The Party that Ends Wars

“My Republican party was always the party of fiscal conservatism. Yet with a national debt of over $18 trillion, how can we justify continually spending mega-billions in religious civil wars between Shia and Sunni?”

Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr.
via A Return to the Peace Party | The American Conservative.

How Bill Broke a Promise to Russia

The first Bush administration promised Gorbachev that Nato would not move ‘one inch to the east’, in the words of the then secretary of state, James Baker. But Bill Clinton ignored the Russians’ wish to keep a cordon sanitaire and his predecessor’s promise by pushing Nato expansion to the east – betraying a trust, in Russia’s view. The eastward march of Nato continues. One can only imagine the American response if the roles were reversed.

via Jackson Lears reviews ‘Hard Choices’ by Hillary Clinton and ‘HRC’ by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes · LRB 5 February 2015.

Clinton: Adventurista

But Clinton’s hawkishness is a matter of moral and intellectual conviction. In Hard Choices, she tries to construct a coherent rationale for an interventionist foreign policy and to justify it with reference to her own decisions as secretary of state. The rationale is rickety: the evidence unconvincing. Recent history becomes a series of rescue missions, staged opportunities for heroism worthy of Hollywood: mobs of brown-skinned extras look up to see helicopters – we are saved! The Americans have arrived! Such are the dreams that hover unarticulated in our political unconscious, allowing our leaders to redefine war as humanitarian intervention.

via Jackson Lears reviews ‘Hard Choices’ by Hillary Clinton and ‘HRC’ by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes · LRB 5 February 2015.

Getting Out of the Failed-State Repair Business

To Prevent and Resolve Violent Conflict, “We Need a Ground Game”
James Rupert

United States Institute of Peace
ebruary 13, 2015

This is an in-house softball interview with the incoming president of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Nancy Lindborg. For those who do not live inside the Beltway (either literally or virtually,) Lindborg spent five years with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and 14 years at international relief NGO Mercy Corps.

The article is a capstone, to be sure, and Lindborg points in some good directions. Clearly, she wants to get us out of the habit of addressing failed states by sending in airpower, special forces, and aid workers.

We need to think about fragility [of states and their institutions], and the flip side is greater resilience. So that when conflicts do happen, from the community level up, and from the government level down, conflicts can be managed and not become violent.

Absolutely right. Our foreign policy establishment on both sides of the aisle and both inside government and outside remain focused on state building as a means of peacekeeping. Unfortunately, our record of state building in is abysmal, and we still have no clue how to go about turning failed states with poor or non-existent institutions into stable countries.

Lindborg’s statement of principle is a good start, but it lacks substance. Yes, fortifying locally-created institutions seems to be a lot better than imposing our own. But we are offered no case studies, no roadmap, no clue at how to do all of that, and especially to do it in places where the institutions are essentially the machinery of kleptocracies, or where there are no institutions at all.

Allowing chaos to fester in failed states does the world little good. But if we are going to do much more than simply try to contain that chaos, we are going to need to come up with a new playbook. In the meantime we have to stop playing frontier marshall and end our habit of writing blank checks in American blood and treasure in the vain belief that we make things better just by being there.

The Netanyahu Speech: Protocol is a Diversion

So here, again, are the facts: John Boehner invited Bibi to speak on an issue of national importance to both the United States and to Israel, and Bibi accepted. The White House was informed of the invitation in advance, as is proper. Democrats were not consulted. Tzipi Livni, Buji Herzog, Jonathan Greenblatt, and the editorial board of the New York Times were not consulted either. This is all according to custom and according to precedent. Any other reading of this story is a violation of protocol.

The True Rift Between Netanyahu and Obama Is About Policy, Not Politesse
Liel Leibovitz
Tablet Magazine
ebruary 12, 2015

Leibovitz and I share a deep discomfort with Netanyahu, and in matters of policy do not usually count ourselves among Bibi’s defenders.

But this meme that somehow the White House was “snubbed” in this process, or that inviting the Israeli Prime Minister to speak to Congress (and his acceptance of that invitation) was a violation of protocol is factually incorrect. Liebovitz explains why, and in great detail.

And this is vital. If what Liebovitz says is true, than one could conclude that the White House and/or its allies are inflating this non-issue as a means of distracting from the real matter at hand: the administration’s policy toward Iran.

The Administration seeks to pursue a relatively novel policy toward Iran and its ability to manufacture nuclear arms. The Administration appears to be of the opinion that “normalized” relations with Iran are of such value that it is worth allowing an unstable theocracy that pours its national treasure into non-state actors who are destabilizing the region and terrorizing the world to become a nuclear power.  That approach is at odds with decades of US policy.

Congress has an advise and consent role in the conduct of foreign policy. Liebovitz points out that Netanyahu, representing the one nation on earth most threatened by an Iranian bomb, has a point of view on the matter that is worth considering as Congress takes on its lawful role as overseer of foreign policy. Given that “March 24 is the deadline for the framework agreement in the coming negotiations with Iran,” the timing for the Prime Minister to air his concerns and for Congress to debate their veracity and their relevance to US foreign policy is entirely appropriate.

I have been against the idea of this speech, and not because I am concerned about protocol. Rather, I am concerned about how Bibi’s speaking gives ammunition to those who believe, as does John Mearsheimer, that American policy toward Israel is driven by AIPAC and the desire to court what is anachronistically referred to as “the Jewish Vote.”

I retain those concerns. The Prime Minister and the Speaker of the House tread on extraordinarily thin ice with America here. No foreign power should ever be allowed undue influence over American policy, and no special interest group (even my own) should be able to compel the government to conduct a policy inconsistent with the principles and broader interests of the American people.

The Prime Minister must use his time to make a policy case, not a political one. He must lay out what is at stake, why Israel is so threatened by Iranian Plutonium, and why the end of an American policy that has shielded Israel from harm must send Israel on a pathway that diverges from that of the Administration.

This may be the most important speech of Netanyahu’s career. Not because his political fortunes at home are at stake, but because the future of Israel’s relationship with America is in the balance.

Enough of the caterwauling: let the man speak his piece. And may he speak it well.

A Better Defense

To me the courage to rethink defense must include over a dozen major reforms inside the Pentagon, but more importantly a strategic one: we need to stop being interventionists, covert warriors, world police. There will always be a need to keep a sharp spear, but we are engaged in far too many places for reasons that defy any reasonable definition of the national interest.