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Our Ridiculous Foreign Policy Debates

Michael Cohen offers [1] some advice to foreign policy policymakers and pundits:

To put it bluntly, not everything fits neatly into our preconceived framing devices, and certainly not everything is about the United States. Other countries have agency, too, and can make decisions that affect their national destiny, independently of the United States.

Americans are not the only ones that respond to foreign events this way, but it seems to be more common in the U.S., especially among people that pay the most attention to foreign affairs. Because the U.S. is involved in so many places, it is usually possible for some connection to be made between a given event and some recent U.S. action, but that doesn’t mean that the latter caused the former. Because our foreign policy debates treat almost every foreign problem as one that the U.S. is obliged to address, and because far too many people in those debates credit the U.S. with enormous power to “shape” events, many Americans take for granted that if something happens overseas that the U.S. is in some way responsible for causing or “failing” to prevent the event in question. It is not an accident that these arguments are almost always made by people that have never seen a crisis or conflict that they didn’t think the U.S. should take part in. Everything isn’t about the U.S., but they very much want the U.S. to be meddling in everything, and so they try to make everything be about us in one way or another.

Cohen happened to be referring to the absurd claim that U.S. policy in Syria led to the “Brexit” vote, but he could just as easily have been referring to any number of other events in recent years that have been blamed on the U.S. when many others are far more directly responsible. Syria hawks have often been the biggest offenders when it comes to making these accusations. They tell us that there would have been no conflict in Ukraine if Obama had just bombed Syria as they demanded. Whatever happens to be in the news at the time, they will seize on it and say that it happened because they didn’t get their way on intervening in Syria. All of the hawks’ claims are absurd on their face, but they are repeated often and shamelessly enough that they begin to influence how these issues are understood. Further, by claiming that every event they don’t like over the last few years is the product of not attacking another country they try to make an attack seem more desirable. Of course they deny the agency of other states and groups. The main thing that they’re trying to do is to get the U.S. more deeply involved in the Syrian conflict, and they don’t care how they do it.

If there is an “ISIS-inspired” attack somewhere in the West, they will declare that it is because the U.S. hasn’t ensnared itself deeply enough in Syria and because it earlier tried to extricate itself from Iraq. The more direct and logical explanation that these attacks are at least partly responses to the bombing of Iraq and Syria over the last two years is never even considered, because that would require admitting that military action can have adverse and undesirable consequences for our security. One thing we can reliably expect from hawks is that they will deny that the U.S. has responsibility for any of the things that it actually does overseas while gnashing their teeth over the responsibility we supposedly have because of the things that our government hasn’t done. That is why they will try to pin Syria’s horrific humanitarian crisis on the U.S. because of our “inaction” while completely ignoring the equally horrific humanitarian crisis in Yemen that the U.S. has been helping to cause. This is all part of the ludicrous kabuki show [2] that our foreign policy debates have become. We don’t debate the administration’s actual record, but instead allow both sides to fight over an invented one while overlooking the real costs and consequences of U.S. actions.

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8 Comments To "Our Ridiculous Foreign Policy Debates"

#1 Comment By Cincy 4ever On June 30, 2016 @ 8:43 pm

It’s like after 9/11. Barely any mention of the role our Middle East policy played in bringing on the attack.

“They attacked us because we’re so great. Now shut up and focus on passing the Patriot Act.”

Yemen? Ha ha. Never happened. And if it did, who cares?

#2 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 1, 2016 @ 3:17 am

it is sad that we have been so emotionally distraught about 9/11 i am not sure have a policy as much as we have a reaction. So knee-jerk it is unable or unwilling to distinguish between acts of terror that are home grown and those the direct result of operations of some foreign entity.

A failure that will keep us acting out carelessly exacerbating our fears an solving very little. Th media is worthless because more foreign conflict involving US forces feeds their dollar stream.

We have not ha an operational attack against the US since 9/11. Those who acted since would be inspired by excuse n my view.

If I hear one more time that we have ISIS on the ropes as we contend to send more and military force to do the job, I may be completely convinced that 1984 is here to stay.

#3 Comment By Neal On July 1, 2016 @ 6:41 am

It sure seems like Obama is setting the table for Clinton to escalate the war in Syria and Iraq. That is the debate we should be having.

“Today’s attack in Istanbul only strengthens our resolve to defeat the forces of terrorism and radical jihadism around the world. And it reminds us that the United States cannot retreat. We must deepen our cooperation with our allies and partners in the Middle East and Europe to take on this threat. Such cooperation is essential to protecting the homeland and keeping our country safe.”

Strengthens our resolve… deepen our cooperation… In other words, we going to keep doing the same things (except more and better!) that have failed so far at keeping anyone safe. What else could it mean?

This election is about how much “stupid s&%t” we do in the next 4 years. I’m guessing it will a lot.

#4 Comment By steaming pile On July 1, 2016 @ 8:55 am

“If there is an “ISIS-inspired” attack somewhere in the West, they will declare that it is because the U.S. hasn’t ensnared itself deeply enough in Syria and because it earlier tried to extricate itself from Iraq.”

Of course. Bin Laden said he attacked us on 9/11 mainly because we had sided with Israel against the Palestinians and were meddling in the Middle East in general. But the “experts” knew better: it was because we hadn’t meddled enough! And we needed to do even more for Israel! And in any case it was time to move on and fight Islamic radicalism for the sake of feminism and gay rights!

#5 Comment By Chris Travers On July 1, 2016 @ 3:44 pm

I guess I should say something. I have said that there is a connection between US policy in both Syria and Libya and the Brexit vote. The funny thing is I support Brexit but I oppose our foreign policy in Libya and Syria. Now it isn’t only these things, but it is one factor where without it, Brexit would be hard to imagine (the austerity imposed on Greece is another, and btw these are related). These are still not sole causes, of course, but rather they highlight and exacerbate real structural problems in the EU.

Now, nobody has a front row seat on everything but I have had a front row seat on how the Syrian refugee crisis has been tearing apart the EU starting at the Swedish/Danish border (I commute across that border several times a week). I have only talked with a few Brits about Brexit so I only have a tangental sense of what is going on there.

So I actually agree with a lot of the blame. A lot more blame goes to the structure of the Schengen and Dublin agreements and the unwillingness of the EU leadership to recognize the problems this creates for countries like Greece.

I remain optimistic btw that the EU will adapt and survive, that they wll learn not so much from Brexit but from the things going on that lead voters to say “the EU is a building on fire.” Early indications are that this is happening but it is too soon to tell.

#6 Comment By Fran Macadam On July 2, 2016 @ 10:45 am

Why not just send a totalitarian Bolton into the UN General Assembly, and like Lenin with his pistol held over Kerensky’s Constituent Assembly, have him declare that the United States now rules the nations by force and it will henceforth become the US General Assembly?

Isn’t that really the neocon wet dream?

#7 Comment By David Smith On July 2, 2016 @ 7:16 pm

Saddam Hussein would have crushed the life out of ISIS before it got started. But we took care of that.

#8 Comment By AZ Joe On July 5, 2016 @ 1:53 am

“Saddam Hussein would have crushed the life out of ISIS before it got started. But we took care of that.”

Beautiful. Should be tattooed on the forehead of all neocons and liberal interventionists so they can be easily identified.