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Persistent Republican Dishonesty in Foreign Policy Debate

They [liberals] see history as moving inevitably and beneficially to the left and bemoan American alliances with what they see as retrograde right-wing regimes.

They want us to look more favorably on those like Chavez and Fidel Castro, who claim they are helping the poor. Somehow it is seen as progressive to cuddle up to those who attack America and to scorn those who have shown their friendship and common values over many years.

And so Obama, the object of so much adulation in Western Europe, seems to have had only the coolest of relations with its leaders. The candidate who spoke in Berlin is now the president with no sympathy for the leaders of peoples freed when the wall fell. They are seen as impediments to his goal of propitiating Vladimir Putin’s Russia, where Joseph Stalin is now an honored hero. ~Michael Barone [1]

At the risk of repeating myself, Republican critics such as Barone long ago exhausted whatever credibility they may have had on this subject. It may not concern them that they are engaged in a sustained campaign of lying and misrepresentation, but I don’t think this persistent dishonesty can be pointed out often enough. When Barone says that Obama’s postponed trip to Indonesia and Australia signifies something larger about his approach to foreign policy, he is at best being insufferably dense. When he says that “liberals” want Washington to look more favorably on Chavez and Castro, that is pretty clearly a lie and a conflation of the administration with a very few far-left sympathizers of these regimes.

Barone badly misrepresents Obama’s approach to eastern Europe and Russia. He has no evidence that Obama has no “sympathy” for eastern European leaders, and Barone does not acknowledge that Washington is pressing ahead with a missile defense project in Romania [2] and may soon be reaching an agreement with Bulgaria about the same thing. There is no evidence that Obama has any interest in “propitiating Putin.” If he had, he would not have sent Biden to Tbilisi last summer for a visit where he was very warmly received [3] and where Biden noted that Georgia was one of the highest per capita recipients of U.S. foreign aid, which is an arrangement that continues under the new administration. Biden should know, since he was one of the leading advocates for providing that aid. It was Georgia’s reckless, increasingly authoritarian president who launched his revolution against Shevardnadze in front of a statue of Stalin, and it was his wife who once enthused that Saakashvili was like another Beria. Of course, Stalin is revered as a national hero in Georgia far more than anywhere else, but what does that tell us? Barone has nothing to say about the quality of this allied Georgian government, but he is able to include a lie that Obama has offered no support for Georgia.

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8 Comments To "Persistent Republican Dishonesty in Foreign Policy Debate"

#1 Comment By kulick On March 29, 2010 @ 11:41 pm

You’re entitled to your curious preoccupation with Georgia, but it’s preposterous to claim that “Stalin is revered as a national hero in Georgia far more than anywhere else.” I’ll make no excuses for the old folks here who profess their love for Stalin, but Barone is correct on at least one point. “Opinion polls here regularly show a significant proportion of the population respects Stalin as a strong leader who led the Soviet Union to victory in World War II.” online.wsj.com/article/SB122229545606472921.html That’s the same segment of the population as in Georgia.

It’s a Eurasian thing. You wouldn’t understand.

#2 Comment By MBunge On March 30, 2010 @ 7:39 am

What the f*** is the deal with the right wing fetish for hating Chavez? I mean, as sad and pathetic as the proccupation with Castro is, at least there’s a long standing history to justify it. Chavez is just a lefty demagogue who, as far as I can tell, has never done a single thing to America except badmouth us. Yet, folks like Barone treat Chavez as though he’s the one who ordered the attack on 9/11. How the hell did that happen?


#3 Comment By Daniel Larison On March 30, 2010 @ 9:17 am

I don’t deny that many Russians revere Stalin. I don’t think it’s preposterous to say that he is revered far more in Georgia than anywhere else. Perhaps I should have qualified that statement, but it doesn’t seem preposterous to me. My point is that reverence for Stalin is something that many Russians and Georgians share, it is irrelevant to present policy issues, and it is something Barone conveniently ignored. It is part of his effort to make good relations with Russia seem undesirable (“those people revere Stalin!”).

If our government weren’t so preoccupied with forming an alliance with Georgia, and if we didn’t have major presidential candidates saying crazy things like “we are all Georgians now,” and if references to Georgia were not a major part of the constant stream of anti-Russian propaganda for the last five or six years, I would be quite content to say nothing about Georgia.

As for Chavez, I don’t quite understand the obsession with him. I suppose the need to magnify the “threat” he poses is simply part of the perpetual hunt for the next target of official vilification. Chavez may be a useful figure for some people because he really is a more old-fashioned industry-nationalizing socialist of the kind we don’t see that often anymore. It could be as simple as sympathy for the oligarchs who oppose him.

#4 Comment By Randal On March 30, 2010 @ 10:38 am

Perhaps the obsession with Chavez is mostly because of where his country is located – right in the US’s backyard, where the people who run the US are used to having compliant despots of various kinds. To add insult to injury, he seems to have come to power with real popular support.

For the likes of Barone, the people who pay his wages (the US oligarchs, basically) are exactly the people whose interests are threatened by that kind of thing.

I agree, Chavez is little more than an old fashioned lefty populist, but if the peope of Venezuela want the kinds of government that brings (more fool them, imo), good luck to them. Certainly no business of the Yank oligarchs to tell them how to run their own country. By and large, I suspect a nation has to experience that kind of thing at some point in order to move past it (opinions may be divided whether what the US and UK have moved past it to is much better).

#5 Comment By Anonymous On March 30, 2010 @ 11:36 am

I think people don’t like Chavez because he harbors FARC terrorists, permits widespread drug transit, uses the powers of office to harrasses political opponents and shut down their media outlets, and nationalizes U.S. company’s assets. And he uses his county’s funds to try to get other country’s to elect guys just like him. All in all he acts like a bully and a gangsta, and that’s good enough reason to dislike him, I think.

I dunno how much of the dislike should translates into day to day policy, but some should.

#6 Comment By Anonymous On March 30, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

I don’t know what the evidence indicates, but it seems easily determinable for someone interested in discussing the topic. Who has the president hosted (and which visitors were the media allowed to film), what percentage of his speeches, and his secretary of state’s time, is spent on what countries, and what initiatives has his state department pursued.

I believe he’s visited some African countries, Norway, Denmark, France, some conference in South America and Asia. Pretty normal.

The Russians are claiming, I’ve heard, that the new missile treaty bans (albeit in the recitals) placement of missile defense systems in Europe.

#7 Comment By J On March 30, 2010 @ 3:21 pm

The Barone article reads as laughably underinformed and naive and sentiment. To put it politely. That ’80s-’90s arrangement of the world he wishes would last forever has passed. Like most missives from that side these days, his piece is an illustration of Trilling’s famous “irritable grumbling resembling thought”.

Obama and Clinton have, mostly quietly, implemented a far more comprehensive, systematic, thoroughly pursued, and unsentimental global strategy than their predecessors. Admittedly, it hasn’t paid off in any particular major victory yet, which is what it will take to shut up the haughty rage-and-confrontation junkies that seem to make up most of the American Right’s loudest foreign policy punditry.

The smart sets in Beijing, Moscow, Teheran, Jerusalem, Karachi, and a dozen other capitals are not spouting the smug rhetoric about exploitable American weakness and decline they were a year ago. The noises these days are a rhetoric of pushback and the occasional apoplectic frustrated outburst at feeling thwarted and hemmed in, if not in retreat.

Washington’s foreign policy team just isn’t the mentally lazy, vainglorious, reactive and opportunistic posse of the Bush years anymore. The approach is far more German-type these days: they do the legwork and the thinking, the strategic planning and the hard slow continuous labor in the background to maximize their strengths, repair or eliminate their particular weaknesses. And expend the strength and minimize the viable options of their real opponents. They’ve put in the hard work and been pretty thorough and smart and they don’t stop. When the American principals show up for negotiations or confrontations these days, they tend to hold hands to play that are stronger than anticipated and their opponents weaker ones.

And they’re not afraid of political capital attrition games or time, of transient setbacks. Moscow has managed substantial pushback or obstruction of US and EU efforts in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Belarus/Ukraine since last summer. But the reasserted influence is already bleeding away again with no refund of the political capital spent. Teheran, Jerusalem, Chavez, and Beijing’s clients in Rangoon and Pyongyang have also pushed back against Washington in the past year, often quite aggressively. Yet they too seem to be running sufficiently low on ammunition and allies that they can’t sustain their offensives.

#8 Comment By Anonymous On March 30, 2010 @ 4:18 pm

J- What is this multi-decade strategy that is more comprehensive, systematic, thoroughly pursued, and unsentimental than George Washington, Thomas Jefferson’s, Woodrow Wilson’s, FDR’s and Ronald Reagan’s?

And why isn’t it sentimental? Isn’t a moral criteria important?