Daniel Larison

Foreign and Domestic

Via Scoblete, Democracy in America has links to a new Economist/YouGov poll that has several interesting results. This is a poll of “general population respondents” rather than one of likely voters, so we should bear in mind that these results do not give us a clear picture of what midterm voters will do. Nonetheless, this poll does not provide much consolation for advocates of health care repeal, it does not offer much encouragement for defenders of the status quo on U.S. Israel policy, and it shows that the latest round of whining about Obama’s neglect of some of our Asian-Pacific allies will not resonate with very many people. I’ll address the last point first in this post, and then come back to the others later today.

We see that only 29% disapproved of Obama’s postponement of the trip to Indonesia and Australia to oversee the final stages of the health care voting. Of course, 59% of Republicans disapproved, which just drives home how far removed from the views of the rest of the country most Republicans have become. The particular complaint about the postponed trip is trivial, but it does touch on a seemingly more significant Republican objection, which is their claim that Obama is a domestic policy President who doesn’t care about America’s role in the world. This is nonsense, as even the briefest acquaintance with Obama’s activity over the last year should make clear, but this is what informs their ridiculous essays on American exceptionalism (and Obama’s supposed assault against it) and their newfound concern for the interests and concerns of allies. This can also be found in the recent warnings by Boot and Lowry that hegemony is incompatible with an expansion of domestic entitlement spending and that America is going to have to adopt a “European” foreign policy with all the disastrous results that are supposed to follow from that.

Naturally, Boot and Lowry prefer perpetuating hegemony and not going down the dreaded European path, and they seem to think that the possibility of reduced U.S. power projection and meddling overseas should make Americans more resistant to additional entitlements. However, as Greg observes, what Boot and Lowry are really proposing is that Americans should be more concerned that the U.S. subsidizes the security of other countries, most of them wealthy, productive, self-sufficient democracies, instead of subsidizing other Americans. Like Greg, I think additional entitlements are unwise and unsustainable, but how remarkable it is that the loudest American nationalists and neo-imperialists should so blatantly prioritize the well-being of other countries over that of their fellow citizens while lecturing Obama for his supposed Europeanizing ways.

This is the central and fatal contradiction in modern mainstream conservative thinking on the role and scope of government. They refuse to acknowledge that their foreign policy ambitions are much more modern and out of step with most of American history than the domestic progressive tradition they regularly attack as a foreign import. They seem incapable of recognizing the absurdity of defending the security and warfare state to the hilt while pretending that they are working to preserve a distinctively American political and economic system. The distortions of the former have done as much, if not more, damage to that system as the intrusions of government here at home.


Blessed Is He That Cometh In The Name of the Lord


By raising Lazarus from the dead before Thy passion, Thou didst confirm the universal resurrection, 0 Christ God! Like the children with the branches of victory, we cry out to Thee, O Vanquisher of Death: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!

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Fanning the Flames

Hatred for Israel is a deep and burning fire throughout the world. We should not be adding kindling wood to that fire. ~Pete Wehner

Via Kevin Sullivan

This probably exaggerates the extent and intensity of actual hatred for Israel “throughout the world,” but let’s grant that this is true for the sake of argument. Indeed, let’s say that this understates how hostile most of the world is. Does it then make sense for Washington to endorse every Israeli military action and encourage the perception that Israel may act however it wishes outside its borders because the United States will provide support and political cover? After all, it is such actions and the support Washington provides for them that contribute greatly to negative attitudes toward Israel and the United States. If the world is aflame with anti-Israel sentiment as Wehner claims it is, surely the greatest facilitators of the increasing hatred are the people here and in Israel who justify every excess, excuse every illegality, and overreact against most criticisms with accusations that the critics wish to betray Israel or that they wish for Israel’s destruction. “The yes-man is your enemy, but your friend will argue with you.” If hatred for Israel is as great as Wehner claims, neither Israel’s Western critics nor members of the administration are the ones responsible. It is the yes-men who have much more to answer for.

What is more likely to throw kindling on the fire: supporting Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon every step of the way, or denying the Israeli prime minister a photo opportunity on account of continued illegal settlement-building? What is going to do more to stoke genuinely anti-Israel attitudes: accepting and making excuses for the Gaza blockade and military operations in Gaza, or issuing sharply-worded statements expressing long-standing American disapproval of Israel’s settlement policy in the territories? The latter are minimal, almost meaningless acts that change nothing, while the former have severe consequences for the people directly affected by the policies and for Israel’s reputation in the world.

Wehner worries about feeding hatred for Israel, yet the administration he served supported the actions in Lebanon and Gaza without reservation. Wehner had nothing critical to say then. He expressed no concerns about the hatred these campaigns were fueling. Wehner complains about adding kindling to the fire, but under the previous administration they were throwing gasoline on it and he was not bothered. Not only are Wehner and his hawkish allies completely oblivious to the profound damage done by the policies they have supported over the last several years, but they seem to be unable or unwilling to recognize that there is absolutely no “animus toward Israel” in this administration. They apparently cannot understand that it is those who wish Israel well who are going to be most impatient with Israel’s mistakes. Indeed, the only people who seem to be acting as friends to Israel are those willing to argue against Israel’s short-sighted, isolating and reckless policies.


Mind Control

As everyone else seems to be responding to this Frum-AEI business, I will add a few observations. Let me start first by citing a long quote from Austin Bramwell’s “Goodbye to All That,” which appeared in TAC in November 2006. I have had occasion to critique parts of Bramwell’s article and other Bramwell arguments over the years, but I completely agree with him in what he writes here:

Taken as a description of the world we actually live in, however, it is indispensable. 1984 reveals not the horrors of the future but the quotidian realities of ideology in mass democracy. Conservatism exemplifies them all.

First, like Ingsoc, conservatism has a hierarchical structure. Like Orwell’s “Inner Party,” those at the top of the movement have almost perfect freedom to decide what opinions count as official conservatism. The Iraq War furnishes a telling example. In the run-up to the invasion, leading conservatives announced that conservatism now meant spreading global democratic revolution. This forthright radicalism—this embrace of the sanative powers of violence—became quickly accepted as the ineluctable meaning of conservatism in foreign policy. Those who dissented risked ostracism and harsh rebuke. Had conservative leaders instead argued that global democratic revolution would not cure our woes but increase them, the rest of the movement would have accepted this position no less quickly. Millions of conservative epigones believe nothing less than what the movement’s established organs tell them to believe. Rarely does a man recognize, like Winston Smith, his own ideology as such.

Second, conservatism is concerned less with truth than with distinguishing insiders from outsiders [bold mine-DL]. Conservatives identify themselves in part by repeating slogans (“we are at war!”) that, like “ignorance is strength,” are less important for what (if anything) they say than for what saying them says about the speaker. At the same time, to rise in the movement, one must develop a habitual obliviousness to truth, or what Orwell labeled “doublethinking.” Anyone who expresses too vociferously too many of the following opinions, for example, cannot expect to make a career in the movement: that the Soviet Union was not the threat that anti-communists made it out to be, that the current tax system discriminates in favor of the very wealthy, that the Bush administration was wrong about the Iraq invasion in nearly every respect, that the constitutional design itself prevents judges from deciding cases according to the original meaning of the Constitution, that global warming poses small but unacceptable risks, that everyone in the abortion debate—even the most ardent pro-lifers—inevitably engages in arbitrary line-drawing. Whether these opinions and others are correct or not matters little to the movement conservative, even if he knows next to nothing about the topic at hand. If you do not reject these opinions or at least keep quiet, you are not a movement conservative and will be treated accordingly.

Third, and closely related to doublethinking, the conservative movement engages in selective editing of history. When events have a tendency to disconfirm ideology, down the memory hole they go. Thus, conservatives do not recall their dire warnings about the Soviet Union during the Cold War or about the economy after the Bush I or Clinton tax increases. On the Iraq invasion, they will not remind you of their claims that Iraqis would welcome us as liberators, that the world would soon be applauding the Iraq invasion, or that events in Lebanon and the Ukraine heralded global democratic revolution [bold mine-DL]. Nor will conservatives remind you of their predictions that the insurgency’s demise was imminent, that Saddam Hussein and then Zarqawi were the Big Men of the insurgency, or that the insurgency consisted largely of foreign jihadis. As in 1984, the ability to forget that any of these events ever occurred signals one’s loyalty to the movement. (Hence, the rise of hawkishness against Iran, not four years after the last effort to sell a war to an otherwise balky public.) To prove his loyalty to the emperor, everyone must compliment him on his new clothes. The most loyal believe that the emperor is wearing clothes to begin with.

This did not happen yesterday, and it did not even start in 2001 or 1994 or 1981 or at some other turning point when strict ideological limits started to be imposed. What many people are now lamenting as the “closing of the conservative mind” is simply the latest repetition of a process that is integral to what this movement and what all ideological movements are. Some of us understand conservatism to be a temperament and a persuasion rather than a programmatic agenda to be carried out through ideological indoctrination and political action. We naturally react whenever we see movement conservatives enforcing their ideology, but what they do has nothing to do with us or the conservatism we articulate.

This process is hardly unique to the conservative movement, nor is the conservative movement anywhere near the worst ideological movement, but it would help put all of this in perspective if we remember that the movement has thrived on the vilification and expulsion of perceived undesirables for a very long time. This is forgotten or excused when most people deeply dislike the people being pushed out. Most people today would not sympathize with many of the people Buckley and his allies denounced in decades past, and certainly there were and are few actual sympathizers with the antiwar conservatives whom Frum declared unpatriotic and would-be collaborators with jihadists (“the paleoconservatives have collapsed into a mood of despairing surrender unparalleled since the Vichy republic went out of business”). What is a little strange is that there seems to be much more sympathy for someone who eagerly enforced earlier party lines while deploying the most despicable rhetoric to do it. Now there is great concern for the quality of internal conservative debate among people outside the movement, but there was none of this earlier. On the contrary, earlier episodes of ideological enforcement were either cheered or paid no attention at all, because the targets in those episodes did not express views pleasing to the majority of the country at the time.


The Curse of Bipartisanship

Alex Massie states the case against bipartisanship and the Washington fixation on bipartisanship very well:

For that matter, what is bipartisanship? Why not much more than the means by which Washington covers its ass any time controversial legislation lumbers into view. It’s but a means of providing cover. If a sufficient number of Republicans and Democrats alike endorse a given bill or idea then neither party can be fairly held responsible for any of the consquences that might ensue. If it goes wrong both parties are culpable; in the unlikely event it works both parties claim their prizes.

As such you could almost suspect that the fetish for bipartisanship amounts to a conspiracy against the public, obscuring and eliminating dividing lines for the sole reason of making life more comfortable for Democrats and Republicans alike. It is, then, something that corrupts politics far more than it enhances it.

From the perspective of a party’s base, calls for bipartisanship from the other side are frequently just calls for capitulation to the other party’s position. When one party has completely committed itself to the complete defeat of a proposed piece of legislation, even bipartisanship of this sort is no longer possible. It is amusing to read Romney’s complaint that the bill did not have bipartisan support as the Massachusetts health care bill did, especially when the substance of the bill is broadly in line with the kind of bill that moderate Republicans such as Romney could and did support in Massachusetts. Of course, bipartisan support for the Massachusetts bill was more or less inevitable in a state where Republicans are a permanent minority in the legislature and the governor happened to be Republican.

Most of the other differences Romney cites as his excuse for opposing very similar federal legislation combine to create an indictment of Romney and what Romney did in Massachusetts. This is how Romney distinguishes between the two:

We [in Massachusetts] didn’t raise taxes. We did not at the same time cut Medicare and expect our seniors to have to pay for all this. We didn’t do what President Obama’s doing, which is putting controls on our system of premiums for private insurance companies.

In other words, Romney’s position is that the federal bill does too much to pay for the entitlement it is creating and it is trying to do too much to contain insurance costs. Far better to be even more fiscally irresponsible while doing nothing on cost containment! According to Romney, that is the “conservative” position to take.

This is part of what has been so maddening about the stream of articles and editorials demanding that the administration be more “centrist” in its policies. Any reasonable description of what Congress just passed this week would have to acknowledge that it is a very “centrist” bill. Anyone who has been reading this blog for very long knows that I don’t regard that as a good thing. “Centrism” is the consistent pursuit of shoring up and reinforcing the status quo and serving the entrenched interests of existing powerful institutions. Even though the health care bill definitely fits this description, which is why many progressives are unhappy with it, “centrist” politicians and pundits are confident that there is always room for more accommodation with whatever the status quo happens to be.

What is unusual in the health care debate is that the normal cooperation of the two parties in the conspiracy Massie mentions did not come to pass. Unlike the Iraq war, the immigration bill and the financial sector bailout, the legislation did not win the support of leaders from both parties and did not have the overwhelming endorsement of the political class. In the end, this is what critics mean when they say that the health care legislation was not passed on a bipartisan basis: it was one of those rare major issues that split the political class between absolute defenders of the status quo and people who are expanding and entrenching the existing system. What is striking about the lack of bipartisanship is that the two positions are not that far removed from one another, and the bipartisan Washington consensus that normally forges a worst-of-both-worlds compromise broke apart.


Petraeus and Israel

It’s pretty amazing the lengths that critics of Israel will go to in order to distort the facts. ~Philip Klein

This is itself pretty amazing coming from someone who insists that J Street is an “anti-Israel” organization, who has been in the vanguard of the effort to misrepresent Tom Campbell’s record on the same subject, and who spent part of the presidential campaign engaged in a guilt-by-association attack on Obama on account of his friendship with Rashid Khalidi. The latter involved its own smear campaign against Khalidi, who had done nothing to merit the attack. That followed an earlier attack based on Obama’s informal campaign advisor Robert Malley, whose marginal campaign role prompted Klein to speculate that Obama might enter into negotiations with Hamas despite Obama’s consistent position that he would never do this unless Hamas renounced violence. Previously, Klein had jumped on the bandwagon trying to demonize Gen. Merrill McPeak for some impolitic but reasonable statements about the political constraints limiting American politicians on this subject.

All of Klein’s attacks have involved exaggerating, misrepresenting or overinterpreting remarks, actions and associations that did not mean what Klein thought they meant. When it involves someone with whose views Klein does not sympathize on this subject, he tends to be very sloppy and quick to issue ringing condemnations. So Klein is in no position whatever to complain about others’ distorting of the facts, especially when it concerns matters related to Israel and Palestine. He has no trouble misrepresenting the positions of organizations and individuals under the guise of journalism. Now he would like to accuse others of distorting facts, when it does not seem that Walt and Duss have distorted anything. Neither did Pat Buchanan’s column, which was already published yesterday and could not have benefited from any of the denials given by Petraeus yesterday. Buchanan cited the reports in Foreign Policy and Yedioth Ahronoth and recounted them exactly. If the reports regarding Petraeus are inaccurate, that could not have been confirmed until Petraeus spoke about it yesterday.

That said, there really does seem to be not very much to the story about Petraeus. In his Senate testimony, he said that what happens in Israel and the Palestinian territories has an “impact” and said yesterday that there is a “spillover effect.” As Walt notes, this is “mild, unsurprising stuff.” Petraeus now insists that he never said the more provocative things attributed to him in the original report on the briefing, and he also claims that he never requested that the occupied territories be placed in Centcom’s area. So, like anyone not blinded by ideology, Petraeus acknowledges that Israeli policy has an effect on the entire region, but he has not made the more specific and provocative claims that have been attributed to him. It’s true that some have read too much into the reports about Petraeus, not least Abe Foxman, who overreacted more than anyone. I’m sure Klein will move swiftly to attack Foxman’s distortions and absurd accusations any minute now.

When the original report on Petraeus’ briefing first came out, I found the story very surprising. As Prof. Bacevich argued very persuasively several years ago for TAC, Petraeus is above all a political general. As Bacevich made clear, Petraeus was the wrong sort of political general:

Yet in presenting his recent assessment of the Iraq War and in describing the “way forward,” Petraeus demonstrated that he is a political general of the worst kind—one who indulges in the politics of accommodation that is Washington’s bread and butter but has thereby deferred a far more urgent political imperative, namely, bringing our military policies into harmony with our political purposes.

No one who “indulges in the politics of accommodation” is going to take highly controversial, politically explosive positions on a foreign policy issue of this kind. So right away the report didn’t make sense to me. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the views attributed to Petraeus in the original Foreign Policy report are wrong. It just means that Petraeus doesn’t hold those views. Instead, he holds views on the “impact” the conflict has on the “strategic context” that are rather mild and unremarkable by comparison, but which would nonetheless be vigorously denounced by hawks here at home if they were made by anyone other than their favorite general.

Obviously, I agree with the claim that U.S. Israel policy and U.S.-backed Israeli policies contribute to anti-Americanism and aid in jihadist recruitment. For that matter, so did our troop presence in Saudi Arabia before 9/11, our sanctions and bombing of Iraq after the Gulf War, our invasion and continued occupation of Iraq, and our backing for various authoritarian rulers throughout the region. Marc Lynch addressed the impact of the conflict in the context of discussing Al Qaeda’s propagandistic exploitation of the Palestinian cause for its own purposes:

An Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement surely would not convince bin Laden or al-Qaeda and its affiliated movements to give up their jihad — but it would take away one of their most potent arguments, and one of the few that actually resonates with mass publics.

As Ackerman explained earlier, recognizing these things as contributing factors is a basic requirement of knowing anything about the region:

In none of these cases can you say Had Israel Not Done This, Then That Wouldn’t Have Happened, because the counterfactual conditional makes for sloppy reasoning. But you also can’t say it had no effect when the ripple effects of Israeli actions on American security are so obvious and manifested. Recognizing that doesn’t remotely make you a Blame-The-Jews guy. It makes you a minimally informed and thoughtful observer of the Middle East.

One would like to think that Petraeus as head of Centcom qualifies for this distinction.

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Is There A Majority for Health Care Repeal? Not Really

Doug Bandow cites the new Rasmussen poll showing a majority in favor of repeal, and refers to the public anger this result is supposed to represent. The closer we look at the majority that favors repeal, the stranger it looks.

First of all, only 46% of all respondents “strongly favor” repeal. Adding in those who “somewhat” favor repeal, that brings the number up to 55%. Adding together both “strongly favor” and “somewhat favor,” 81% of Republicans and 59% of independents favor repeal, and a remarkably high 27% of Democrats claim to favor the same thing. This last number seems improbable, and the more we look at other crosstabs the more we see where this would-be Democratic pro-repeal sentiment is coming from. Rasmussen would have us believe that 20% of liberal and 32% of black likely voters want to repeal the health care legislation, and further we are supposed to think that 18% of liberals will vote for a pro-repeal candidate.

Most bizarrely of all, Rasmussen claims that 58% of 18-29 year olds, who have regularly expressed significantly more support for the health care legislation over the last year than other age groups, favor repeal of the same legislation. We are supposed to believe that 18-29 year old likely voters are more likely to support repeal than any other age group aside from voters 65 and older, and we are also supposed to accept that 49% of them would vote for a pro-repeal candidate.

This goes against everything else we think we know about this age group’s party identification and their political and policy views. Admittedly, Gallup’s latest health care polling is a survey of adults and not likely voters, but even that cannot account for the dramatic difference between the 58% of 18-34 year olds who say the health care bill is a “good thing” and Rasmussen’s 58% of 18-29 year olds who favor repeal! Pew’s survey of Millennials released in February gives us even more reason to doubt support for repeal among young voters. According to Pew, Millennials are more likely to identify as Democratic than any other age group, slightly more likely to identify as liberal than conservative, and are more likely to say that government is effective and are more “pro-regulation” than any other group. As of February, 51% still agreed with the statement that “the government should help more needy people even if it means going deeper in debt.” This makes them an especially odd source of support for repealing health care legislation. Therefore, I have to conclude that Rasmussen’s topline result is wildly misleading.

Rasmussen’s results are not coming out of nowhere. I’m sure that Rasmussen did find dissatisfied liberals and young voters who wanted the public option or something of the sort and dislike the current bill because it is far too watered down, and the only way they could express their dissatisfaction to the pollster was by saying that they favor repeal. In practice, these liberal and young respondents are not going to vote for pro-repeal candidates, because they do not actually favor undoing most of the measures contained in the legislation. More to the point, to support repeal they would have to vote for Republican candidates that endorse a range of policies that they reject as liberals.

When it actually comes time to vote, do we really expect these respondents to vote Republican? That is what they would have to do to see repeal realized, and they would have to do this not just once but at twice to give Republicans control of both Congress and the White House. After all, there is no liberal Democratic member of Congress who will run a campaign pledging repeal of health care legislation, so the only candidates proposing repeal will be Republicans. If you asked these same respondents if they wish to have unified Republican government in order to repeal this legislation, my guess is that the result would look rather different. That would probably apply for many moderates and independents as well, but we cannot be as sure about that. None of this is to say that repeal is substantively the wrong thing to propose, but the heart of the Republican political stand against the legislation has been the assumption that the electorate will reward them for their resistance. Conservatives and Republicans should be very cautious if they assume that repeal is some automatic electoral winner that will resonate with a substantial majority of likely voters.

Bandow is not wrong when he refers to the public’s anger. There is a great deal of anger out there, but much of it is being misunderstood. Voters have turned against entrenched party establishments in various state and federal races over the last year, they have objected furiously to the collusion between government and financial interests, and their protest votes have been misinterpreted as an uprising against excessive spending. Meanwhile, the opposition to the health care bill from the left has been tacked on to conservative opposition without acknowledging that the opposition of the former directly undermines the argument that the health care bill is the product of the far left that a “center-right nation” is rejecting. It seems that the same confusion is occurring when discussing support for repeal, as liberals who wanted the legislation to do far more are added to genuine opponents of any and all federal health care legislation to create the illusion of a pro-repeal majority.

P.S. It is worth noting that in the same Rasmussen poll just 43% say that the health care bill will have a “bad impact” on them personally. 26% think it will have a good impact, and 25% say no impact.

Update: The new Economist/YouGov poll confirms what I was saying above. Only 39.6% agree that “[t]he current health care reform bill has so much wrong with it that it should not become law.” That is probably the size of the pro-repeal bloc at its very largest. Only 28.4% of 18-29 year olds take that view, and 6.4% of liberals say the same.


Pro and Anti Revisited

Who would have guessed that Max Boot and Bob Wright disagree on U.S. Israel policy? Boot objects to Wright’s attempt to redefine the label “pro-Israel”:

The condescension — and ignorance — implicit in this argument is staggering. Wright suggests that Israel’s elected leaders from all the major parties — all of them united in supporting the construction of housing for Jews at least in traditionally Jewish parts of East Jerusalem — don’t know what’s good for their country. But he does. And anyone who disagrees with him is objectively “anti-Israel.”

It’s not so hard to imagine that a majority consensus uniting leaders of all major parties on a major policy question can be misguided and that the policy really is ultimately bad for the country in question. Obviously, there was a majority in support of the unnecessary, unjust and miguided war in Iraq, the leaders of both major parties embraced the rationale for invading Iraq, and all of these people were horribly wrong. Invading Iraq really was harmful to U.S. security, damaging to American power and reputation, and an inexcusable waste of resources and lives on a mission whose main accomplishments have been to empower sectarian politicians and their friends in Tehran. Many of our allies warned us against doing this, and many of us dismissed them as anti-American and treacherous. As it turned out, the allies who resisted our folly in Iraq were better allies than the ones that eagerly went along with us.

Of course, pro-war Republicans will not be persuaded by any of this. The Iraq war was ultimately a great success in their eyes. There’s no point in trying to make them see reason here. So let’s try a different example where the disastrous results for the country involved are undeniable. In the U.S. there was an overwhelming bipartisan consensus in favor of backing Mikheil Saakashvili in Georgia, and there was strong bipartisan support for moving Georgia towards EU and NATO membership over the furious objections of Russia. In Georgia, Saakashvili was overwhelmingly popular when he first came to power and remained the favorite of the majority long enough to be re-elected. His goal of national “reintegration” was one widely shared by almost all Georgians. Even his decision to escalate the skirmishes in South Ossetia initially met with broad public support. Saakashvili had been encouraged by the broad-based American support and U.S. military aid and training that his government received, and he had made clear that reintegrating the separatist states was a top priority.

At the NATO summit in Bucharest earlier in 2008, Georgia was all but promised future membership in the Alliance despite the misgivings of many European members, and as a result Saakashvili seems to have taken U.S. support in a crisis for granted. Between the popularity he had with his own people and the strong support he had received from Washington, Saakashvili believed he could achieve a quick victory over the separatists and present the world with a fait accompli, which he expected his Western backers to endorse. All of this led to a disastrous war for which Saakashvili was rightly blamed, the fighting wrecked the country, and the war resulted in the permanent partition of Georgia. Instead of reintegration, Saakashvili’s war established the probably irreversible separation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia under Russian protection.

By just about any measure, Saakashvili’s tenure has been a disaster for Georgia, and his cheerleaders and enablers in the West helped to bring it about. If we look at the substance of the policies they supported and the results that came from those policies, we would have to conclude that the effect was anti-Georgian, but all of Saakashvili’s boosters were absolutely convinced at the time that they were being adamantly pro-Georgian. These boosters insisted that they were supporting a small, struggling democracy against the Russian menace. Besides, who were they to claim to know better than Georgia’s own leaders what was good for Georgia?

As it turned out, Saakashvili’s biggest critics, including myself, were effectively better friends of Georgia than all of the ostensibly pro-Georgian politicians and pundits. Instead of blocking Georgia from going down the path of self-destructive wars of unification, Washington armed and trained Georgia’s army (supposedly for defensive purposes!), gave Tbilisi every reason to expect protection, and then far too late recoiled when the reckless ally embarked on a ruinous course of action. If most of Israel’s Western critics wanted what was worst for Israel, they would be eagerly cheering every ill-advised, counterproductive, internationally isolating, politically radioactive move the Israeli government makes and calling for more of the same. As the proverb says, “The yes-man is your enemy, but your friend will argue with you.”

Personally, I don’t see much use in vying for ownership of the “pro-Israel” label. Even if Bob Wright and the J Street crowd prevail and appropriate the label solely for themselves, not much will have been gained. If the mistaken conflation of the interests of the U.S. and Israel continues under different management with a different agenda, as Wright seems to want, that will still prevent the evolution of a healthy, balanced and normal relationship between our governments. We should strive to make U.S. policy serve America’s just interests with as little partiality in our international relations as possible. We should discourage as much as possible the excitement of passionate attachments and passionate antipathies toward other nations. Throwing out the misleading and inreasingly meaningless label “pro-Israel” would be one way to start.


Egads, A Postponed Foreign Trip!

Obama’s postponed trip to Indonesia and Australia is the latest trivial item provoking a surprising amount of conservative and Republican scorn. Apparently it isn’t enough that they have lost the largest policy fight of the last decade, but some of them also have to embarrass themselves with tantrums about a minor snag in Obama’s itinerary. This ranks with the reaction to the missile defense decision and the outcry against the imaginary “apology tour” as one of the most dim-witted criticisms of Obama available, so naturally it is catching on pretty fast. The latest complaint comes from Dean Cheng at the Heritage Foundation:

For the President to postpone his foreign obligations in favor of what is hardly a domestic crisis (recalling that he had demanded the health care bill be on his desk for signing over six months ago) suggests a failure to understand the American role in the world.

Worse, the range of foreign policy issues that are confronting this President, from Iranian nuclear proliferation to continuing global economic weakness to growing threats to basic global governance (e.g., piracy, cyber-crime), are receiving short shrift, and this delay only shouts that from the roof-tops. How can the President continue to claim that Asia is a priority when a six-month late domestic reform measure trumps ties to a close ally and strategic partner in the making?

To call this an overreaction would be too kind. It can never just be a case of poor scheduling. It has to be a statement about Obama’s Understanding of America’s Role in the World.

As for the supposed neglect of Asia, Obama had already conferred with both President Yudhoyono and Prime Minister Rudd at the APEC summit. He did this following a reasonably productive Asian tour, and this was followed shortly by the first state dinner at which Obama hosted the Indian Prime Minister, who will be returning to Washington for a nonproliferation summit meeting next month. There were also occasions for meetings with both Yudhoyono and Rudd at the G-20 meetings in the last year, and Obama and Rudd met in Washington last March.

With respect to Indonesia, Walter Lohman of no less than the Heritage Foundation wrote this earlier this month:

The Obama Administration capitalized on this progress and on President Obama’s personal associations with Indonesia by accelerating diplomatic engagement. In February 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited U.S. treaty allies Japan and South Korea, China, and Indonesia. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited Indonesia later that same month. Combined with Obama-Yudhoyono conversations at the G-20 meetings and APEC Summit, and President Obama’s phone calls to President Yudhoyono, the Administration appears to be fully deployed diplomatically [bold mine-DL].

Most significantly, the Administration has agreed to pursue a “comprehensive partnership” with Indonesia–an idea first proposed by President Yudhoyono after the 2008 U.S. presidential election. This partnership will cover a range of initiatives in the broad areas of economics, security, and “people-to-people contacts.”[13] The longstanding plan has been for President Yudhoyono and President Obama to sign an official agreement for such a partnership during President Obama’s first visit to Indonesia.

So, yes, the delay is regrettable and the administration probably should have found some way to avoid it. Aside from the delay, it would appear that Obama has actually been doing reasonably well in maintaining and building relations with Indonesia and Australia as well as with much of the rest of Asia.


Obama’s Increasingly Ridiculous Foreign Policy Critics (II)

So we are watching unfold a sort of Chicago-style Realpolitik, flavored with the traditional academic leftist disdain for the Jewish state. The subsequent result is not so much a cut-off of U.S. aid as a subtle shift in perception abroad: Israel’s multiple enemies now are almost giddy in sensing that America is not all that into protecting the Jewish state, intellectually or morally. ~Victor Davis Hanson

The only people who seem to be “almost giddy” these days are conservative and Republican critics of Obama, who seem to think that their ludicrous obsession with demeaning Obama’s support for Israel is being vindicated by events. Of course, they cannot point to any decrease in Obama’s actual support for Israel, because there has been no decrease of any kind, so they are reduced to talking about “subtle shifts in perception,” feelings, moods, and changes in style. These shifts are so subtle that they can only be seen by the trained eye of the ideologically-motivated pundit. As I have said before, Obama’s critics were once obsessed with his supposed superficiality, and now it is they who cannot stop talking about purely superficial things when criticizing him.

What on earth would “Chicago-style Realpolitik” look like? On the face of it, that sounds like a pretty hard-nosed, steely-eyed, “he pulls a knife, you pull a gun” approach that would mean that insults and disrespect would merit severe reprisals. Continued disrespect would require that an example be made of the offending party. It would be Bismarck meets Capone meets Daley. Obviously, the administration is so far from handling relations with Israel this way that there’s really nothing more to say.

When provoked, the administration responded angrily for a few days before returning everything to the status quo. When ignored and thwarted over the last year, the administration has been fairly accommodating and continually re-states its “absolute, total and unvarnished” commitment to Israel. Instead of rebuking or criticizing Israel over its counterproductive Gaza operation, the administration has done just what you would expect and defended the operation against criticisms contained in the Goldstone report. Netanyahu went so far as to mention this last point in his AIPAC speech and to thank Obama for it. All of that is an expression of “academic disdain” for Israel? This demonstrates an unwillingness to defend Israel intellectually and morally?

Then again, I can understand Hanson’s frustration. He and others like him have spent so much time building up an absurd image of Obama as the embodiment of everything they fear and hate, and then he turns out to be a pretty typical, boring center-left Democratic politician who holds just about every conventional, mainstream view you would expect him to have. It has to be galling to be so profoundly wrong about almost everything one has written about the man, and so at this point the only thing to do is keep re-stating the earlier nonsensical claims with greater and greater intensity. Sure, it’s discrediting and embarrassing, but that hasn’t stopped them before now.

Update: Kevin Sullivan makes a similar point:

So while Israel is just as militarily and strategically secure as it has ever been – if not more so – critics like Hanson worry about Israel’s perceptual and “intellectual” insecurity . . . whatever that means.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to take these people seriously.

Unfortunately, a great many people on the right not only take them seriously, but they are absolutely convinced that these critics are brilliantly attacking Obama for his mistakes.

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