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Home/Daniel Larison

‘Every Lie We Tell Incurs a Debt to the Truth’

Vice President Mike Spence, speaking at the Southern Baptist Convention (Fox4 News DFW screen grab)

The government response to the coronavirus has been so lacking in part because they still don’t have enough tests available, so there is no way to tell how many people have already been infected. A related reason is that the CDC keeps refusing to approve testing for people who have potentially been exposed to the virus, and that even includes medical professionals that become sick. A quarantined nurse in northern California has written about her experience with this:

Jeremy Konyndyk comments on the nurse’s letter:

I said earlier this week that the government has been flying blind in its response to the outbreak, and this is one of the consequences of that. Incredibly, the HHS Secretary said just this week that there are only a little over 100 cases in the country, but this low number is a function of the woefully inadequate testing that has been done. Azar’s statement needs to be read in full to appreciate how ludicrous it was:

Remember, we only have over 100 cases so far in the United States. We are not South Korea. South Korea may be doing tens of thousands of tests because South Korea is in a very different epidemiological position. It is more like China’s situation than like the United States or Canada’s situation.

The president has been determined to minimize the seriousness of the outbreak, and his officials are falling in line behind his reckless lead. Azar’s statement shows how dishonest the Trump administration is being in its response. Trump wants to make it seem as if the virus has been contained, so his officials cite the smallest number possible to placate him. South Korea is conducting so many tests in order to discover how bad the outbreak there is. The U.S. is lagging far behind them, and top U.S. officials take this unacceptable tardiness and dereliction as proof that the outbreak isn’t that big of a problem. Here is Konyndyk again from yesterday:

The top officials that the president has put in charge of the coronavirus response are lying to the public about the severity of the problem to cover up for their own failures and to cater to the moods of the president. There is a quote from the miniseries Chernobyl that seems appropriate to cite here: “When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can no longer remember that it is even there, but it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, that debt is paid.” The debt incurred by the Trump administration’s lies and evasions about this health crisis will likely be paid by many of the most vulnerable and elderly Americans.

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Trump Betrays the Public with Coronavirus Misinformation

Rod Dreher is appropriately appalled by Trump’s recklessness in spreading misinformation about coronavirus on national television:

Where do you even start with what Trump said tonight? All the good work that the people in the executive branch below him are doing to fight this pandemic is completely overshadowed by this nitwit going on Hannity to say things that are not only untrue, but dangerously untrue. Listen to the clip — a simple recap can’t do it justice. The man just opens his mouth and foolishness falls out.

The president’s willful ignorance and incompetence are not news, but his terrible handling of the coronavirus outbreak has thrown his dangerous unfitness for office into stark relief. Responding effectively to an outbreak like this requires leaders that are transparent, honest, and willing to respect and follow the advice of trained experts, and Trump is none of those things. Worse, he insists on a culture of toadyism and flattery from everyone that works for him, and that creates incentives for his subordinates to put a positive, Trump-pleasing spin on everything they say no matter what the facts are. Trump spreads misinformation about the virus to offer people a false sense of security because he fears the effect that the outbreak will have on his political fortunes. Even when there is a public health crisis, the president remains concerned primarily about what it means for him. Perversely, by trying to minimize the seriousness of the outbreak, the president makes it more likely that it will be worse than it had to be. When he encourages the people that trust him to behave irresponsibly and put themselves and others at risk, he is betraying them, and he sabotages the efforts of his own officials to limit the spread of the virus.

Dreher talks about why he’s worried for his mother:

Here’s the thing: she’s an avid Fox News watcher, and Trump supporter. When the President of the United States, a man she believes in, appearing on a Fox program, minimizes the seriousness of the threat, at best this is going to confuse her, and at worst it’s going to undo all the work I’ve been trying to do to protect her health. This is personal to me. I’m not all that worried about what happens to me if I get it. I’m not elderly, though I’m not young either, and I do have a somewhat compromised immune system, the legacy of a three-year battle with the Epstein-Barr virus. I’m worried about my mom, and my uncle, an aging shut-in with diabetes, which makes him more vulnerable to it. I worry about the older people at my church. They’re all the ones who are at much greater risk of dying from this thing. They’re the main reasons we all have to take this much more seriously than our president does.

When Trump says that he thinks the fatality rate from coronavirus is “way under one percent,” he is either stubbornly resistant to what experts have been telling him or he is lying because a lower fatality rate is less alarming and therefore more politically convenient. The fatality rate from the virus definitely isn’t “way under one percent.” Justin Fox discusses this in an article today:

The Covid-19 rate is obviously a moving target, so I’ve included both the 3.4% worldwide mortality rate reported this week by the World Health Organization and the 1% estimate from a study released Feb. 10 by the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London that factored in probable unreported cases. The authors of that study also said that, given the information available at the time, they were 95% confident the correct fatality rate was somewhere between 0.5% and 4%. Gates used the 1% estimate in his article, and when I ran it by Caroline Buckee, an actual professional epidemiologist who is a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, she termed it “reasonable.”

In a context that includes Ebola and MERS, the Covid-19 death rates are much closer to those of the flu, and it’s understandable why people find the comparison reassuring. Compare Covid-19 with just the flu, though, and it becomes clear how different they are [bold mine-DL].

The 61,099 flu-related deaths in the U.S. during the severe flu season of 2017-2018 amounted to 0.14% of the estimated 44.8 million cases of influenza-like illness. There were also an estimated flu-related 808,129 hospitalizations, for a rate of 1.8%. Assume a Covid-19 outbreak of similar size in the U.S., multiply the death and hospitalization estimates by five or 10, and you get some really scary numbers: 300,000 to 600,000 deaths, and 4 million to 8 million hospitalizations in a country that has 924,107 staffed hospital beds. Multiply by 40 and, well, forget about it.

The president is evidently incapable of putting the public interest ahead of his own narrow, personal interests, and the coronavirus outbreak is showing us just how dangerous it can be to have such a reckless and self-serving president. The slow, inadequate government response to the outbreak has already allowed the virus to spread undetected for many weeks, and that poor response is being made worse by the president’s irresponsible attempts to downplay the seriousness of the situation. Americans should have a president more concerned with protecting our health and safety than he is with burnishing his own image, and right now we don’t have that.

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Trump’s Arms Control Charade

Russian President Vladimir Putin By Harold Escalona/shutterstock And President Trump By Drop of Light/Shutterstock

The Trump administration has proven once again that it doesn’t take arms control seriously:

The Trump administration has chosen a special envoy for nuclear talks, with the principal task of negotiating a new arms control agreement with Russia and China, according to congressional sources and former officials.

The proposed special negotiator, Marshall Billingslea, is currently the under-secretary for terrorist financing at the US Treasury. His nomination last year for a top human rights job at the state department was stalled by controversy over the extent of his involvement in the torture programme established by the George W Bush administration, in which he oversaw the conditions of detainees in Guantánamo Bay.

Billingslea’s name was being floated last month for this position, and how he has it. The article describes him as having “a long record as a hawk on nuclear weapons issues” and reminds us that he was once an aide to Jesse Helms. Billingslea’s appointment is a clear signal that the administration doesn’t really want new arms control agreements.

Meanwhile, the time to extend New START grows shorter. New START expires in eleven months, and this appointment proves that there is no real interest in the administration in extending the treaty. No one who wants to keep New START alive would risk its collapse by tying it to the outcome of a new set of arms control talks, so it is hard not to conclude that advocates for these new “talks” want New START to die. Unless the administration hopes to destroy arms control between the U.S. and Russia, New START extension ought to be the first priority. David Axe explained this last week:

If New START expires, there’s virtually no second chance to restore its limits on the world’s major nuclear arsenals. “If New START expires next year, arms control between Russia and the United States as we know it is effectively over,” Korda and Kristensen explained.

“Given the underlying East-West tensions and upcoming dramatic governance shifts in both the United States and Russia, there appears to be little interest or bandwidth available on either side in negotiating a new and improved treaty.”

“At risk of stating the obvious, negotiating a new treaty is exponentially more difficult than extending an existing one.”

The initial response to the appointment from some arms control experts has been quite negative:

The administration has feigned interest in a “bigger” treaty that includes both Russia and China in order to have an excuse for letting New START lapse. Naming an envoy for talks that are going nowhere is just one more part of this charade. There will be no meaningful negotiations for a new treaty, so Billingslea won’t have much to do.

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Biden’s Foreign Policy Vulnerabilities

Vice President Joe Biden in 2017 By Drop of Light/Shutterstock

The early collapse of the Biden campaign over the last few months has largely spared the former vice president of the scrutiny that a leading presidential candidate usually receives. Now that he has jumped back to the front of the field, it is worth reviewing Biden’s many significant vulnerabilities on foreign policy. Biden’s foreign policy weaknesses don’t receive much coverage because of his extensive foreign policy experience, but it is because he leans so heavily on that experience to promote his candidacy that voters need to know what is in his record.

The most obvious and best-known weakness is Biden’s vote to authorize the Iraq war and his support for the war for several years after that. Related to that is Biden’s absurd fabrication that he immediately became an opponent of the war as soon as it began. Not only did Biden get one of the biggest foreign policy questions of the last 20 years wrong, but he is still trying to pretend that his position was the opposite of what we all know it to be. It doesn’t take a master tactician to realize that Trump would hit Biden on both of these repeatedly. Trump was not really an opponent of the Iraq war, either, but we have to expect the president to be shameless enough to attack Biden for his previous support for the war. Judging from Biden’s fumbling responses on this question in the primary debates, the former vice president still doesn’t have a convincing answer to criticisms of his support for the Iraq war. The Iraq war vote is still relevant today because it was one of the most consequential blunders in Biden’s career and because it is emblematic of his embrace of the foreign policy establishment’s groupthink on a wide range of issues.

That embrace of establishment groupthink is on display again with Biden’s hawkish attacks on Trump over North Korea. Biden objects to Trump’s North Korea policy, which he portrays as being too accommodating. He believes that Trump is too willing to make a deal, and instead he insists on increasing pressure and sticking with the fantasy of denuclearization. Trump’s handling of North Korea has been very poor, but attacking him for being too interested in a negotiated agreement is wrong on the merits and it is lousy politics to boot. Trump’s North Korea policy has failed because it is too inflexible and its goals are too ambitious. Biden proposes to replace that with a more hawkish policy. Like Trump, Biden wants North Korea to carry out substantial disarmament before any sanctions are lifted. That will be a non-starter under Biden just as it has been under Trump. If voters are given a choice between Trump’s phony engagement or Biden’s hawkish rejection of it, they are liable to prefer the former. If Democrats are going to attack Trump on North Korea, it has to be done by showing that his own disdain for diplomacy and contempt for our South Korean ally have fatally compromised the effort to negotiate with North Korea. Biden can’t make that argument because he shows a similar unreasonableness and inflexibility.

The most recent part of Biden’s record comes from his time as a member of the Obama administration, and this is where Biden may be unusually vulnerable. Biden sometimes disagreed with Obama about certain foreign policy issues, but once Obama decided on something Biden naturally got on board with whatever the policy was. That means that he will be saddled with the baggage of Obama’s worst decisions, and he can’t very well tout his disagreements with Obama’s policies without risking the alienation of voters on his own side. For example, Biden was opposed to the Libya intervention in the internal administration debate, but he can’t talk about this without calling attention to one of Obama’s biggest errors. He was recently endorsed by two of the former Obama officials responsible for pushing intervention in Libya, namely Susan Rice and Samantha Power, and that suggests that a Biden administration would probably be staffed by some of the same people that agitated for unnecessary military interventions during the Obama years.

The former vice president famously believes in having “no daylight” with Israel. Trump has shown us what having “no daylight” means in practice: constantly giving the Israeli government whatever it wants, expecting nothing in return, and undermining U.S. interests and international law in the process. Because he has always been such a “pro-Israel” hawk, Biden will be unable to criticize Trump effectively on his Israel policy. He offered up a boilerplate objection to the president’s annexation and apartheid plan, but his unwillingness to criticize the Israeli government publicly means that he will be hamstrung whenever the subject comes up.

Biden was the vice president when the U.S. policy of supporting the Saudi coalition war on Yemen began almost five years ago. Today Biden professes to be against continued support for the war, and he has made some combative anti-Saudi remarks. When he was in a position to influence U.S. policy, there is no evidence that he lifted a finger to stop the Obama administration’s backing of the Saudi coalition. Prior to his current run for president, there is no reason to think that Biden has had a serious problem with the U.S.-Saudi relationship. Like other former members of the Obama administration, he discovered that backing the war on Yemen is a terrible thing only when it became Trump’s policy. Because Biden was a member of the administration that first involved the U.S. in this war, and because there is no sign that he ever disagreed with the policy at the time, he is uniquely ill-suited to challenge Trump over our government’s ongoing support for that atrocious war. Trump’s subservience to Saudi and Emirati interests is one of the president’s greatest vulnerabilities on foreign policy, but Biden can’t credibly attack him when he was part of an administration that started the same policy.

This is not an exhaustive list of Biden’s weaknesses, but they give you an idea of why Biden would have a hard time challenging Trump’s record of foreign policy failures.

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The Economic War on Iran Is Fueling a Humanitarian Disaster

Barry Posen has written an important new article on U.S. Iran policy and the possibility of a new war. Here he comments on why Iran won’t ever agree to the administration’s excessive demands:

Though Americans may decry many of Iran’s strategic choices—which indeed threaten several U.S. interests and client states—we must put ourselves in the regime’s shoes. What if another country, which had consistently condemned our form of government, demanded that the United States give up its nuclear science and technology base, its Air Force, and its allies? In short, the United States is demanding that Iran concede its sovereignty and its ability to defend that sovereignty [bold mine-DL]. Given the intensity and religious elements of Iranian nationalism, the regime is unlikely to comply, and the Iranian people will likely support them, despite the regime’s present domestic difficulties.

Posen’s article is worth reading in full, and he does a great service by cutting through the administration’s obfuscations about their real goals in Iran. It is easy enough to point out how the administration’s policy cannot achieve their stated goals, but their stated goals have always been a cover for a much more aggressive and destructive agenda. Posen sees that and calls it for what it is: a push for regime change. His description of the administration’s demands is exactly right when he says that Trump is demanding that Iran concede its sovereignty. This drives home how unreasonable and intrusive U.S. demands are, and it also reminds us that the demands are completely illegitimate. The Trump administration views and treats Iran as if it were a colonial subject that is in rebellion against U.S. authority instead of a sovereign and independent state with its own rights and interests. If Iran gave in to the administration’s demands, a colonial subject is effectively what it would become. So we need to understand that Iranian intransigence in the face of the “maximum pressure” campaign is rooted in the country’s experience with exploitation and interference by colonial powers going back more than a century and in Iranians’ desire for national dignity and independence. We also need to understand that the U.S. is the one playing the role of the aggressor here, and our government is the one that has been attacking Iran and its people with a pitiless economic war. U.S. policy towards Iran has a disastrous goal that the administration is pursuing with cruel and unjust means. The policy is failing, but it is inflicting enormous harm on innocent people in the process. As Posen explains in the rest of the article, this policy is courting war with Iran, and if that were to happen it would be responsible for causing much greater devastation.

As it happens, that economic war has also contributed to Iran’s difficulties in combating the spread of coronavirus. Esfandyar Batmanghelidj and Abbas Kebriaeezadeh explain:

Given its sophisticated manufacturing base, Iran produces many of these products domestically, limiting the initial impact of sanctions on the availability of medicine and equipment. However, inventories in pharmacies and shops are running low. Importers are struggling to get their hands on new inventory and factories are struggling to ramp up local production to keep up with the rising demand. U.S. sanctions are largely to blame for these disruptions.

The Iranian companies producing medicine, disinfectants, and protective clothing also have a supply-chain problem; they are dependent on imported ingredients and materials. For example, even though antiviral drugs are manufactured in Iran, the raw materials are almost entirely supplied from China and India. Should Iranian manufacturers run out of these raw materials, it will be very difficult, if not impossible, to effectively contain and treat COVID-19 in Iran. U.S. sanctions are constraining the supply of raw materials and imported goods in two ways.

U.S. sanctions have already been responsible for causing shortages in medicine and medical equipment, and they have contributed to many preventable deaths of patients that could not get access to the medicine they needed. Now they threaten to exacerbate the coronavirus outbreak that could claim many more Iranian lives. Economic war against Iran is not merely unjust and unnecessary, but it is also a threat to public health in Iran and in the surrounding region. Trying to strangle Iran into submission could end up contributing to the spread of a pandemic:

While much of the global attention towards Iran’s response to coronavirus has focused on the question of whether or not the Iranian government has adequately managed the outbreak, there is a far more urgent concern among Iran’s doctors. If Iranian pharmaceutical companies and medical equipment manufacturers are unable to establish speedy and reliable means to import raw materials, the country could soon face a humanitarian catastrophe.

There is greater urgency than ever to end the economic war on the Iranian people, who are once again bearing the brunt of a purely destructive Iran policy.

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Thoughts on Super Tuesday

The full results of the Super Tuesday elections haven’t been reported yet, but it is clear that Biden has exceeded expectations by carrying most of the contested states and taking the lead in delegates so far. He prevailed not only in the Southern states and Oklahoma, as expected, but he also won in Minnesota and Massachusetts and has a realistic chance of winning Texas and Maine as well. California is likely to be Sanders’ best state, and it is reporting last, so we won’t have the full picture until tomorrow at the earliest. I wrongly assumed that Biden would not have the chance to capitalize on his South Carolina win because he had no organization or advertising to speak of in the states that voted today, but all of that turned out to be irrelevant. By almost every metric of a campaign’s competitiveness, the Biden campaign should have gone nowhere, but instead it has been propelled back to the front of the pack where it was about six months ago.

The 2020 contest is clearly a two-candidate race now, but now Biden has the advantage. The party leadership clearly loathes Sanders and what he represents, and they have been desperate to find some way to stop him. Biden has improbably reemerged as their champion despite his many obvious weaknesses as a candidate. The remainder of the nomination race seems to be heading towards a farcical repeat of 2016 with the establishment favorite in the leading position. Sanders might yet surprise everyone by taking the lead back from Biden, but this could very easily end up as one more replay of a familiar story where the insurgent loses to the establishment’s candidate and then the establishment’s candidate goes on to lose a winnable general election. If that is the choice that the Democratic Party makes, it will be the safe and uninspired one.

I have been a confirmed Biden skeptic for the last year, and I thought his poor showings in the early states were enough to end a candidacy that still doesn’t make much sense. Biden’s weaknesses as a candidate are all still there, and they will only become more obvious to voters. His foreign policy record will provide Trump with plenty of fodder, and his poor debate performances will make him an easy target for the incumbent. As the field narrows down to Biden and Sanders, there is every chance that Biden will collapse again when voters realize that he isn’t up to the task.

There is no denying that Warren had a bad night. Relegated to third place in her own state, she had no success anywhere else, either. It doesn’t make sense for her to stay in the race much longer. She has distinguished herself as the wonkiest and best prepared candidate, but that is the kind of candidate whose base of support is typically quite limited. Most voters don’t vote based on policy, and Warren’s campaign has been intensely focused on policy substance. I happen to think that is to her credit, but I fear it is also why she has trailed behind her competitors in every state. If she chose to support Sanders, her knowledge and experience would be tremendous assets for his campaign.

One thing that everyone can rejoice in is the complete failure of the Bloomberg campaign. Mike Bloomberg made an extremely costly bet of more than $500 million that he could buy his way into this nominating contest, and when all is said and done he will have only a very small number of delegates and no wins outside of Samoa. As I said when he jumped into the race, Bloomberg had no constituency among Democratic voters, and he proved to be an even more abysmal candidate than I thought he would be. Most Democratic voters turned their noses up at the arrogant authoritarian oligarch, and that is a very good and healthy thing for the future of our political system.

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Bloomberg’s Extremist AIPAC Speech

Barbara Boland reports on Bloomerg’s appearance at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference over the weekend. Bloomberg was the only 2020 candidate to speak at the conference in person:

“The fact that Democrats are unwilling to go to AIPAC, and that they’re even willing to criticize AIPAC, is a sign of the changing views of the Democratic constituency, who are more questioning of Israel and more progressive than ever in the past,” said author and foreign policy analyst Mark Perry in an interview with The American Conservative.

Bloomberg’s AIPAC speech was mostly the usual boilerplate affirmations that we are used to hearing from “pro-Israel” hawks, but there were a couple statements from the speech that were important for showing just how extreme Bloomberg’s hawkishness is on this issue. On the question of conditioning aid, Bloomberg took the most hard-line position imaginable:

And if I’m elected president, I can promise you I will always have Israel’s back…because Israel has a right to defend itself by itself. And that means I will never impose conditions on military aid no matter what government is in power [bold mine-DL].

Bloomberg’s statement is a direct response to Sanders and Warren, both of whom have said that they would be willing to impose conditions on aid. It is a remarkable statement in that it shows that there is absolutely nothing that the Israeli government could ever do that would cause Bloomberg to consider suspending or eliminating U.S. military aid. That is an alarming and dangerous position, and it is a measure of how bizarre the debate on Israel policy is that this extreme view is so widely shared. Guaranteeing unconditional support encourages the Israeli government to pursue its policies of occupation and illegal annexation as aggressively as it wants because it knows that it will face no meaningful opposition from Washington. In this respect, Bloomberg is indistinguishable from Trump.

Bloomberg then went on to make some truly outlandish claims:

Look, Israel is on the front lines countering American enemies in the region and sharing valuable intelligence and experience with us. So conditioning foreign aid wouldn’t only impair Israel’s ability to keep itself safe, but our ability to keep ourselves safe as well. After all, American security and Israel’s safety are inextricably linked.

Conditioning aid would not impair Israel’s ability to defend itself, which it can already do on its own without U.S. assistance. Israel is not “countering American enemies.” Its attacks on Syrian and Iranian targets over the years have nothing to do with our security, and their government takes no part in combating any of our actual enemies. That is understandable because the U.S. and Israel aren’t allies, and our governments have no obligations to defend or aid one another. Our security and theirs is not “inextricably linked.” The two have nothing to do with each other. Conditioning aid to Israel won’t make the U.S. less safe because providing that aid has no connection to our security.

Bloomberg pays lip service to a two-state solution, but everything else he says in his speech proves that this is just window dressing to distract from an otherwise hard-line position that indulges the Israeli government in whatever it wants and expects nothing in return. In one of the more laughable moments in the speech, Bloomberg accuses Sanders and other critics of AIPAC of trying to “intimidate” people from attending the conference by calling attention to the anti-Palestinian bigotry that is so often on display there. Of course, he had nothing to say against that bigotry, because he cannot even bring himself to acknowledge that it exists. In another nod to hawkish extremism on Iran, Bloomberg says that as president he would “put an end to their nuclear program forever.” Once again, Bloomberg feigns concern about reneging on the JCPOA, but then sets demands that are every bit as unrealistic and excessive as Trump’s. There is no chance that Iran would agree to an end to their nuclear program, and talk of permanently ending it shows how out of touch and ill-informed Bloomberg is.

Bloomberg’s views are at the hawkish extreme, and they are also based on a fantasy that “pro-Israel” hawks promote to justify U.S. support that Israel doesn’t need.

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Facing the Truth About Our Militarized Foreign Policy

Professor Andrew Bacevich (You Tube)

Andrew Bacevich considers the example of Eugene Genovese’s opposition to the Vietnam War and what it can teach us about our disastrous and destructive policies overseas:

Sober analysis devoid of moral posturing back in 1965 would have allowed policymakers to see that the United States had no vital interests at stake in Vietnam, that that nation’s future was best left to the Vietnamese people to decide. Had President Lyndon Johnson and his advisers taken that view, they would have avoided an epic tragedy. Instead they embarked upon an epic crime.

Sober analysis devoid of moral posturing today should allow policymakers to recognize that the United States has no vital interests in the Greater Middle East. A wise approach to policy will allow the people who live there to decide their futures. Further military meddling by the United States will only kill more people and wreak more havoc without any apparent benefit to anyone.

I do not welcome a victory by the Taliban or ISIS or Iran or any of the entities that comprise Washington’s current unofficial enemies list. But across the Middle East, the United States for decades now has pursued a course that has been criminally reckless and counterproductive.

There is great resistance in the U.S. to the truth that our militarized foreign policy is a destructive force in the world. The story that we have told ourselves for decades is that we have good intentions and that our “leadership” is stabilizing and benevolent. We keep telling ourselves that story in part because the reality of what the U.S. has done to many countries over just the last twenty years is so awful and we don’t want to face up to it. The enormous damage that our militarized foreign policy has done in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Afghanistan will take decades for the people in these countries to recover from, and all of the upheaval, bloodshed, and chaos that our policies caused or contributed to have been for nothing.

The “war on terror” has not lessened the threat from jihadist groups, but instead it has caused these groups to flourish and spread. Defining counter-terrorism as a war not only fails to reduce the threat, but it also guarantees that there can be no end to the war. Policies of regime change haven’t made the U.S. the least bit more secure, but they have kept the U.S. embroiled in regional conflicts for decades at a substantial cost in lives lost and money wasted. Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions more displaced as a result of our habits of exaggerating foreign threats and then overreacting to those threats with heavy-handed, militarized responses. The U.S. did not have to do any of these things, but we have chosen to do them and to keep doing them year after year because we don’t think about all the harm that we are doing to entire nations. Worst of all, many Americans still think that the U.S. has been doing good all this time.

What the story doesn’t tell us is that the pursuit of global “leadership” involves constant interference in the affairs of other nations and a conceit that we have both the right and the responsibility to sanction, bomb, or invade any country if their government doesn’t behave just as we would like them to. It is that conceit that has led to crippling sanctions regimes, overthrowing foreign governments by force, and keeping U.S. troops on foreign soil where they aren’t wanted. Because our government presumes that it knows what is best for other countries, it treats local resistance to our interference as malign, and it treats the entire Middle East as its sphere of influence that it has to “defend” from the people that live there. To make matters worse, none of this has had anything to do with protecting the U.S. It has all been driven by excessive fear, passionate attachments, and inveterate antipathies that have trapped the U.S. in a prison of our own making. If we want to stop these senseless policies, we need to reject the assumptions that lead to them. The first step in breaking out of that prison is to recognize that the U.S. does not need our militarized foreign policy to be secure, and that our militarized foreign policy is a disaster both for our country and for all the countries where it is practiced.

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How Sanders ‘Disquiets’ the Hawks

Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Bernie Sanders (V-VT) speak to press Wednesday about new joint resolution demanding U.S. military gets out of Yemen. (You Tube)

Walter Russell Mead has written a predictably tedious attack on Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy:

What would a Bernie Sanders presidency mean for U.S. foreign policy? Observers around the world are beginning to ask this question as the socialist senator leads his rivals for the Democratic nomination. The answers are disquieting.

Mead gets one thing right, which is that “the new administration will seek radical changes in America’s conduct abroad.” Beyond that, Mead misleads his readers to think that a Sanders foreign policy amounts to a series of giveaways to other states. He is wrong in his overall assessment, and he is wrong in the particulars as well. The core problem with Mead’s “analysis” is that it treats everything in the most simplistic, zero-sum terms and casts any attempt to undo the damage done by Trump as a “gift” to foreign governments. Mead is “disquieted” by this because he has spent the last several years running interference for failed Trump policies.

It is true that Sanders would reverse the failed and dangerous Iran policy of the Trump administration, and that means finally putting U.S. interests ahead of the preferences of despotic clients. This would mean ending an unnecessary and cruel economic war against the Iranian people, and it would help to revive the JCPOA after years of relentless assaults from Washington. That would not only reduce tensions with Iran and relieve pressure on the civilian population, but it could serve as the beginning of constructive diplomatic engagement to address many other regional issues. It is very likely that he would reduce or end arms sales to regional clients, but that is clearly advantageous for the U.S. and reduces the likelihood of U.S. involvement in a new war. Insofar as U.S. arms sales to despotic clients have encouraged and fueled their regional recklessness, a reduction in these sales will contribute to regional stability. All of this is desirable and in the American interest, and it has nothing to do with “giving Iran’s regional ambitions a substantial boost.” The Iranian people, the region, and the U.S. are all clearly worse off because of the relentless hostility that the Trump administration has shown towards Iran over the last three years, and correcting this is one area where a “radical change” is most desperately needed. An end to the Iran obsession and a reduction in U.S. involvement in regional rivalries would have the added advantage of freeing up U.S. resources and attention to focus on parts of the world that matter much more to U.S. security.

Mead’s section on Russia is similarly misleading. He asserts that “Sanders would also help the Kremlin,” but his evidence for this is embarrassingly weak. Reviving arms control does not aid Russia. It would constrain them. Casting aside arms control treaties does not harm Russia. It frees them from the limits that these treaties imposed. Mead’s assessment of Sanders’ approach to Russia also ignores that he has emphasized the need to combat corruption and authoritarianism, and he has cited Russia as an example of what he is talking about. As Sanders said in his 2018 speech at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), “We need to understand that the struggle for democracy is bound up with the struggle against kleptocracy and corruption.”

The attack on Sanders’ foreign policy is little more than reheated hawkish talking points that try to paint a more decent and sane foreign policy as “weakness” and “appeasement” when it is neither. It is no wonder that hawks are disquieted by that foreign policy, because it represents the most extensive repudiation of their bankrupt worldview that we have seen in a long time.

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