Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

by Jay Stevens

The Notorious Mark T, as have I, has long been a critic of the corporate-friendly and conservative wing of the Democratic party, which seems to predominate in Washington DC. But our varying approaches to politics manifest itself over any discussion involving Ralph Nader. Mark T thinks there’s little or no substantive difference between the parties; I think the difference that does exist is important and worth fighting for. (Mark T is also frustrated by the two-party system; seeing as we’re stuck with it, I believe we need to exert some force on it to change it, or at least, to make it more representative.)

Mark argues that if Kerry had won in 2004, we’d still be in Iraq. He could be right: Democrats are too often cowed by rightwing hawks into bad foreign policy decisions. Truman watched McArthur cross the 38th parallel in Korea, Kennedy intervened in Vietnam, Johnson escalated, and just about every significant “establishment” Democrat gave Bush the go ahead to invade Iraq. Still it’s easy to imagine Kerry standing up to torture, the politicization of federal agencies – like the Department of Justice – domestic spying, contractors in Iraq, the war profiteering in Iraq by Bush buddies, etc. In short, while our current system would likely have continued unchanged, it’s likely that the mistakes and maliciousness of our federal government would have been reduced, mismanaged money better spent, some lives saved. To me that’s a significant difference.

Of course, sometimes it’s hard to argue with Mark, when sh*t like this happens: Schumer and Feinstein signaling their approval of Bush’s Attorney General nominee, Michael Mukasey, who apparently is willing to go along with the administration’s torture policy.

Nora Ephron:

And then there are the Democrats in the Congress. What a bunch of losers, hiding behind the fact that it takes 60 votes to shut down debate and 67 to override a presidential veto. So what? So pass a law and make Bush veto it. Make him veto something every single day. Drive the guy crazy. What have you got to lose? And meanwhile what have you done? You’ve voted for the surge, you’ve voted to authorize a war against Iran, and you’re about to vote in favor of an attorney general-designate who refuses to call waterboarding torture.

Of course Mark was there to remind us of the Democrats’ failing:

The standard response to this kind of behavior is to accuse Democrats of lacking a spine. In fact, these two senators will face intense criticism for their act. It takes courage to act against your friends, for your enemies. It’s not a matter of having or lacking a spine.

It’s more basic. The Democratic Party is a catch basin for dissent. In 1968 protesters outside the convention hall in Chicago were clubbed by police as liberals inside nominated Hubert Humphrey, Vietnam War supporter. The Democratic Party has an institutional function – it corrals dissent, and then hoses it and then clubs it to death. The party leadership is made up of enablers for Republicans. To support Democrats is to invite indignity on one’s self – we now must crawl back in our holes as Bush wins yet again.

IMHO, I think that’s giving the Democratic leadership too much credit. The acceptance of Mukaskey probably has more to do with Democrats’ nervousness with the polls showing Congress with an even lower approval rating than the President. And with a major election headed our way, Schumer doesn’t want to rock the boat, create any controversy in the one area where Republicans are competitive with Democrats in the voters’ minds: how they deal with terrorism.

Still, that’s a failing. Again, Nora E:

But here’s what they should do instead:
Reject Mukasey.
Make Bush send up another nominee.
Reject that nominee if he won’t take a position on waterboarding.
And just keep on doing it.
Because it’s the right thing to do. Because waterboarding is torture. Because we are torturing people and it has to stop, and it will never stop unless the Democrats make it stop.
And forget about the Justice Department. No one will fix the Justice Department until there’s a new president.

Too often Democrats have compromised on the “right thing.” Compromising basic principles ensures that they’re no longer principles. We’re not asking for much here. Stop torture. Deny Mukaskey his appointment.

by jhwygirl

In what might be described as an atypical city council meeting for the Garden City, Missoulians from both sides of the Iraqi war discussion filled city council chambers and waited patiently to let their voices be heard on one of the most contentious issues facing all Americans everywhere – continuation of the war in Iraq.

I watched from afar (gotta love MCAT), fearing that the whole meeting would deride into chaos, but my ingrained cynicism got the best of me last night. I was wrong. All speakers, including the council members, were civil, articulate, thoughtful, respectful and attentive. No boos or hisses, no one walking out of the meeting, no one getting assaulted in the hallway. Pretty amazing considering not only the history of regular Monday night council meetings, but the topic at hand.

I have to add here, to stand out on its own, that I was given new hope in the youth of today. I too often am dismissive of today’s MTV generation (or whatever they are called), and last night proved me wrong. I was mesmerized by the 20-somethings (and probably a few 18 and 19 year olds) that spoke eloquently about their right to be heard and the validity of a referendum and Councilman Bob Jaffe’s resolution. (Sven, I think I am in love.)

I believe the referendum gives Missoulians the opportunity to be heard in a more intimate manner – vote by vote.

More importantly, it opens up a forum for discussion on the Iraqi war itself – the validity, the value, the purpose, the cost. I think the coming discussion will make all Missoulians more aware of the war in an every day, every hour, every minute manner – something that is missing in all of the ‘war’ talk.

Americans go on their merry ways, while soldiers are shipped daily to a war built on a lie, and bolstered still by even more lies. American soldiers die daily, yet at home, Americans head down to the Walmart to buy their stuff. Soldiers are maimed and brought home without limbs while we fill our tanks with the very stuff that is the real reason why we are over there fighting people who have done us no harm. Saddam is gone, hanged, and yet there is absolutely no end in sight. His own Sunni supporters are in positions of power.

The Iraq war is not the Afghanistan war. It is not a war against the terrorists that attacked us on September 11, 2001. A separation needs to be drawn – loud and clear – between Iraq and Afghanistan. Too many blur that line, including the Bush administration. Even today, with all that is know, that line is still blurred. It has to end.

I look forward to the discussion to come. War is unpleasant – and people need to be reminded of it every day. We will be living with reminders of the Iraqi war’s unpleasantness for decades to come, as its soldiers return to live the lives they so richly deserve. We can not and should not waive off any discussion of so important a ‘divisive issue’. It brings shame to the heroes who serve this country so proudly.

The soldiers and their families who have sacrificed and are sacrificing so much deserve this conversation. All of America should be so lucky.

Missoula City Council’s Committee of the Whole voted yesterday, 5-3, to take Councilman Bob Jaffee’s resolution calling for a referendum vote by the citizens of the City of Missoula, which calls on Congress to fund a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq.

In a testy committee meeting, Councilmen Jack Reidy and Jon Wilkins expressed their opposition to the resolution. Reidy, a WWII veteran, didn’t think it the place of a city council to discuss foreign policy, while Wilkins, a Vietnam Veteran, felt it too strongly a divisive issue for the community to address. Wilkins then walked out of the hearing.

Wouldn’t want to discuss anything divisive, would we Mr. Wilkins?

Both Jay and Pete have previous posts on this resolution issue also. As Jay points out, both Butte and Helena have taken similar votes – Helena has approved its resolution, putting a referendum vote before its citizens, while Butte went all guts-and-glory, passing a resolution calling for a “rapid and comprehensive withdrawal” from Iraq.

Jaffe suggested a referendum vote before the citizens because he felt the citizens deserved a voice in the matter. He’s right. This is the best and loudest way to go – give all voters in the City a voice.

I’ll be contacting my Councilpersons (Ed Childers and Marilyn Marler) to ask them to support the resolution.

Our Council needs to know that calling for a withdrawal of troops is support of the troops. Iraq is nothing but a full-blown civil war, and sending our troops – of which Montana’s son’s and daughter’s are paying an overwhelmingly higher greater price, per capita, than other states, is prudent. The U.S. can not win an Iraqi civil war.

by Jay Stevens 

One of the fundamental problems with the Bush administration’s foreign policy, and with neoconservative ideology in general, is its belief that a sort of natural determinism propels the world inevitably towards democracy and capitalism.

Under this theory, only a few stubborn and “evil” leaders block their people’s gleeful acceptance of America’s benevolent patronage. In each autocratic country, legions of educated and reasonable citizens of the world’s middle class nurture dreams of a free-market bourgeois lifestyle under the direction of a popularly-elected and gentle government, and only wait for America’s intercession to set themselves and their countrymen free.

On the flip side, any country or people that resist America’s guidance must be savage or barbarous, if they so spitefully reject natural law. It’s such thinking that inevitably leads to the idea of a “culture war” between American Democracy and all of Islam.

It’s an over-simplistic vision, of course, and when applied to real-world problems – like Iraq – it fails.

I linked to a couple of articles on China. In the first, appearing in the LA Times, James Mann spells out the three likeliest scenarios for the future of China: the “Soothing Scenario,” the “Upheaval Scenario,” and the “Third Scenario.”

The upheaval scenario has China undergoing some “cataclysmic” change, economically or politically. The “Third Scenario” is that China pretty much stays course as is. And the “Soothing Scenario” is that China’s growing economy will lead to the liberalization of its government and eventual blossoming into democracy.

The problem with the current U.S. debate about China is that, in public at least, political, business and financial leaders tend to talk almost exclusively about the Soothing Scenario….


The idea that China is inevitably headed for far-reaching change has become a staple of U.S. thinking in large part because it has served the interests of important constituencies. In the late 1970s and the 1980s, the belief benefited the U.S. national security establishment, which had aligned itself with China against the Soviet Union. The notion that Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping was reforming his country’s political system helped defuse congressional opposition to U.S. military cooperation with China’s communist regime.

In the 1990s, as trade and investment in China became increasingly important, U.S. companies were asked why they were so eager to do business with a regime that had, in 1989, ordered troops to fire on unarmed civilians. The Soothing Scenario offered an answer: Trade and the workings of “history” would inexorably liberalize China’s political system, whether Chinese leaders wanted it or not.

Of course, no such liberalization is likely to happen. Why not? According to Mann, China’s burgeoning “urban middle class,” the people the Soothing Scenario supporters pin their hopes on, have “the strongest interest in preserving the status quo.” The Soothing Scenario also ignores important – and apparently pesky – factors such as geography, culture, and politics, all of which seem to conspire to preserve the current regime.

(The Soothing Scenario also ignores the more ominous possibility that China’s autocratic habits might actually infect America’s business community, a sort of reverse-Soothing Scenario, if you will, and evident in Yahoo’s willingness to aid the Chinese government in prosecuting a journalist. That is, big business will do anything for a buck, even turn in its customers for political prosecution.

The Soothing Scenario also ignores the growing dissatisfaction among working-class Chinese in China’s major cities due to rising unemployment and increasingly poor working conditions. That is, if there is going to be unrest leading to reform, it will come in reaction to China’s growing economy, not as a result of it. Ironic, eh?)

The lesson here is, of course, there is no natural progression of societies, that each place has its own unique properties, and no two regions are exactly alike, and that there’s no natural progression of society towards democracy through capitalism.

The second article, from Germany’s Der Spiegel, is more provocative in its claim that China’s economic successes indicate a Communist-style planned economy can actually work.

I say “provocative,” because most economists and conservatives claim that government control of business is an anathema to economic growth, and our “victory” in the Cold War was won largely as a result of free-market forces overwhelming the Soviet system.

Der Spiegel’s article on the Chinese economy was as good as I’ve seen, and I recommend a full read for any that are interested. What it shows is that China is hardly a Communist country, but it is one with one-party rule, five-year plans, central planning, and powerful rural governors extending a tight control over business and industry in their regions. What China seems to be is a quasi-capitalist authoritarian state, one that is excelling at economic growth.

The lesson here is that democracy does not necessarily follow capitalism, nor does a vibrant market economy need democracy to thrive.

Does that mean capitalism or democracy are any less for not being the ultimate end of natural forces? To me, if anything, it makes our functioning market-based democracy all the more special. That is, Americans needed to build our society; it didn’t just happen.

That said, it also underscores the fragility of democracy and the market. As China demonstrated, and domestic big energy companies no doubt understand, we don’t need a democracy to thrive economically. In some cases, democracy actually runs afoul of capitalism. It would be easier for capital, say, if there weren’t any local zoning ordinances or environmental regulations, but those were born of the democratic process, whereby towns and counties agreed that clean air and water and designated industrial zones are more important that corporate profit.

While we rampage willy-nilly across the globe, trying to “install” democracy by sowing chaos, we ignore the dangers posed by the Bush administration and big business to erode our Constitutional rights here at home. As Clyde Wilson wrote, defending his “over-heated accusations and exaggerated language to describe the transgressions of George Bush and his regime,”

I reply that tyranny is usually incremental and always presents itself as necessary and for the public good. Thus, it should always be guarded against and opposed at the threshhold. If our forefathers had not observed this rule, there would have been no American War of Independence.

There you go.

If our freedoms are so fragile here, how in the world can we be expected so easily implement them so far from home? You can’t just steam-roll a dictatorship and expect a secular market-based republic to spring up in its place, while your troops roll home on a carpet of welcoming flowers, especially in a region already so rife with political, cultural, and economic tensions.

Realistic foreign policy in a complex world should (as I’ve written before) rely on “compromise, understanding, and cooperation [as] the bedrock to peace and prosperity,” one that follows Bob Burnett’s ten maxims.

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