Daniel Larison

Overreach

In a move sure to make me question the soundness of my judgement, George Will has come to a similar observation as I did a few weeks ago:

In his second Inaugural address, the president said: “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.” You have said: “In today’s globalized world, the security of the American people is inextricably linked to the security of all people.”

Well. Given that the goals of liberty and security can both generate foreign policy overreaching, and given the similarity between your formulation and Bush’s, should people who are dismayed by Bush’s universalizing imperative be wary of yours? Does not yours require interventions in Darfur — where you say “rolling genocide” is occurring — the Congo and similar situations?

Well, maybe not Congo.  But there are ailing Indonesian chickens that desperately need our help.

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Meanwhile, In Pakistan…

“There is blood on the steps of Pakistan’s Supreme Court,” said Ahsan. “The people of Pakistan have a right to protest, yet they have been brutally attacked. This whole situation is as noxious as the tear gas itself.”

————

The crackdown on the protest came just two days after the Supreme Court, lead by Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, ruled that the government had no right to blockade streets leading into the capital, nor could it prevent protests or stop the free-flow of traffic past government buildings.

————

“We are looking at an obscene and unnecessary show of excessive force,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, South Asia Researcher for Human Rights Watch, who had come to observe the protests. “This has been wanton brutality against a professional group that is struggling to uphold the rule of law.” ~Time

While the world’s attention these days is focused, with good reason, on the crackdown in Burma, far more geopolitically significant troubles are erupting once again in Pakistan.  Musharraf has, of course, continued to pursue re-election after the amnesty for Sharif was summarily withdrawn, and the prospects for any kind of negotiated transfer or departure of Musharraf from the scene are now very poor.  With this latest ruling that he is eligible to run for another term as president backing him up, Musharraf’s intransigence will drag Pakistan over the edge of a cliff.  What Musharraf and his government are doing is different from the actions of the junta in Burma only in degree, but not in kind.  The comparison was not lost on the lawyers being assaulted:

“It’s just a shade short of Burma,” said one bedraggled lawyer, echoing an earlier statement by Ahsan. “Yeah,” said his companion. “But here they are attacking lawyers in suits instead of monks in saffron.”

And, of course, the regime doing the attacking is considered too valuable and useful to too many major powers for them to say or do anything.  It is vitally important that Washington come to realise that Musharraf is far more of a liability for the stability of Pakistan, and thus for U.S. interests in the region, than he is an asset.  Our association with his increasingly brutal and destructive rule can only drag our reputation further into the mud and make cooperation with any future post-Musharraf government that much more difficult.  Washington needs to consider how it will sustain the ties with Pakistan once Musharraf is no longer there.  It seems increasingly likely that Musharraf has overreached so often and exhausted all goodwill that he cannot long remain in office.  It is also crucial to understand that the policies that Washington has urged Musharraf to pursue have contributed to the current predicament.  To throw Pakistan into turmoil to save Kabul is not a good exchange.  Wouldn’t it be useful if we had an accomplished professional diplomat serving in Islamabad right about now…wherever did he go?

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Rare Praise

I have noted my points of disagreement, but this densely footnoted and courageous book deserves praise rather than abuse. The Israeli liberal daily Haaretz stated that it would be irresponsible to ignore [the earlier article’s] serious and disturbing message that the Israeli government must understand that the world will not wait forever for Israel to withdraw from the territories, and that the opinions expressed in the article could take root in American politics if Israel does not change the political reality quickly. ~Jonathan Mirsky

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Outrage Is Plentiful When It Costs Nothing

One of Sullivan’s readers wrote

Although I despise Bush, I have to confess admiration for his unequivocal statements against the junta and in support of the protesters.  It’s more than can be said for Russia, China, and India.  One should expect this kind of thing from Russia and China I suppose, but India, the nation which invented modern civil disobedience, should know better [bold mine-DL].

Mr. Bush can afford to be unequivocally opposed to the Burmese government.  There are absolutely no American interests tied up in Burma, no Americans currently residing there, so far as I know, and therefore no real consequences for the United States or American citizens if Mr. Bush takes an “unequivocal” position.  As it happens, and bearing in mind my views about the uselessness of sanctions in general, I think Mr. Bush is taking the right line on this.  Of course, it costs him nothing to take an “unequivocal” line and his wife’s strong personal interest in Burma (which sometimes veers into embarrassing condescension) probably has something to do with it as well.  It is sheer symbolism, but I suppose if you are reduced to symbolism you might as well symbolically oppose the junta. 

For once, we seem to be seeing a spontaneous, non-Sorosian popular uprising.  We can tell the difference between the fake and the genuine article right away–in Burma there is not an officially approved and media-anointed oligarch waiting to take power as “leader of glorious revolution.”  Despite some attempts to dub this the “saffron revolution,” because of the colour of the monks’ robes, it has not become the Saffron Revolution in media reporting in the same way that the non-revolutions elsewhere became endorsed movements complete with capitalised names.  Unlike the generally fraudulent “colour” revolutions (each one of which has been shown to be nothing of the kind), the monks have evidently not developed a media strategy, have not been influenced by meddling NGOs or co-opted by foreign money.  It does not seem to be stage-managed and pre-fabricated for Western media consumption.  The lack of organisation and coordination among Western and other democracies suggests that the events have actually taken them by surprise, rather than being rolled out like a new consumer product.  Unlike in Kyrgyzstan, this uprising does not seem to be an attempt to displace one clan with another.  [Correction: Apparently, I am too gullible about all of this.]             

Then there is this reader’s remark about India, which brings me back to the title of this post.  You will have seen many articles mentioning how China, India and the ASEAN nations have been reaping a windfall from the sanctions imposed on Burma by Western nations, and in opinion pieces this fact is usually glossed with a comment about how “even” people from democratic India have been investing in Burma.  As a matter of economic and political realism, this is to be expected.  Indians are going to do business with their neighbours, including Burma, just as all states almost have to do business with the states that border them.  As a result of having economic ties to neighbouring states, a government cannot easily denounce a neighbouring government with the intensity of those who have nothing at stake.  It is pretty easy to track any given state’s economic and political connections to petty despotates around the world by the intensity of the criticism and punishment meted out to the latter.  The major powers all have connections with regimes that are more or less like this (though SLORC has always been exceptionally awful), and so outrage at a regime’s misconduct is usually inversely proportional to the intensity of ties between the two states.  Nothing surprising there, but it’s worth bearing in mind when judging the official responses of different governments. 

However, many people in India do “know better,” so to speak, and I expect that the opposition parties are making great hay out of the Congress-led government’s general inaction and meek statements about the protests.  As a matter of fact, yes, they are, and they have been joined by some Congress MPs as well.  For convenience, we all use the name of a country when we are referring to its government.  This can sometimes give the impression that a majority of the country is in agreement with the official position of the government, which is almost never the case.  So, the next time you see someone say that “India” is doing this or that in relation to Burma, do remember that a great many people in India are urging their government to take the side of the protesters.  Of course, it is always easy for the party (or parties) out of power to make demands for action to which they, were they in office, would never yield.   

Update: It’s not much, but good for Thailand and ASEAN:

Thailand and the Association Of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have demanded that Burma stop using violence against demonstrators and voiced ”revulsion” at the killings in Rangoon. The strong position against Burma, also an Asean member country, was delivered by Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

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Where Are All These Fierce Isolationists?

Hypocrisy has become so commonplace among isolationist conservatives that it doesn’t always register, but this time it’s too blatant to ignore. ~Scott Paul

There are no real isolationists in Congress.  You certainly can’t find any of these people calling for withdrawal from Iraq or calling for an end to overseas intervention.  (The only people who might be reasonably described in some sense as “isolationist” are in the House, not the Senate.)  Opposition to the treaty does have to do with hostility to the United Nations.  There are Republicans making pro-sovereignty arguments, which come down to not wanting to accede to another international treaty.  In point of fact, the vast majority of the Republican caucus is robustly internationalist–they just don’t want the U.N. to have any say in what we do.  That may be many things, but it isn’t isolationist.

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You Cannot Fix The Irreparable

About two-thirds of the way through the JRC debate on Iraq, Peter Brimelow had what I think was the most important point, and one entirely consistent with my general hostility to optimism:

“Not all problems have solutions.”

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McCarthy On Gelb

At the fine foreign policy blog of McCarthy, Antle and Spencer called Exit Strategies, Dan McCarthy writes an excellent post on Leslie Gelb’s much-touted review of The Israel Lobby.  As I have suggested before, Dan notes that Gelb concedes or supports the thesis of the book on a crucial point when he says: “As it happens, America’s commitment to Israel rests far more on moral and historical grounds than on strict strategic ones.”  As it happens, that is one of the central claims of The Israel Lobby. 

Dan makes the point even more forcefully:

Instead, as Mearsheimer and Walt argue, the Israel lobby and the more-Likudnik-than-Netanyahu neocons here in the United States have been pushing policies that are ultimately detrimental to Israel and that run counter to America’s interests. Leslie Gelb seems to be aware of this–he certainly presents evidence to that effect–but he can’t bring himself to say it.

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A Shame

It is unfortunate that Mr. Hawkins has written this.  It is unfortunate because it is an attack on his former colleagues, but even more because it is an embarrassing spectacle.  Yes, Murray Rothbard opposed unjust wars and pernicious foreign policy, for which he was scurrilously attacked after death by Mr. Buckley.  If anyone would like to take Buckley’s side in that disgraceful episode, he associates himself with very shabby behaviour unbecoming of a gentleman.  People at Antiwar.com also oppose unjust wars and pernicious foreign policy, for which they are routinely scurrilously attacked.  They all see interventionism as a principal source of the expansion of the state at home and the loss of liberty.  I find it hard to believe that anyone at the gathering would say that patriotism has become a dirty word, except perhaps by way of saying that warmongers have helped make it seem so by misusing the word and conflating it with things that have nothing to do with patriotism. 

Lord Salisbury was, of course, the last of an old breed of aristocratic servants of the state whose duty it was to preserve and pass on the institutions and empire entrusted to him as Prime Minister.  It is to his credit that his direct involvement in the dreadful South African War was relatively limited, since it was much more the brainchild of Joseph Chamberlain–a Chamberlain neoconservatives could love–and to his discredit that he countenanced such a war of conquest.  The British comparison is useful only to a point, since our home country is richer in resources and more populous than Britain has ever been (I do not mean this as a boast, but simply as a statement of the facts), and would continue to enjoy a fairly high degree of prosperity if we gave up on Iraq or indeed have up the entire rotten empire.  If there are cancers in the conservative movement, they are not mainly to be found among the libertarians, vexing and mistaken though the latter may sometimes be.  They tend instead to concentrate themselves around places like FrontPageMag.com, and it is a pity that reputable and serious people should lend their efforts any respectability.  I’ll leave it at that.  

As the John Randolph Club panel shows, not everyone associated with Chronicles and the Rockford Institute shares the view that we should withdraw from Iraq entirely and immediately, which is what you might expect from an assembly of intelligent, informed gentlemen who take such questions seriously.  I appreciate the concerns of those who fear chaos in the region following a withdrawal, and I understand why some people are convinced that America still has vital interests there.  These concerns seem to me to be exaggerated in the first place and largely incorrect in the second, but even if both are true withdrawal from Iraq does not mean withdrawal from the entire region, at least not at the present time. 

It is quite regrettable that Mr. Hawkins would prefer taking the path of denouncing colleagues.  It is a habit of mind that is quite common to ideologues, which I had assumed Mr. Hawkins was not.  I will not say that Mr. Hawkins has ceased to be a conservative and a patriot, though he chooses to say it of his colleagues, because he disagrees over one area of policy.  That is the exactly sort of thing that has so disgusted me about much of the modern conservative movement–the tendency, all too common, to declare someone persona non grata because of a policy difference.  Set aside debates over who the “real” conservatives are for the moment–that is at least something that may be legitimately questioned and debated–but to impute personal disloyalty and lack of patriotism to people because they do not share a policy view seems to me to be a very dangerous habit.  There might be cases where such a charge was warranted, but you would have to be very clear and certain of the evidence before you made it.  Such attacks have been done before, and the policy being defended by such disgusting accusations was a bad, misguided policy, the very one that has brought us to our current pass.  Let Mr. Hawkins reflect on that when he considers what and whom he is defending.       

It is, however, shocking to read Mr. Hawkins say this:

Opposition to America’s rise at every stage has always been rooted in the Left, where dissent against one’s own society and its constructive values is a defining trait.

Were the Loyalists “rooted in the Left”?  They were the original North American Tories, as our ancestors derisively called them, and they were the root of North American conservatism.  Rather by definition, they opposed the “rise” of America.  Were the Federalists “rooted in the Left” in some meaningful sense?  They were, it is true, more centralist than their rivals, but they were also men of property and station, who retained some sense that virtue, status and hierarchy had a proper role in republican society.  They were adamant opponents of the French Revolution and its heirs, and they were the chief opponents of Mr. Jefferson’s expansionist plans.  Whatever was wrong with the Federalists, it was not a product of leftism.  Things are more complicated in later periods, since early and mid-century expansionism was the cause of some Democrats, but the War was certainly a product of the progressive, liberal party of its time, the GOP.  Early American imperialism arose under GOP tutelage forty years later.  Then progressives in the Democratic Party (and now once again in the GOP) took the lead in projecting power in Europe and elsewhere and meddling around the world, and we have been paying for it ever since.  If empire-building is something Mr. Hawkins would like to praise, he might at least give credit to its true authors and acknowledge who the opponents really were.     

Since he has chosen to play the rather tired game of guilt-by-association, it is worth noting that Mr. Hawkins has also associated with the Constitution Party in the past, a group that I am confident Mr. Hawkins’ new associates at FrontPage despise just as much as they despise the gentlemen at Chronicles.  If he has no problem joining hands with people who are his obvious natural enemies, who am I to tell him that he should not?  Meanwhile, if I am forced to choose between Kirkpatrick Sale and David Horowitz, I think we all know which one I will choose and it will not be difficult.  Hint: it isn’t Horowitz. 

I have enjoyed Mr. Hawkins’ work in the past, such as this latest contribution about the U.S. military and Africa.  It is a pity that his most recent effort does not match it and previous products in thoughtfulness or insight.

Via Scott Richert 

The JRC debate can be heard here.

Update: Mr. Hawkins also wrote this other stunning claim:

It is the defection from the goal of American preeminence by some on the right since the Cold War that marks a change. Those who want to see other powers rise as America retreats, in order to create a “multipolar” world (the term was actually used by several people), are the ones who have defected from the right.

Supporting hegemony is the standard of what it takes to be “on the right”?  This is nonsense, of course, and an embrace of the caricature of men of the right as militarists and empire-builders.  It nonetheless does point to a deeper problem.  For many conservatives, especially those who grew up during the Cold War, support for the growth of the security state and international hegemony has been a defining feature of what they think conservatism is.  As Scott notes in the comments of his post:

Far from being “conservative,” the extreme nationalism of men such as Hawkins is actually a leftist phenomenon–and has been ever since it emerged during the French Revolution.

This reflects a long-standing problem of post-war political conservatism in America.  As Prof. Lukacs said in his important “The Problem of American Conservatism” (from Remembered Past, p. 582-583):

So were, unfortunately, most American conservatives, unaware of the crucial difference (George Orwell described it in one of his prime essays) between the ideological nationalist and the true patriot: the former is moved by the desire to extend the power of his nation, the latter is moved by the love of his country.  They [the conservatives] were nationalist rather than patriotic: they put their nationalism above their religion, their nationalism was their religion.  Thus American conservatives welcomed (at worst) or were indifferent (at best) to the dangers of excessive American commitments to all kinds of foreign governments or–what was more important–to the flooding of the United States by countless immigrants from the south who would provide cheap labor but whose increasing presence could only exacerbate deep national problems….The true patriot and the true conservative is suspicious of ideology, of any ideology: yet the American conservatives were, more than often, ideologues, disregarding John Adams’s pithy statement that ideology amounted to idiocy.

The tragic thing about nationalists is that many of them fall into nationalism because they believe that it is either the same as patriotism or they usually know no other way to express love of country except through bombast, boasting and contempt for other peoples.  In their way, they have a strong attachment to the nation, but it is not the nation as it is or has been, but as one that they imagine or have been taught to imagine: a nation that always wins and dominates the scene.  Thus proper love of country is transmuted into love of power, and defending power becomes the new standard of loyalty.  At its worst, there is a nationalism where the nation is an idea or embodies a set of ideas, which ends up disembodying the nation and making it into nothing more than a concept.  Nationalists are not consciously unpatriotic, though they do not understand patriotism correctly, but the things they support often work to the detriment of their country.

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Going, Going, Gone

All this makes a murderous backdrop for what will be Mr Cameron’s second, and possibly last, conference as Tory party leader. He was the future, once. Now we are in the extraordinary position where serious Tories talk about Mr Cameron being gone by Christmas, after losing an autumn election — and ask whether the Tory party would survive in its current form, or be torn apart by a modernisers-versus-traditionalists war. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that, if Mr Cameron fails, the party may face an existential crisis. ~Fraser Nelson 

A party conference can be many things: a show of confidence, an agonising reappraisal or, as in this case, a series of auditions by pretenders to the throne while the lost leader withers before our very eyes. ~Francis Urquhart

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More Burma Blogging

The Economist has an editorial and two articles on the developing situation in Burma.  The second article makes a necessary point about the futility of sanctions:

Shareholder-activists and ordinary consumers have also done their bit to encourage a boycott. But the campaign to punish the regime sometimes seems to have lost sight of its real goal, and to be ready to celebrate isolation itself, not the change it is supposed to bring.

In fact, isolation has never really been on the cards. Any gap is eagerly filled by Myanmar’s neighbours—not just China, but also India and Thailand and other members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Even in the Western camp there have been differences in approach between the three most important members, America, the EU and Japan.

This is, of course, the problem with virtually all sanctions regimes and divestment schemes.  They are intended to send a signal, and indeed they do.  The signal is apparently supposed to be: “We understand neither economics nor politics.”  Not only do other states and private interests take advantage of sanctions and divestment, but the local population sees foreign sanctions as one of the causes of whatever hardships they are facing.  They are also well-aware of the hardships imposed by their own government, but to add sanctions on top of the corruption and misrule is a bit like stepping on a man’s head while he’s drowning.  However, it makes the one imposing the sanctions feel that he has “done something” and has acquitted himself of whatever strange duty he felt that he owed to the internal political disputes of other countries.  Needless to say, those who endure such regimes as SLORC (or whatever they’re calling themselves these days) don’t need much more of this kind of “help.”

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