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Rand Paul and the Distinction Between Vital and Peripheral Interests

Peter Beinart is on the right track here [1], but his recollection of the last twenty years is a little off:

When the Cold War ended, however, the idea of a foreign power dominating Western Europe or East Asia, or creating a beachhead in the Western Hemisphere, suddenly seemed fanciful. As a result, the language of national interest largely disappeared [bold mine-DL]. It has been replaced by a discussion of foreign “threats” and American “values.” But without a definition of interests, it’s impossible to define what constitutes a threat. And without a definition of interests, supporting American “values” is a limitless pursuit. Americans will never reach a consensus on where exactly our interests lie, but just reintroducing the concept suggests an overdue recognition that because America’s power is finite, its interests must be too.

Beinart is right that post-Cold War politicians and policymakers began to refer to a much more expansive and virtually limitless set of U.S. “interests and values,” but his description omits a few important things. The trouble here wasn’t that American politicians and officials stopped referring to the national interest, but that the meaning of the phrase became so amorphous and was so frequently conflated with vague “values” talk that it could be invoked to justify almost anything just about anywhere in the world. If no clear U.S. interests have been implicated in a foreign conflict or political dispute, invoking a defense of “values” has been the default way to lure Americans into supporting different kinds of interference in other countries that they might otherwise reject. Meanwhile, if there is even the slightest U.S. interest in a particular country, its importance is grossly exaggerated to get the U.S. more deeply involved in whatever events happen to be taking place. The distinction between vital and peripheral interests to which Sen. Paul referred [2], never upheld very clearly during the Cold War, began to be ignored on a regular basis during the ’90s, and this has only become worse over the last decade.

The distinction between interests and values has also been ignored more and more often in recent decades. While they are certainly not alone in doing this, neoconservatives are the most frequent offenders when it comes to blurring or erasing the lines between interests and values. As recently as last year, John McCain wrote [3], “our interests are our values, and our values are our interests.” Leave aside for the moment that this sounds more like the mantra of a cult member than a serious statement about U.S. foreign policy. It is a common refrain that we hear all the time, and it is almost always used to agitate for U.S. involvement in conflicts where America has little or nothing at stake. McCain happened to be writing about Syria in that case, but he could just as easily have been referring to Libya or Ukraine or virtually anywhere else.

Linking and eventually identifying “interests and values” reached its apogee during the Bush years. Indeed, Bush’s Second Inaugural included [4] the deluded (or dishonest) proclamation that “America’s vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one.” Likewise, the problem of the last twenty years isn’t that American politicians and policymakers have ceased referring to national interest, but that many of them tend to treat even relatively minor foreign disputes and conflicts as things that threaten “our vital interests” and some go beyond that to pretend that “our vital interests” are at stake wherever our “values” are coming under attack. It isn’t enough to “reintroduce” the phrase national interest to the debate. It is essential that it be defined in a much less expansive, bloated way than it has been for the last twenty years, or else it will continue to be used to justify endless meddling all around the world.

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25 Comments To "Rand Paul and the Distinction Between Vital and Peripheral Interests"

#1 Comment By Uncle Billy On January 16, 2014 @ 2:51 pm

The Neocons and their rather expansive definition of “National Interests” seemed intent to getting the United States invovled in the internal affairs of every nation on earth. Some of the crazier ones actually wanted the United States to send American troops to the Republic of Georgia, previously part of the Soviet Union, to possily face off vs. Russian troops. We were told that this was in our “national interest.” Ditto the recent political uphevals in Ukraine.

Values and interests are not the same, and the American people have been sold a bill of goods by people who do not really have our “National Interests” at heart. How is it in the national interest of the American people to send troops to every third world toilet to meddle in the internal affairs of that nation?

If you disagree with this foolishness, you are smeared as an “isolationist.” I think it may be time for the United States to become a lot more isolationist.

Start bringing the troops home from Afghanistan, Japan, South Korea, Germany, etc. Focus on rebuilding our infrastructure and economy and stop meddling in the internal affairs of other nations. Let Japan build a blue water navy. We can no longer be world policeman or world nanny.

#2 Comment By CharleyCarp On January 16, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

never upheld very clearly during the Cold War

You can say that again. Plenty of Cold War era intervention and proposed intervention doesn’t meet a reasonable ‘interests’ test (because ‘taking one of their pieces off the board’ by itself isn’t a reasonable interest). This was certainly clear to many Americans as we (mostly) avoided involvement in Angola, and argued about involvement in Nicaragua. Grenada!

If Mr. Gates thinks the VP has been wrong on FP for 40 years, I’d be interested in a list of what Gates thinks he has been right about since 1975. Not interested enough to buy his book, but I’d be willing to bet that it’s not a very impressive list.

#3 Comment By philadelphialawyer On January 16, 2014 @ 4:09 pm

Actually, I think Beinart and Paul got it pretty much correct.

“Values” has, if not replaced, then at least supplanted “the national interest” as the determinant factor viz a viz intervention. And when “the national interest” has been mentioned, it has been the case that there has been a failure to make a distinction between vital and peripheral interests.

I think everyone (Beinart, Paul, Mr. Larison, myself, most of the posters on this board) agrees that the pursuit of “values” provides an excuse for limitless intervention and, indeed, in the hands of the neo cons, and, perhaps, others, such as the liberal interventionists, has been invoked just for that reason. In virtually no controversy, anywhere around the world, is it impossible for a determined advocate of US intervention to find SOME overlap of values between one of the “sides” in the dispute and the USA, and some disparity in values between the other “side” and the USA. “Values” is a very mushy word, and, even when its mushiness still does not do the job, its meaning can be stretched, and the facts can be fudged too (as we have seen over and over again with respect to the Ukraine, Libya and Syria), to make it fit. Even when it is difficult to the point of impossible to claim with a straight face that intervention is in our interests, as in Georgia, it is still always possible to make a case (if only a meretricious one) for our “values” being at stake.

And Beinart goes on to discuss Paul’s treatment of nationalism. As they both say, the more nationalist the US politician, the less he seems able to understand that other folks have patriotic and nationalistic feelings as well. What they would never, ever even consider as acceptable terms for the USA, they expect other nations, and the nationalists thereof, to agree to cheerfully. Paul, quite rightly, in my view, says the USA should not seek to squeeze the last bit of advantage out of the power imbalance it usually enjoys. If both sides are genuinely satisfied, then, and only then, can diplomacy be said to have “worked.” If one side is satisfied, but the other is angry and resentful about having been bullied into accepting a raw deal, the issues involved don’t go away and the bad feelings only continue to fester.

All in all, I can’t find fault with any of it. Values has been pushed over interests. And interests, when still used, have been defined too broadly and sloppily. Moreover, nationalism can’t be seen as a one way street by the US. Not in the long run.

#4 Comment By Michael N Moore On January 16, 2014 @ 4:47 pm

With our manufacturing base increasingly isolated in the military industrial complex, constant war may very well be in our national economic interest, regardless of other implications. It is very frightening that the military-industrial-congressional complex has become the crypto central planner for the US economy.

For example, the New York Times of March 24, 2012, reported that the US Secretary of State was powerless to stop $1.3 billion in military aid to a then unknown government in Egypt because it would have caused layoffs in the US. We are hopeless addicts!

#5 Comment By Noah172 On January 16, 2014 @ 4:49 pm

In the debate over the Persian Gulf War, Joseph Sobran, an opponent and still employed at National Review, had a (as usual) witty, biting article on the neocons’ abuse of the term “vital interests”. Can’t find it online, but here is a reference thereto by John McManus, writing of Sobran’s death in 2010:

The magazine had claimed that America absolutely had to send forces into Iraq to protect three vital interests: oil, peace and stability, and allies. Sobran responded:

Arab oil? We don’t need it. “Peace and stability”? Nobody in the Gulf region threatens us. “Allies”? Such as — Turkey! Oh, brother.

What are America’s vital interests — keeping the meaning of vital in mind? They are, in order:

1) Defense of American territory, sovereignty, lives, and property (including overseas assets such as embassies, territorial waters and airspace, and US citizens traveling or doing commerce abroad, as in the impressment controversy leading to the War of 1812, or Somali pirate raids in our time) from direct attack.

2) Peace and stability with Canada and Mexico (with the latter, that can and should mean fortifying our border against illegal immigration and contraband trafficking).

3) Upholding the Monroe Doctrine.

4) Honoring our treaty obligations (which is why we should repeal dangerously obsolete treaty alliances, NATO most urgently).

That’s it folks.

Other concerns, such as freedom of the seas (beyond the Western Hemisphere), nuclear proliferation, or the global oil market, while not without relevance and perhaps even justifying prudent military action under extreme circumstances, are at bottom peripheral.

#6 Comment By AnotherBeliever On January 16, 2014 @ 7:09 pm

The national interest is well and good, but firstly, it’s definition is arguable, and secondly, it should be pursued largely by commercial and diplomatic means. Meanwhile, military engagement should mostly be limited to defending our actual national security. Of course you can point to exceptions and fuzzy cases on both sides of this divide, but we’d do better to generally follow those guidelines. In contrast to most of the past 20 years.

#7 Comment By bayesian On January 16, 2014 @ 7:16 pm

@Noah172
Thanks for the reminder about Joseph Sobran’s brave, if doomed, attempts to slow the rush to war.

Not sure you what mean by “Monroe Doctrine”, though. Do you see a threat of a European power “recolonizing” a Western Hemisphere country? I agree that we needn’t worry about the small remaining British colonies, though St Pierre and Miquelon are still a threat to Freedom Fries, or something.

Desnarking, I really don’t know what you mean – that Eastern Hemisphere powers (China?) destabilizing Western Hemisphere countries is an inherently greater threat or whatever than intrahemispheric destabilization?

#8 Comment By Fulton On January 16, 2014 @ 7:24 pm

I’m with John Quincy Adams on United States foreign policy:

Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. She will commend the general cause by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.

#9 Comment By Noah172 On January 16, 2014 @ 7:52 pm

Bayesian,

Some clarification: We should update the Monroe Doctrine to apply to all powers outside the two American continents (Europeans were specifically mentioned at the time because those were the only powers worth mentioning). BTW, the Doctrine applied to the expansion of existing colonial possessions or the establishment of new ones; it was not a demand that Europeans surrender all their New World possessions entirely.

Basically, I was using “Monroe Doctrine,” perhaps with slight imprecision, as a shorthand for “don’t let anyone else challenge American primacy in the Western Hemisphere”. This would include foreign interference that is not direct colonization but still militarily or economically threatening (e.g. “Emperor” Maximilian of Mexico; Cuban missile crisis).

As for threats to hemispheric American interests from within (e.g. Noriega), any worthy of our attention and certainly military action would likely be so by meeting the threshold of #1 on my list.

#10 Comment By TomB On January 16, 2014 @ 10:01 pm

For my part I’d be the last to deny that there’s word games being played with “values” and “interests” and I think this is a very good catch by Beinart.

However, let us note that even before this particular word game came into vogue we still had, ahem, certain difficulties in determining when we should meddle/intervene and when not. Needless to say, the word “Vietnam” ought to make that plain to most.

Where then I suspect that this new word game is most likely to get us into trouble that we wouldn’t *already* be getting us into trouble isn’t with the neo-cons so much I don’t think, but with the liberal interventionists.

You know, the Samantha Powerites and etc. where even they are hard put to gin up any arguments that their interventionist enthusiasms are about our interests.

One interesting question then—albeit a minor one—is whether, with same, Beinart the liberal, is really willing to walk his own talk.

Remember; in the wake of the Clinton years not only was Clinton himself saying that his biggest mistake was in not intervening in Rwanda, but that seems to have captured the mind of lots of liberals and Progressives too, such as Susan Rice. And then, so as to confirm that such believers are indeed a power in liberal/Progressive circles, there’s Sam Powers herself. (Not to mention all those liberal/Progressives who hold her book up to such acclaim.)

To the extent then that this new word game is going to get us into trouble that we otherwise would have avoided I think the question is what will it look like and I think the answer is not like our usual mistakes, but instead some brand new ones.

#11 Comment By Richard Wagner On January 16, 2014 @ 10:33 pm

The neoconservatives spent much of the 1990s and early 2000s, particularly William Kristol,developing this “values” rhetoric and convincing Americans that our interests and spreading “American values” are intertwined. There was a psychological element to this. There is in human nature a need for purpose, and a need to strive for something. If you find what you strive for, you no longer want it, because it was really the striving itself that kept you going. The neocons were able to tap into that (whether they did so knowingly or not is debatable) and this largely explains the appeal of their ideas to the masses during much of the Bush era. (I’m getting this largely from an essay by Ty Solomon called “Resonances of Neoconservatism”

#12 Comment By Brian A. Cobb On January 16, 2014 @ 10:45 pm

Pretty tricky, putting Rand Paul in the headline (to get me to read it), and then only a one-sentence reference in the text.

#13 Comment By philadelphialawyer On January 16, 2014 @ 11:21 pm

I agree with TomB. It is at least as much the liberal internationalists who play the “values” card as it is the neo cons. The neo cons play it their way, usually in the guise of promoting “democracy.” Indeed, that was Bush II’s supposed goal in the Middle East. And all the various “color” revolutions were supported by the neo cons under this “value” (democracy) as well.

But, with the Dems in power in the White House, and Power, Rice, etc holding office, it is the lib-internationalist version of “values” which poses the most danger currently. Their version is usually phrased more in terms of “human rights,” and preventing “atrocities” and even loosely defined “genocides,” with a strong emphasis on the rights of women and girls.

Of course, there is a big overlap, as both groups of meddlers try to appeal to the other group…the neo cons love to blather on and on about the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan (even thought their war of choice against Iraq destroyed one of the most pro feminist regimes in the Arab world) and the lib internationalists also bleat about democracy.

But, if anything, the lib internationalists might be more dangerous on this score, regardless of who is in the White House, because many of them, even the leadership, actually believe in their own rhetoric. They really do think it is the duty of the USA to promote, all over the world, from the barrel of a gun, if necessary, certain values. From the neo cons, particularly the leadership, one gets the impression that the values stuff is all a con, window dressing for pure power politics plus doing Israel’s bidding.

Tough choice, though, true believers or cynical liars, when both support unlimited and unending war…

#14 Comment By TomB On January 17, 2014 @ 7:16 am

philadelphialawyer wrote:

“Tough choice, though, true believers or cynical liars, when both support unlimited and unending war…”

Well, not when you put it that way of course. But it never appears to be that, does it?

I think that if not just in the future but already at present the Rwanda thing is going to become … iconic in a way. From a highly non-interventionist standpoint another “Hitler” or “Munich” trope of sorts, constantly trotted out as an example of where, supposedly at least, with just a little cost-free effort we could have avoided a whole great catastrophe.

The damned thing is, that’s arguable at least with Rwanda, isn’t it? It sure can seem that sticking in just a battalion or two of Marines to take names and kick asses over there would have stanched the horror.

On the other hand of course there’s then the problem of how to get *out*, and the further problem that in most other circumstances you ain’t just gonna be confronted with a bunch of machete’-toting drunks.

Not that this is gonna stop those who wanna turn the cry of “Rwanda!” into another “Munich!” of course.

Anyway, that’s my prediction at least, and so maybe Rwanda is worth devoting some further thought to: Should we have tried to intervene? If so, how to do so in a manner that doesn’t make intervention generally easier and more common? (If that’s even possible.) And if not, how to so argue?

It’s funny, despite everyone recognizing the truth of Holmes’ old saw about “bad cases making bad law,” the courts have never been able to *stop* doing that, have they?

#15 Comment By Puller58 On January 17, 2014 @ 8:03 am

It should be noted that Beinart was working for Marty Peretz at the time of the Iraq fiasco, and as a loyal foot soldier he carried water for his Israel obsessed boss. After turning against neoconservatism, he has incurred the wrath of his former boss a number of times. Being able to freely debate our foreign policy in Congress isn’t likely to happen anytime soon since the donor class and part of the electorate are deadset against that.

#16 Comment By John On January 17, 2014 @ 8:26 am

@TomB:

The only reason that it “never appears” to be “unlimited and unending war” is because of how the war is sold in the first place. Everything is surgical and low-intensity and inexpensive when the generals and admirals sit in front of a congressional panel, and then nobody is held accountable a year later when everything that was said turns out to have been bulls**t – and entirely knowable, foreseeable bulls**t at that.

We had boots on the ground for almost ten years in Iraq. We ensured that elections of a sort took place, and that any acts of mass violence were met with overwhelming force. We even “surged” in the provinces of Baghdad and al-Anbar, for all the good that did. Three years later, Fallujah is in rebellion against both its provincial and national government, and under the control of forces nominally affiliated with al-Qa’eda.

The truth is that Iraq is strongly divided along ethnic and religious lines that have been reinforced by conflicts between them over the years, and we did nothing to change that. If we had intervened in Rwanda, we would not have changed the colonial history of Tutsi oppression of Hutu citizens during the Tutsi’s long collaboration with Belgian occupiers. Just putting a “battalion or two” between two peoples with good reason to hate each other never changes anything, except the possibility of Americans being killed or maimed for no real reason.

#17 Comment By TomB On January 17, 2014 @ 9:25 am

Hey, John, don’t get me wrong. Alls’ I’m saying is that the American people seem at the very least susceptible to intervention generally, and a Rwanda seems to me to be the kind of case that the interventionists could most easily make for same. (Which is why I think it will turn into another “Munich!” cry.)

And thus what I’m saying is that devoting some thinking to the Rwanda situation might be worthwhile. Including the different permutations the arguments for intervention might have taken, such as if it was done as part of a “coalition” of sorts or etc.

As for me, I’d not have gone in, nor unless it was really part of a non-sham coalition, and even then I’d probably only be willing to be a part in a support role at best. (And even *then* I’d be very wary. As everyone knows, getting in is always easier than getting out, even in a “support” role.)

But, I hope, you see my point: It might well be profitable to use the idea of “another Rwanda” as a hypothetical about which to think things through, that’s all.

#18 Comment By philadelphialawyer On January 17, 2014 @ 12:07 pm

TomB:

“As for me, I’d not have gone in [to Rwanda], nor unless it was really part of a non-sham coalition, and even then I’d probably only be willing to be a part in a support role at best. (And even *then* I’d be very wary. As everyone knows, getting in is always easier than getting out, even in a ‘support’ role.)”

Perhaps this is where the notion of not intervening unless in self defense or in pursuit of a UNSC Resolution comes into play. Obviously, self defense had no bearing on the Rwanda case. A UNSC Resolution, on the other hand, would pretty much automatically have made the coalition one of the “non sham” variety. Also, a UNSC Resolution represents, almost by definition, a limited mandate. Because the five permanent members of the SC have to sign off on it, and a majority of all SC members agree to it, such a Resolution is usually limited in aim. That makes “getting out” easier.

Of course, there still has to be the will to keep things limited and to get out. In the Libyan case, what seemed like a very limited UNSC Resolution was stretched beyond all recognition by the Western powers, including the USA, which were bent on removing Gaddafi. But at least we more or less “got out” without too much fuss (of course, we have left a mess in our wake, but that is more a product of overplaying the Resolution than leaving too early). In Iraq, after the first war, almost everyone but the USA was willing to let the matter drop. A consensus emerged for ending the no fly zones, the embargos and so on. But the US would not let it go, and a positive vote was needed to lift the UNSC measures, which the US would veto. In the end, when a stalemate developed (the full UNSC refusing to pass a new Resolution authorizing force and the US refusing to either stand down or allow a Resolution ending the sanctions regime), the US, as in Libya, pretended to be enforcing existing UNSC Resolutions when it started the second war.

So, a UNSC is no panacea. But it does mean that the burden is more likely to be meaningfully shared. And that the party on the other end knows that pretty much the whole world is against it, including all the Great Powers, and that might persuade it to give up sooner. The Resolution itself will tend to be limited, and thus provides a way to “get out,” assuming the intervening powers actually want to get out.

Perhaps we should insist that any future UNSC Resolutions contain super explicit language about the limited scope of the force and sanctions they authorize, and that they have expiration dates, beyond which a new SC vote is needed to continue whatever authorization of force and sanctions are in place.

#19 Comment By TomB On January 17, 2014 @ 1:16 pm

Boy that’s some good thinking there Philadelphia. Covers all kinds of the issues, doesn’t it?

And yet another benefit I think it might provide is to put a sock in all this “values” talk we hear, or at least put it up against the wall to see if it really stands and if so let it do its work.

That is, all this talk about our “values” … but of course such uber-patriotic talk loses so much of its force if indeed it’s seen as really being about *our* value alone. And thus what we also see is the idea that our fundamental values are those everyone decent agrees with too. So the proposal “let’s see if they do at the UN” only makes sense. (Not to mention the reminder that the UN was basically a U.S. invention in the first place.)

And when they don’t with this or that other country, and the value truly *is* uncontestably widespread and thus fundamental, well let’s seem ’em veto this or that in front of the eyes of their own people. Let’s see this or that country veto a Rwanda intervention proposal, and then live with what their domestic constituency sees and thinks of that.

Somewhat addresses a blind spot we have: With blindingly good reasons seeing the disconnect between our Establishment and us, we forget that the Establishments of other countries are getting away with the same with their constituents. So what certainly can’t hurt—and funnily enough what a “fundamental values” idea it is too!—is a *world-wide* healthier dose of democracy and responsibility.

#20 Comment By James Canning On January 17, 2014 @ 2:00 pm

I think George W. Bush had been duped into thinking American “values” would be promoted by idiotic US invasion of Iraq, etc.

#21 Comment By EarlyBird On January 17, 2014 @ 2:24 pm

The major problem is that since Vietnam, war has been so very easy for the US to wage as a means to an end. The exception has been Iraq and Afghanistan, but even then, with all the attendant heartache, it hasn’t required a full scale draft. The US’s default position has been “Better safe than sorry: let’s go to war.”

#22 Comment By philadephialawyer On January 17, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

Thanks, TomB.

And I agree, the UNSC, while by no means a perfect “democracy,” does involve a consensus.

And, yeah, the USA not only created the UN (and the League of Nations which preceded it), and the Charter which restricts the use of force to situations in which the SC authorizes it, but we also pretty much insisted that everyone else join it and agree. It might be nice if we, of all people, actually gave the damn thing a chance to work!

#23 Comment By ck On January 17, 2014 @ 8:22 pm

I think we need to move away from national interests to the common good. That’s difficult to do conceptually for modern Americans, but it’s the only way to get to concepts like Christian Just War.

#24 Comment By TomB On January 19, 2014 @ 1:01 am

Perhaps somewhat riding a hobby-horse I have ridden before I nevertheless would offer one concern about all the attention paid to this military or quasi-military interventionism business and that is an ignoring of the economic aspect of our foreign affairs.

That is, given our just recent history while there’s nothing wrong and lots right about our concern over our interventionism (and especially lots right in the comments here), I don’t think anyone can say that the issue of such military interventionism and the questions it raises is being ignored in the country. At least not ignored by all kinds of commentators and etc.

And of course too many of those commentators *have* been or are on the side of the interventionists and so need to be challenged.

But there *are* other aspects of foreign affairs and foreign policy, and I think it’s a shame that it seems that we have an international relations commentariat today that just rarely addresses same.

Needless to say just as a country can cripple itself via an ideologically wrong, corrupted or debased military foreign policy in today’s global economicy it can also do so via the same kind of foreign economic policies and I think that’s what has happened.

In fact, so far at least, I think one can make the case that while we have “only” shot ourselves in the foot with our foreign politico-military policies of late, we have come far closer to stabbing ourselves in the heart with our foreign politico-economic policies.

And, I think, not coincidentally and thus not surprisingly, we have done so for many of the same reasons: Blind ideology (of the “free trade” variety), corruption (at the hand of various special interests), and debasement (at the hand of shallow, partisan rhetoricians).

Our manufacturing base is gone, we are running trade deficits that I suspect no country has ever been able to sustain before as measured by any reasonable metrics, and just about the only thing that sustains us is the mere current lack of any other credible international reserve currency, and the amazing if tenuous belief that the Federal Reserve is just like some private investor showing faith and investment in our situation via buying trillions of our bonds per month.

(With the stock market and the economy showing signs not just of pneumonia but lung cancer every time the Fed merely *hints* as slowing down that buying.)

Then there is the fact that while much of the wages of conducting a stupid politico-military foreign policy are relatively apparent (enough to have forced us out of Iraq it might be noted), the effects of a stupid politico-economic foreign policy are more insidious.

First, just this company and that disappearing under the pressures of unfair foreign competition, and then whole industries. And then this company and that just transferring their manufacturing plants overseas, and then being forced to move or establish their design, R&D and intellectual bases overseas as well.

And on and on, including the terrible disadvantaging (where not effectively excluded) of American product-selling overseas.

Maybe I’m wrong, but this just can’t go on. Not without the U.S. losing its standard of living in a big way, which I think we’ve already seen slipping. As someone has observed in the 70’s and ’80’s we saw many if not most households change to support themselves by having both spouses work. In the ’90’s we saw them using their savings to support their lifestyles. And in the ensuing years we’ve seen the savings rate drop into negative numbers and them positively going into debt to desperately try to continue to do so.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think it’s at least an even bet that in the future we will look back and see that while we were concentrating on the shots to our feet we were ignoring the stabs to our heart being inflicted by our same political pathologies. And that we should have been paying at least as much attention to our politico-economic foreign relations and its thinkers as we do to our politico-military foreign relations and its commentators. And as an example of the former while I’ve plugged him before I’ll plug him again due to what strikes me as his integrity and mastery of the subject former Reagan trade representative Clyde Prestowitz who can be followed at the _Foreign Policy_ website.

One just can hardly read one piece of his detailing the way we are having our lunch eaten in this way or that without feeling outraged. We think we are being taken for an attempted ride on this Iran business, and we clearly are. But it’s no less of a ride than we are being taken on by our “free traders” and their interest groups and our politicians in any number of other ways.

And in possibly even more fundamental, long-lasting (if not effectively permanent) and thus consequential ways.

#25 Comment By CharleyCarp On January 19, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

On the UN, it’s always been apparent to me that it’s a tool that can really only be effectively used by the US or with US complicity (if then) and so you non-interventionist conservatives ought to be at the head of the line embracing it as the arbiter of when force may be used. Problem is that conservatives don’t like this surrender of sovereignty, illusion though it actually is.

This I think is a stark contrast between values and interests.