Daniel Larison

What Hath Tertullian To Do With U.S. Foreign Policy?

Will Inboden makes a Tertullian reference, but apparently doesn’t know Tertullian’s answer to the rhetorical question:

“What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” famously asked the early church father Tertullian. His question in the third century addressed the relationship between the reason of Greek philosophy embodied by Athens and the revelation of Judeo-Christian religion embodied by Jerusalem. Today’s foreign policy equivalent of Tertullian’s query could be “What hath Damascus to do with Darwin?”

Tertullian set up this opposition to insist that the two were antithetical:

What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? what between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from “the porch of Solomon,” who had himself taught that “the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart.” Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic, and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief.

It’s a strange quote to use for several reasons. It undermines what Inboden is saying, since Inboden wants to make the argument that there is a meaningful connection between what is happening in Syria and the decision to base a contingent of Marines in northern Australia. Presumably, he rejects the view that the U.S. must choose “pivoting” to East Asia or maintaining regional hegemony in the Near East, but if we took his use of the Tertullian quote seriously it would imply that the two are mutually exclusive and irreconcilable. A better question would be what either of these things has to do with U.S. interests, and the answer would appear to be nothing at all.

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Santorum’s Shaky Grasp of History

Rick Santorum has deep thoughts on the occupied territories:

SANTORUM: How did we get New Mexico and Texas?

QUESTIONER: Through war.

SANTORUM: How did they get the West Bank? [inaudible] Through a war. Should we give Texas back to Mexico?

QUESTIONER: Well I don’t think you should recognize recent annexations.

SANTORUM: Oh, so it depends whether it’s recent or not? So we should have given New Mexico and Texas back 150 years go?

No one comes off looking very clever in this exchange. The United States peacefully annexed Texas after Texas had previously seceded from Mexico. This is not an obscure or little-known fact. The pretext for the Mexican War was a dispute over where the new U.S.-Mexican border was after the annexation took place. The dispute allowed Polk to precipitate the border crisis that led to the 1846-48 war, which advanced the expansionism favored by his party.

It’s true that New Mexico, Arizona*, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and California were captured during the Mexican War, but these territories were only legally American after the ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. There has never been a negotiated settlement similar to this treaty that recognizes Israeli possession of any of the territories seized during the 1967 war. The comparison is utterly and totally flawed. Besides, it probably isn’t helping Santorum’s case that he is comparing the 1967 war to a gigantic expansionist land-grab, and it says something about him that he thinks that this makes the occupation more defensible.

* Some of what is now Arizona and New Mexico was not acquired under the treaty, but was later purchased as part of the Gadsden Purchase.


Liveblogging the Foreign Policy Debate

The Compass, the RealClearWorld blog on foreign policy and international affairs, will be hosting a live-blog of tonight’s Republican foreign policy debate starting at 8 PM EST, and I will be one of the participants. Many of you may be travelling today or preparing to leave for a Thanksgiving trip, but if you have the chance be sure to check in on what we’re saying.



Mark Krikorian must be joking:

So, now worrying about Shia maniacs with nukes makes you an Iranophobe? It’s a brilliant piece of linguistic jiu jitsu designed to confuse and weaken the United States; whoever thought it up, therefore, must have studied at an American university.

I prefer the word Persophobe to describe the attitude, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to apply a term like this to people who have an exaggerated and irrational fear of a medium-sized country that poses no significant threat to the United States. Describing attitudes in terms of phobias can be overdone, and it can be used to discourage reasonable criticism, but it’s also a fairly conventional way to describe an attitude of hostility, suspicion, and distrust towards a particular nation. It was appropriate to refer to anti-French attitudes in 2002-03 as Francophobia, just as it would have been correct to describe most Americans in the 19th century as Anglophobic. The U.S. can hardly be confused and weakened by a term that correctly describes the attitude of its government towards Iran.

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Herman Cain, Iraq War Dead-Ender

Cain should get some credit for being the only Republican candidate crazy or ideological enough to defend the Iraq war in terms of democracy promotion:

I agree with former President George W. Bush that the United States should promote free democratic movements throughout the world, and that it is in our strategic interests to do so. That does not mean we try to “impose democracy at the barrel of a gun,” as some of Bush’s rather disingenuous critics claimed he was doing. It means we support these movements where the opportunity presents itself (as President Obama should have in Iran and Syria) or when strategic necessity compels us (as I believe President Bush correctly did in Iraq in 2003). And you don’t always have to use force.

First of all, promoting democracy was at best a tertiary reason for the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, and it was used as a justification for continuing the disastrous war after the original stated purpose. In fact, there was no strategic necessity that compelled the invasion, and it is now widely agreed outside of a core of dead-enders that the war was a major strategic blunder. Invading another country, toppling its existing government, and then installing a new democratic regime is the very definition of imposing democracy at gunpoint. People who pointed this out weren’t being disingenuous. They were stating the obvious. The U.S. was not supporting any democratic movement in Iraq, and the war was a disaster for the Iraqi people. The effect of the war was to empower a majority whose sectarian and semi-authoritarian leaders have aligned themselves to some degree with both Tehran and Damascus, and the Iraq that the U.S. leaves behind is neither free nor democratic in any meaningful sense that we in the West would recognize. The entire enterprise was a colossal waste and a terrible crime.


Cain and New START

To quash doubts that Cain doesn’t know anything about foreign policy, Cain decided to repeat Romney’s unfounded, false claims about New START (via Uri Friedman):

For example, I would not have welched on America’s commitment to install a missile defense system in Eastern Europe because the Russians didn’t like it. The security of the U.S. and our allies would take precedence over the concerns of a nation whose strategic interests are often contrary to ours.

That is one of the reasons I would not have signed the New START treaty, as President Obama did in 2010. Not only did that treaty commit America to arms reductions that the Russians would not necessarily have to match, but it permitted them to maintain a sizable advantage in tactical nuclear weapons, while ignoring programs and ambitions of other nations like Iran, North Korea, China and Pakistan. But more to the point, we simply don’t need to be signing treaties like this with unfriendly countries.

The treaty’s limitations on strategic weapons are the same for both sides: the treaty allows 1,550 deployed weapons for both the U.S. and Russia. The treaty did not address tactical nuclear weapons for the simple reason that no strategic arms limitation or reduction treaty has ever done so. A bilateral treaty with Russia cannot possibly address the nuclear programs of other states. If we assume that Russia is unfriendly, that is all the more reason to negotiate an arms control treaty that permits the U.S. to inspect the Russian arsenal. By negotiating a new arms control agreement with the other major nuclear-weapons state in the world, the U.S. keeps the relationship with Russia from deteriorating, and introduces greater stability and transparency into that relationship. Cain is simply echoing Romney on this issue, and Romney was just echoing the party line when he ignorantly railed against the treaty last year. Romney’s attack on the treaty was correctly dismissed as “shabby, misleading,” and “thoroughly ignorant,” and the same must be said for what Cain says here.

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Dreadfully Inevitable

Bill Kristol must be joking:

And even if Gingrich fades, let’s not assume it’s over. Bachmann and Santorum could still have a run in Iowa. If they continue to trail badly, it’s not out of the question that someone else could still present himself in mid-December to the citizens of Iowa (Hi there, Mike Huckabee! Hello, Sarah Palin!). Or, if Iowa (January 3), New Hampshire (January 10), and South Carolina (January 21) produce fragmented results, and the state of the race is disheartening to Republicans, a late January entry by another candidate isn’t out of the question, either [bold mine-DL]. Couldn’t Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio win the January 31 Florida primary as a write-in candidate in such circumstances?

Whatever happens, I imagine that Kristol will try to keep coming up with new and increasingly implausible scenarios in which Romney is defeated. The day after Romney accepts the nomination next summer, he’ll probably float the idea that it’s not to late to await the arrival of a time-travelling Marco Rubio sent back from 2021 to save us. According to the RCP averages for Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, Romney is in third, first, and second respectively, and he also has a narrow lead in Florida. Gingrich, his would-be rival of the week, has no campaign organization to speak of, and despite some recent improvement his fundraising to date has been abysmal. Romney might lose Iowa, but he could easily enough win all of the other January contests, and his organization in Iowa is still superior to anything his competitors have. If Romney can be defeated, I have not seen many persuasive arguments for how this would be done.

I’m not sure why Kristol keeps making these bizarre pronouncements about the 2012 field. Is he trying to pioneer new ways to be spectacularly wrong about things? If so, why stop with predicting late January entries into the presidential race? Why not March, or perhaps July?


Almost Understandable

Herman Cain should stop trying to revisit his Libya answer. This is what he said when he tried another defense:

Do I agree that they now have a country where you’ve got Taliban and Al Qaeda that’s going to be part of the government?

Presumably, he doesn’t agree with that, but it would be a good question to ask Cain just to see if he was able to recognize that the Taliban are in no way connected to current events in Libya. It’s true that there were some Libyans involved in the uprising who had previously fought against the U.S. in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group did have some ties to Al Qaeda in the past, but that isn’t what Cain meant. What Cain managed to say here was that he knows so little about the war in Libya that he apparently cannot distinguish between anti-Gaddafi rebels and the forces that the U.S. and NATO are fighting in Afghanistan. He should really stop while he’s behind before he makes it any worse.

Weigel calls this “almost an understandable mistake,” but it’s only “almost understandable” in the sense that no one expects Cain to make any sense when he speaks about foreign affairs. In fact, confusing the wars in Libya and Afghanistan, which is what he seems to have done here, is close to being inexplicable for someone seeking national office. It’s not as if fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan is a recent development. It’s been the largest part of the war in Afghanistan for more than ten years. Forget about Cain as a presidential candidate for a moment, and just ask yourself how an adult who has been conscious during the last decade could make this sort of mistake. I don’t know how it’s possible.


Revisiting the August 2008 War (II)

Continuing the phony controversy, Rubin gets some more facts wrong:

And that’s when Russia — who everyone agrees was not attacked [bold mine-DL] — enacted their pre-planned assault by moving their forces in to fight the Georgian army.

In fact, Saakashvili gave the Russians a pretext to intervene when their attack on Tshkinvali killed Russian soldiers stationed there as part of an earlier peacekeeping mission. One can argue that Russia should not have been entrusted with a peacekeeping role in these territories, and one can argue that Russia took advantage of this role to extend its influence into the separatist republics (it certainly did), and one can certainly argue that Moscow was trying to goad Saakashvili into an attack, but it’s simply false to say that Russians were not attacked at the beginning of the war. Rubin simply ignores, or doesn’t know about, the Russian soldiers already present in South Ossetia who were there ostensibly to protect the Ossetians from just this sort of attack.

Der Spiegel published a detailed report on the war. Here was one of their findings on the days leading up to the war:

One thing was already clear to the officers at NATO headquarters in Brussels: They thought that the Georgians had started the conflict and that their actions were more calculated than pure self-defense or a response to Russian provocation. In fact, the NATO officers believed that the Georgian attack was a calculated offensive against South Ossetian positions to create the facts on the ground, and they coolly treated the exchanges of fire in the preceding days as minor events. Even more clearly, NATO officials believed, looking back, that by no means could these skirmishes be seen as justification for Georgian war preparations.

And here is another:

At 10:35 p.m. on Aug. 7, less than an hour before Russian tanks entered the Roki Tunnel, according to Saakashvili, Georgian forces began their artillery assault on Tskhinvali. The Georgians used 27 rocket launchers, including 152-millimeter guns, as well as cluster bombs. Three brigades began the nighttime assault.

And another:

Russian troops from North Ossetia did not begin marching through the Roki Tunnel until roughly 11 a.m. This sequence of events is now seen as evidence that Moscow did not act offensively, but merely reacted. Additional SS-21s were later moved to the south. The Russians deployed 5,500 troops to Gori and 7,000 to the border between Georgia and its second separatist region, Abkhazia.

As for the matter of the “pre-planned assault,” there was a prior plan for an attack, and it was Saakashvili’s:

On Aug. 3, the Russian foreign ministry issued a final warning that an “extensive military conflict” was about to erupt. Officials in Europe’s seats of government and intelligence agency headquarters had a sense of what the Russians were talking about. Saakashvili’s plans for an invasion had been completed some time earlier. A first draft prepared in 2006, believed to be a blueprint of sorts for the later operation, anticipated that Georgian forces would capture all key positions within 15 hours [bold mine-DL].

A plan B — in the event of failure — did not exist.

Three days before the outbreak of the war, officials in Israel emphatically stated that the country had not sold offensive weapons to Georgia in months, and that “frantic requests” from Tbilisi, including those requests for Israeli-made Merkava tanks and new weapons, were rejected. From the perspective of the Israelis, Georgia and Russia were clearly on a collision course.

On the question of how Saakashvili interpreted Rice’s warnings, which is one of the main issues in this ginned-up controversy, Der Spiegel reported in a different article that Saakashvili came away from his meetings with Rice that summer with a very different impression than Rice apparently intended to give him:

In retrospect, Saakashvili and Rice would interpret their conversations in different ways. Rice claims that she warned Saakashvili against military conflict with Russia, while Saakashvili recalls Rice’s assurances of firm solidarity [bold mine-DL]. Rice left Tbilisi 28 days before the war broke out.

If Rice doesn’t blame Saakashvili for his role in all of this, she should. Then again, he doesn’t deserve all of the blame. U.S. and allied decisions in the months prior to the August war led to increased tensions between Russia and Georgia:

Putin, meanwhile, watched and waited — he wanted to see how the Kosovo question would turn out. He made it clear that if the ethnic Albanian province was granted the right to secede from Serbia, the West could not deny Abkhazia and South Ossetia the right to secede from Georgia. On Feb. 17, 2008, the United States, Great Britain and France recognized Kosovo’s independence.

After Saakashvili’s state visit to Washington on March 19, when he clearly enjoyed his reception as the president of a key ally in the war on terror, there was the NATO summit in Bucharest. In response to a German and French initiative, the alliance denied Georgia and Ukraine its consent to their joining NATO, but promised membership at a later date.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko promptly predicted that this decision would have “the gravest consequences for overall European security.” US President George W. Bush met with Putin at his Black Sea vacation home in an effort to restore calm. But Bush apparently failed to take the Russian president’s warnings as seriously as they were intended. In retrospect, Western observers describe what happened in the ensuing few days in April as a “point of no return” for the Georgian-Russian war.

P.S. Rubin’s conclusion is hilarious:

But at least for now, a great number of readers will dismiss Atlantic’s reporting on that region as nothing more than the Soros (and Russian) propaganda line.

If they do, they will be making a mistake. It is utterly ridiculous to think that the Soros line and the Russian line could ever be one and the same. Soros’ activism over the years has been overtly hostile to Russia. If someone writing for EurasiaNet has said something that isn’t hostile to Russia, that would be evidence in favor of EurasiaNet’s independence from any particular “line” and proof that we should respect the quality of their analysis.

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Values and Interests

James Traub asserts a common assumption:

An ally is not a country that shares your values, but a country that shares your interests. The two categories overlap plenty, of course, because values play a powerful role in shaping a country’s interests abroad.

The first part of this formulation makes sense, but I don’t think the second part is true in most cases. Since the end of the Cold War, most U.S. allies have maintained or created formally democratic governments, and many have adopted neoliberal fiscal and trade policies to one degree or another, but it seems more likely that allied states cultivate the political and economic values favored by the U.S. because they believe it is in their interest to align themselves closely with the U.S. To the extent that the U.S. makes acceptance of these values a condition for a closer relationship, allied states have an incentive to shape their values in a manner consistent with their perceived interests. As long as allies can enjoy a close relationship with the U.S. without pursuing political and economic reforms, and in those cases where allied cooperation is more important to the U.S. than the ally’s embrace of the right “values,” there need not be much overlap at all.

Then again, there are many rising democracies around the world that probably share more values with the U.S. than they share interests. The more democratic and responsive to their own nations that these governments become, the more likely it is that we will see just how divergent their national interests and ours really are. After all, it’s not as if Germany’s interest in increased economic ties with Russia is driven by Germany’s political values, and India’s dealings with Iran and Burma are hardly shaped by India’s democratic values, and those interests tend to put these allied states at odds with the U.S. on many issues. For that matter, improving U.S.-Vietnamese ties have nothing to do with a change in Vietnamese political values and everything to do with shared opposition to Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea.

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