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May 09, 2008

The International Order's Shifting Goalposts
Posted by David Shorr

Another good discussion on the TPMCafe Book Club -- this week on Fareed Zakaria's The Post American World. Again we arrive at the question of whether the liberal international order is a culturally bound creature of America and its Western accomplices. Michael Lind really got things going with an interpretation of non-democratic powers' standing with regard to the order from the immediate post-War period to the present:

The Postwar version of liberal internationalism is the one envisioned by American internationalists during and immediately after World War II, as well as by traditional liberal internationalists like the first Bush after the Cold War. International security will rest with a loose concert or concerts of nonaggressive, but not necessarily democratic, great powers. And the basic international norm, to which there are exceptions for genocide and anarchy, will be nonintervention in sovereign states.

That's the old liberal internationalism (which, though realistic, is not Realpolitik). The new liberal internationalism is a product of the 1990s. In essence, it is an attempt to universalize the norms of NATO and the EU as the basis for world order, as an alternative to dusting off the never-implemented Postwar system after half a century.

Continue reading "The International Order's Shifting Goalposts" »

That Wacky, Wacky Gerson
Posted by Michael Cohen

In today's Washington Post, Michael Gerson makes the rather creative argument that what Americans are really looking for on Election is a little American cheerleading:

The issue of the lapel flag pin is a good illustration. Obama's explanation for its absence--that it had become a "substitute" for "true patriotism" in the aftermath of Sept. 11--is perfectly rational. For a professor at the University of Chicago. Members of the knowledge class generally find his stand against sartorial symbolism to be subtle, even courageous. Most Americans, I'm willing to bet, will find it incomprehensible after 20 additional explanations, which are bound to be required. A president is expected to be a patriotic symbol himself, not the arbiter of patriotic symbols. He is supposed to be the face-painted superfan at every home game; to wear red, white and blue boxers on special marital occasions; to get misty-eyed during the most obscure patriotic hymns.

It is rather amazing that anyone calls Barack Obama an elitist after reading this drivel.  The condescension displayed here toward the American people is simply breathtaking. Does Mike Gerson really believe Americans are so stupid they can't listen thoughtfully to Barack Obama's explanation of why he doesn't wear a flag pin and assess it critically?  Does he have such little respect for the American people's ability to accept a narrative about patriotism other than narrow, unthinking patriotic fervor?

What's even worse is Gerson's notion that Americans basically want a fratboy President who starts the USA chant at every ball game and has an "America: Love it or Leave It" bumpersticker on the back of his car. You know Mike, we've been down that road . . . didn't work out so well.

If the attributes above are the ones that Gerson thinks most Americans are looking for in a President maybe we should cancel the presidential debates and instead have a cheerleading competition to see who loves America more. To be sure, the reason Gerson believes that this is what Americans want in a President is because Republican candidates have spent two generations trying to convince Americans that blind faith in American greatness is somehow a prerequisite for national leadership. For the party of Lincoln to take such a stance is rich irony indeed. 

Personally, I'll fall back on the courageous words of Adlai Stevenson who reminded us 56 years ago, patriotism is "not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime. The dedication of a lifetime - these are words that are easy to utter, but this is a mighty assignment. For it is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.

I'll take that over Stars and Stripes boxer shorts any day of the week.

"He must be wiped out"
Posted by Adam Blickstein

In the 5th Annual Time 100, Retired General Ricardo Sanchez's profile of Muqtada al-Sadr has the following tidbit:

In April 2004, al-Sadr's militia attacked coalition forces and took control of most provincial capitals in southern Iraq. In response, President Bush officially declared al-Sadr the enemy and ordered the military to capture or kill him. "We can't allow one man to change the course of the country," stated Bush in a video teleconference. "He must be wiped out." However, within a week, the White House reversed direction and ordered coalition forces to walk away from the mission. Negative media coverage was endangering the planned July 1, 2004, transfer of sovereignty to Iraq, which was heavily tied to Bush's re-election campaign....Today, as Iraq moves toward provincial elections, he is in a position to alter world events. He will inevitably continue as a major political power broker on the Iraq scene. But the die was cast in April 2004

I Want My R2P!
Posted by David Shorr

Afraid I can't go along with Mark Goldberg on the Burma situation as a test of the Responsibility to Protect. I worry that a showdown over the principle of national sovereignty could undercut, rather than promote, the process by which R2P takes hold as an international norm. Which raises the question of how that process will work and where it stands. [I owe thanks to Stanley Foundation colleagues Keith Porter and (occasional DA guest) Michael Schiffer for forcing me to think about this.]

Actually, I look at this not as an opportunity to assert R2P, but rather as an indication of how far we still have to go. Ask yourself this: how do you rate the chances of getting into Burma via a Security Council showdown over intervening militarily without the junta's consent (Chapter VII) versus forms of pressure short of the assertion of an international responsibility to intervene? There has been a lot of important progress in chipping away at the sovereignty shield, but R2P doesn't enjoy nearly enough international support for us to simply insist that it be followed.

I think R2P will take hold gradually, rather than being proved by a single situation (or even two or three). That doesn’t mean not pushing in situations like these; the Burmese junta absolutely should not be allowed to fend off international pressure with the sovereignty shield. Indeed, in my evolutionary scheme, the weakness of the case for inviolable national sovereignty -- a very difficult position to argue in the face of dramatic human suffering -- is the sovereigntists' Achilles heel. Even so, we should refrain from any kind of decisive confrontation over a norm that patently is not yet in effect.

So if R2P proponents (I consider myself one) don't, er, force the issue, then how will it ever become stronger? I think we'll get there by accumulated precedent rather than dramatic test cases. It will be the mutual reinforcing of three trends:

  • growing presumption of the international community's natural interest in nations' internal affairs (contrasted with inviolable sovereignty)
  • increased willingness of countries to put military assets (and political will) on the line
  • greater difficulty for offending states to put up resistance.

    I'd argue that multiple instances can manifest these trends without any decisive showdown, and that they could build to a point when R2P is a much stronger norm than it is today.

    To Talk or Not to Talk
    Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

    There has been a lot of debate recently about whether or not there can be any progress on the peace process without engagement with Hamas.  Thus far the debate has been primarily talk or don’t talk.  But the interesting conversation as far as I’m concerned is about how to talk. 

    Ghaith al-Omari writing at Middle East Progress and Brian Katulis posting on the Wonk Room lay out the potential pitfalls of direct engagement with Hamas.  Omari writes:

    In any engagement, Hamas—like any rational political actor—will seek to maximize its benefits and minimize its costs. It will use any international dialogue it can achieve to send one overriding message to its local, regional and global constituencies alike: namely, that it can maintain its positions regarding the peace process, Israel and the use of violence, while at the same time gaining international legitimacy. It will argue that it provides at least as many benefits as its secular opponents, without making any compromises. Engaging Hamas without the terms of engagement being clear and without it first paying the political price of admission to the international club—particularly by accepting the two-state solution and disarming—amounts to a political free lunch

    I think this makes sense.  Direct engagement by either Israel or the U.S. on full comprehensive peace talks with Hamas completely undermines Fatah and Abbas and sends the signal that Hamas can gain the domestic political benefits of refusing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, while at the same time being considered a credible international political actor.  At the end, the result would be more an empowerment of Hamas then an opportunity to moderate it.

    Still, there is the practical problem of the current violence, which undermines the peace process and causes many to suffer.  Omari argues that through the Egyptians or another Arab state acting as an intermediary a ceasefire with Hamas can be arranged that results in a reduction in violence and greater mobility for Palestinians in and out of Gaza.

    He then recommends going ahead more aggressively with the Annapolis process.  This means Israel needs to get serious about a settlement freeze.  And Fatah needs to get serious about building credible and less corrupt long-term institutions that gain greater support from the Palestinian people.  Meanwhile, Israel and the United States also need to do everything they can to empower effective moderates inside the West Bank and Gaza, but not be seen as working too closely with them, which only serves to discredit these actors domestically.  Over time, progress on this front, and the Palestinian Authority’s ability to deliver would discredit Hamas’ hardline views, forcing it to either moderate its positions and come to the negotiating table or risk losing political support.

    Instinctively, as progressives, we view talking directly to those we disagree with as a low-cost pragmatic approach to solving problems or at least looking for areas of possible agreement.  But in this case, as opposed to Iran for example, there is a real cost.  In the case of Iran, outside of the institutions of the Iranian state, there aren’t any credible powerbrokers.  So, the choice is either to engage in talks on common issues of concern or to just continue down the current path of antagonism.  But in the case of the Palestinians there are two alternatives and it’s important to take into account the internal political impact that directly engaging Hamas in long-term peace negotiations, without forcing it to first make the politically difficult compromise of recognizing Israel and renouncing violence, would have on Fatah.

    Stop Loss and the Surge
    Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

    A couple of stories that should be of concern this week as a reminder of the current state of the military and what the surge is costing.

    The number of soldiers forced to remain in the Army involuntarily under the military's controversial "stop-loss" program has risen sharply since the Pentagon extended combat tours last year, officials said Thursday...

    The number of soldiers held in the Army under the stop-loss program reached a high in March 2005 of 15,758. That number steadily declined through May 2007, when it hit 8,540. But since then, the number of soldiers subjected to stop-loss orders began to increase again, reaching 12,235 in March 2008.

    And there is this.

    More than 43,000 U.S. troops listed as medically unfit for combat in the weeks before their scheduled deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan since 2003 were sent anyway, Pentagon records show.

    This reliance on troops found medically "non-deployable" is another sign of stress placed on a military that has sent 1.6 million servicemembers to the war zones, soldier advocacy groups say.

    Iraq Remains an Unbalanced Policy Equation
    Posted by Adam Blickstein

    One can claim that any faltering policy area, whether it be education, health care, or energy, can be fixed through expending unlimited resources, maintaining vigilant patience and demanding an open-ended time table. This might be an acceptable portion of any policy, but it is just that: merely a portion of the whole. Yet in regards to Iraq, this is the sole predicate to the rationale behind maintaining a presence there. This is why, in the abstract, the typical Bush Administration and John McCain argument that we need more time and patience and resources (both human and monetary) in Iraq rings hollow.

    Continue reading "Iraq Remains an Unbalanced Policy Equation" »

    May 08, 2008

    McCain on Hamas
    Posted by Michael Cohen

    So there was something else pretty crazy that John McCain said last night on the Daily Show. When talking about the Middle East, he claimed that he would be "Hamas's worst nightmare."

    Putting aside the pathetic, Bush-esque frat boy bravado, let's think about this for a second. Which President has done more to help Hamas in its entire twenty-year blood-stained history? Well that would be George W. Bush.  Back in January 2006, it was the Bush Administration that pushed for elections in Gaza against the wishes of both Fatah and the Israelis. Indeed, Hamas's route to political power was paved by Bush's messianic belief in freedom.

    Now when we look at the candidates for President in 2008 who is the most like George Bush. That would be John McCain. So tell me again why John McCain would be Hamas's worst nightmare?

    Lest We Forget
    Posted by Michael Cohen

    With all signs pointing to a Barack Obama victory in the Democratic primary battle there is already talk of the party convention in Denver. Apparently the night that Obama would give the acceptance speech is the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream speech. it's the kind of historical nugget that gives you goosebumps, particularly when you think about how far we've come as country.

    The party of secession, the party of the bloody shirt, the party of Jim Crow, the party of segregation, the party of Bilbo and Wallace is about to select an African-American man named Barack Hussein Obama as their party's standard bearer. Damn!

    McCain's Iraq Revisionism
    Posted by Michael Cohen

    So I'm watching John McCain on the Daily Show this morning and Jon Stewart asked the presumptive GOP nominee how he would go in a different direction than President Bush. Here was McCain's answer: "spending, climate change and the failed strategy that was employed in the war in Iraq."

    The first one is sort of misnomer, the second one I'll give him but the third one is straight out deception. Even if John McCain did disagree with the failed strategy in Iraq (and as Max points out that is highly debatable) HE DOESN'T DISAGREE WITH THAT STRATEGY NOW.

    Isn't that a bit more relevant? I'm just amazed at the notion that McCain would even peddle such thin gruel, although I suppose he is counting on folks not making the connection between what he has said in the past AND WHAT HE IS SAYING TODAY. Indeed, if you look closely it is virtually impossible to find any daylight between his position on the war and Bush's but