Daniel Larison

A Disgraceful Distortion

Walter Russell Mead’s paean to the “victory” in Iraq is baffling. It is an extended version of the disgraceful “fly-strip” argument for the war that hawks began circulating after the original reasons for attacking Iraq were quickly discredited. Since the war in Iraq did not actually have anything to do with fighting Al Qaeda, the new excuse for this colossal strategic error and moral failure was that the war would bring jihadists to Iraq and create the opportunity to eliminate them there. Some hawks added on the ludicrous claim that “we’re fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here,” which conveniently ignored that they were “there” mainly because of our military presence. The occupation of Iraq encouraged massive jihadist recruitment and led to a spike in jihadist atrocities against the unfortunate Iraqi population (not to mention attacks on allied capitals by groups sympathetic to Al Qaeda).

These jihadists had not had a significant presence in Iraq prior to the invasion, but between the security vacuum that the war created and the rallying effect that the occupation had they briefly acquired one. After the population suffered greatly enough from jihadist brutality, terrorist attacks and sectarian conflict, they did recoil from those jihadists that had exploited and used the war for their own ends, but only after hundreds of thousands of Iraqis had died and millions were displaced or driven into exile, and tens of thousands of Americans were killed or wounded. The Iraq war needlessly opened a country to jihadist violence, and it was largely thanks to the jihadists’ own discrediting tactics that Iraq’s Sunnis turned against them. If there has been some sort of victory, it has been won at far too high a price.

American soldiers did achieve real military successes, and they did display great skill, courage, and competence in performing their duties in Iraq, and they did so despite being disastrously ill-served by their leadership at home. If we don’t fully acknowledge just how wasteful and needless the Iraq war has been, we are likely paving the way for similar blunders in the future, and it will be the soldiers who will be among those that suffer the most as a result. As Prof. Bacevich wrote in a very powerful column late last week, the empty rhetoric of “supporting the troops” masks a commitment to perpetual war whose burdens will be shouldered entirely by American soldiers:

As a practical matter, they [the civilian leaders] devote themselves to war’s perpetuation, closing one front while opening another. More strikingly still, we the people allow our leaders to evade this basic responsibility to articulate a plan for peace. By implication, we endorse the unspoken assumption that peace has become implausible.

Here at last we come to the dirty little secret that underlines all the chatter about “supporting the troops.” The people in charge don’t really believe that the burdens borne by our soldiers will ever end and they are not really looking for ways to do so.

As Prof. Bacevich notes, we are all complicit in this shameful abuse of our soldiers, because we refuse to hold our government accountable for their decisions to wage war. One reason for that lack of accountability is the activity of shameless apologists for unnecessary wars.

Mead writes:

The coalition victory in Iraq was a historical turning point that may well turn out to be comparable to the cannonade of Valmy. It changed the course of world history.

This is insane. The war in Iraq had some significant effects on the surrounding region, and most of them were harmful, but the humbling truth is that “the course of world history” would not have been much different had U.S. and allied forces departed from Iraq in 2005 before the occupation invited the worst of the violence that Iraqis suffered, nor would it have been all that different if U.S. and allied forces had cut their losses and come home in 2007. Iraq might or might not have been worse off than it is today, but considering how awful living conditions in Iraq still are it is hard to imagine how they could be that much worse.

One cannot properly honor the fallen and wounded soldiers in an unnecessary war if one cannot first come to grips with the reality that the war was unnecessary and not all that significant for the rest of the world. Iraq war supporters have consistently exaggerated the importance of the war for U.S. security and the rest of the region (and indeed for the rest of the world), and some of them continue to imagine that this major strategic blunder has been redeemed from failure to success. Exaggerating the significance of the war for the rest of the world does not respect the sacrifices that Americans, Iraqis, and other nations have made there, but disgracefully tries to distort reality. This is done not to acknowledge the achievements of American forces, nor is it done for the sake of honoring the fallen and wounded, but to gratify those who supported this disaster every step of the way and whose hubris and poor judgment plunged American and allied soldiers into a war that they should never have been called on to fight.


Hawks and Allies

“It is certain that Poland is one of the most pro-American countries in Europe, only that the temperature of that pro-Americanism has fallen,” said Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister, in an interview with the Rzeczpospolita newspaper this week.

When asked why Poland is no longer as enthusiastic about America, Sikorski replied: “It comes from American mistakes. The administration of President Bush promised all sorts of things to the [social-democratic government which ruled from 2002 to 2005] in return for our engagement in Iraq — and did not follow through. Now we are seeing the consequences.” ~Jan Cienski

Cienski’s article is another helpful reminder that the claim that the current administration “betrayed” or “abandoned” Poland as part of the “reset” with Russia was always deeply misleading. Poland already felt ill-used by the Bush administration on account of Iraq, and it was, but hardly anyone referred to Bush-era mistreatment of Poland. While the missile defense decision didn’t help U.S.-Polish relations directly, it ended up matching up more closely with the stronger European orientation of Poland’s current government, and improved U.S.-Russian relations has made it easier Poland to pursue more constructive relationships with Russia. Certainly, the Polish political elite was irritated and embarrassed by the administration’s decision to cancel the missile defense installation in Poland, and it was understandably annoyed by the way the decision was made, but in the end the decision was better for the U.S. and Poland. Cienski notes:

The project had been supported by political elites in both countries as a bulwark against Russian aggression [bold mine-DL], but it never found much favor with the broader Polish public.

It’s important to note here that in the eyes of the Kaczynski government the missile defense installation was valuable because it was seen as anti-Russian move. While the Bush administration defended the plan by invoking a non-existent Iranian missile threat, both Polish supporters and Russian critics of the plan understood what it was supposed to represent.

The hysterical way that American hawks reacted to the decision to cancel the missile defense plan is instructive for understanding how they define U.S. and allied security interests. Hawks tend to apply the same definition no matter which ally it is. According to this definition, U.S. and allied security depends on the U.S. endorsing the most confrontational and nationalistic policy view in the allied country, which in practice means that U.S. “support” for an ally becomes identified with American acquiescence to relatively hard-line nationalist allied policies, and any reluctance or refusal to acquiesce is dubbed betrayal, abandonment, or put under the catch-all label of appeasement. In this way, American hawks insist that the U.S. not only tolerate, but actively indulge Israeli intransigence regarding its settlements and occupation, and any attempt to challenge the allied government on these points is viewed as a hostile act. Likewise, American hawks believe the U.S. should enable and encourage Georgian intransigence vis-a-vis Russia and endorse unrealistic goals of reclaiming the lost separatist republics. In some respects, this isn’t surprising, since hard-liners abroad tend to view their neighbors in the same way that American hawks do, and they endorse the same sort of confrontational policies. What’s important to take away from all this is that American hawks have just as much of a warped definition of allied interests as they have of U.S. security interests, and when they charge that the administration has “betrayed” an ally it is a safe bet that the allied government the hawks are backing is pursuing a reckless, confrontational policy towards its neighbors.

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The Crazy, Inexplicable Demand Revisited

It would be a great and fitting irony if the victory of Democratic scare tactics in NY-26 spooks other Republicans into backing off from bold deficit reform and reduction plans, which in turn forces Ryan into the presidential race—ultimately the Democrats’ worst nightmare. ~Bill Kristol

Yes, I can see them shaking in terror already. Who actually believes this? Are there people in Obama’s camp worrying about having to face a single-issue Congressman identified with a very unpopular budget that includes significant entitlement reform? It’s hard to see why they would. If the “scare tactics” succeed in getting other Republicans to flee from his plan, wouldn’t that be an indication that Ryan shouldn’t run? More to the point, if the “scare tactics” are working, wouldn’t that hint that Ryan’s candidacy is going to be unsuccessful?

In addition to having little credibility on fiscal responsibility thanks to past votes, he spent the better part of the last two years joining with his party leadership in attacking the Democratic health care legislation because it included cuts to Medicare. Technically, Ryan objected to these cuts because they were going to fund the provisions of the new legislation, and Ryan would say that his plan saves Medicare by preventing it from going bankrupt. It is possible that Ryan could persuade voters that these two positions are consistent, and that his previous opposition to Medicare cuts wasn’t simply an attempt to use the same “scare tactics” that he now decries when they are used against his plan. Indeed, the latest refrain from Ryan and his supporters is that opponents of the Ryan plan would prefer for Medicare to go bankrupt, and so even in defending their large cuts to the program they feel compelled to continue presenting themselves as defenders of Medicare.

Peter Suderman commented on the backlash to the Ryan plan earlier this week:

During the ObamaCare debate and the 2010 election, the party’s loudest, most frequent criticism of last year’s health care overhaul was that it cut Medicare. That was an effective message, but also a short-sighted one. Now as Republicans look for ways to reform Medicare on their own, their own words are coming back to haunt them.

As someone who would like to see Medicare overhauled along the lines that Ryan proposes, I can’t say it’s fun to watch. But the GOP—Rep. Ryan and a handful of others excepted—helped ensure that the Democrats’ current Medicare message would be popular and effective. One of the reasons Ryan knew what was coming, it’s safe to say, was that his own party had been there before.

The real trouble for Ryan wasn’t just his party that had been there before, but he personally used this line of attack.

Suppose Ryan heeds all of these absurd demands and joins the race. All of the declared and likely Republican candidates have already endorsed Ryan’s plan or something very much like it. His presence in the race will be redundant and could be harmful to him and his plan. Since everyone in the field already agrees with him, he would not be running to draw attention to entitlement reform and force the other candidates in his direction. At first, his rivals will bury him with praise. Everyone on the stage with him will say, “Chairman Ryan is doing outstanding work in Congress, and that is why he should go back there and continue what he started. When I am President, I look forward to working with Chairman Ryan on these and other important issues.” If Ryan actually wants to try to win the nomination, some of his more conservative rivals will then point out that he voted for all the bailouts and Medicare Part D, which will remind voters that his enthusiasm for fiscal responsibility and Medicare solvency is a fairly new thing. The more compromised “main contenders” that have similar problems in their record will embrace Ryan even more closely, but they will also be able to point to Ryan’s past votes to make their own flaws seem less important.

Unless Ryan scores some improbable victories in the primary process, the perception will be that Ryan took his message to Republican primary voters and it was rejected. That won’t be entirely true, since all of the candidates have more or less aligned themselves with his proposal, but it will be one more thing opponents of Ryan and his plan can throw at him. In the meantime, he will have wasted months on a fruitless presidential bid that could have been spent on legislative work. A Ryan candidacy will likely be about as successful as Fred Thompson’s, but its failure will have some significant consequences for Ryan’s ideas.

It is not unique to their party, but Republicans have a particularly bad habit of wanting to promote their new political talent too quickly. Many of their Senators and governors are barely in office before partisans begin building them up as possible VP or presidential candidates, and usually this means that the partisans want them to jump in as soon as possible before they have done anything. The calls for Ryan to run are an extreme form of this impulse to draft young politicians before they are ready. What is worse is that they are being driven by the delusion that Ryan’s plan is not politically toxic and sheer desperation on account of the perceived weaknesses of the other candidates.


What Might Have Been

Similarly, had John McCain lost with Tim Pawlenty as his running mate in 2008 (and he would have), Pawlenty would have had at least as good a shot as Mitt Romney of taking the nomination this time around, his uninspiring persona notwithstanding. ~Noah Millman

It’s an intriguing suggestion, but I doubt it. Losing VP nominees rarely return later to become their party’s nominee, and when it has happened it has sometimes been many elections after the VP nomination. Yes, it happened in 1984 and 1996, but Mondale had been the Vice President when the Democrats lost in 1980, and Dole had to wait twenty years for “his turn” to arrive. Except for Mondale and Dole, no postwar losing VP nominee has prevailed or even been all that competitive in later contests. Quayle expressed interest in running during the 2000 cycle, but he couldn’t raise any money, and some conservatives talked up a Kemp candidacy at the same time to no avail. This is why a VP nomination for Pawlenty in 2008 wouldn’t have done him much good, and it is why Palin is not considered “next in line.”

Had Pawlenty been chosen in 2008, he would have been saddled with all of the baggage of the association with McCain without any of the benefits of the independent cult of personality that grew up around Palin. People wouldn’t have been asking, “Why can’t we have Pawlenty/McCain?” as some of Palin’s fans said about her. They would have been complaining that there was hardly any difference between the two of them, and the muttering and dissatisfaction with McCain would have bled over onto Pawlenty.

Pawlenty would not have had the opportunity to distance himself from all of the positions that he had taken before then, and he would have had to endorse some positions as McCain’s running mate that conservatives disliked. McCain supported a cap-and-trade position during the campaign, and Pawlenty would have had no difficulty agreeing with that. He would have been introduced to the country as a proud supporter of cap-and-trade instead of an embarrassed former supporter. Instead of being able to dodge the bailout issue by claiming to be a merely “reluctant” supporter, he would have been forced to defend McCain’s support of it.

Reinventing himself as the enemy of bailouts is already not very credible, but it would be even less so if he had been McCain’s VP choice. Unlike Palin, he would not have legions of die-hard fans who couldn’t care less about policy. One mixed blessing for Pawlenty is that he would already be nationally known, but everyone would have already formed an opinion about him, and it would have made it harder for him to run later as a “fresh face.” While Pawlenty may have resented being passed over in 2008, he ought to appreciate now that McCain unwittingly did him a favor by allowing him to remain in relative obscurity.


It Was Definitely an I-Word

Ben Smith notices an early Pawlenty blunder:

REPORTER: U.S. foreign policy towards Iran [unintelligible] how would you address contradictions in the U.S? On the one hand we are opposing Iranian policy, but on the other hand by U.S. reconfigurating that part of the world we made Iran dominating Iraq and now we are pinning it on dominating of Pakistan. How would you address this contradiction in our foreign policy?

PAWLENTY: You’re talking about Iran?

REPORTER: Exactly.

PAWLENTY: Yeah, well I think the situation now in Iran is such that Secretary Gates is negotiating with whether the United States military will be there beyond the end of this year. And they’re looking to the Iranians to see if they invite the Americans to stay, invite us to stay. And if they do invite us to stay at some very reduced level I think the United States will be wise, until we make sure that they get to the next level of stability, to accept that invitation. So if Iran makes that invitation by the end of the year, leaving a residual force, a greatly reduced force, but a residual force that would be there for a temporary amount of time. Until they could establish much better air security, until they can develop their intelligence —

The reporter corrects him at this point, and Pawlenty gamely tries to recover. The most that can be said for Pawlenty in this episode is that he is giving better foreign policy answers than Herman Cain. It’s also fair to say that he’s already doing worse than then-Gov. Bush was doing at this point in 1999. It’s pretty clear that he was rehearsing a bad answer on the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, which had almost nothing to do with the question he was asked. He was asked a question about contradictions in U.S. regional policy related to the expansion of Iranian influence, and he wasn’t even attempting to answer that question. He went through his answer substituting the words Iran and Iranians without missing a beat, and that is probably because his grasp of these subjects remains very superficial. If it had just been the name of the country, everyone might be able to shrug it off as a slip of the tongue, but it was more than that.

Can someone explain to me why Pawlenty has been granted the automatic status of being one of the three “serious” Republican candidates? When an acknowledged long-shot candidate flubs something like this, it gets reported and the candidate takes some hits, but no one thinks it matters very much because the long-shot is never going to get anywhere near the nomination. For whatever reason, Pawlenty’s candidacy has been taken seriously from the beginning. As Pawlenty’s foreign policy understanding is placed under greater scrutiny and most likely found lacking, will journalists continue to take his candidacy seriously?


Foreign Policy Still Does Not Flow From the Will of the People

In the middle of a very long diatribe against Obama, Walter Russell Mead trots out one of his overused arguments and takes it to new extremes:

As the stunning and overwhelming response to Prime Minister Netanyahu in Congress showed, Israel matters in American politics like almost no other country on earth. Well beyond the American Jewish and the Protestant fundamentalist communities, the people and the story of Israel stir some of the deepest and most mysterious reaches of the American soul. The idea of Jewish and Israeli exceptionalism is profoundly tied to the idea of American exceptionalism. The belief that God favors and protects Israel is connected to the idea that God favors and protects America.

It means more. The existence of Israel means that the God of the Bible is still watching out for the well-being of the human race. For many American Christians who are nothing like fundamentalists, the restoration of the Jews to the Holy Land and their creation of a successful, democratic state after two thousand years of oppression and exile is a clear sign that the religion of the Bible can be trusted [bold mine-DL].

Being pro-Israel matters in American mass politics because the public mind believes at a deep level that to be pro-Israel is to be pro-America and pro-faith. Substantial numbers of voters believe that politicians who don’t ‘get’ Israel also don’t ‘get’ America and don’t ‘get’ God.

This is littered with a number of falsehoods and half-truths. First, let’s consider the half-truths. Israel matters in American politics as much as it does because well-organized, dedicated activists have worked hard over the last four decades to make it so. There are some religious Americans who see support for Israel in religious terms and in terms of shared “values.” Then there is the vast majority of Americans that doesn’t see the relationship in these terms.

It is a ridiculous exaggeration to say that “the public mind believes that to be pro-Israel is to be pro-America and pro-faith.” For a large part of the public, the issues are and should be unrelated. This is fortunate, since remarkably few Americans actually see Israel as an ally of the United States. Being “pro-Israel” matters because there are strong disincentives to being anything else, and these don’t typically come from the voters. It is true that there are many Christian Zionists in America who roughly fit the description Mead presents here, but their understanding of the relationship between America and the State of Israel and of the relationship of God to the two states is very unrepresentative of most Americans. I am on fairly safe ground saying that most Americans, including most Christians, do not see the establishment in the Holy Land of a secular democratic republic by socialists as vindication of the “religion of the Bible.”

Now let’s look at the falsehoods. Israel does not matter as much it does in American politics because of mystical connections in the American soul, nor is it because of similarities between our nationalist ideologies. When American nationalists appropriate the idea of being a chosen people, this sets up America as a parallel or replacement of Israel, and it openly denies the uniqueness of the covenant made with Israel.

Mead continues:

Obama’s political isolation on this issue, and the haste with which liberal Democrats like Nancy Pelosi left the embattled President to take the heat alone, testify to the pervasive sense in American politics that Israel is an American value.

No, it stems from awareness on the part of members of Congress that there is no incentive in being seen taking a position strongly opposed by “pro-Israel” groups and the Israeli government. This isn’t because of “the pervasive sense that Israel is an American value” (whatever that could mean). It is because “pro-Israel” activists will withdraw support from critical politicians and direct support to their rivals. In that respect, there is nothing mystical or deep to be found. It is simple interest-group politics.

Matt Yglesias offers a useful corrective to this pseudo-spiritual hogwash:

Protecting Israel is a special project taken on by the United States. The reasons may be good and bad, but it’s a burden we undertake. Israel does us no favors and is no use to us. Recognizing that fact hardly solves the decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict, but it ought to be the starting point for what Americans should debate–not Israel’s policy toward its Palestinian subjects but America’s policy toward Israel.


Prolonging Conflict in Libya

As in Iraq and Afghanistan, the weakness of France and Britain is their lack of a local partner who is as powerful and representative as they pretend [bold mine-DL]. In the rebel capital Benghazi there is little sign of the leaders of the transitional national council, which is scarcely surprising, because so much of their time is spent in Paris and London.


The aim of Nato intervention was supposedly to limit civilian casualties, but its leaders have blundered into a political strategy that makes a prolonged conflict and heavy civilian loss of life inevitable.
~Patrick Cockburn

At his new blog, Micah Zenko grades the NATO war in Libya, and gives it a D on the protection of civilians. Zenko explains:

It is unknowable how many would have died in the absence of an outside military intervention. However, before NATO intervened, the number of civilians killed in Libya was comparable to fatalities in the uprisings in Egypt, Yemen, and Syria. The Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, estimated that “500 to 700 persons had been killed in February alone when Libyan security forces had fired live ammunition at demonstrators.” In two months, deaths have escalated dramatically. Last week, a Libyan rebel spokesperson estimated that at least 15,000 people had been killed in the civil war. A running Wikipedia page that uses open-source information, finds 4,900 to 5,800 deaths, and another 900 to 3,100 people missing in Libya.

As the war drags on, it is increasingly likely that intervention will not have helped and will have made things significantly worse. This is what makes the refusal to consider seriously offers of cease-fire so hard to understand. While hostilities continue, relief aid cannot make it to the country’s civilian population, and people trapped in besieged cities such as Misurata cannot be evacuated or provided with the food, water, fuel, and medicine that they very much need. By prolonging and intensifying the conflict, the U.S. and NATO are exacerbating the humanitarian situation in the country for the entire population. A negotiated settlement is imperative if the war is not to create a humanitarian catastrophe larger than the one it was supposed to prevent.

Cockburn considers the possibility of a negotiated settlement:

Could the war be ended earlier by negotiation? Here, again, the problem is the weakness of the organised opposition. If they have the backing of enhanced Nato military involvement they can take power. Without it, they can’t. They therefore have every incentive to demand that Gaddafi goes as a precondition for a ceasefire and negotiations. Since only Gaddafi can deliver a ceasefire and meaningful talks, this means the war will be fought to a finish. The departure of Gaddafi should be the aim of negotiations not their starting point.

As I have said before, U.S. and NATO support for the rebels has given them every incentive to pursue maximalist goals and reject any cease-fire or negotiations in the meantime. By empowering one side in a civil war and giving them every sign that our governments intend to fight on until their ultimate objectives are achieved, the U.S., France, and Britain have made any negotiated settlement practically impossible. That prolongs U.S. and NATO involvement, but more important it extends and worsens the plight of the Libyan population for the sake of advancing the political cause of the rebels.


The GOP 2012 Field’s Weak Leaders

Andrew on the new GOP 2012 Gallup poll:

Weigel can’t quite cop to the fact that he has misread Palin’s strength. This poll, moreover, was conducted before yesterday’s flurry of signs that Palin is actually running. Notice that Palin has three times Bachmann’s support and is within the margin of error next to the front-runner.

Weigel hasn’t misread her strength, if strength is what you want to call it. As Weigel observed:

But we’re talking about the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee who has been the subject of multiple books (including two of her own), two documentaries, and in some months as much as 50 percent of all media coverage of the GOP field. Fifteen percent? That’s actually about half of what she got in the very first survey of this primary, a February 2009 CNN poll.

Put another way, one of the best-known Republicans in the country now receives just 15% in a national poll after having overshadowed all other prospective candidates for the last two and a half years. If she became a candidate, that could change, but it’s telling that her numbers in national Republican polls have been in decline ever since 2009. For someone who is supposed to inspire so much enthusiasm among rank-and-file Republicans, having “three times Bachmann’s support” is a damning indictment of weakness. It’s fair to say that Romney is a remarkably weak front-runner for the same reason.

What’s more interesting about the new poll is the result that excludes Palin:

Preference for 2012 Republican Nomination, Excluding Palin, May 20-24, 2011

Palin supporters don’t gravitate towards any one candidate, but split up among several other Republicans.  Even when Palin is excluded from the poll, Bachmann doesn’t gain much traction, and Pawlenty gains almost nothing.  Aside from Cain’s sudden surge, the most significant news from this poll is that Pawlenty continues to get nowhere with Republican voters.


There Is No Returning to a “Pre-American” World

It must be hard to rework the same tedious comparisons to 1930s international politics so that they seem different or interesting, but even by these low standards Hanson’s latest effort isn’t very good:

A newly confident, united, and ascendant Germany was growing angry at other European countries. It nursed a long list of financial grievances over feeling used and abused. Sound familiar? A weak Britain and France had almost no confidence in their own declining militaries — sort of like the sad spectacle of their impotence in Libya that we have witnessed over the last two months.

Where to begin? Britain and France have too much confidence in their shrinking militaries. By one count, France is currently engaged in six significant foreign military operations overseas. The sad spectacle in Libya is the product of two governments that don’t have the means to wage major wars on their own but want to do it anyway. This would be almost the exact opposite of the British and French unwillingness to use force to settle political disputes. Instead of the “spirit of Locarno,” we have the hyper-active bellicosity of Sarkozy. What Hanson seems to be trying to say is that Victor Davis Hanson has no confidence in the British and French militaries.

As everyone will have noticed right away, the Germany comparison is painfully wrong. It makes all the difference in the world that Germans currently feel put upon because they are being called on to bail out weaker European economies. This is a problem that comes from having the wealthiest, most productive European economy. It is a radically different sort of resentment from the one that Germans felt toward the former Allies for war reparations, demilitarization, disarmament, and being forced to accept responsibility for WWI. Today Germans are being berated by their neighbors for being too peaceful. Suffice it to say, this was not the main concern with Germany in the 1930s.

These are just some of the bad comparisons that Hanson makes to advance the tired argument that a “post-American” world order could be similar to the world order between WWI and WWII. Hanson writes:

In other words, the post-American world could look a lot like the rather terrifying pre-American version of seven decades past. Why in the world would we wish to return to it?

Why indeed? Of course, no one wishes this, and it isn’t at all likely to happen. Hanson’s argument seems to be based on the lazy conceit that if American hegemony ends or diminishes the world will revert to the world as it was before that hegemony existed. I understand that this is a useful scare tactic to justify continuing hegemonic policies, but why does he think it’s true? Because of a handful of poorly-drawn, inaccurate comparisons between the 1930s and today?

The reality is that the largest economic powers of Asia and Europe have strong interests in preventing and avoiding large-scale war in their regions, and the territorial disputes and expansionism that fueled the destructive wars of the 20th century are not the main threats to international peace today. The major international wars of the last decade are largely those that have been launched or escalated by Western powers, which ought to be acting as status quo powers, and there are no revisionist powers of the kind that existed in the period between the world wars. To believe that the world is going to revert to a “pre-American” order simply because the U.S. does not engage in hyper-active intervention around the globe is to believe that all of the other nations of the world have learned nothing from the experience of the last century.

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The Result of the Beltway Process of Elimination

George Will made a list of “plausible” Republican candidates two months ago, and this list has been shrinking ever since so that it now contains just Tim Pawlenty. Earlier this month, he said that there were only three people who were likely to be inaugurated in January 2013: Obama, Daniels, and Pawlenty. Daniels is out, and Will isn’t going to back Obama, so Pawlenty has become Will’s last remaining favorite. The trouble is that he doesn’t seem to have checked what Pawlenty has been saying until now, and he finds some of it very unsatisfactory:

To make the most of his momentum, he should stop criticizing Barack Obama’s Libyan intervention as insufficiently ambitious. Sounding like a dime-store Teddy Roosevelt (the real TR was bad enough), Pawlenty recently told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “I would tell Gaddafi he’s got x number of days to get his affairs in order and go or we’re going to go get him.”

Such chest-thumping bluster is not presidential, and it is not Pawlenty’s real persona. He actually is a temperate Midwesterner, socially and fiscally conservative.

Pawlenty is hardly alone in engaging in such bluster, and foreign policy pandering does strange things to people. It may not be his “real persona” any more than it Sarah Palin’s “real persona” when she began mouthing phrases given to her by Randy Scheunemann, but that is the national political persona he has adopted as a presidential candidate. He is stuck with it now, and so are his supporters. Then again, Pawlenty might be quite sincere in his reckless hawkishness. Pawlenty was a loyal McCain supporter throughout the 2007-08 process when others jumped ship as McCain’s campaign faltered in 2007. Why wouldn’t we expect him to imitate McCain’s own dime-store Teddy Roosevelt act?

Besides, if he wants to remain one of the approved “main contenders” Pawlenty can’t afford to be dubbed an “isolationist” by Republican hawks. Aside from the few trade missions he frequently boasts about, he has no specialized knowledge about international affairs, so he makes up for it by blustering and shouting. Unlike Huntsman, he has no foreign experience or expertise to fall back on, and unlike Bachmann he doesn’t sit on any relevant committees that might give him even a small amount of credibility when speaking on national security issues. Unfortunately, it is partly because he is considered a “temperate Midwesterner” that he has to overcompensate by sounding like the most aggressive hawk in the room. Will might have noticed this during the last two years when Pawlenty was demagoguing every foreign policy issue that came up.

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