Daniel Larison

More Shoddy Interventionist History

There can hardly be a more “pro-American” foreign policy than that espoused by America’s Founding Fathers. The guiding principles and actions of early U.S. foreign policy are a powerful testament to America’s commitment to securing liberty at home and prudently defending it abroad. America was the leading country in the world supporting the cause of republican self-government for the Latin American republics in 1821, Greece in 1823, and Hungary in 1848. ~Marion Smith

On two of these, this is damning with faint praise, and in the case of Greece it is not true. There is much wrong with Smith’s article, but this abuse of history is perhaps the most annoying. When Latin American republics were breaking away from Spain, and when Hungary was rising against the Habsburgs in 1848, there was no other independent state that expressed much in the way of support for their causes. After the Napoleonic Wars, the European Great Powers were actively hostile to any republican or liberal rebellion, and there were no other republics of any consequence that might have sympathized with them. It also hardly needs to be said that American support for these rebellions was purely moral and rhetorical, and involved absolutely no involvement of the United States government. All that the Monroe Doctrine sought to ensure was that there would be no attempt to impose Restoration governments in those Latin American republics that had achieved their independence. In practice, this required the U.S. to do nothing, because there was never any attempt to bring the Restoration era to Central and South America. The Hungarian rebellion was crushed by Russian intervention.

In the case of Greece, whose war for independence began in 1821, the Great Powers were initially wary of supporting a liberal nationalist revolution in Europe, but because it was directed against the Ottomans first the Russians, and then gradually the British and French lent the Greek cause some support. Indeed, without the joint intervention of the three powers’ fleets against the Ottoman navy, it is doubtful that the Greek Revolution would have succeeded. It was their support that secured Greek independence. American sympathy was all very well, but it once again had absolutely nothing to do with the policy of the government, and it had essentially no impact on the outcome of the war.

Smith is simply wrong in finding precedents in the “guiding principles and actions” of the Founders for the sor of interventionism his article implicitly endorses. Neutrality was the established and traditional policy of the United States until 1917. Attempts to find examples of the U.S. government “defending liberty abroad” before then are strained and inevitably misleading.

P.S. Orlando Figes’ The Crimean War contains many interesting details. One of these was that U.S. public opinion was generally in favor of the Russians during the war with Britain, France, and the Ottomans, and that there were even some American volunteers who fought on the Russian side. In fact, the U.S. went so far as to send military officers to advise the Russians, which was more than Washington ever did for the Hungarians. Contrary to the shoddy reasoning Smith employs, this does not show a traditional American preference for supporting Orthodox autocracy against its Western enemies.

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Repairing the GOP’s Tarnished National Security Reputation

It has taken Republicans decades to acquire a reputation as the party voters trust to defend the country. Now they seem intent on frittering it away within days. ~Max Boot

Boot never noticed, but the Republicans frittered that reputation away between 2003 and 2006 in Iraq, and they have yet to give the majority of the public any reason to trust Republicans on matters of national security and foreign policy. There is some hope for them in the emergence of a significant, albeit limited, opposition to the Libyan war among Republicans in Congress. These would be the members of Congress who recognize that support for national defense does not extend to providing for the defense of Cyrenaica against its own government. It has actually been quite valuable for the revival of some minimum of foreign policy sanity that Republican Libyan war supporters have insisted on making support for their blunder into a litmus test, because large numbers of Republicans would sooner reject the Libyan war than embrace such a foolish party line. Opposing the Libyan war is one small way that Republicans in Washington might begin to undo the damage they inflicted on the country and their party’s reputation through the blunder in Iraq.

Boot isn’t finished:

I would reply we can’t afford not to spend adequately on defense. Whenever we have made that mistake in the past—after the Mexican War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam and the Gulf War—we have paid a heavy cost in squandered lives and lost treasure.

Yes, who can forget all the invasions after 1848 that reckless budget-cutting unleashed on America? What heavy cost was paid in “squandered lives and lost treasure” after the Gulf War? Or after Vietnam, for that matter? Is Boot blaming post-WWII demobilization for the outbreak of the Korean War? What on earth is he talking about? It’s as if Boot thinks Pawlenty’s foreign policy speech invoking the “lessons of history” is a real history lesson. No wonder he’s confused.

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The Bachmann “Bubble”

Imagine if Bachmann had discussed Iraq policy at length while referring constantly to the country as “Iran” and its people as “Iranians.” ~Jonathan Chait

Were Bachmann to make a mistake as bad as the one that Pawlenty made, she would be written off immediately as no better than Palin. In fact, one of the reasons Bachmann had largely been written off until she entered the race is that she has made some bizarre statements on Iran and Iraq in the past, among other things, but the difference is that Pawlenty’s errors are given a pass because he has already been deemed a “serious” candidate. Pawlenty appears to be free to say all sorts of truly ridiculous things without losing his status as a “major contender” for the nomination. For all of the reasons I have laid out before, I don’t believe Bachmann could be the nominee, but this is mainly because I don’t believe the GOP primary electorate supports insurgent candidates when there is an establishment front-runner available.

It is a mistake to dismiss Bachmann’s current position as little more than a bubble. If Pawlenty appears to lack authenticity, Bachmann seems to have it in spades. This was the same intangible quality that made Huckabee into a significant challenger in 2007-08, and Bachmann is poised to build on what Huckabee achieved. Huckabee’s appeal was mainly limited to evangelicals and social conservatives, and even then his appeal was mostly confined to culturally Southern states. Bachmann will be able to have a somewhat wider appeal within the party.

Wilkinson is normally hyper-sensitive to the presence of what he would call Christian nationalism in American politics, but he seems to have completely missed that Bachmann can rely on evangelical identity politics and nationalist appeals to at least as great a degree as Palin and perhaps as much as George Bush before her. She is also closely tied to Tea Party and pro-life activists, and apart from her criticism of the Libyan war no one would confuse Bachmann for a dove. She represents a huge part of the party, she has the potential to become the main anti-Romney candidate to rally conservative voters against him, and she appears to have enough political talent to translate that into a decent showing.

That doesn’t mean that Bachmann can or will defeat Romney for the nomination. He has every conventional advantage in terms of money, organization, and party backing. Romney isn’t going to prevail over her because she implodes, but because there are still more Republican voters who prefer electability.

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Republican Foreign Policy and the 2012 Field

Within this conversation, I note my concern about Huntsman’s position, and Romney’s as well to some degree: that in attacking Obama from the left on America’s role in the world, they will take an outlier view within the right’s coalition and transform it into something more acceptable. ~Ben Domenech

As usual, there is a lot wrong with Domenech’s post. Romney hasn’t attacked Obama from “the left” on America’s role in the world, and neither has Huntsman. One wonders how making an attack from “the left” would make a position more popular among conservatives. This is a good example of the general uselessness of standard left/right terminology when describing foreign policy views.

After Romney’s initial blunder when he mistakenly referred to the Taliban, he said the following at the New Hampshire debate:

I want those troops to come home based upon not politics, not based upon economics, but instead based upon the conditions on the ground determined by the generals. But I also think we’ve learned that our troops shouldn’t go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation. Only the Afghanis can win Afghanistan’s independence from the Taliban.

In other words, Romney agrees with what I take to be Domenech’s position on Afghanistan policy, and it is hardly just a left-wing view that Americans shouldn’t be fighting wars of independence for other nations. That would be more or less consistent with something called the Reagan Doctrine.

Huntsman actually does favor a more rapid withdrawal from Afghanistan, but this does not seem to be an outlier position on the right. 19% of Republicans endorse the administration’s timetable, and 20% believe that the U.S. should withdraw sooner. There is a substantial constituency in the party that wants withdrawal, and there is nothing about this position that is wildly at odds with Republican foreign policy since 1981. Disagreement over the speed or size of withdrawal from Afghanistan does not really tell us very much about a candidate’s view of America’s role in the world. It is a very poor indicator of how a person views many other foreign policy issues. By all accounts, Huntsman is a fairly conventional Republican internationalist, and he has even made statements of support for an Israeli attack on Iran that should satisfy most hawks. Huntsman isn’t taking “outlier” positions and making them more acceptable. He is adopting mostly conventional Republican positions that Domenech fails to recognize as such. Perhaps Domenech would be able to see this if he spent less time panicking over the presence of prominent realists around Huntsman.

Domenech doesn’t seem to be paying very close attention to the GOP these days. For example, he writes:

Yet because DeMint, Rubio, Bachmann, and other Tea Party leaders spend a great deal more time talking about fiscal issues these days, for obvious reasons, they leave a vacuum filled by speakers who do not share their conservative views.

We could only wish that Marco Rubio devoted himself to fiscal issues this much. That way, we might be spared his tedious sermons and op-eds on foreign policy. Bachmann has been attacking the Libyan war as a mistake, and attacking the administration’s withdrawal plan at the same time. On fiscal issues, Huntsman has a reasonably solid record as a conservative, he has made a point of endorsing the Ryan budget, and he has run away from his previous support for cap-and-trade. There is no gap left by Tea Party leaders, and other Republicans who are speaking out on foreign policy in the presidential race largely do share their conservative views, at least as far as fiscal issues are concerned.

It worries Domenech that Pawlenty alone seems to be saying the things he wants to hear because of Pawlenty’s past record as a big-government conservative:

It will take considered effort, by those who are unsullied by past endorsements of domestic big government and can speak directly and convincingly to the conservative base, to reiterate why a robust defense of freedom and liberty around the world was right thirty years ago, and is still right today.

There might be a reason why there aren’t many “unsullied by past endorsements of domestic big government” who publicly defend Domenech’s foreign policy: supporters of a “robust” American role in the world also tend to believe in government activism and an expansive government role. Looking at Santorum, Pawlenty, Gingrich, and Romney, we see four candidates who are all deeply compromised by their support for activist government at home at one time or another, and it is no surprise that they also happen to be the four current presidential candidates most interested in the “robust” foreign policy Domenech prefers. There is a reason why the signatories of that FPI letter have no firm connection to the party’s base: it is they who are the least representative of the party.

Thirty years ago, the world was remarkably different. The debate over the merits of detente isn’t particularly relevant to modern security threats, and there is no threat today comparable to the one from the USSR thirty years ago. It is odd to think that the sort of “robust” response to a vanished world is at all relevant now. While we’re talking about Reagan, it’s worth pointing out that the foreign policy vision Pawlenty outlined the other day would appear to have very little in common with the much less aggressive policy of Reagan. Pawlenty insists on chiding and pressuring the Saudis to reform internally, but Reagan was famous for attacking Carter for doing exactly this to the Shah. Reagan did not launch military attacks very often, and when he did it was for very specific, limited, achievable goals related to the security of Americans or retaliation against attacks on Americans. Pawlenty favors open-ended wars for regime change that serve no discernible national interest. What we see in the “robust” foreign policy espoused by Pawlenty and Domenech today is one that is both more militarized and more ideological than anything that would have been recognized as Republican foreign policy as recently as twenty years ago.

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Bachmann and Libya

For Bachmann to choose this moment to say that the loony of Libya poses no threat is to disqualify herself from any consideration for high office. She evidently knows nothing about the four decades of dictatorship and depredation that have led up to this. ~Christopher Hitchens

The issue here is that Hitchens has already decided that Bachmann is unfit for high office for various other (dim-witted) reasons, and then pretends that her position on Libya is utterly beyond the pale. Until the U.S. and allied forces started attacking Libya, it was perfectly reasonable to say that Gaddafi posed no threat to the United States or Europe, and it was quite correct to say that the U.S. in particular had no national security interest in the outcome of the Libyan civil war. The Libyan war is not being fought for allied security, much less U.S. security, and this has been obvious from the first day. The Libyan war turned Gaddafi back into a threat to the U.S. and Europe after he had ceased to be one.

The threat to Tunisia and Egypt that supposedly concerns Hitchens so much hasn’t gone anywhere. By prolonging the war, the intervention will in all likelihood increase the pressure on Libya’s neighbors from the influx of huge numbers of refugees that the fighting has displaced. The conflict in Libya is weakening an already shaky Tunisian economy, which enjoyed significant tourism from and trade with Libya, in addition to the remittances received from Tunisian migrants workers in Libya. Tunisia probably had the best chance of the three North African states that have experienced upheaval this year to transition to something resembling more representative government, but as long as its trade with Libya is curtailed because of the war its chances for renewed growth are undermined. That in turn will make its political transition that much more difficult. According to this preliminary paper, the Tunisian economy will lose 0.4% of GDP growth in the coming year because of the conflict in Libya. Continuing the war isn’t doing Tunisia any favors, and whatever may follow Gaddafi once he and his allies are out of power could have additional adverse effects on Tunisia’s political development.

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The U.S. and China

Andrew Nathan discussed Henry Kissinger’s On China and Aaron Friedberg’s A Contest for Supremacy in a review article for Foreign Affairs. Nathan argues that Kissinger and Friedberg both exaggerate Chinese power to make the case for their respective calls for accommodation and confrontation, and says that Chinese power is not as great as many suppose:

By focusing on intentions, Friedberg, like Kissinger, leaves out any serious accounting of China’s capability to achieve the goals that various writers propose. Such an audit would show that China is bogged down both internally and in Asia generally. At home, it devotes enormous resources, including military ones, to maintaining control over the two-fifths of its territory that comprise Xinjiang and greater Tibet, to keeping civil order throughout the densely populated and socially unstable Han heartland, and to deterring Taiwan’s independence. Around its borders, it is surrounded chiefly by two kinds of countries: unstable ones where almost any conceivable change will make life more difficult for Chinese strategists (such as Myanmar, North Korea, and the weak states of Central Asia) and strong ones that are likely to get stronger in the future and compete with China (such as India, Japan, Russia, and Vietnam). And everywhere on its periphery, on land and at sea, China faces the powerful presence of the United States. The U.S. Pacific Command remains the most muscular of the U.S. military’s six regional combatant commands, after the Central Command (which is managing two ongoing wars), and it continues to adjust its strategies as China’s military modernizes.

All of this seems right, which is one more blow to the Friedberg-citing Paul Ryan‘s warnings about the possibility of Chinese hegemony.

Nathan points to some of the flaws in Friedberg’s argument:

Friedberg is also imprecise. His title, A Contest for Supremacy, means one thing; part of his subtitle, the Struggle for Mastery in Asia, means another — and neither idea is vindicated by the body of the book. He is on firmer ground when he writes that “if China’s power continues to grow, and if it continues to be ruled by a one-party authoritarian regime, its relations with the United States are going to become increasingly tense and competitive.” But friction is not conflict.

And all this assumes that China’s rise will continue unabated. Friedberg reasonably enough makes this assumption for the purposes of argument. But it is unlikely to prove correct in the long run because China’s economic and political model faces so many vulnerabilities. To add to the worries of Chinese leaders, as Friedberg points out, there are U.S. intentions: “stripped of diplomatic niceties, the ultimate aim of the American strategy is to hasten a revolution, albeit a peaceful one, that will sweep away China’s one-party authoritarian state.” This helps explain why Chinese leaders act more like people under siege than like people on an expansionist warpath.

Nathan claims that there is no struggle for mastery or contest for supremacy in the offing:

Even if China does stay on course, it cannot hope for anything that can reasonably be called supremacy, or even regional mastery, unless U.S. power radically declines. Absent that development, it is implausible that, as Friedberg predicts, “the nations of Asia will choose eventually to follow the lead of a rising China, ‘bandwagoning’ with it . . . rather than trying to balance against it.” Instead, the more China rises, the more most of China’s neighbors will want to balance with the United States, not against it.

Friedberg and Nathan largely agree on policy recommendations and on pressing China regarding human rights. It is the latter that is the real point of contention between Friedberg and those inclined to Kissinger’s view. Nathan critiques Kissinger on human rights advocacy:

Speaking of the immediate post-Tiananmen period, Kissinger says that “the American advocates of human rights insisted on values they considered universal” and that such universalism “challenges the element of nuance by which foreign policy is generally obliged to operate.” He continues: “If adoption of American principles of governance is made the central condition for progress in all other areas of the relationship, deadlock is inevitable.” These statements combine three fallacies: that the universality of international human rights is a matter of opinion rather than international law, that human rights equals American principles of governance, and that promoting human rights means holding hostage progress in all other areas.

The universality of human rights may be enshrined in international law, but that doesn’t contradict the argument that insisting on such universality is going to be blunt rather than nuanced. It is still likely to provoke resistance. Human rights may not equal American principles of governance, but the judgment that deadlock will result still seems reasonable. That is entirely consistent with Kissinger’s understanding of Chinese diplomacy as Nathan has just described it earlier in the review:

Whereas Americans believe that agreements can be reached in one sector while disagreements are expressed in another, Chinese prefer to characterize the whole atmosphere as warm or cold, friendly or tense, creating an incentive for the other side to put disagreements on the back burner. Whereas Americans are troubled by deadlocks, Chinese know how to leverage them to keep pressure on the other side. American diplomacy is transactional; Chinese diplomacy, psychological.

Nathan also sees the advantage for the U.S. in keeping human rights front and center:

Friedberg’s counterargument is persuasive. Showing softness on core values will reinforce the view of many Chinese that the United States is in decline, thus encouraging China to miscalculate U.S. resolve [bold mine-DL]. As Friedberg writes, “Soft-pedaling talk of freedom will not reassure China’s leaders as much as it will embolden them.”

Embolden them to do what? If U.S. power in the region is as structurally sound as Nathan insists elsewhere in the review, how would China get the impression that the U.S. is “in decline”? What is it that the U.S. has resolved to do that would be put in doubt by “showing softness”? Let’s remember that “showing softness” would mean not deliberately provoking the other side by hectoring them over their domestic affairs.

Nathan concludes:

It is no wonder that Chinese statecraft aims to establish the cultural relativity of human rights and to pose talk of human rights as the enemy of friendship. After all, the failure to respect human rights is a glaring weakness of Chinese power both at home and abroad, whereas promoting human rights has been among the United States’ most successful maneuvers on the wei qi board of world politics [bold mine-DL]. What is surprising is that the United States’ master strategist wants to play this part of the game by Beijing’s rules. Would it not make more sense to emulate Chinese strategy than to yield to it? Emphasizing the principled centrality of the human rights idea to American ideology and keeping the issue active in bilateral relations even though it cannot be solved would seem to be — along with exercising the United States’ strengths in other fields — a good way to set the boundaries within which a rising Chinese power can operate without threatening U.S. interests.

It is debatable just how successful the maneuver have been for the U.S., and it is even less clear how China’s horrible human rights record is actually a weakness for it abroad. If “keeping the issue active in bilateral relations” has no prospect of solving the issue, it promises instead to make it that much more of a permanent irritant. This may set boundaries of a sort for China, but it will also severely limit what the U.S. can expect to achieve in other areas of bilateral cooperation.

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Decline, Retrenchment, and Withdrawal

When pressed to give examples of “decline, retrenchment, and withdrawal” to which the administration and its party are supposedly devoted, here were the examples that Pawlenty could give during his Q&A session yesterday (questions begin at around minute 27): 1) Obama’s lack of rhetorical support for the Green movement*; 2) Obama’s decision to withdraw some of the soldiers he sent to Afghanistan earlier than Petraeus recommended; 3) Obama’s decision to send an ambassador to Damascus, and his reluctance to criticize Assad’s crackdown. That’s the best he could do. On the first and third charges regarding criticism of other regimes, Pawlenty is faulting Obama for being insufficiently rhetorically confrontational, whereas he would have shown “moral clarity” by being tougher rhetorically. In other words, these are largely complaints about sending or failing to send messages publicly.

It makes no sense to say that sending an ambassador and resuming relations with another state is an example of “decline, retrenchment, and withdrawal.” As far as American “leadership” is concerned, re-establishing full diplomatic relations with a state is either a neutral move or an example of wielding U.S. influence. It may or may not be a good decision to resume relations with a given state at a particular time, but it has absolutely nothing to do with these three things. One of the oddest rhetorical tricks that hawks use is their claim that advocacy for greater diplomatic engagement with former pariah states is proof of a desire to manage declining power and withdrawal from the world. They seem unable to grasp that engaging in diplomacy is an exercise of power, or that diplomacy is one instrument among many for projecting power. It is a kind of action. It isn’t a refusal to act. In the same breath that they damn skeptics for “isolationism,” they mock them for their international engagement. Clearly, they are confused people.

On the question of Obama’s decision on troop withdrawal in Afghanistan, Pawlenty might seem to be on firmer ground, since he is at least referring to a withdrawal of some soldiers from overseas. In fact, what he is complaining about here is not an embrace of “decline, retrenchment, and withdrawal” as such, but Obama’s decision to overrule the judgment of a particular general and his insistence on setting an earlier deadline for that withdrawal that Pawlenty and others consider to be too early and motivated by domestic politics**. The issue here isn’t whether the decision that Obama made on troop levels and timetables was right or not, but that Pawlenty is trying to use it support a much broader critique of Obama’s foreign policy that simply doesn’t withstand scrutiny. Pawlenty has identified things he considers to be mistakes, and then cobbles them together to claim that they represent something that they don’t. Most of these things aren’t obviously mistakes, nor is it clear that Pawlenty’s “moral clarity” and deference to Petraeus would produce more desirable outcomes.

* I have addressed why this is a ridiculous complaint here.

** The Iraq “surge” decision and the temporary nature of the “surge” were both partly motivated by domestic politics, and it is wrong to believe that domestic political factors don’t have some influence on all such decisions. Damning withdrawal announcements as politically expedient is a roundabout way of acknowledging that the war in question is very unpopular and there is no public consensus behind it any longer.

Update: Alex Massie has more on Pawlenty’s speech.

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Ideology and Rivalry (III)

Greg Scoblete follows up on his previous post on ideology and U.S.-China rivalry:

I agree, although according to the Friedberg article we both cited, the manner in which China has pursued (and to some extent defined) its interests in the South China Sea is an expression of its ideology. I’m not sure about this – partly because I’m not intimately familiar with pre-Communist Chinese history and strategic policy, and partly because this same argument was trotted out about the Soviet Union and Russia and hasn’t held up all that well. (Even a “democratic” Russia under Yeltsin complained vociferously about NATO expansion in the 1990s and attempted to exert influence over her neighbors – it was just too economically weak and internally disordered to be effective.)

Bottom line: I think that between China’s actions and Washington’s ideological commitments, there is ample cause to believe that a Cold War-style standoff is imminent, if not already underway.

If such a standoff is imminent or underway, it could be avoided or stopped. Beijing’s policy is an expression of the Chinese government’s understanding of China as the leading East Asian nation, but this is not connected to regime type. At one point, Friedberg seems to acknowledge as much:

It is a nation with a long and proud past as the leading center of East Asian civilization and a more recent and less glorious experience of domination and humiliation at the hands of foreign invaders. As a number of historians have recently pointed out, China is not so much “rising” as it is returning to the position of regional preeminence that it once held and which its leaders and many of its people still regard as natural and appropriate.

Greg’s comparison with the USSR is a good one. The importance of communist ideology as the principal driving force in Soviet foreign policy was always vastly overestimated, and consequently there was a mistaken expectation that a post-Soviet Russian foreign policy, especially under an ostensibly democratic government, would be dramatically different. When Russia became more assertive in the last ten years, many Westerners didn’t know how to understand it except to label it neo-Soviet or something else equally silly, when it was the same pursuit of traditional Russian foreign policy along its borders that Russia had pursued long before the Bolsheviks. A more pluralist and liberal democratic Russia would not be very different from today’s authoritarian Russia in how it relates to the “near abroad.”

However, Friedberg remains convinced that the different types of regime and ideology are important factors in creating greater tensions than would otherwise exist. On the American side, he notes:

In fact, because ideology inclines the United States to be more suspicious and hostile toward China than it would be for strategic reasons alone, it also tends to reinforce Washington’s willingness to help other democracies that feel threatened by Chinese power, even if this is not what a pure realpolitik calculation of its interests might seem to demand.

Friedberg then make much bolder claims later on:

It may well be that any rising power in Beijing’s geopolitical position would seek substantial influence in its own immediate neighborhood. It may also be true that, in light of its history, and regardless of how it is ruled, China will be especially concerned with asserting itself and being acknowledged by its neighbors as the first among equals. But it is the character of the nation’s domestic political system that will ultimately be decisive in determining precisely how it defines its external objectives and how it goes about pursuing them.

And again:

A strong liberal-democratic China would certainly seek a leading role in its region and perhaps an effective veto over developments that it saw as inimical to its interests. But it would also be less fearful of internal instability, less threatened by the presence of democratic neighbors, and less prone to seek validation at home through the domination and subordination of others.

I have no idea why Friedberg believes the last sentence. A liberal democratic China, and especially a strong liberal democratic China, would perceive its neighbors as traditional enemies or clients. They would not be seen as sources of ideological contamination in terms of dissenting political ideas, but perhaps instead seen as targets or scapegoats. Chinese democratic nationalists would be no less interested in projecting power than their counterparts in other new democracies. A liberal democratic China might be free of certain kinds of internal instability, but especially in its early phase it would be no less prone to domestic unrest, violence, and protest. Its early political stability might be much worse. A democratic government can foment a crisis to distract attention from its domestic failings just as well as an authoritarian one. Democratic governments may resort to foreign adventurism not because they believe their system needs validation, but because they are inspired by their political principles to expand, to “liberate” others, and to intervene against China’s remaining authoritarian neighbors in support of opposition movements. Once it can no longer be portrayed as a repressive authoritarian menace, China may be less constrained in its dealings with neighbors. Friedberg grants as much later in his article:

Beijing has sought at times to stir up patriotic sentiment, but, fearful that anger at foreigners could all too easily be turned against the party, the regime has also gone to great lengths to keep popular passions in check. A democratically elected government might be far less inhibited.

Friedberg simply has far too much confidence in the pacifying effects of liberal democratic institutions, and he appears to have too little confidence that the U.S. could come to live with an authoritarian China as “the dominant power in East Asia.” One thing Friedberg does not address anywhere in his article is why the U.S. should be engaged in a struggle for mastery in Asia in the first place.

If Chinese pursuit of regional preeminence is not in itself an impediment to a stable, cooperative relationship with the U.S., the nature of the Chinese regime and the would-be ideological struggle ought to be irrelevant. A non-authoritarian Chinese government would define and pursue Chinese interests in essentially the same way. Ideology is creating problems for the U.S. that America doesn’t need to have, and it is generating tensions with China that are unnecessary. On the question of what Chinese ideology is and how it affects Chinese policy, Andrew Nathan’s response to Friedberg is worth citing again. Nathan writes:

Democratic rulers in Beijing would still want to preserve control over Tibet and Xinjiang and assert Chinese authority over Taiwan because these territories have fundamental strategic importance for the defense of China. A democratic leadership would also want to press its claims to valuable strategic and economic assets in the East China and South China Seas; build up its navy so that it can participate in the defense of the sea-lanes that are crucial to the country’s prosperity; project influence in crucial neighboring regions like Central Asia, Korea and Southeast Asia; maintain the military capability to deter attacks; exercise influence in the far-flung territories where it acquires resources and sells goods; and in general, pursue much the same national-security agenda as the authoritarian regime follows today. Indeed, as Friedberg points out, a democratic China may be in some respects even a little harder to deal with than the current regime because of its responsiveness to public opinion, which is likely to be nationalistic.

Democratization doesn’t eliminate conflicts of interest between nations, and it doesn’t redefine fundamental national interests. There is not much reason to expect easier or more stable relations with another state once it has become a democracy. We should also know from experience that the “open and politically meaningful debate and real competition over national goals and the allocation of national resources” that Friedberg mentions as one of the virtues of a democratic system is not as influential on the shaping of a democratic state’s foreign policy as he suggests.

Friedberg also wrote:

Aspiring leaders and opinion makers preoccupied with prestige, honor, power and score settling will have to compete with others who emphasize the virtues of international stability, cooperation, reconciliation and the promotion of social welfare.

We know who wins such contests in a strongly nationalist political climate, and it isn’t the latter.

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Pawlenty and Syria

While I’m still beating up on Pawlenty, let me point you to Daniel Trombly’s very thorough refutation of Pawlenty’s dumb answer to a question yesterday about what might follow the fall of Assad. As some of you may have already seen, Pawlenty answered briefly:

People didn’t ask, ‘What comes after Hitler?’ Hitler was awful and needed to go.

As Trombly dutifully explains, the Allies were asking this and were extensively planning for the postwar period. This is what is most disturbing about hawks who rely on WWII mythology and invoke the refrain that “we did it in Germany and Japan!” to justify their hare-brained schemes of militarized democratization and regime change. Not only do they not take account of the differences between those countries and the ones they propose to “liberate,” but they don’t seem to understand the extent of the planning and work that went into the postwar occupations after WWII. Even though they have no interest in planning for the aftermath of their proposed policies, they take the simple fact that “we did it” before as proof that everything will work out fine.

Trombly goes on to point out that there are obviously worse things than Assad that could conceivably flourish after Assad falls:

It should be, at this point, quite obvious that there are worse possibilities in Syrian political thought than Assad. Take, for instance, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, the actual Nazi-inspired group. Or take the possibility of a Syrian political vacuum which entangles the security interests of Pawlenty’s favorite Middle Eastern state, Israel, along with Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and essentially Egypt as well.

No less important, Syria is nothing like WWII-era Germany:

Unlike Hitler, Syria’s armies are not threatening the existence, territory, or prosperity of America or its Allies. This means that American policymakers have even more luxury to do what the Allies did when they confronted the problem of a post-Nazi Germany: debate, plan, and prepare.

There is also the small matter that the United States currently has no goal of toppling the Syrian government, our government has normal diplomatic relations with Damascus (Pawlenty naturally objects to this), and our government will not be in any position to dictate or “steer” the political developments in a post-Assad Syria. At most, Pawlenty voiced support for diplomatic and economic pressure on Syria. Even he isn’t prepared to support imposing regime change on Syria through the use of force, so by his own standards the comparison is absurd.

The better comparison that Pawlenty might have made was with post-Hussein Iraq, but that wouldn’t help his case. There was some planning for what would follow Hussein’s fall, but it was mostly ignored or overruled once the occupation began. The invasion’s strongest supporters dismissed worries about post-Hussein chaos, sectarian violence, and religious persecution just as blithely and ignorantly as Pawlenty dismissed these concerns yesterday. As a result, they failed to anticipate, much less to plan for, these developments, and were caught completely off-guard by them when they happened. Hundreds of thousands of civilians died, and millions were displaced or sent into exile. Even now, approximately one million Iraqis still live in Syria as refugees because they lack confidence in security in their home country or have nowhere to which they can return. This is one more complicating humanitarian factor in what might follow Assad’s fall. Pawlenty has not even begun to grapple with the consequences of the last disastrous experiment in regime change in the region, and it is clear that he has given no thought to any of the unintended consequences of the policy of regime change he is advocating for Syria.

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The Fundamentals

Rather than obsessing over every last detail of the horse race, one should pay more attention to the fundamentals: Do voters respond favorably or unfavorably to a particular candidate? Does the candidate have enough money to pay for television when the primaries go national? Does the candidate have an actual message—an answer to the question of why he (or she!) is running for the presidency, and a realistic agenda for what he wants to do if he wins? ~Matt Continetti

Generally speaking, skeptics are right to dismiss early polls as mostly meaningless. Regardless, it seems to me that there wouldn’t be as much discussion of this if the supposed first-tier candidate Pawlenty weren’t struggling so badly. Instead of focusing on how badly Pawlenty is doing in all of the polls (and he’s doing very badly in all of them), let’s look at the fundamentals that tell us how badly Pawlenty is really doing. According to Gallup, Pawlenty’s favorability isn’t bad (66/14%), but it is a little lower than Romney and Bachmann’s favorability. The real problem is that the intensity of his support is not very great, and it has gone down as he has become better-known. Jill Lawrence’s report sums up Pawlenty’s problem:

Steve Grubbs, a former Iowa GOP chairman who was with the Steve Forbes campaign in 2000, says Pawlenty has a better organization in the state than Bachmann or another candidate with buzz, former pizza mogul Herman Cain. “Pawlenty’s biggest challenge is, he’s not creating excitement among voters. He needs to figure that out,” Grubbs says.

On the questions of money, message, and agenda, Pawlenty has likewise struggled. His economic plan has been widely panned as wishful thinking and the opposite of a realistic agenda, he has been at pains to explain why he is running, and his campaign’s fundraising hasn’t been very good. Lawrence’s report states:

Pawlenty has budgeted $1.75 million for the straw poll, according to a Republican consultant familiar with the Pawlenty campaign. That’s a major commitment, comparable to what George W. Bush and Steve Forbes spent in 1999 to place first and second ($1.1 million and $1.9 million, respectively, in today’s dollars).

The money could help, if it was there to spend. “They clearly don’t have it. So in the end I’m not sure how they’re going to implement their straw-poll strategy,” the consultant said. “I know so many of the vendors who aren’t getting paid. They are holding back so many bills.”

Lawrence goes on to question Pawlenty’s attempt to spin his poor results:

But those analogies are flawed. Clinton’s opponent, Barack Obama, “was raising huge amounts of money. He was drawing crowds that were filling massive venues very early on,” Collins recalls. As for Huckabee, he was “the only alternative on Mitt Romney’s right” in Iowa in a year with huge evangelical turnout. “I certainly wouldn’t write Pawlenty off. He’s a strong candidate. But those aren’t good templates,” Collins says.

The comparison with Huckabee is flawed, and obviously it doesn’t make sense for the decidedly uncharismatic, badly-funded Pawlenty to compare himself to the Democratic candidate who overtook his establishment rival through his personal charisma and well-funded campaign organization. When we look at the fundamentals, Pawlenty is truly in bad shape.

Update: Sean Scallon has a good profile of Pawlenty in the new issue of TAC (currently available only to subscribers). Here is a sample:

Pawlenty, like the proverbial five-star recruit, has a great deal of potential as a national politician, but there’s a reason his polling numbers are dismal—an explanation beyond simple lack of name recognition. In a new era where the search for authenticity dominates our political discourse, Pawlenty’s lack of it makes him a has-been before he ever was.

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