All politics is domestic

MSM campaign coverage doesn’t pay enough attention to foreign policy. Those stories on how much crappy food they have to eat in Iowa don’t just write themselves.

Michael Signer writes of his frustration, as John Edwards’ foreign-policy adviser, with the MSM’s inattention to the candidates’ foreign-policy positions (bloggers do a much better job, he says).

This is troubling, because what a candidate says on foreign policy matters. Often, major policy proposals are road maps to what the candidates actually do once elected. George W. Bush’s famous national security speech on Sept. 23, 1999, at the Citadel in South Carolina accurately portended his most provocative policies as president, from “transforming” our armed forces through technology and lighter brigades, to disengaging from the Clinton administration’s many diplomatic commitments.

Even if candidates fail to implement them in office, the proposals they put forth during a campaign are a reflection of their courage (or lack thereof), their intellectual depth, their fluency in difficult subject matter and their knowledge of history.

And sometimes they’re not:

Gov. George W. Bush: If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us; if we’re a humble nation, but strong, they’ll welcome us. And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that’s why we’ve got to be humble, and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom.

I’m not so sure the role of the United States is to go around the world and say this is the way it’s got to be. We can help. And maybe it’s just our difference in government, the way we view government. I mean I want to empower people. I want to help people help themselves, not have government tell people what to do. I just don’t think it’s the role of the United States to walk into a country and say, we do it this way, so should you.

Signer also says that

there were few deep contrast articles—the sort of thing we’d see from columnists such as Paul Krugman on domestic policy. The stories we saw tended only to compare the candidates’ foreign policy advisers, with the flavor of a fantasy baseball article in Sports Illustrated.

There’s a good reason for writing about the advisers—they have more foreign-policy experience (real and academic) than do the candidates, they’re writing the candidates’ positions, and most of them will end up running foreign policy should the candidate be elected. Michael Signer and John Edwards not excepted, I’m pretty sure. I can infer more from which (Bill) Clintonites have signed up with Obama and which with HRC, than I can from what either candidate says on the stump. Signer’s working for Edwards went some way to allaying my concerns about Edwards.

I share Signer’s concern that the press gives foreign-policy short shrift. I’m just not sure that more attention to what the candidates are saying will be especially illuminating. Whatever grand visions they may have will run hard up against reality with the first crisis they face in office, when character and advisers will count most.

And so it goes in Belgrade

Serbia never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

It’s hard to imagine a more self-defeating polity than Serbia. Every party in the former Yugoslavia, if not in all of the Balkans, has some historical grievances—but every one but Serbia is able to recognize current realities and accommodate to them. As goes Kosovo, I have no illusions about the KLA, but my basic sympathies are with the Kosovars; even so, the widespread recognition of their independence falls to Serbia’s recalcitrance, tone deafness, and unshakeable sense of victimhood, as much as to Kosovo’s positive case. I though I’d heard it all, until this, from a former UK Ambassador in Belgrade:

While we all wrestle with the fearsomely complex policy issues surrounding Kosovo, one overwhelming fact has to be faced.

Continue reading “And so it goes in Belgrade”

Precedent George H.W. Bush

Obama is now channeling Bush 41? Come again?

As I’m assuming Clinton has, Obama commented on Kosovo’s declaration of independence:

Kosovo’s independence is a unique situation resulting from the irreparable rupture Slobodan Milosevic’s actions caused; it is in no way a precedent for anyone else in the region or around the world.

That Kosovo is unique, sui generis, of no precedential value—however you wish to phrase it—is the position of the State Department, the EU, and just about anyone else who supports its independence. Bizarrely—so much so that I had to read it three times to make sure I understood—a New York Sun editorial says:

Among the lessons we’ve gained from a life of foreign corresponding are that wars have consequences —and that history has its ironies. As Kosovars danced in the streets in joy and kissed the nearest Americans and the United Nations wrung its hands, the son of the president who delivered the Chicken Kiev speech embraced change in the Balkans. And the echoes of the words of the 41st president against independence for the so-called Soviet so-called Socialist so-called Republics are coming from a Democratic presidential candidate aquiver at the prospect that some other downtrodden countries might take hope from Kosovo’s example and seek to follow suit.

Ok, I shouldn’t be reading the Sun, but “Kosovo” and “precedent” in the same paragraph makes it required reading for me, as nine times out of ten it’s in reference to Georgia’s Russian-backed separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However amusing it is for an op-ed writer to pull obscure secessionist movements off the UNPO website (free Vermont, dude!), the only active threat of acting on a putative precedent has been from these regimes (and, even less plausibly, from Transnistria). And they can’t be too happy to see Russia backing down from its defiant posture.

How Obama’s bog-standard caveat makes him the third avatar of Bush 41 is beyond puzzling.

[I don’t know whether it’s influenced any policymakers’ thinking on the matter, but the Centre for European Policy Studies has been thinking carefully about the putative Kosovo precedent and the principles of just secession.]

What’s wrong with foreign-policy “realism”

American interests include, and require, earning the love and respect of the rest of the planet rather than its hatred and fear.

Clive Crook illustrates:

Make no mistake, Mr Obama is a once-in-a-generation possibility. Admittedly, in many ways he is too good to be true. Hopes of what he might achieve are running out of control. His followers say he is uniquely able to restore US standing in the world, partly by adopting a more conciliatory approach and partly (it seems) by being black. The sad truth is that on many issues US interests diverge from those of other nations. Any new president could improve relations with other governments; the current administration has set that bar into the floor. But if President Obama aimed first and foremost to advance US interests, as he would, then, regardless of how enlightened and encompassing his notion of US interests proved to be, overseas rapture at his election would quickly fade.

Well, yes. If (and only if) “US interests” do not include what Jefferson & Co. called “a decent respect to the opinion of mankind.” If, that is, the United States has no interest in being loved and respected, rather than hated and feared, around the globe. If, in other words, we don’t actually intend that other countries be ruled democratically (else our standing in world public opinion would constrain the capacity of other governments to cooperate with ours).

The problem with realism as a foreign-policy doctrine is that it’s so … unrealistic. Realism always means supporting whoever “our sunsuvbitches” happen to be at the moment: the Kuomintang, the Shah, the Somozas, Moise Tshombe, Trujillo, the Duvaliers, Franco, the Greek Colonels, the Argentinian Colonels, Mobutu, Pinochet, the South African Nationalists, Suharto, Jonas Savimbi, Noriega, various jihadist groups (against the Russki), Saddam Hussein (against Iran), Chalabi, Musharraf.

If that sort of realism is what Obama means by “the thinking that got us into Iraq in the first place,” I agree that it’s time to get past it. There’s a term for human beings who act as foreign-policy realists think nation-states should and do act. The term is “sociopath.”

Feint praise

A reply to Jonathan Z., on McCain’s dunce cap.

John McCain is not a buffoon. The GOP doesn’t lack for nitwit senators (or even higher officials), but McCain is not among them.

I’ve never voted for a Republican, and I’m not about to start now. I fervently hope that the Democratic nominee sweeps into office with long coattails. But mocking John McCain is not going to advance that effort. Jonathan Z. is right, so far as it goes. Obama’s website is much better, on all dimensions, than McCain’s. This reflects the greater substance of Obama’s platform, as well as a better-run campaign operation, and a different generational sensibility (oh, if only Ted Stevens were running).

Obama has a crackerjack team of advisors; in policy areas that I know something about, a Democrat could hardly do better.

Continue reading “Feint praise”

Stop using gas as a weapon

Bad cop, worse cop in the Kremlin.

Sergey Ivanov is a piece of work. Vladimir Putin’s bilious speech at last year’s Munich Conference on Security lacked only a lectern-pounding apocryphal shoe to take us back fifty years. Ivanov is Putin on Paxil; he soothingly assured this year’s conferencegoers that all is well in Russia—and can’t we all just get along?

Europe has no cause for concern over its growing dependence on Russian gas.

Partners can rest assured that Russia has been strictly fulfilling and will continue to fulfill all its commitments regarding energy supplies—I would like to stress that particularly.

Moreover, we do our best to develop our export potential and make it free from the political conditions in certain transit countries.

Putin must not have received that memo. Just two days later, Ukrainian President Yuschenko was in Moscow, forced to kiss Putin’s ring to forestall a cutoff of gas delivery to Ukraine—and to the much of the EU. Putin acceded, conditioned, it seems, on…political conditions in certain transit countries. At a press availability following their meeting, Putin was asked about Ukraine’s NATO bid.

It’s horrible to say and even horrible to think that, in response to the deployment of such facilities in Ukrainian territory, which cannot theoretically be ruled out, Russia could target its missile systems at Ukraine. Imagine this for a second. That is what worries us.

“Such facilities” are the proposed US missile-defense interceptors and radar (to protect against an Iranian missile launch) that have been proposed for NATO and the Czech Republic. Problem is, Ukraine is not a part of any such proposal. What would you do, Mr. Putin, if Norway deployed robot sharks—with lasers!—in the Arctic Sea?

Yuschenko, sitting next to Putin, looked as if we here daydreaming about getting a root canal.

Update: Hey, presto! It worked.

Aspiring NATO member Ukraine is prepared to adopt legislation banning the alliance’s bases from its soil, Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko as saying on Wednesday.

“If the Russian side is worried about military bases then Ukraine will never go for that … We are ready to underpin that constitutionally,” he said at a meeting with members of the Ukrainian community in Moscow.

From Russia with scorn

McCain is the candidate Russians love to hate.

As we are told is the case everywhere, Russians are following the US primary races closely. Or, at least the Kremlin-controlled press is. The “what does this mean for Russia?” discussion is all McCain, all the time. From the outset of the campaigns, Russia has hardly figured prominently. McCain is the only candidate with a consistent record of making an issue of Russia (and Biden the most so of the Democrats), and has been in fine form, calling it a rogue state and calling for regime change. The others have all touched upon Russia when the circumstances call for it.

Now that McCain is the GOP heir apparent, the press is going bonkers, heaping obloquy upon scorn upon contempt on him. And, demonstrating their keen grasp of the American political press, they frequently cite the views of influential columnists Pat Buchanan and Justin Raimondo, to demonstrate that McCain is not as popular as election results might suggest. Normally, I’d be happy to ignore every word that either pundit puts to paper, but I’m unable to, as both are preoccupied with Georgia. In their monthly-or-so philippics against McCain (or against US engagement anywhere, for any purpose), they often cite his support for Georgia. They find especially risible his expressed support for Georgia’s sovereignty in South Ossetia, which serves as their real-life Freedonia or Duchy of Grand Fenwick.

Needless to say, most Georgians love McCain. I try to explain that US Russia policy tends to be bipartisan and driven by the permanent foreign-policy establishment, and that the same is true for Georgia. Hard to get across when the main road to the airport is George W. Bush Avenue.

…and Cher Is My Favorite Singer

Yerevangelism on the campaign trail.

I was about to post a discursive, learned entry on the Democratic race and the Armenia-genocide congressional resolution, but I see that Michael Crowley has beaten me to the punch. What he said.

Now, both Clinton and Obama might have a deep understanding of the Armenia genocide, and care greatly about the welfare and security of the Armenian state. Or, they might be unable to tell you which decade it happened in or to point to Armenia on a map. But they surely can point to Glendale.

As it happens, I regularly read the Armenian press (Armenia is next to Georgia, with which it has uneasy relations). One Yerevan news agency tersely observes

It must be noted that the husband of Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, who headed USA from 1992-2000, also gave a similar promise but he never kept to it.

For what it’s worth, Rudy is for the resolution, McCain is against it, and Romney is focus grouping it, but thinks that Armenia is a heckuva country.

Democratize This

Democracy promotion is not a bad idea just because George W. Bush says it’s a good one.

Matt Yglesias writes

I’m not sure there’s very much the US government can or should do, in practice, to push Egypt into becoming a democracy.

Rather than add to the torrent of “yes, there is–no, there isn’t,” (except to say, yes, there is) I’ll plug the underheralded Congressional Research Service, whose recent report “Democracy Promotion: Cornerstone of U.S. Foreign Policy?” adds much more light than heat to the debate.

As a rule, I’d say that if you don’t know anything about a policy matter, CRS is a good place to start.

Get Realist

There’s a good reason why so few foreign-policy realists get high-profile commentator gigs–but they’re not an empty set.

Stephen Walt (recently well known not only to IR-theory geeks because of The Israel Lobby) writes in Salon that Bill Kristol’s hiring at the NYT is symptomatic of the neoconservative and liberal-internationalist domination of the country’s op-ed pages. Fair enough, so far as it goes. But then he goes on to say

Such views are hardly heretical, but there is not a single major columnist, TV commentator or radio pundit who consistently presents a realist perspective on world politics and American foreign policy. In America today, the mainstream media is a realism-free zone.

I’ve thought about this for ten seconds, and I’ve already come up with George Will, Paul Krugman, and Fareed Zakaria as counterexamples. True, none are realist theoreticians—and I have no idea whether they’ve read Waltz and Morgenthau, or would self-identify as realists—but their inherent caution and cold-bloodedness on foreign-policy matters would certainly qualify them. Furthermore, there’s a good reason why the Friedmans and Brookses get more play: realism doesn’t make for good copy in the new world of op-edutainment. Friedman’s internationalism lets him play “if this is Thursday it must be Thimpu”; Kristol can rally us to invade…wherever’s next on the list. Paleocons and isolationists of all stripes get to fulminate against whichever conspiracy they see getting us into foreign entanglements. But realist prescriptions are dry and bloodless—who wants to read that in their morning paper? Walt himself has written some good books (his latest, which largely contradicts them, not among them), but if I were a programmer or newspaper editor I wouldn’t hire him.