the anti-Yanukovych protesters prevailed:
But let’s assume for the sake of argument that all the demands of the so-called Euromaidan protesters are met: The decision on the EU agreement is reversed; the Rada (parliament) dissolves itself; and Yanukovych tenders his resignation. Would the crisis automatically be over?
There are several reasons to think it wouldn’t be.
Supposing that Yanukovych and his party were forced from power by the protests, it would likely produce a period of government paralysis and economic crisis. Gvosdev notes that the opposition would have difficulty advancing a coherent governing agenda because it is significantly divided on most other issues besides the association agreement and getting rid of the current president. In that scenario, Yanukovych’s party would have strong incentives to hamstring and embarrass a new government. Because Yanukovych has been able to exploit divisions in the opposing coalition before to maneuver his way back to power, it is conceivable that any success the opposition might have in gaining power could be very short-lived. Gvosdev also points out that a new government that rode the current protests into power and pressed ahead with the association agreement would also face the prospect of Russian retaliation, which would inflict substantial economic pain on the country that could turn the population sharply against the new leaders.
Because of that, substantial Western financial support would be critical to the survival of the new government. Gvosdev writes:
If the opposition were to come to power in Ukraine in the midst of a severe economic crisis, brought about by signing the EU accords, it would create the expectation of immediate Western assistance. If that aid did not materialize, it could pave the way for a second Yanukovych comeback, just as it did in 2006.
Western aid is unlikely to be forthcoming in the large amounts that Ukraine would require to counter the effects of Russian punitive measures. Western cheering for the protesters in Kiev isn’t likely to translate into much tangible assistance. If European governments weren’t willing to provide generous terms to Ukraine in the original agreement, why are they going to offer substantial aid later on? And if European governments aren’t willing to able to provide such aid, is there much chance that the U.S. is going to bear the costs of one of the EU’s projects? No, there isn’t. Western sympathizers with foreign protesters are great ones for encouraging uprisings and celebrating “revolutions,” but frequently lose interest in their cause as soon as the story fades from their view.
George Will’s column on Iran gets many things right, but he makes this odd assertion towards the end:
The agreement will not stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons; only a highly unlikely Iranian choice [bold mine-DL] can do that.
It’s true that the interim agreement already reached in Geneva won’t “stop” Iran if the Iranian government chooses to violate the terms of the agreement, and that is also true for any comprehensive agreement that Iran and the P5+1 reach. Then again, that’s true of all diplomatic agreements: they become useless if one party ignores its commitments. Having said that, the evidence suggests that the Iranian government has so far not yet chosen to build nuclear weapons, and under the right conditions it may never decide to do this. An Iran that possessed nuclear weapons could be deterred, but if Iran follows through on the initial commitments made in the interim deal it is not going to build any nuclear weapons. In other words, Iran claims to have already made the “highly unlikely choice” that Will thinks it won’t make.
Will presents war and containment as the only two options, but it is more accurate to say that the U.S. would be able to contain a nuclear-armed Iran with or without first attacking it. War with Iran would not eliminate or even reduce the possibility of a nuclear-armed Iran, but would virtually guarantee it. Attacking Iran would give Iran a strong incentive and significant political cover to acquire nuclear weapons, which is why it is extremely misleading to talk about an attack on Iran as “preventive” war. “Preventive” war against Iran would likely cause rather than prevent Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. The real choice is between reaching a negotiated settlement with Iran that limits its nuclear program in a way that makes weaponization much more difficult and continuing on the dead-end path of coercion and threats that make both a nuclear-armed Iran and armed conflict with Iran more likely.
Raymond Sontag identifies a possible reason why European governments were taken by surprise by Ukraine’s about-face on the agreement with the EU:
The problem is that many in the West see “balance of power” and “spheres of influence” as antiquated and less-than-legitimate concepts and therefore largely ignore them. Rather than viewing international politics as driven by competing interests, they see it as driven by the process of ever more countries adopting Western-style democracy. Accordingly Western leaders assume that East European states integrating with the West is a natural process in the post-Cold War world and that anything running counter to this integration is a perversion of that process. This disregard for traditional power politics and the assumption that European integration is a natural development are significant blind spots for Western leaders. And these blind spots hamper their ability to realize the very worthy goals of European integration and democratization.
This may apply in some cases, but my impression is that American and European advocates for the eastward expansion of Western institutions and alliances are only too happy to see everything in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in terms of balance of power and spheres of influence. Many Westerners may ridicule the concepts by name, but they think in these terms just as much as anyone else. If that were not the case, there would not have been so many overwrought Western reactions to Ukraine’s decision.
If Ukraine turns down a deal with the EU that wouldn’t have given it very much in the near term, many Westerners treat this as an extremely meaningful event rather than the perpetuation of the status quo that it actually is. As Western institutions seek to expand their sphere of influence, Westerners are annoyed that there is any resistance to this, and they complain about Russian efforts to retain influence with lectures about the obsolescence of spheres of influence. However, the complaint isn’t so much that the Russian response is outdated as it is that it is at least temporarily successful. The real trouble is that many Westerners ignore the interests of the nations involved in the expansion process, and instead simply assume that their interests must align with those of Western institutions. When that proves not to be the case, they are left with little to do but splutter in frustration.
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.