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July 31, 2012

Now That Team Romney Has Cleared Up Their Iran Position... [UPDATED]
Posted by David Shorr

In case we didn't already know how hard it is to come up with an alternative Iran policy better than what President Obama is already doing, the Romney camp's bumbling attempts merely drive home the point. For that matter, just in case the atrociousness of their foreign policy approach weren't staring us in the face, now we see how truly awful it is.

Here is all you need to know about foreign policy according to Team Romney: there's no such thing as being too belicose, and giving a **** what other countries think is for wimps. I mean, how else can you explain being so loose and cavalier in talking about the resort to force against Iran's nuclear program? The Romneyites often talk about the Obama Administration's supposed failure to make a credible threat of force. As with many elements of their critique, they haven't really offered a practical alternative that they would consider a more credible threat. From what we heard from Romney's visit to Israel, apparently they mean giving the green light for an Israeli attack.

As if to predict the mess Governor Romney stepped in, it so happens that top Obama campaign surrogate and former senior Pentagon official Michele Flournoy gave her own talk in Israel a couple months ago (read about it over at Think Progress). Here are a couple of snippets:

“Having sat in the Pentagon, I can assure you of the quality of the work that has been done. [...] The military option for the president is real,” said Flournoy. “Barack Obama is a president that says what he means and does what he says. [...] I can assure you we do not have a policy of containment."


If Israel would launch an attack prematurely, it would undermine the ability of the international community to come together in the critical long-term campaign. It would ultimately hurt our goal of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Given the flappe provoked by Romney's comments, that's pretty prescient isn't it. Michele also said similar things at a more recent Brookings event with top Romney surrogate Ambassador Richard Williamson.

And now I turn to Rich Williamson to round out this picture with his statements just today on CNN (my thanks again to Think Progress). I'll let him go first:

SOLEDAD O’BRIEN: So, are you telling me that Governor Romney would be willing to bomb Iran if it looks like they’re getting nuclear weapons? That they would whether it’s with or without Israel, bomb Iran to end that — they cross the red line, bomb Iran?

RICHARD WILLIAMSON: I’m saying two things. First, on the sanctions, it’s not just talking abstractly about sanctions. This administration has allowed Moscow and Beijing to determine what sanctions we can put in force. Governor Romney has made clear he’s going to put tough sanctions in force for the coalition and not play “Mother, may I” with the U.N. Security Council.

Second, that Tehran should know that Governor Romney is committed to work everything possible diplomatically to avoid having to use force. But if it gets to nuclear breakout, military options are on the table and have to be seriously considered.

Rich really likes that "Mother, may I" line; we've heard it before and we're likely to hear it again. In that rest-of-the-world-be-damned spirit I highlighted above, it lets him say the Obama administration is too solicitous of others. It's also utter nonsense. So he wants to argue that the United States doesn't need China for sanctions on Iranian petrolium exports, despite the fact that CHINA IS A MAJOR CUSTOMER FOR IRANIAN OIL. I did a more wonkish post on this subject last month, pointing out that so-called unilateral sanctions aren't nearly as unilateral as you might think. But why let that get in the way of a cute, tough sounding throwaway line. 

[By the way, there's little disagreement about the possible need to use force in the event of diplomatic failure and Iranian near-breakout capability. Which leaves the rather significant questions of seeking diplomatic success and defining breakout capability.]

UPDATE: When I read this New York Times story on newly enacted sanctions on Iran, I noticed that it quotes Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams citing Netanyahu on the futility of the negotiating efforts.

July 29, 2012

Recollections of the Rwandan Army's Early Years
Posted by David Shorr

Below is a post I originally published here on August 28, 2010. With Paul Kagame and the Rwandan Army back in the news, I thought I should again recall their role in the Eastern Congo refugee crisis of 1996-97. I stopped following the Great Lakes region closely at the end of that decade and can't speak to more recent events. I can merely spotlight the Rwandan army's early record. Soon after liberating their country from the perpetrators of the 1994 genocide, they showed a shocking lack of discipline.

Carnage in Congo -- A Long-Range Witness' Recollections [original title]

A front-page piece by Howard French in today's New York Times triggered memory banks from an earlier life. For French, covering the new UN report on the history of atrocities in the Democratic Republic of Congo is a return to the story's bloody 1996-97 climax, which he covered for the Times. In the mid- to late-1990s, the protracted crisis in Central Africa's Great Lakes region was a big focus of my job -- first with Search for Common Ground and then with Refugees International (RI) -- so I figure I should similarly go back in time.

First a little background. During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, the exiled fighters of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) swept through the country, halted the killing of fellow Tutsis, and took control of the capital. RPF leader Paul Kagame has been president of Rwanda for ten years and its primary power figure for longer. In the genocide's aftermath, the surviving Hutu perpetrators fled to neighboring Congo and Tanzania, along with hundreds of thousands of their ethnic compatriots and faimly. For the next two and a half years, the massive refugee camps were a source of continued violence and instability, with the Hutu genocidaires using the camps as a rear base for operations against the new Rwandan government and a populace off of which they could feed parasitically.

Given the international community's failure to find a solution to the problem, the Rwandan Army (RPA) had good reason to cross into Congo and forcibly break up the camps, which it did in November 1996. If the RPA had limited its aims to disrupting the genocidaire forces (Interahamwe and ex-FAR) and draining the resevoir of instability on their border, neither the UN, nor Howard French, nor I would be writing about them today. Which brings us to the part of the story where my recollections come in.

Washington-based Refugees International has a long history of rapidly getting its staff to the scene of humanitarian crises and using its real-time findings to press for life-saving action by the US and other governments and UN agencies. Under RI's then leaders Lionel Rosenblatt and Dennis Grace, RI made the Rwandan refugees our priority focus in 1996-97. As the UN report details, the Rwandan army and Congolese rebels who overthrew Mobutu Sese Seko did a lot more than break up the refugee camps. The November 1996 operation was just the beginning of a vengeful drive that indiscriminately chased and massacred Hutu militia and civilians alike over the course of many months and hundreds of miles.

At RI, we did what we could to make sure the refugees were not forgotten, even as they became more widely dispersed and more remote and difficult to reach. We kept signs posted in our office that counted the weeks since the RPA operation against the camps. My colleagues Paula Ghedini and Kirpatrick Day travelled to the region during the height of the crisis and told us the tragic things they saw. In the spring of the following year, Kirk caught up with many of the refugees in Kisangani, far from Congo's eastern border where they started their harrowing trek. We colleagues back in the office then helped convey their reports to people in Washington, New York, or Geneva who were in a position to do something about it (I still have a small archive of our work). Legendary UN official Sergio Vieira de Mello was an ally at UNHCR, along with his aide Augustine Mahiga. As I remarked upon her death, Alison DesForges not only was the primary documenter of the genocide, but was equally tenacious when the Rwandan heroes turned into villains.

Which is a long way of saying that a lot of the substance being brought to light by the UN investigation was known at the time, at least in outline. And reported by the news media. In addition to Howard French, there was his Times colleague Nick Kristof as well as the Washington Post's John Pomfret, leading shit hole reporters of their day (like Christiane Amanpour, but for newspapers). One of the most chilling reports came from Kristof and began as follows:

As he strode confidently down the red-clay road that parted the jungle, the young rebel soldier was perfectly candid about his mission. ``We're capturing the Rwandan refugees,'' he said placidly. ``We're catching them and killing them.'' Asked to repeat that, he elaborated without embarrassment. ``Every day we kill them,'' he said with a shrug. ``They fled, so they must be bad people. So we catch them and take them back to our commander, and then we kill them.''

There's the essence of it: collective guilt and summary justice. My main recollection of that time is about the difficulty for the United States government and the rest of the international community to keep a fixed gaze on terrible events taking place so far away. I'll never forget one meeting I attended between NGOs and US officials just after the RPA operation against the camps had been initiated. Everyone in the room knew there were two halves to the story of what had just happened. At one end of the string of camps, Goma to the north of Lake Kivu, a stream of refugees were driven back into Rwanda to be reintegrated into their homeland, a good thing basically. At Bukavu to the South, there was no such gateway for repatriation, and the refugees were at the mercy of the RPA and its Congolese allies. The tone of the meeting, unfortunately, was more relief over the former than worry over the latter.

 Photo: US Army

July 27, 2012

Two Can Play That Game - Romney VFW Edition
Posted by David Shorr

640px-Mitt_Romney_by_Gage_SkidmoreIn the spirit of turnabout being fair play, I thought it would be interesting to look for snippets from Mitt Romney's recent VFW speech that might make interesting 30-second spots.

I found a few sound bites that are ripe for the 'you didn't build that' / 'if we keep talking about the economy' treatment. 

Mitt Romney told an audience of veterans that "firmness in American foreign policy can only bring tension and conflict."  

According to Mitt Romney "we do not have the strength or vision to lead."

Mitt Romney's a declinist who clearly believes America is on a downward slide. He said we're in "a time of declining influence."

Well, you get the idea.

Photo: Gage Skidmore

July 25, 2012

"Anglo-Saxon Heritage" Gaffe - Curtain-Raising for Romney's Tour of Allies
Posted by David Shorr

373px-A.D._500-1000,_Anglo-Saxons_-_022_-_Costumes_of_All_Nations_(1882)I can't really do justice in 140 characters to the Romney foreign policy advisers' comments to The Telegraph on the eve of his London visit. For those of you who actually have a life don't stay glued to your twitter feeds (or follow @David_Shorr), this was the money quote:

“We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and he feels that the special relationship is special,” the adviser said of Mr Romney, adding: “The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have”.

The Telegraph's reporter Jon Swaine noted that this remark "may prompt accusations of racial insensitivity." When you add Romney's depiction of President Obama as some kind of out-of-the-American-mainstream radical together with the word (white) that usually comes in front of "Anglo-Saxon" and yeah, a lot of people went there. Particularly after @DavidCornDC kicked off an extended run of good snarky fun with the hashtag #AngloSaxonHeritage

But stepping back from the snark, the advisers' comments warrant a more measured interpretation -- especially now that the Romney camp has just shifted into full damage-control mode and put distance between candidate and quote. Bottom line: Team Romney's message doesn't need to be racist to be bad foreign policy. 

First, the ambiguity of the term adviser, which can mean a lot of things in a presidential campaign. In terms of representing a real insider's view, there are advisers and there are advisers. You have to be careful about putting too much stock in statements from people who might not really be in the inner circle. On the other hand, usually it's not peripheral advisers who do interviews with national newspapers on the eve of a candidates visit. By the way, Swaine's piece made me wonder if he was interviewing both advisers on the same phone call -- which would make it less likely they were freelancing. But then there's this line, which is at least highly ironic: 

The advisers spoke on the condition of anonymity because Mr Romney’s campaign requested that they not criticise the President to foreign media.

Which begs the question of what the campaign requested them to do.

Second, is "Anglo-Saxon heritage" a racist dog-whistle and if not, what the hell is it? I'm inclined to say no, because I think I get what s/he was trying to say, in his/her dunderheaded fashion. This piece of the Romney foreign policy argument is all about standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the good guys who share America's values. To me the "Anglo-Saxon" reference sounds like faux gravitas mixed with unctuousness -- shared heritage, historical and cultural bonds, etc. (Ditto for "singing 'Land of Hope and Glory.'") Leaving me with a different question: are these ideas really a workable basis for 21st century foreign policy? My problem is that standing with the good guys isn't a framework for effective policies; it doesn't really offer practical guidelines for what to do about Afghanistan, Iran, China... That's why my critique of the VFW speech focused on its superficiality. 

Finally, a question from Democracy Arsenal's own Michael Cohen (aka @speechboy71): did the Telegraph bury the lede:

The advisers could not give detailed examples of how policy towards Britain would differ under Mr Romney. One conceded that on the European crisis: “I’m not sure what our policy response is.”

Didn't know what to say about the Eurozone! Really? Should've been an easy one: "Austerity will give businesses the confidence to invest and create jobs." Whew, I can't believe I know their talking points better then they do. Of course the problem is that austerity isn't really working out that way. For months, conservatives have been giving dire warnings about the danger of America becoming like Greece. As the British austerity policy drives it back into recession, do we want to become like the UK?

July 24, 2012

Romney's Major Platitudes Address to the VFW
Posted by David Shorr

My main reaction to Governor Romney's VFW speech is to wonder whether he really thinks foreign policy is that easy. Obviously the purpose of the speech was to preview how Romney would deal with international challenges if he is elected in November. Yet the speech bore no resemblance to a workable foreign policy approach. Having gone nine months since Romney's last major address, this was how the Romney camp thought they'd earn points for gravitas and policy seriousness?

The tone was set in the speech's first major section, between the introduction and the discussion of the defense budget, which for seven windy paragraphs does nothing but string together a series of platitudes. "Watchman in the night ... strength or vision to lead..." Hard to take issue with any of the sentiments themselves, but the way Romney presents them raises two problems. First, Romney's claim of a political split over such fundamentals of patriotism. Second, they are too over-broad to serve as a useful guide for policy -- which, again, is supposed to be the purpose of a major policy address.

Romney's attempt to distinguish himself as the only candidate who really believes in America's strength and ideals merely echoes an ongoing theme. Just the other day, Romney said "The course we’re on right now is foreign to us. It changes America.” (Pretty subtle, eh.) You'd think that in 2012 we could stipulate patriotism and debate substance, but then again, Chris Matthews warned about this very thing in those MSNBC commercials

It's not that today's speech lacked any reference to particular policy matters. It's just that whenever Romney did get down to cases, he either baldly lies about President Obama's policies (as Heather helpfully lays out) or fudges (how, exactly, is Romney's 2014 Afghanistan timeline different from Obama's) or claims he can achieve outcomes without saying how (Iran's uranium enrichment).

Actually the speech included one especially revealing section where Romney discloses the essence of his foreign policy approach. A clear premise for how he plans to attain America's international aims, just not a workable one:  

It is a mistake – and sometimes a tragic one – to think that firmness in American foreign policy can bring only tension or conflict. The surest path to danger is always weakness and indecision. In the end, it is resolve that moves events in our direction, and strength that keeps the peace.

I will not surrender America’s leadership in the world. We must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose, and resolve in our might. 

The magical thinking that characterizes this belief in resolve is kind of a thing with me. Borrowing a page from Paul Krugman, I even tried to coin the idea of a "Resolve Fairy." In the military they often say that "the enemy gets a vote," and that captures the essence of this right wing blind spot. The real tragic mistake is to delude yourself that the targets of your firmness and resolve will comply with your wishes. 

If all this talk of resolve sounds familiar, that's because it is. If our Republican friends don't want us to harp about the George W. Bush years, then they shouldn't try to recycle the same ideas and approaches. But don't take my word for it, Dan Drezner offers a similar warning in his own post on the VFW speech. 

Make That Six
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Romney said:

"the biggest announcement in his last State of the Union address on improving our military was that the Pentagon will start using more clean energy"

Senator John Warner, R-VA, and others think Pentagon energy efficiency is a pretty big deal.  But ok, I'd agree that a "new defense strategy" and "legislation that will secure our country from the growing dangers of cyber-threats" are both bigger announcements. Both were in the last State of the Union.  In fact, Harry Reid is trying to round up enough GOP votes to pass Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT)'s compromise version of the bill this month. Curious that Romney, who talked quite a bit about cyber in his speech at the Citadel last year, didn't mention it at this key time.

5 Flat-Out Untruths in Romney's VFW Speech
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Marco Rubio, Chris Smith, Jon Huntsman, even Bill Kristol and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen can give speeches fiercely disagreeing with Administration foreign policy while sticking to largely-agreed facts.  Why can't Mitt Romney?

1. "Obama's billion dollars of defense cuts." Well, the Administration proposed $498 million over ten years, which Congress has not yet actually approved, and Republicans have attempted to up.  Meanwhile, the Budget Control Act negotiated by Republicans and Democrats would require $500 million more in cuts over ten years if Congress doesn't act by December. By that rationale, the military medals of that two-star down the hall from me are mine, too.

1a. "cuts have no strategy." Again, taking just the $498 million reduction in growth over a decade that the Admin proposed, it flowed from the strategy review that the Pentagon issued this past January. You could disagree with that strategy. But that would require you to offer a counter-strategy.

2. Allegedly bashing Israel at the UN. Romney didn't say which of Obama's annual UN speeches he was criticizing:  the most recent one, on which Israel advocates "heaped praise" for its opposition to Palestinian moves for statehood (and after which his popularity "surged" in Israel; or his first one, where he spoke eloquently to world leaders about Israeli hopes for security and peace.

3. "Apology tour." If only the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler for every time I mention his comprehensive debunking of this wholly untrue conservative favorite. In reality, being Barack Obama means never having to say you're sorry. (You get Secretary Clinton to do it for you.)

4. Supposed decline in our allies' view of us. Among the allies whose publics view us more favorably than in 2008 are Romney destinations Britain and Poland. Count for yourself.

5. Hugo Chavez "introducing" Hezbollah into the hemisphere on Obama's watch. Sadly, Hezbollah has been money laundering in the hemisphere since the 1980s and may have been involved in the Buenos Aires Jewish center bombing back then. Let's not give Chavez credit for stuff he only wishes he had been responsible for. It hasn't managed to pull off anything at all during the last four years -- as Obama pointed out recently.

July 13, 2012

This Week In Threat Mongering - The Debt Version
Posted by Michael Cohen

Bart-scaredIn the world of hysterical, threat-mongering about US national security there are few issues that produce more solemn and serious head-nods than the issue of America's growing national debt.

Ever since then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mike Mullen declared two years ago that the national debt "is the number one national security issue," agreement with this assertion has become some sort of entry route to "foreign policy seriousness" for pundits and policymakers alike.

This is strange because the idea of taking strategic advice from Mike Mullen is a bit of a head scratcher - taking economic advice from him is almost impossible to fathom.

And yet here, last week, was not one, but two Brookings Fellows, writing in the Los Angeles Times that Mullen was right - debt is the number one national security issue in the country. They are not alone, it's a view that receives broad political support. Here's Congressman Mo Brooks of Alabama; Congressman John Culberson of Texas, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky; Cong. John Campbell of California, Cong. Adam Smith of Washington and even Richard Haass, head of the Council on Foreign Relations all making the same argument. It was a topic of discussion in last year's CNN national security debate where it was endorsed by Jon Huntsman.

The argument that debt is a national security threat is based on the notion that if the US becomes too deeply mired in red ink it will be unable to field a world class military; "there would be continued loss of confidence in America" says Mullen; our allies will begin to doubt American resolve; America's foreign alliances will crumble . . . and before you know it cats will be sleeping with dogs, there will be an Islamic caliphate in the Middle East and we'll all be eating lo mein for dinner.

Quite helpfully, O'Hanlon and Lieberthal have provided the most divorced from reality example of this argument:

American economic weakness undercuts U.S. leadership abroad. Other countries sense our weakness and wonder about our purported decline. If this perception becomes more widespread, and the case that we are in decline becomes more persuasive, countries will begin to take actions that reflect their skepticism about America's future. Allies and friends will doubt our commitment and may pursue nuclear weapons for their own security, for example; adversaries will sense opportunity and be less restrained in throwing around their weight in their own neighborhoods. The crucial Persian Gulf and Western Pacific regions will likely become less stable. Major war will become more likely.

This is truly a chunky, threat-mongering stew of fact-free assertions, breathless fear-mongering and worst case scenarios that ends up where these types of arguments always do - in a more insecure world all because of a lack of American commitment to global hegemony.

The fact is, if last year's debt limit debacle hasn't already convinced other nations to be skeptical of America's future then I think we're probably in the clear. Of course, the debt limit debate is instructive in this regard. Even though both parties agreed to a mandated reduction of the defense budget, which would basically return the Pentagon budget to FY 2007 levels (or what some might call, non-crazy levels of spending), the ink was barely dry on the agreement before both parties began falling over themselves to restore the cuts. The House of Representatives even went so far as to take a sledgehammer, earlier this year, to key social safety net programs in order to prevent the Pentagon from taking a haircut. Secretary of Defense Panetta practically ran around Washington with his hair on fire decrying the impact of sequestration cuts. 

O'Hanlon and Lieberthal's predictions of doom are fanciful at best and are based on the notion that the world is a dangerous place when in fact it's never been safer. But even if they are right that their calamitous series of events could occur there are about $690 billion reasons to believe that the sort of defense cuts that would lead to this series of events will never happen - especially when the country can rely on esteemed national security experts to convince Americans that if it were to occur the world would descend into a dystopian state. 

But that isn't even the worst part of the debt is a national security threat argument - O'Hanlon and Lieberthal, as well as pretty everyone else who makes this assertion, don't appear to understand the difference between debt and economic growth. Yes, America's economy is weak; but it has very little to do with the fact that we have a lot of debt. 

Indeed, the problem is that the federal government hasn't taken on enough debt in order to grow our economy, create jobs and pull ourselves out of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Quite simply, the government has failed at one of its most basic responsibilities in the face of economic calamity - spending money (even that which is borrowed) in order to fill the gap in aggregate demand. As Ezra Klein rightly points out, the world is desperate to loan us money so that we can spend it on important national priorities, rebuild out infrastructure and create jobs. Instead we have folks telling us that we should reducing out debt . . . and that it's a national security priority.

So while debt-mongers are right to be concerned about America's economic future, their diagnosis is way off-base. 

Indeed a greater focus on reducing the national debt will mean less resources to grow the economy, less money for infrastructure, less money for improving our education system and less money to support clean energy initiatives . . . unless O'Hanlon, Lieberthal, Haass and Mullen believe that cutting government spending to reduce the deficit will somehow grow the economy. It won't. Instead it will make things worse. 

In fact, the misguided focus on debt is a good part of the reason that our economy remains so weak; we've devoted so much energy to worrying about the debt that we are supposedly leaving for our grandchildren that we forgot to think about the terrible economy and high unemployment that we are bequeathing to Americans today - and utilize the tools at our disposal to make this situation better.

In the end, "restoring U.S. economic strength" should be a top priority of US policymakers. But focusing on the debt as a means to achieve that goal is the best example I can think of as to why defense wonks and Naval officers should stay away from economic analysis in general. 

July 12, 2012

The Further Delights of John Bolton
Posted by David Shorr

Bolton-BushYou have to read John Bolton's latest Weekly Standard column, "The Negotiation Delusion," on Iran to see how bad it is. And you have to read it closely to see how truly atrocious it is. So consider this the second in a series of dissections of John Bolton, the extremist gift that keeps on giving. 

This attempt to undercut the entire premise of reaching a diplomatic solution could be my new favorite Bolton leap of illogic:

Moreover, what would a negotiated deal look like? Our goal is to deny Iran nuclear weapons; Tehran manifestly wants the opposite. What is the compromise? Iran gets to keep a small nuclear weapons program? Not even the most effervescent Obama supporters (publicly) endorse such a result.

See how he uses his view of Iranian intentions to take a swipe at his political opponents? Translation: letting Iran have a nuclear weapons program is a position too radical even for Obama supporters -- but then, maybe secretly that is their position. [Just saying.]

Actually Bolton has trouble deciding what President Obama's position is. The first couple paragraphs of the piece are really whiplash-inducing. First Bolton says diplomatic efforts by the last two administrations are based on the "erroneous premise that Iran could be talked out of" its nuclear weapon ambition. This is a helpful reminder that Bolton's primary role in the Bush administration was to resist any discussions with the Iranians. Next he says the Obama administration itself doesn't believe negotiations can succeed. And then a couple sentences later he says President Obama believes a nuclear-armed Iran could be contained and deterred.

With this containment canard, Bolton is basically calling President Obama a liar -- given that the president said the following to the AIPAC policy conference in March:

Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

Anyone who wants to argue this threat is hollow should please explain President Obama's attacks on Osama Bin Laden and others in Pakistan, something he said he'd do early in the 2008 campaign.

But what really struck me in the Bolton piece was his strong line on the futility of economic sanctions. By his telling, Iran has inured itself from feeling any impact by accumulating massive currency reserves and even obtaining the updates it needs for its energy infrastructure. Oh and Chinese, Russian, and European cooperation is all an illusion, Stuxnet and other sabotage doesn't make any difference something something something. By the way, if anyone in Democracy Arsenal's razor-sharp readership has time, maybe they could research whether Ambassador Bolton has been consistent in his skepticism toward sanctions. What's his position been on all the congressional sanctions bills?

My second favorite passage is the following:

Instead, Obama surrogates argue that Iran would renounce nuclear weapons if permitted to keep a “peaceful” nuclear program under international monitoring. In theory, such a deal should be easy, since Iran already loudly contends it has no weapons ambitions. But both Bush and Obama erred by conceding that Iran has any right even to “peaceful” nuclear activities without fundamental regime change. No nation that has so egregiously violated its treaty obligations (as Iran has violated the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty by seeking nuclear weapons) has a right to claim benefits under the same agreement. Tehran has no credibility here. The mullahs will never agree to an intrusive verification mechanism that could actually detect systematic cheating; indeed, they reject it for a more fundamental reason: Exposing such impotence against foreign governments could spur Iran’s domestic opposition to challenge and endanger the regime itself.

It has something for everyone, including more lumping together the Bush and Obama administrations as both being too soft. Even more interesting, though, is the tacit admission that sufficiently intrusive inspections could actually constrain a nuclear program from building a bomb.  Hmmmm.

Bolton's bottom line, of course, is that the Iranian leadership is implaccable and our real aim should be, "replacing the mullahs with a regime that would truly forswear nuclear weapons." Apparently there's a preferable alternative set of leaders who could ste  Wait, this sounds familiar.

I do want to give Bolton credit for following his premises to their logical conclusion: if diplomacy and sanctions are futile, then the only alternative is military action. His presidential candidate, on the other hand, only talks about the futility part.

White House photo - Paul Morse

July 05, 2012

Founding Text -- Do We Still Believe in "A Decent Respect"?
Posted by David Shorr

320px-Signing_of_the_Declaration_of_IndependenceIn its opening lines, the Declaration of Independence notes the necessity of showing "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind."  When the founders announced their decisive break with the motherland, they felt obliged to explain themselves -- to argue the case for revolution in the court of world opinion. The document is essentially a claim to the moral high ground and an appeal for global public sympathy.

The main body of the text lists sixteen forms of abuse by King George (with nine sub-examples under one of them). Stressing also that they had given the monarch many chances to relent, the founders were basically saying "We were provoked!"  Rather than the presumption of a righteous cause, the Declaration is an exposition of its justness, highlighting especially the misdeeds of the other party. The signers of the Declaration were throwing the gauntlet down only after patiently building (i.e. enduring) an extensive catalog of grievances.

Now transplant this idea to contermpoary foreign policy discourse. By my reading, the ideals of our remarkable republic are too often treated as a claim of immunity if not infallibility. As some tell it, the pursuit of international support is for wimps. More than anything else, this makes our national sense of self sound so brittle -- kind of delicate in how easily it takes offense. The national conversation about America's actions in the wider world has a loud strain that rejects any notion of heeding others or questioning ourselves.

We don't debate over America's best case for seeking international support, but whether America should have to make any case at all. Is "decent respect to the opinions of mankind" 18th Century-speak for "apologizing for America"?

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