Daniel Larison

What The Monroe Doctrine Was

Earlier this month, U.S. and Georgian officials had high-level meetings in Washington where Secretary Clinton expressed U.S. support for Georgia, denounced the “occupation” of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, pledged continued aid for the Georgian government, and endorsed Georgia’s strategic concept for the “occupied” territories. Perhaps many Americans think this is entirely appropriate. Maybe many Americans think U.S.-Georgian relations should be no one else’s business, and Georgia should be free to make its own foreign policy decisions. Of course, these relations don’t take place in a vacuum, and it does matter to neighboring states if a great power from the other side of the planet begins building up influence in their “near-abroad.” The claim that the U.S. rejects spheres of influence is true only in the sense that our government rejects it when other states claim them. For our part, the entire world is treated more or less as our sphere of influence. As long as Washington treats the rest of the world this way, other major powers are going to try to gain influence anywhere they can. Indeed, other major powers would be doing this anyway, but there is no way that the U.S. and other major powers could ever come to any understanding about respective spheres of influence so long as our government insists that we have them all and they have none.

Last week, Russian President Medvedev signed an agreement with Venezuela’s government on a Venezuelan nuclear power plant built by the Russians. By itself, this isn’t very worrisome. If the Iranian nuclear program isn’t a threat (and it isn’t), a Venezuelan nuclear program wouldn’t even be cause for concern. This deal doesn’t threaten “the global order,” and it’s silly to say that it does. If Americans would apply the same standards to Latin America that our government applies to the former Soviet Union, Venezuela’s government should be able to make deals and alliances with any country. Naturally, many Americans do not apply the same standards to “our backyard” that we expect other states to respect in theirs.

The IBD editorial (via Scoblete) invoking the Monroe Doctrine is amusing in a couple ways. The most obvious is the blatant double standard many Americans have for what Russia can do outside its borders and what the U.S. is allowed to do along Russia’s borders, but that’s old news. What is amusing is the idea that the Monroe Doctrine has anything to do with dictating the foreign policy of Latin American states in a post-colonial world. Rather like President Bush’s much-maligned, rarely-read “Chicken Kiev” speech, President Monroe’s message to Congress in 1823 is not very well understood. President Monroe said this:

We owe it, therefore, to candor and to the amicable relations existing between the United States and those powers to declare that we should consider any attempt on their part to extend their system to any portion of this hemisphere as dangerous to our peace and safety. With the existing colonies or dependencies of any European power we have not interfered and shall not interfere [bold mine-DL]. But with the Governments who have declared their independence and maintain it, and whose independence we have, on great consideration and on just principles, acknowledged, we could not view any interposition for the purpose of oppressing them, or controlling in any other manner their destiny, by any European power in any other light than as the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States [bold mine-DL]. In the war between those new Governments and Spain we declared our neutrality at the time of their recognition, and to this we have adhered, and shall continue to adhere, provided no change shall occur which, in the judgement of the competent authorities of this Government, shall make a corresponding change on the part of the United States indispensable to their security.

In the context of the early 1820s, when Spanish liberals had just been crushed by French forces aligned with the royalists, Monroe was saying that the U.S. viewed the re-introduction of a monarchical form of government into any of the newly-independent Latin American republics as a threat to the United States as well. Essentially, it was a message that the U.S. would not tolerate campaigns of restoration in the Western Hemisphere. Arguably, during the Cold War the same argument might have applied to the establishment of communist states, since such a change of government could have had geopolitical consequences. What the Monroe Doctrine was not and could not have been was a claim that European powers could have no dealings with independent Latin American states. It wasn’t a claim that European powers could not wield influence in the Western Hemisphere. Monroe was making clear that there were limits to the extent and nature of that influence. So long as those states were allowed to remain independent and retained their form of government, the U.S. was largely indifferent to their relations with the rest of the world.

One thing that can be said with certainty about Russia today is that its government has no fixed ideology, and it is not attempting to promote an ideological system abroad. Chavez’s authoritarian populism may have some things in common with what has been called Putinism, but it is also entirely indigenous and retains the support of a substantial percentage of the Venezuelan population. Obviously, negotiating technology transfers between two governments has nothing to do with Venezuela’s independence or form of government. The Monroe Doctrine is as irrelevant in this case as can be.

P.S. Incidentally, as Greg Scoblete mentions, Venezuela is thousands over a thousand miles away from the continental United States. No one would take seriously the idea that countries that far away from Russia were in Russia’s “backyard,” but a common American expectation of hemispheric hegemony lets us imagine that we have some claim on nations that are as far removed from us as Iraq is from Russia.

7 comments

Foreign Policy Does Not Flow From the Will of the People

Quite often, America’s most pro-Israel politicians are people who don’t get much Jewish money or many Jewish votes. Sarah Palin had an Israeli flag in her office when she was Governor of Alaska; this didn’t help her much with Joe Klein, and it didn’t make her the toast of the Upper West Side. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was the most consistent supporter of a hard-line pro-Israel position among the top presidential contenders in 2008; somehow, the Jewish vote didn’t come through for him. ~Walter Russell Mead

If Mead limited his argument to arguing that there are and always have been ardently pro-Israel Christians in the United States, no one would bother contesting the claim, because it is so obvious. Once again, he has thoroughly demolished an argument about U.S. Israel policy that no one of any consequence in America is making. However, he remains committed to his genuinely odd notion that U.S. foreign policy is guided by popular consensus rather than entrenched interests, and then he makes statements like the one quoted above. It is hard to think of any policy overseas in the last seventy years that has flowed out of a pre-existing public consensus. More than almost any other kind of policy, foreign policy is something fashioned at an elite level and then rationalized or justified to the public after the fact. Public opinion on foreign policy issues does not existy fully formed, but it is constantly being shaped by what the political class and media tell the public about these issues. Mead is actively creating the consensus that he pretends has always existed.

Presumably, Mead understands the religious and ideological reasons why Palin and Huckabee are hard-liners on anything related to Israel, and he must also know that groups such as CUFI exist to represent the views of hard-line Christian Zionists and to bring pressure to bear on politicians. CUFI doesn’t speak for all evangelicals, and probably doesn’t even speak for most of them, and the hard-line positions of Palin and Huckabee do not simply grow out of a pre-existing consensus among their conservative constituents. These are positions that they have learned to adopt, or have been conditioned to adopt, because they understand what is expected of Republican politicians with ambitions of higher office. Part of what is expected is unfliching support for allies no matter how harmful the alliance or allied policy is to the interests of the United States. To the extent that Palin and Huckabee are already predisposed to the same kind of reckless hawkishness they endorse with respect to Israel and Palestine, they will be happy to oblige.

To the extent that a consensus on Israel exists on the right, it is something that has been fashioned by conservative political and intellectual leaders over decades, and it is something that has been reinforced through a steady diet of slanted or incomplete news coverage, government propaganda, and the constantly repeated claim that Israel is a reliable ally. Young conservatives receive this information from virtually every conservative media outlet they encounter, they have it reinforced for them by virtually every conservative columnist they read, and they are taught to look askance at any self-styled conservative who offers a dissenting view. This sort of ideological conditioning is hardly unique to this issue, and it certainly isn’t unique to the right, but it is helpful to focus on this example to understand where part of the rigid, uniform, fanatical support for “pro-Israel” policies in America comes from.

One side of the issue has dedicated, organized activists, and the other side does not have anything like the same intensity or organization. One side has effectively dominated the public discussion of the issue for decades, not because they happen to be telling the public what it already wants to hear, but because they have been trying to shape public opinion for decades. Most politicians are not going to try going against the tide by actively courting the displeasure of organized activists on an issue that doesn’t actually matter to them much one way or the other.

It is useful to look at a different case of irrational U.S. acquiescence to the uncompromising policies of another government and unflagging support for said government to understand how some of this works. The United States has no conceivable national interest in the Caucasus that merits the degree of support our government has given to Georgia over the last seven years, but that has not stopped a strong bipartisan consensus from forming around the idea that the U.S. must show unwavering support for Georgia no matter what it does. This has already had disastrous effects for U.S.-Russian relations and for Georgia itself in 2008. The complete failure of this approach has not discouraged members of both parties from insisting on toeing a Georgian nationalist line that can only undermine U.S. relations with Russia and encourage Georgia in its own dead-end obsession with winning back lost territories. Obviously, there is no national consensus for unstinting support for Georgia, about which most Americans know little or nothing, nor is there broad pro-Georgian sentiment that has made this happen, as Mead’s thesis would require. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t powerful interests that have a stake in getting the U.S. to meddle into the Caucasus to the detriment of the U.S., Georgia and Russia. Of course, there is a Georgia lobby, and it doesn’t need to be especially large or powerful to wield outsized influence thanks to the lack of much concerted opposition.

“Changing America’s mind about the Middle East” isn’t hard because Americans have such deeply-rooted, firm beliefs about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship or anything else in the region. It is hard because so few Americans care about U.S. policy in the region enough to give it much thought, much less bother with promoting alternatives to the status quo.

5 comments

“Aqua Buddha,” Christianity and Libertarianism

Jim Antle addresses an important point regarding responses to Jack Conway’s bizarre “Aqua Buddha” ad:

Zengerle’s TNR colleague Jonathan Chait opined that “Rand Paul harbors a private contempt for Christianity” based on really little more than college-era letters Paul wrote about Ayn Rand. But there are lots of people who have imbibed the objectivist thinker’s individualism and libertarianism without embracing her anti-Christianity, probably in greater numbers than radical liberation theologians who square Marxism with Chrisitianity.

It’s certainly true that there are are hard-core Ayn Rand devotees who are also vehemently anti-Christian, but Jim is right that agreeing with Rand on certain political questions need not imply an endorsement of her other views. Indeed, one thing that most libertarians have in common is their practical indifference to religion when it comes to the activities of the government. They have no interest in promoting it, and would find state promotion of religion obnoxious, but they aren’t particularly antagonistic towards religious belief, either. Even if it were true that Rand Paul harbors contempt for Christianity, for which there appears to be zero evidence, that might alienate some voters, but it would have no effect on what he believes the government should be doing. Of course, it isn’t true, which makes the attack that much more laughable and desperate.

What is even more odd is that the substance of Rand Paul’s opposition to funding for faith-based initiatives puts him on the side of many Christian conservatives who view any government funding of charitable and religious institutions as a potential threat to the religious liberty of those institutions. For these Christians, faith-based initiatives do not represent constructive cooperation between government and religious institutions, but are simply another form of intrusion and potential control. By emphasizing Paul’s opposition to this funding, the ad is almost certainly going to make him more popular among the conservative Christians who are supposed to be scandalized by it. Besides being offensive and untrue, Conway’s ad has the added flaw that there is no significant constituency that is going to respond to the ad’s message.

8 comments

Newsflash: O’Donnell Doesn’t Know Very Much

It is hardly news that Christine O’Donnell is a talking head with dreams of being a television celebrity, so I’m not sure that it proves much of anything when she demonstrates that she doesn’t know much about the amendments to the Constitution. Andrew focused on her apparent ignorance of the First Amendment near the end of the video, but I thought the far more telling moment was when she asked her questioner to explain to her what the 14th and 16th Amendments were. Actual constitutionalists have at least some basic familiarity with these, not least since they tend to see these amendments and later interpretations of the 14th Amendment as having been particularly damaging to republican self-government. Based on her responses, O’Donnell not only doesn’t agree with them, but she wouldn’t even be conversant with the relevant arguments. So we can confirm what a lot of people already knew: Christine O’Donnell is a professional political activist who has no real grounding in the fundamental law she has been repeatedly invoking as the core of her beliefs during this campaign season, and as far as respecting the Constitution is concerned she is simply a phony. Anyone on the right who wants to keep defending her as anything else is wasting his time and embarrassing himself.

The real shame is that O’Donnell could have had a valid point on the question of church-state separation, but she didn’t begin to know how to make it. As an activist and talking head, she has learned slogans about the separation of church and state, but evidently she has not learned anything more than that. The establishment clause has been wildly and mistakenly misinterpreted so that a restriction created solely to prevent the federal government from imposing a religion on the states has been turned into a general imperative for all levels of government. This is not what critics of the Constitution wanted when they argued for a guarantee that the federal government would not establish a religion, but more important it is an unnecessary and obnoxious restriction of the free exercise of religion. Of course, one has to know that the establishment clause exists and know what it says before one can criticize its misinterpretation.

P.S. I should add that O’Donnell’s defenders have already attributed arguments to her that she never made. She sat there grinning like a fool, not realizing that she had been thoroughly discredited by the exchange, and they confidently declare that she has superior understanding of the Constitution because they know that the “wall of separation” line came from Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. This reminds me of the ridiculous contortionism some Palin defenders engaged in during the ’08 campaign when she would say something that betrayed her awesome cluelessness. As I said then:

Over the last few weeks, I have been watching Palin’s defenders deploying their expertise to make sense of answers by Palin that were wrong, insufficient or embarrassing. When she manifestly knew nothing about the Bush Doctrine, her defenders chimed in that her answer was fine because the precise definition of such a doctrine–if there really is a doctrine or just a jumble of policies–is so intensely disputed. In short, the sheer nuance and complexity of an issue excused her utter cluelessness, or, to put it another way, she knew so little about the subject that she would have no way of knowing that Biden or Gibson erred. When she talked vaguely about Putin rearing his head, there was only a relative handful of people who could have deciphered that she was referring to long-range Russian bomber flights. Even on something like that, where presumably Palin did know something about what she was saying, she could not articulate it. No doubt her claim that she reads “all” newspapers will soon be cited as proof of her voracious appetite for knowledge and her curiosity about the world. What Palin’s defenders are showing is that it takes well-informed, very engaged policy wonks to lend even minimal coherence to her statements.

Update: O’Donnell’s campaign put out a statement explicitly denying that O’Donnell believes what her defenders claim she believes:

In this morning’s WDEL debate, Christine O’Donnell was not questioning the concept of separation of church and state as subsequently established by the courts. She simply made the point that the phrase appears nowhere in the Constitution.

If that were the case, it would mean that O’Donnell is pedantic as well as clueless. If she wasn’t questioning “the concept of separation of church and state as subsequently established by the courts,” why was she complaining about a court ruling against a school board that wanted to teach I.D.?

24 comments

Not Thinking Clearly

Though there is plenty of competition, these are some of the most arrogant words ever uttered by an American president. ~Michael Gerson

Gerson should know a thing or two about arrogant words uttered by Presidents, since he was responsible for writing some of the most insanely presumptuous and hubristic presidential statements of the last fifty years. So it’s a bit rich to hear Gerson tell us about the political dangers of presidential arrogance. That’s not what interests me about Gerson’s article and the avalanche of commentary that has followed the report of Obama’s statement. What I find remarkable is how thoroughly Obama’s critics misunderstand him.

Obama is expressing the bewilderment of someone who has made the mistake of thinking that voters normally behave rationally and then stop behaving rationally when they are under pressure. Obama may be an “intellectual snob” in some respects, but his statement about scared voters doesn’t tell us this. The problem isn’t that Obama attributes irrationality to voters now. His mistake came from attributing rationality to voters in the past. This is an easy mistake to make: “the people” are wise and intelligent when they agree with me, and have become inexplicably dense when they do not.

What is odd is that Obama seems to think that voters were not scared and were “thinking clearly” in the wake of the financial crisis (when arguably very few people were thinking clearly), but have become unduly fearful in the years since then, and he compounds the error by assuming that the public has well-defined policy preferences that can only be obscured or blocked by fear. Obama actually makes the same mistake that conservative pundits have been making all year, which is the mistake of identifying voter behavior in terms of ideological content and support for or opposition to a policy agenda. The difference is that Obama believes that 2008 represented a vote for his agenda, while the conservative pundits assume that 2010 is a vote against his agenda, when the truth is that his agenda has been more or less irrelevant to the dynamics of both elections.

Voting ideologically or voting on policy is not the way most voters vote, which is maddening to political observers, activists and politicians who are trying to make some sense out of the indecipherable mish-mash of contradictory preferences the majority presents to them. If one makes the reasonable, mistaken assumption that 2008 was a positive endorsement of the agenda Obama campaigned on, the current political situation doesn’t make much sense. After all, Obama largely did more or less what he said he would do, and in thanks for largely keeping his campaign promises his party is about to be badly punished. To the extent that he has disappointed anyone, as every politican inevitably will, it is progressives who have every right to complain that they have been shortchanged.

Gerson’s reaction and feigned outrage are typical of conservative pundits who have concluded on the basis of no evidence that the public’s expression of economic anxiety and discontent have some discernible ideological meaning, and further that this meaning is undeniably in line with a debt-slashing austerity agenda. Obama and the conservative pundits are all trying to give voters credit for careful deliberation and sober decision-making at some point, which is what politicians and activists have to do if they want to avoid offending large numbers of voters. Obama’s critics naturally want to say that Obama is insulting the intelligence of the voters, but all that he is saying is that he thinks voters really are intelligent and must be confused if they want to vote in what Obama must think is a foolish, destructive way. This is more or less what Obama’s opponents believed about Obama voters in the fall of 2008. Far from being some revelation of Obama’s character, his statement doesn’t amount to much more than a claim that he believes voters are misguided if they vote for Republicans, which is presumably what most Democrats believe. It is also what most Republicans believe about Democratic voters.

As usual, the truth about Obama is that he is not as exceptional or strange or different or unprecedented as everyone wants him to be in one way or another. He is a conventional center-left Democrat who thinks supporting Republican politicians at the polls is a mistake, and just like every Republican who tears up about our supposedly “center-right country” Obama assumes that the majority would normally be on his side were it not for extraordinary circumstances.

6 comments

Tea Parties and Fairness

A few things came to mind when I was reading Jonathan Haidt’s article on Tea Partiers’ desire for what he calls “karma.” If Haidt is correct that Tea Parties want a world in which the truly deserving prosper and wrongdoers are punished in their present lives, it is not really karma that they want. Speaking very generally, karma is a concept that tries to explain how the evidently unfair and unjust state of affairs that we see all around us can be reconciled with ideals of justice and moral responsibility. Yes, eventually unjust actions are supposed to lead to ruin, but this can take a very long time. Discontented Americans today are interested in a more immediate reckoning.

Karma is an idea intended to help those suffering from injustice cope with the reality that justice in this world is often elusive and abuses of power and wealth often seem to go unpunished. The Christian equivalent of this idea is not a work ethic, but rather the conviction that the righteous will receive their reward in the kingdom of heaven and that the wicked will suffer damnation. Both take it for granted that righteousness and rewards in this life very rarely go together. Let me go out on a limb to suggest that neither of these has much to do with Rick Santelli’s complaints. Santelli had no problem with the financial sector bailout, but vehemently complained about relief measures for debtors. To put it a bit crudely, it is the Santellis of the world who make people want to believe that there is some higher moral law or some divinely-instituted justice that holds everyone accountable, because in this world it is so very clear that there are two sets of rules: one for the powerful and wealthy, and another for the rest. Put another way, if the Tea Partiers desire fairness and a world in which reward depends on effort and talent, they shouldn’t have anything to do with Santelli, who cheered throwing their tax dollars at Wall Street and deeply resented far fewer tax dollars being directed towards relief for the middle class.

That doesn’t mean Haidt hasn’t identified a core grievance of Tea Partiers and many other Americans along with them, but he is misdescribing it. At its heart, Haidt has identified a strong desire for fairness and order. The financial sector bailout was profoundly offensive to most Americans because it so blatantly rewarded the powerful, the wealthy and the connected, and it happened because of their ruinous failure. It was even more offensive because it was sold as a dire emergency measure and dressed up as something being done for the benefit of all, when it was not necessary and was never used for its original purposes. The bailout mocked ideas of fairness and responsibility, and on top of that its defenders insulted the intelligence of everyone opposed to it by pretending that it was a vitally necessary program.

Update: I stand corrected. Santelli claims he never supported any of the bailouts. If that was true in 2008, I never saw it, but I’ll accept that I got this wrong. I regret the error.

14 comments

Principled Wartime Conformity

Will Wilkinson seems amazed that the leaders of “organized Protestantism” in 1942 espoused very internationalist and collectivist political views. First, I’m not sure why this is so remarkable. As Wilkinson partly acknowledges, this is not that radically different when compared to the politics of most mainline Protestant denominations and most member churches of the WCC today. For another thing, the positions reported in the Time article conformed to all of the views that good liberal Christians were supposed to have after U.S. entry into the war. It’s all there: the wartime vilification of nationalist causes, confidence in economic regimentation and collective organization, and support for strong international institutions in keeping with the conventional internationalist piety that the U.S. had contributed to the breakdown in global order because of our alleged “isolationism.” In other words, the leaders of “organized Protestantism” expressed their enthusiasm for what happened to be the prevailing ideology of the day and succumbed with amazing speed to the official propaganda campaign of the moment. Normally, this is the sort of thing that would get Wilkinson very agitated, but apparently not when it involves “principled, cosmopolitan globalism.”

It’s a generous assumption that the cosmopolitan globalism in question was, in fact, “principled” and not an embarrassing expression of wartime conformism. What’s even more strange is that Wilkinson regrets that this 1942 vision of regimentation, collectivism and global government did not come to pass. Had the conference attendees had their way, the U.N. would have had “the power of final judgment in controversies between nations . . the regulation of international trade and population movements among nations,” and the world government they imagined would be run by “an international legislative body, an international court with adequate jurisdiction, international-administrative bodies with necessary powers, and adequate international police forces and provision for enforcing its worldwide economic authority.” Whatever else one wants to say about that, it would have involved an overall reduction in economic liberty and self-government.

3 comments

Facing Down The Threat Of Absentee Voting

But traditionally, to get an absentee ballot you had to give a specific reason that you would be unable to make it to your regular polling place on election day. But in the last couple of decades a growing number of states are dropping these restrictions, allowing anyone to vote by mail without giving a reason. ~Tim Lee

Via Andrew

As a regular absentee voter, I don’t see the problem with ending these restrictions. More to the point, the requirement to give a specific reason for being absent wouldn’t change anything. It would simply create one more hoop for absentee voters to jump through, and there would be no way to verify if that reason is valid or not. If I had been required to give a specific reason why I couldn’t be at my polling place when filling out my absentee ballot application in years past, I would have had to give the same reason for each of the last four general elections: I was out of state on election day because I was a student. That’s true, but there would have been no effort to verify that.

This year is a bit different in that I just moved back to Illinois, but I did not find the time in the last month and a half to register here before the deadline. Once again, I applied for an absentee ballot in New Mexico, where I am registered. Were absentee voting rules more restrictive, or were absentee voting not permitted, I probably would not be able to vote in this year’s election. Given the laughable choices available, that wouldn’t be so terrible as far as I’m concerned, but that isn’t the point. Absentee voting is essential to making it much easier for people to move around the country without being cut off from the electoral process, and it is also very important for enfranchising students in their home states. I suppose students can and do register wherever they happen to be, but that isn’t something that they should have to do, and fortunately they don’t.

I don’t know which party is more adversely affected by restrictions on absentee voting. Based on my understanding of absentee returns in Albuquerque, I believe Republican and right-leaning voters would be disadvantaged if absentee voting were more difficult, but that would probably vary by district and state. Regardless, keeping people who vote absentee out of the process or making it more difficult for them to participate in the political process seems far worse than the unlikely scenarios Lee has proposed. Come to think of it, if there are husbands who insist on pressuring their wives to vote the same way, they are going to exert that pressure whether or not there is a secret ballot. If employers are going to pressure their employees to vote a certain way, those pressures are probably going to be unspoken and subtle, and they wouldn’t be avoided by restricting or ending absentee voting.

13 comments

Occupation and Withdrawal

Pape is not arguing that U.S. troops provoke suicide terrorist campaigns wherever they land, but that suicide terrorist campaigns cannot be explained without the presence of foreign (not simply American) military forces operating on territory the terrorists prize. ~Greg Scoblete, responding to Kori Schake

That’s right. Schake is in such a hurry to attack Pape’s “offshore balancing” recommendations that she misrepresents Pape’s core argument about suicide terrorism. As Prof. Pape has been arguing for years (including this 2005 interview with Scott McConnell for TAC), the goal of suicide terrorism is to inflict enough damage on a country’s civilian population that its government feels compelled to withdraw. Unfortunately, around the same time Prof. Pape gave his interview to TAC, the London bombings in July 2005 re-confirmed everything he had been saying in connection with the Iraq war. Here is Pape’s claim:

The central fact is that overwhelmingly suicide-terrorist attacks are not driven by religion as much as they are by a clear strategic objective: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from the territory that the terrorists view as their homeland [bold mine-DL]. From Lebanon to Sri Lanka to Chechnya to Kashmir to the West Bank, every major suicide-terrorist campaign—over 95 percent of all the incidents—has had as its central objective to compel a democratic state to withdraw.

Of course, the nature and origin of the military presence are significant factors in all of this, which is why Pape emphasizes foreign occupation as the driving factor. A military presence that results from an invasion or military intervention or as part of an occupation and/or counterinsurgency policy will typically generate violent opposition. A military presence that results from a basing agreement with a national government that is perceived as legitimate usually will not provoke violent opposition. This seems to be most obviously true for the American experience with suicide terrorism. The U.S. intervened in Lebanon on the side of Israel and its Lebanese allies, deployed Marines to Beirut, suffered a horrific attack from Hizbullah and then withdrew soon thereafter. Once they had achieved the objective of forcing the U.S. out of their country, there were no more attacks. Crucially, there never would have been any attacks had the U.S. not intervened where it had no business going.

Contrary to the mythology some of the more enthusiastic anti-jihadists like to promote, Hizbullah terrorists did not “follow us back home,” because Hizbullah was fundamentally a Shi’ite resistance movement in Lebanon that doesn’t particularly care about what America was doing as long as it wasn’t interfering in Lebanon. Reagan’s error regarding Lebanon was not his decision to withdraw in the wake of the barracks bombing, which some hawks still think was a “sign of weakness.” His error was obviously the reckless decision to deploy American soldiers into the midst of an international and civil war in which America had nothing at stake.

Where I partially agree with Schake is in her criticism of an “offshore balancing” approach that prioritizes removing U.S. forces and relying on military strikes from afar. This is a policy recommendation for conceivably endless war with no guarantee that it would lead to fewer terrorist attacks. On the contrary, it seems likely to generate more attacks, including more attacks by radicalized individuals here in the U.S, because these strikes from afar are more likely to lead to civilian casualties. That will generate greater resentment against the U.S. It seems to me that this is not very different from the “counter-terrorist” approach to Afghanistan that the previous administration largely followed. “Offshore balancing” of this kind doesn’t eliminate the basic problem that Pape identifies as the cause of suicide terrorism, which is that this sort of terrorism feeds off of resentment of foreign military intervention as such.

Long-term occupation is one form of this, but we would be foolish to think that we can routinely bomb another country without generating the same violent reaction. Instead of trying to force withdrawal, terrorist attacks would have the cessation of attacks as their goal. It is one thing to argue that we should not have a military presence in Afghanistan because it feeds the instability and violence the government is presumably trying to reduce, but it is quite another to claim that the U.S. can remove its forces from a country, reserve the right to continue attacking it at will, and that this still counts as a real withdrawal. The trouble here is that Pape seems not to have taken his own claims about the causes of terrorism as seriously as he should, which has given Schake an opportunity to dismiss his important and valid claims along with his more questionable recommendations.

Update on 10/18: Yesterday, Prof. Pape put up a response to Schake’s argument (via David Benson). I recommend reading all of it, but I should point out that he specifically addresses that his off-shore balancing recommendation does not include heavy reliance on drone strikes:

Finally, I agree that replacing mass boots with mass drones would be a mistake — since vast numbers of air strikes could do inflict more than enough collateral damage to incite terrorism in response — exactly what CUTTING THE FUSE explains and why off-shore balancing means responding with stand-off military forces against significant size terrorist camps like Tarnak Farms (a military base larger than the Pentagon) and not every third ranking cadre in individual houses in Quetta, where more selective or even non-military means may well be more effective.

2 comments

Why Military Spending Stays Off Limits

You might think that in a time of near-universal worry about the growing deficit, a Democratic president might take the opportunity to trim the defense budget by a few bombs. But holding military spending at its current levels—much less trimming it by the trillion-or-so dollars that experts say could be cut—apparently isn’t on the table. Obama wouldn’t even include military spending in his proposed spending freeze. As an influential critic of military spending once said about the country’s ongoing indulgence in defense pork, “Twenty years after the Cold War ended, this is simply not acceptable. It’s irresponsible. Our troops and our taxpayers deserve better.” That’s true, and could be pretty good guidance for a willing politician. And all it would take for the president to follow it would be for him to listen to his own advice. ~Peter Suderman

Via Andrew

Peter is absolutely right that Obama’s military budgets are indefensible, but we certainly shouldn’t be surprised. Since he was elected to the Senate, Obama has never been a particularly strong critic of the size of the U.S. military, nor has he seriously challenged the idea that the military should be used all over the globe. Complaining about pork and waste in military spending is all very well, but when it does not include criticism of the sheer size of the overall military budget it is the equivalent of complaining about earmarks while ignoring entitlement spending. It is a fiscally meaningless gesture that is supposed to signal that you take excessive spending seriously when you obviously don’t. At the same time, Obama has been assailed from the start of his term as a neo-isolationist, defense-slashing fool. Despite continually increasing the Pentagon’s budget, he has regularly been accused of reducing it. His modest arms reduction treaty has been portrayed as a capitulation to Russia, and hawks simply ignore his funding for nuclear arsenal modernization because they have re-defined “modernization” to mean building an entirely new arsenal. Hawks have been screaming about Obama’s alleged hostility to missile defense at the same time that Obama pursues missile defense in eastern Europe. Even if Obama were inclined to cut military spending, the bipartisan caterwauling this would unleash would prevent him from making any headway. As we should all know by now, Obama doesn’t challenge or buck entrenched interests, and that is exactly what warfare state reform would require.

Suppose that Obama had proposed real, large cuts to the Pentagon’s budget. The hawks would be screaming even more loudly, but they would now be able to point to real reductions in military spending rather than inventing them out of thin air. This would probably be to the political advantage of Republican hawks, since the majority of the public is as indifferent to excessive spending in the Pentagon as they are to entitlement spending. Most voters are likely to react poorly to proposals that will “make America weaker,” as the hawks will inevitably claim. If Obama were actually the enthusiast for nuclear disarmament and foe of missile defense the hawks desperately need him to be, they would be hitting him twice as hard as they are now, but instead of making things up they would be attacking Obama’s actual policies.

None of this excuses the administration’s fiscal irresponsibility, but it should make clear that there will be no significant reductions in military spending until the leadership in both parties agree not to use those reductions to bludgeon the other side. If we do end up with a Republican House majority, that will in some respects be the worst of both worlds, since there is no powerful constituency in the GOP that wants military spending cuts and Presidents rarely offer to trim the part of the budget that gives them so much power and freedom of action. Republican Presidents typically wouldn’t think of doing this, and Democratic Presidents have no reason to try, since they are going to be accused of gutting American “defense” no matter what they actually do.

That makes things sound rather grim, and perhaps they are. The constituencies that strongly support reductions in military spending are progressives, libertarians and deficit hawks, which also happen to be three constituencies with the least influence in their respective parties when it comes to national security policies. Obama’s military budgets are huge because there are no significant political obstacles to making them that way and there are no political incentives to make them smaller. A first, small step in changing the way we talk about military spending involves referring to military spending as just that. If military spending is ever going to be reduced, most Americans will need to acknowledge that the vast majority of military spending has a tenuous or non-existent relationship to the defense of the United States. At the very least, critics of that spending should avoid casually referring to it as defense spending, when that is not the purpose of most of these expenditures.

6 comments
← Older posts Newer posts →