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Saturday, June 2. 2012
In the fall of 1971, in grad school, I did a 60-page analysis of the Nixon/Kissinger détente policy. I concluded it was largely a holding action meant to slow down what otherwise was believed by its primaries as the inevitable declining power of the West in the face of rising Soviet and Chinese power. I termed it “existential defeatism”. Although pragmatic coping in many ways, defeatism or its better cousin called nuance, has not been terribly beneficial to US interests since.
There isn’t a linear relationship from 1971 to now, but rather a trend. This trend is toward restraint in asserting our interests, with the confused interruption of our Iraq experience. It is increasingly coupled with deference to the alternate or contrary interests of other countries, called internationalism.
These policies can take little credit for the fall of the Soviet Union, under the weight of its own internal contradictions, in 1989. On the other hand, China kept ascending, US fecklessness in Indochina is touted by Islamist radicals as encouragement for their causes, and Russia is following its old path contrary to Western interests. Meanwhile, many of today’s foreign policy gurus tout international law and international organizations, usually most often in play to hinder or attack Western interests.
Restraint in foreign engagements, particularly military, is certainly to be prized unless clear US national interests, mechanisms, and follow-through plans are pretty clearly present, and articulated by our national political leaders so necessary to domestic support. However, instead, what we’ve increasingly seen is muddling and disparagement of the very concept of US national interests, substituting outright negativity, conceptual distractions, and refusal to actively engage unless elusive or impossible international consensus is reached, to include Russia and China who aren’t shy about exerting themselves actively in opposition to US or Western interests. In effect, as well, the US and Western Europe have too often abandoned its moral core, as well, to the favor of those who don’t share it or deride or hate it.
All that said, this critique must face the serious real-world problems we face immediately in the Middle East and coastal Asia, and the influence of financial problems.
Understandably nervous and hesitant to confront crazies in the Middle East, we have defaulted influence to Iran and to Russia.
Not wanting to indiscriminately support or arm possible future foes, as we did in Afghanistan to chase out the Soviet Union, there is little effort to discriminate and strengthen those not antagonistic to the West. Syria has been a cat’s paw of Iran to ferment conflict. Our non-action furthers this, rather than decrease it, aside from the humanitarian toll on Syrians with Iranians on the ground adding to the murders and Russian arms arriving in torrents. The US is rightly seen in the region and elsewhere as ineffectual, hardly worth allying with. Meanwhile, enough said, Iran continues its steady march to nuclear weapons, stirring others in the region to possibly also do so, further destabilizing international order and security.
One would hope that the US is doing more behind the scenes than is apparent, but no observers have seen such which is telling in the usually open sieve of reporting and NGOs. The US should be doing more in Syria, and more openly and assertively, including arms to those less problematic. The US should announce a date certain in 2012, after which all informed analysts recognize it will be too late, by which the US will devastatingly bomb—as only the US could -- Iran’s nuclear installations if there is not a convincing abandonment of Iran’s nuclear war-making capacities. Neither in Syria nor Iran are US military forces necessary on the ground. But short of that we have done far too little to influence the outcomes, leaving the threats to grow and to undermine confidence in the West, and influencing Middle East countries and citizens to accommodate or ally themselves with Iran.
The primary rationale for the US Senate to ratify its decades-pending Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST) may be to strengthen the hand in an international forum of the states in coastal Asia against the expansiveness of China. However, all, including China, have long since joined LOST, and that hasn’t slowed China’s claim of virtually the entire South China Sea as its own. China’s navy is expanding, often acting aggressively toward other states, and its oil and gas exploration is reaching into deep waters near other countries. See this map, the red lines far away from China being ocean borders that China wildly claims.
(Otherwise, LOST appears not to be in the US financial interests, transferring many $billions to other countries or, even, the PA and Hamas, not in our national interests, and creates an even less accountable UN-type body likely to act similarly irresponsibly or hostile to western interests. Further, there are many other serious questions that haven’t been answered in the Senate, despite the administration pooh-poohing any during last week’s hearing. Further, Iran is a signatory to LOST, and hasn’t hesitated nonetheless to arm and threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz, cutting off oil exports from Persian Gulf nations.)
Meanwhile, current US policy is to shift our naval ships to Asia, but at the same time our Navy is being cut or planned to be cut to numbers not seen since before WWII. (There's much missing from Pentagon planning; 12 most critical shortcomings and omissions of the 2012 China Military Power Report). There is good reason to doubt whether the shift of the US Navy to Asia is even sustainable. Which brings us to our financial problems.
Almost all responsible analysts recognize that our entitlement spending has become a crushing burden that must be reformed. It is many times the size of defense spending, and rapidly growing. Economic growth is stymied by policies that hinder it, including blocking many of our domestic or nearby sources of fossil fuels which would both increase our economy and our independence from unstable sources. As shown this week in England, formerly a ruler of the seas, it can’t even raise a flotilla to honor the Queen’s diamond anniversary. There is a way out of our financial problems, a growth agenda, which also saves our necessary military might.
Continuing the current policies that protect excessive entitlement spending and others that hinder economic growth are a domestic “existential defeatism” that forfeits assertive actions to, instead, reduce US strength.
Simply put, “existential defeatism” abroad and at home is contrary to US national interests, and unnecessary.
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--wow --i know what i'll be doing if i mean when i get back from chain saw and fence post --readingf that for a week or two!
Bruce, while I would not argue that US foreign policy has been mostly sensible, pragmatic or effective in the last 40 years or so, I will dispute that it has been mostly suicidal, passive, defeatist or internationalist. I take your unnecessarily fancy term 'existential defeatism' to mean passive suicide, since it does.
I can't respond to every error in your post, there are too many. First, the collapse of the Soviet Union was indeed accelerated by the aggressive anti-soviet policies of the Reagen administration. The former Soviet leaders admitted as much. Of course, the nature of their economic model was the primary cause of their collapse. Communism just doesn't work.
'Understandably nervous and hesitant to confront crazies in the Middle East, we have defaulted influence to Iran and to Russia.'
This statement, following your more sensible preceding 'restraint' paragraph, is curious. It is curious because, if anything, the US has been hip deep in the ME for many, many years. Nixon moved heaven and earth to end the 1973 war. Heaven and earth being a US worldwide military alert and a massive airlifted resupply of Israel. The uncounted billions in aid and armaments, the numerous military exercises and the invasions all prove massive and sustained involvement. Russian influence is limited to a rapidly disappearing toe hold in Syria where they have their one and only port in the Med. Their relationship with Iran is tenuous and under strain. Their vote in the UN means nothing, mostly because the UN is meaningless. Noise, smoke and mirrors.
Your Syria analysis is flawed. Iran has some trainers in Syria and they are trying to convince Hezbollah to supply fighters. But, Hezbollah knows the days of Iranian influence in that area are numbered and they are hedging their bets. Without Bashar Assad, Hezbollah will be isolated and exposed, and they know it. You vastly overestimate Iranian influence. The Saudis have them trumped as do the Turks and even Egypt.
Bigger picture, direct US involvement would be a huge mistake. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are the regional powers who will decide Assad's fate. Since they have said he must go, he will. Russia can't stop it. I agree that troops in Iran or Syria would be a mistake. Even though it would be a blunder to bomb or put boots on the ground in Syria, I think Obama will do it. The fool.
Bombing Iran. Big topic, about which I don't have the space to make a comprehensive case. Coming at this matter from the perspective that we have been too involved in the ME and most of that involvement has been counterproductive, I advocate less, rather than more. I advocate letting those countries work out their own problems. I advocate the idea that the US should not try to be the world's policeman, nursemaid or reconstruction provider. However, at this late stage, we need anti-missile capability over there, which is now deployed.
Let me just say this about bombing Iran. No country that has developed the bomb, save one, has ever used it in anger. Of course, our use of the bomb was fully justified. But, it is significant that nobody else, not even N. Korea, has actually used one. So, it is far from certain that Iran would use theirs.
On the other hand, even if they didn't, their possession alone would likely provoke others to acquire their own. Like the Turks and Saudis. I will say this, if we bomb Iranian nuke sites, we need to have Saudi participation. Their air force would have to get dirty. No question. I would prefer to have Turkish support also. Diplomatic cover, at least. Israel would need to sit on their hands.
Finally, I liked the Monroe Doctrine. For the five minutes it was our policy. Can we liberate Cuba already? I mean, they have baseball players, oil, rum, pretty girls and warm sand beaches for Pete's sake. 20 or 30 cheerleaders armed with pom poms should about do it.
Enough for now, I need to make my chicken pot pies. From scratch. Yum. Cheers, Bruce.
I agree fully with Bruce Kessler. [Not that I completely disagree with W.C. Taqiyya; I don't.]
L.O.S.T. is the worst treaty imaginable. It is directly contrary to U.S. interests. L.O.S.T. would be used to beat the U.S. over the head, while countries like China would disregard it completely whenever it was in their interest to do so.
What we need instead is a strong Navy to protect our interests. But of course the Marxist in the White House has already slashed our military by more than 12%, and he intends to truly gut the U.S. military if allowed a second term.
Obama's actions in the Middle East have one underlying, unifying theme: he wants current dictatorships swept aside in favor of Islamic dictatorships. He is, after all, a Muslim, and he sympathizes, supports and promotes Islamist rulers. Fools listen to what Obama says, while wise men watch what he does.
What is even worse is Obama's ceding ever more U.S. power, influence and money to the thoroughly corrupt, America-hating UN. I strongly disagree with Taqiyya's statement that "...the UN is meaningless." It is far from meaningless! The UN is a parasite on the West, and in particular on the U.S. And as anyone can see, the feckless UN has been completely impotent only when it comes to it's primary mission: preventing wars. In that regard it has failed utterly.
The only sensible. pro-American action to take regarding the UN is to evict it from our shores and withdraw from membership. We can more effectively help those countries in need without sending American taxpayers' money through that opaque organization, which takes a hefty cut, but which has never permitted any independent audit of how it spends our money.
Another benefit of direct U.S. aid is that individual countries would perforce show appreciation to the U.S., instead of kowtowing to the UN. Countries that express hatred and animosity toward the U.S. could not expect financial aid, and the ridiculous UN 'Human Rights' Commissions would not be supported by American taxpayers [nor the equally ridiculous UN Tourism Commission, which has just appointed mass murderer Robert Mugabe].
Those are just a few examples of UN abuse. Pages of the same kind of examples can be written. The UN will never reform itself. It exists due to the financial largesse of America and the West, yet its every action is intended to make itself the world's government.
No sensible person would conclude that if the UN succeeded in making the World Court and the UN the world's government, that the UN would treat America fairly. Most UN countries hate the U.S. It would truly be a case of two wolves and a lamb voting on what's for lunch. It is only a matter of time before the World Court rules that the Security Council must be expanded and reformed; the U.S. Veto would be a thing of the past.
Only fools and lunatics fail to see the danger of supporting the UN, whose every action is contrary to Americans' interests. The sooner it is evicted from our shores, the better for all U.S. citizens.
When it comes to foreign affairs, I'm naive and tend to think the United States should pay more attention to its own business and spend less time worrying about the business of others. It's fashionable to think that the world is so interconnected that the flap of a butterfly's wings in Europe sets off a crisis in Foggy Bottom in DC, but maybe that's a bit overblown. If as a nation we paid more attention to the things that are critical to our interests---which of course requires having the leaders who possess the intelligence and rare skill to define them in the first place---we would probably see that most of the so-called crises in the world are minor in nature, are no threat to our long-term interests, and will be solved, or not, by those directly involved in them without requiring the intervention of the interminably clumsy US State Department. With apologies to the cold-war warriors, from our perspective the entire world should not be viewed as a game of political dominos. Of course, along with keeping our collective nose out of our people's messy affairs, on those rare occasions when our vital interests are at stake, the US should be utterly ruthless---and by that I mean Sparta-like ruthless---to protect them. My theory is: Don't always go looking for a fight, but if one becomes necessary, do whatever it takes to win because it's the winners who get to write the history books.
Remember this when next you see "Made in China" on a product.
Your children and grandchildren might end up fighting with an increasingly belligerent China.
In case you've forgotten, several years ago a Chinese general threatened to nuke Los Angeles.
Arrogance is better dealt with earlier than later.
Dr. SCott ... I am in complete agreement with you about the removal of the UN from our buildings and our shores. This organization is truly toxic and depraved and I have been advocating its removal for at least thirty years. The one quality it has is disapproval and, yes, hatred, for our country. I remember when our citizens finally got completely fed up with its predecessor, the League of Nations, and eliminated our participation in what was essentially a corrupt and useless organization. If all these strange and hostile little countries in faraway parts of the globe want to have a UN, they can house it and pay the bills for it.
Useless as it is, we can no longer afford it.
"Arrogance is better dealt with earlier than later"
Perhaps that is what the Chinese general was thinking about the US at the time he made his alleged remark, i.e., better to deal with an arrogant US earlier than later. The Chinese Communists will continue to have serious internal opposition to deal with in the years to come, which will be more than enough to get their full attention. As the ancient Chinese proverb goes, How are you going to keep 'em down on the farm, once they've seen Beijing? Or Shanghai? Or Hong Kong? The Chinese have developed a taste for the elixir of Capitalism. It's going to cause profound changes in that country.
Since Agent Cooper's comments closely resemble my own thoughts on these matters, and because he expresses them more clearly, and because you other guys have helped me out with that L.O.S.T. treaty and the UN; I can take a break. I don't know enough about that treaty to say much about it. So, I will defer to the better informed opinions. The UN is a joke, on that we all agree.
On China, I will only add to Agent Cooper's wise comments that China's expansionist activity has been almost exclusively peaceful. (Except for Tibet) They are investing heavily around the world in resources, trading mostly by the rules and negotiating their differences, just as any large powerful country would. That includes swinging their shoulders a bit, just as we and other countries do. I am not alarmed by Chinese military spending, we still outspend them 10 times on defense and we have the advantage of modern, well equipped allies all around China. Japan, South Korea, Australia and Taiwan all have formidable military forces. In addition, the Chinese have forceful competitors in Vietnam and India. Who both kicked the Chinese in the shins when the Chinese foolishly tried to send troops into the other's territories. As I recall, the Chinese lost around 20,000 troops during their aborted invasion of Vietnam. I'm guessing that was in the late 70's? Plus, China helped bring Burma into the 21st century and it's investments around the world are increasing the size of the economic pie. Their efforts in space exploration are also positive. Plus, they will always be a lucrative market for our food, since feeding itself will always be a challenge. Let me add that I would like to see several Chinese divisions move into Afghanistan. That way, they can sit on the Taliban, guard their own large investments in copper and ruby mines and babysit Pakistan. The US would be well rid of both Pakistan and Afghanistan and the Chinese are welcome to both. At their expense of course. It would also be interesting to see how long it would take before Pakistan changes it's mind and begins to resent the Chinese, as they now resent us. Now, I'm not suggesting that China is wearing a white hat, but I am saying the alarm displayed by some politicians is more related to self-serving hysteria than reality.
Interesting post Bruce, and comments.
A few feeble minded thoughts:
re "Simply put, “existential defeatism” abroad and at home is contrary to US national interests, and unnecessary."
That may well be true, but what ought to be and what is are often two very different things.
I am doubtful that senior citizens will be willing to trade entitlement cuts to maintain the military even at current levels. Even if the economy takes off and tax revenues grow, entitlements are going to sop up the increase, reformed or not.
I think we will be countering China with an ever shrinking Navy. Strategy should be planned with that in mind.
IMO China plays by China's rules. I don't believe LOST or strongly worded letters from the UN will deter them. They will take the deep ocean oil fields because they can.
Because, who will stop them? I don't believe a US president will earn political capital at home guaranteeing the sovereignty of Viet Nam or the Philippines.
As for foreign policy, I don't see how we can even have a coherent one anymore. Our Left and Right see the world so differently that our FP oscillates dramatically based on who is in power. That pretty much precludes long term thinking for either side.
Oh well, it is all too complex for my feeble mind to comprehend. Just my two cents worth.
I like your comments on Afghanistan. Let the Chinese deal with Afghanistan to protect its investment, let China battle with Pakistan over Pakistan's idea that it should control Pakistan. Let the Pakistanis deal with the Chinese, who do not play as nice as Americans.
Sorry, corrupt Pakistani generals, you will not longer be able to count on the American sugar daddy to fund your Swiss bank accounts.