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Bush and Hawkish Magical Thinking

Jeb Bush made [1] a familiar assertion during his visit to Poland:

Bush seemed to suggest he would endorse a more muscular foreign policy, saying the perception of American retreat from the global stage in recent years had emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin to commit aggression in Ukraine.

“When there’s doubt, when there’s uncertainty, when we pull back, it creates less chance of a more peaceful world,” Bush told reporters. “You’re seeing the impact of that in Ukraine right now.”

Bush’s remarks are what we expect from hawks, but they are useful in showing how they indulge in a sort of magical thinking when it comes to the U.S. role in the world. They take for granted that an activist and meddlesome U.S. foreign policy is stabilizing and contributes to peace and security, and so whenever there is conflict or upheaval somewhere it is attributed to insufficient U.S. meddling or to so-called “retreat.” According to this view, the conflict in Ukraine didn’t happen because the Ukrainian government was overthrown in an uprising and Russia then illegally seized territory in response, but because the U.S. was perceived to be “retreating” and this “emboldened” Russia. It’s usually not clear what hawks think would have discouraged Russian interference and intervention in Ukraine under the circumstances, but they seem to think that if only the U.S. had somehow been more assertive and more meddlesome there or in some other part of the world that the conflict would not have occurred or would not be as severe as it is.

This both greatly overrates the power and influence that the U.S. has over the events in other parts of the world, and it tries to reduce every foreign crisis or conflict to how it relates to others’ perceptions of U.S. “leadership.” Hawks always dismiss claims that other states are responding to past and present U.S. actions, but they are absolutely certain that other states’ actions are invited by U.S. “inaction” or “retreat,” even when the evidence for said “retreat” is completely lacking. The possibility that assertive U.S. actions may have made a conflict more likely or worse than it would otherwise be is simply never admitted. The idea that the U.S. role in the world had little or nothing to do with a conflict seems to be almost inconceivable to them. One of the many flaws with this way of looking at the world is that it holds the U.S. most responsible for conflicts that it did not magically prevent while refusing to accept any responsibility for the consequences of things that the U.S. has actually done. Viewing the world this way inevitably fails to take local conditions into account, it ignores the agency of the local actors, and it imagines that the U.S. possesses a degree of control over the rest of the world that it doesn’t and can’t have. Unsurprisingly, this distorted view of the world reliably produces very poor policy choices.

15 Comments (Open | Close)

15 Comments To "Bush and Hawkish Magical Thinking"

#1 Comment By Myron Hudson On June 11, 2015 @ 1:37 pm

Let’s see. We’ve been pushing NATO boundaries closer to Russia and just recently overthrew a Russia-friendly government in Ukraine, and this is “pulling back”. If he really believes that, he’s a dimwit.

Unfortunately there are plenty of opportunistic wannabe clients in the region who would be happy for us to spend our blood and treasure on their behalf. For “as long as it takes”.

#2 Comment By Uncle Billy On June 11, 2015 @ 2:42 pm

What would Bush do? Send the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division to Eastern Ukraine to face off against the Russians? Give the Ukrainian military nuclear weapons to scare the Russians? all this tough talk is only going to make that crises worse. Ukraine and Russia must work it out, without any US military action.

#3 Comment By Philip Giraldi On June 11, 2015 @ 3:16 pm

I am beginning to think that Jeb doesn’t really exist, that he is an automaton that has a mini computer for a head that recycles George W’s greatest speeches. The idea of basing US troops in Poland to counter the impression that we have been weak is so stupid that it might even be considered a step too far for someone named Kagan. No. I take that back. It probably did originate with the Kagans. Didn’t I read somewhere that Jeb is getting foreign policy advise from Wolfowitz and Elliot Abrams?

#4 Comment By Analyst On June 11, 2015 @ 3:49 pm

In terms of meddlesome intervention I dare say our actions in the early stages of the Ukraine crisis is right up there on the list. Early on, with assistant secretaries of state–or whatever her exact title is–out in the middle of the demonstrations egging people on is certainly an assertive act, and one that likely contributed significantly to Russia’s response.

#5 Comment By Michael Sheridan On June 11, 2015 @ 4:30 pm

I’ve been on a Adorno/Hofstadter kick lately, so this piece immediately brought this to mind, from Richard Hofstadter’s 1955 piece [2] (bolding added by me):

The restlessness, suspicion and fear manifested in various phases of the pseudo-conservative revolt give evidence of the real suffering which the pseudo-conservative experiences in his capacity as a citizen. He believes himself to be living in a world in which he is spied upon, plotted against, betrayed, and very likely destined for total ruin. He feels that his liberties have been arbitrarily and outrageously invaded. He is opposed to almost everything that has happened in American politics for the past twenty years. He hates the very thought of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He is disturbed deeply by American participation in the United Nations, which he can see only as a sinister organization. He sees his own country as being so weak that it is constantly about to fall victim to subversion; and yet he feels that it is so all-powerful that any failure it may experience in getting its way in the world — for instance, in the Orient — cannot possibly be due to its limitations but must be attributed to its having been betrayed. He is the most bitter of all our citizens about our involvement in the wars of the past, but seems the least concerned about avoiding the next one. While he naturally does not like Soviet communism, what distinguishes him from the rest of us who also dislike it is that he shows little interest in, is often indeed bitterly hostile to such realistic measures as might actually strengthen the United States vis-à-vis Russia. He would much rather concern himself with the domestic scene, where communism is weak, than with those areas of the world where it is really strong and threatening. He wants to have nothing to do with the democratic nations of Western Europe, which seem to draw more of his ire than the Soviet Communists, and he is opposed to all “give-away programs” designed to aid and strengthen these nations. Indeed, he is likely to be antagonistic to most of the operations of our federal government except Congressional investigations, and to almost all of its expenditures. Not always, however, does he go so far as the speaker at the Freedom Congress who attributed the greater part of our national difficulties to “this nasty, stinking 16th [income tax] Amendment.”

#6 Comment By 33 Steps On June 11, 2015 @ 11:00 pm

@Phil Giraldi: Didn’t I read somewhere that Jeb is getting foreign policy advise from Wolfowitz and Elliot Abrams?

By their advisors shall ye know them …

#7 Comment By bacon On June 11, 2015 @ 11:16 pm

Hawks in American politics are akin to schoolyard bullies. If they aren’t pushing someone around, they’re not the men they like to think they are.

#8 Comment By AJ On June 13, 2015 @ 11:29 am

It’s usually not clear what hawks think would have discouraged Russian interference and intervention in Ukraine under the circumstances, but they seem to think that if only the U.S. had somehow been more assertive and more meddlesome there or in some other part of the world that the conflict would not have occurred or would not be as severe as it is.

I don’t see how the hawks can think the US hasn’t been assertive and meddlesome enough in Ukraine, where the CIA appears to have covertly supported a coup that brought to power those anointed by the US State Dept. And let’s not forget Victoria’s cookies.

#9 Comment By Prof. Woland On June 13, 2015 @ 3:23 pm

You know–it just becomes more and more clear how incredibly narcissistic Hawks and Neocons are… EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS ABOUT THE US! There is never anything happening anywhere that does not involve our presence or lack thereof.

#10 Comment By Seneca On June 14, 2015 @ 11:37 am

“it tries to reduce every foreign crisis or conflict to how it relates to others’ perceptions of U.S. “leadership.””

In an individual this would be diagnosed as psychopathy. Of course we need leaders, but democracies rely on the strength, independence, maturity, and dignity of individuals. Something similar obtains in international affairs.

We need to quit the hollow gibbering about “leadership” and start leading by example. In terms of foreign affairs, from a peak of power, competence, sagacity, real liberty, and adult restraint during the G. W. H. Bush administration, we have descended into the failure, excess, decadence, confusion, fear, corruption, and incompetence of the Clinton, G. W. Bush, and now Obama adminstrations. A lot of damage, over a long period of time. It will be the work of at least a generation to recover from it.

#11 Comment By EliteCommInc. On June 14, 2015 @ 3:11 pm

Dragged kicking ans screaming to CNN’s Fareed Zachariah’s program this morning and dr. Richard Haas, was one of the guests and when this stark comment about the Middle East, (a place in which our military use has been profoundly hurtful in my view.)

“Things are going to get worse before they get even worse.”

About the Ukraine, what a disaster the revolution has been, not just dififcult, but unneccessarily disaterous.

#12 Comment By SmoothieX12 (aka Andrew) On June 14, 2015 @ 4:58 pm

@ElieCommInc

About the Ukraine, what a disaster the revolution has been, not just dififcult, but unneccessarily disaterous.

There was no any “revolution” in Ukraine, it was well choreographed violent putsch.

#13 Comment By Stammerer On June 14, 2015 @ 6:41 pm

“dr. Richard Haas, was one of the guests”

Haas is a “leadership” addict, but he’s been talking sense about other things at least occasionally for some time.

#14 Comment By Kolya Krassotkin On June 14, 2015 @ 10:08 pm

If Jeb is the GOP’s candidate, come November 2016, I will vote 3rd party. American leadership is now so bad that voting, “No thank you. Please sod off,” seems the only really responsible answer that a voter can give.

#15 Comment By AZ Joe On June 15, 2015 @ 12:13 am

And to think they used to refer to Jeb as the “smart” brother. What has he learned from the “democracy” we created in Iraq; the country from which freedom would spread to neighboring states and whose citizens would greet our troops with flowers and hugs?

See, where we went wrong in Iraq was that instead of maxing out at 150,000 troops and staying in country for 8 years we should have maxed out at a little over 500,000 and stayed in the country for 12. Sure, I mean we’ve never tried that before. Oh, wait . . .