Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Question for Liberals

A variation of the question for conservatives: what foreign policy or national security policies are you most concerned about if Republicans win the presidency in 2012?

77 comments:

  1. Frankly I'm just concerned about the overall approach to foreign policy that we had in the past under Bush. I'm not sure I see much different with the current crop of candidates either: a unilateral approach to world problems. I think this was very destructive during the Bush years, and really set back the States in the eyes of the rest of the world. Obama's approach has been much better, although not perfect. But he has approached situations with international partners and agreements. I'm afraid if we go back to previous methods, the US will lose international standing for a very long time.

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  2. Unwillingness or inability to respond effectively to the fallout of the Eurocrisis. Most everything else is meaningless non-policy that won't really effect how Romney governs... Except some of the stuff about Israel makes me think that a Pres Romney would help Israel dig the hole theyve been working on even faster than they already are. Then again Israel is gonna dig that hole no matter what. Aside from that... It looks likely that the international community is going to go to war with Iran soon and it looks like the USA is going to do some kind of punitive "trade war" stuff with China no matter if it's Obama or Romney in there.

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  3. There's an old saying: When you're a carpenter, everything looks like a nail. For any American president, the view of the nail is the security, mostly because of the size of the US military; nearly half the world's military might under the control of a single man.

    It's a nail that you can hit in numbers of ways; economic boosts from defense jobs, cyber-security, privacy and civil-rights violations in the name of security. Rebuilding at least some infrastructure (airport security).

    But the ability to use the nail depends on ginning up fear; Pakistan's got rogue groups supporting the Taliban; Iran's gonna get nukes, Russian and China are instituting cyber attacks.

    So wars, in the name of 'security,' that allow presidents to hit the security nail without oversight or control of Congress, and without regard to deficits and decreasing safety-net for working folk.

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  4. Foreign assistance, especially health and development aid.

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  5. The same concerns I'd have if Obama gets reelected. With few exceptions, Obama has followed Bush's lead on foreign policy. I think most of the Republican candidates would follow the same basic foreign policy as Obama, with the exception of Santorum (on the Right) and Paul, Johnson and Huntsman (on the left).

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  6. Invading Iran on some stupid pretext.

    JzB

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  7. Other than Romney, all these other egos would push hard for a war with Iran. This means doing increasingly invasive and restrictive steps such as not allowing air traffic from countries possibly sending nuclear materials, demanding no fly zones over various nuclear facilities, and supporting with raw intelligence the Israeli case for war (I know we may be giving them that intelligence now).

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  8. I don't know who will be president, but I find it hard to believe that anyone is going to march eagerly into a new war after a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq unless we're directly attacked. I think it's all just bluster to pump up the base. If one of these candidates really wants to start a war with Iran, he (or she) will have to overcome a lot of political and bureaucratic obstacles to make it happen. A quick Libya-style intervention might be possible, but even Libya took a lot longer than its advocates expected. The Republicans once had a reputation for expertise in defense and foreign policy, and it was deserved, but at this point, their position--at least, for most of them--has deteriorated into a string of senseless, bellicose statements that they pass off as expertise.

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  9. ♪♫ Bomb, bomb, bomb.. bomb bomb Iran... ♪♫

    But I wouldn't actually be so concerned over that war (the one Romney virtually admitted he would start) because I'd assume it a certainty under a Republican administration (lessons, the GOP has not learned them in the last 4 years).

    Knowing that there would be a new war, what I would actually be concerned about from a Republican president would be that person one day standing next to Netanyahu in Jerusalem, announcing the official merger of the Republican Party with Likud.

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  10. Israel will eat more of the West Bank, and won't negotiate in good faith with the Palestinians. ...Oh wait, that's happening even though we have a Dem president. Try this: Likud will learn that they were right to stall the Dem president because a lenient Republican is coming soon.

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  11. I’d say backing open ended military conflicts in places like Iraq or Afghanistan with highly unrealistic goals is probably the worst. But table thumping rhetoric about the need to declare war on Iran doesn’t inspire much hope for me either. I also think there is a huge disconnect on the right—or at least with this year’s GOP field—between the realities of democracy in developing and post conflict nations and the fantastic dreams of new perfect societies that our military intervention was supposed to create in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. Getting rid of a bad tyrant doesn’t magically transform a society like Iraq (or Libya or Syria for that matter) into a perfect center right technocratic wonderland where people vote to privatize their natural resources, de-regulate their economy, recognize Israel and name middle schools after Ronald Reagan. But that kind of narrative seems to have a number of adherents among GOP debaters. Thus I am worried that a President Rommney might actually believe that American soldiers would be welcomed as liberating heroes by throngs of Iranians on the streets of Tehran.

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  12. longwalk: I understand your fear, but I think it’s unlikely that Romney believes any of what you’re attributing to him. Remember, he has a track record of dealing -- very successfully -- with reality. As a businessman. As manager of the Olympics. As governor of a state in which 85% of the legislature was controlled by the opposition. Being a national greatness conservative doesn’t necessarily require one to launch foolish military interventions -- nor does being a liberal prevent it.

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  13. Most concerned about: war with Iran (or North Korea?). Because it's the most serious and awful thing that they could do, not because it's the most likely.

    I, too, chalk up a lot of the Iran talk to bluster for the base. However, that said, I also don't put it past any of the contenders (leaving Paul out of it) to want to invade a country to wag the dog...don't tell me that Iraq was invaded in March 2003 without an eye towards November 2004: they wanted the war to be mostly over before the election. Still, I don't think an Iran war is particularly likely; we're not talking about a pushover here. That's a real army, and the post-invasion guerrilla/terror fight would be absolutely horrific. Afghanistan: sure, they were kinda nuts and in the middle of nowhere. Iraq: he tried to kill your daddy, we get it. Iran? How is that NOT a signal that the US is going to invade every country with oil and/or Muslims?

    So, I think it's more likely that we'd see more Bush-style unilateralism. We don't need no stinkin' treaties! UN dues wouldn't get paid unless population control was abandoned. Forget all those island nations drowning; the science doesn't justify a global warming treaty. Things like that.

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  14. “Forget all those island nations drowning; the science doesn't justify a global warming treaty. Things like that.”

    But doesn’t it worry you that liberals may be prepared to do dumb things in the service of “environmental security”? Global warming seems to influence liberals in the same way that Muslim terrorism influences conservatives.

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  15. I'd say the most worrisome foreign policy outcome facing the country, no matter who wins the 2012 election, is that the winner will follow the newly established "Obama Doctrine", wherein the president unilaterally and extra-constitutionally initiates foreign wars, and the Congress is not involved.

    The newly established doctrine has rid us of the sham that the Left is "anti-war", at least.

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  16. Matt,

    I can certainly see your points about unilateral actions, nonpayment of UN dues, ignoring global warming, and perhaps even getting into a war backward because of the unintended consequences of some other stupid action. But I have trouble seeing anyone intentionally starting a war with Iran to boost poll numbers. The conventional army we could probably handle, but as you say, the guerrilla and terrorist actions that would follow would be a mess (and would probably include Shiites in Iraq and Lebanon). If Iraq had "worked" and we had been out by the end of 2003 as planned, then yes, it would be a temptation for some people (it probably would have happened already). As it actually turned out, Iraq is not really a precedent you want to follow. As much as the Pentagon is supposed to salute and take orders, I think they would put up some resistance to this. Some patriotic way around it can always be found. Romney doesn't seem to have a problem with changing his positions.

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  17. It really doesn't matter who wins if it is a Republican because when you look at the pool of individuals they have to choose from for their national security team you realize stupid stuff is going to happen one way or another.

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  18. Bajsa: I pity the fool who tries to talk Ron Paul into launching a new war.

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  19. Ok Couves, I'll give you Ron Paul...

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  20. Bajsa: Johnson and Huntsman would be much less interventionist than the current administration as well. Even Rick Perry wants an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan.

    Your partisan caricature of Republicans doesn't hold water, especially with a Democratic President following security policies that make him look no different than Bush’s third term.

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  21. If you read a little deeper you would see that the whole of the national security structure from which both Republicans and Democrats choose their personnel is basically in the same boat as you can see from a Democratic President following security policies that make him look no different than Bush’s third term.

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  22. I agree with others that, for all of the bluster, an R administration is most likely to bring general continuity. I would add that continuity should probably be understood as managed relative decline of American global responsibilities and direct involvement.

    The first problem is that the Rs are insisting on putting forth empty demagogues surrounded by hacks and madmen who will be given positions of responsibility, and are likely to guide and shape whatever improvised responses to events. That would be one interpretation of what happened during the Bush years - neoconservative visions seized upon amidst the disaster they couldn't be wasted, though it may be that the option of neo-imperial adventure had to be expressed so that it could be extinguished. (It would take an event or series of events that are to 9/11 as 9/11 was to an average late Summer's day for us to fall into that one again.)

    Second, within the general course of continuity, a president can nudge us closer or further from a path of sanity, preparing us for necessary adjustments or making them that much harder when finally we face them squarely. A second term Obama administration would express and would be more likely to realize an American willingness for "closer" rather than "further." A turn to the right would suggest we're going to put up four more years of impossible and unnecessarily destructive resistance to the inevitable - and that in some way we needed to do that, perhaps to exhaust our astoundingly vast reservoirs of arrogance and moral imbecility.

    Also - no one is talking about "invading Iran." Being involved on the ground there (beyond special forces incursions) is something hardly anyone discusses except as a distant contingency, perhaps within the contest of total regional destabilization and general war - something like World War III (or IV or V, depending on how you like to count 'em). If it happens, it won't just be because America elects a rightwing hack as president, though that could be a contributing factor.

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  23. Regarding Obama being the same as Bush's third term: Obama inherited two ongoing wars and has been gradually withdrawing from both. Wars are harder to walk out of (without leaving an utter train wreck behind and without creating a domestic political fiasco) than many people seem to think. To say that he's the same as Bush is to suggest that he would have started the wars in the first place--which, especially in the case of Iraq, I find difficult to believe--and then would have sat by and watched them degenerate for years on end.

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  24. Bajsa:
    So it wasn’t really Obama who decided to surge back into Afghanistan? All that talk of him mulling it over for months, during which Biden was urging a different course… that was all just a lie? Please. Major security decisions are all made by the President. And if he chooses to outsource those decisions, he’s still made a choice for which he bears responsibility.

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  25. Scott:
    Fair enough -- I didn’t mean to suggest Obama would have gone into Iraq (something I don’t think Romney would have done either). But it’s worth pointing out that Obama has followed Bush’s timetable for withdrawal in Iraq and copied his surge policy in Afghanistan (the “good war“). He’s greatly intensified the use of drone attacks. He makes a much welcomed moral statement against water-boarding, while conducting the targeted killing of a US citizen overseas. Prosecution of illegal aliens has increased dramatically. We have an air war in Libya conducted without Congressional authorization and then there's the new “advisors” inserted into Uganda. It’s hard to imagine that Bush would have been more conservative on security policy in a third term.

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  26. Couves,

    The surge was a way to get out (eventually) while avoiding GOP charges that he had run away from a losing war and thus brought defeat upon America. If anything, he is a compromiser.

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  27. Couves,

    (I guess I was writing my last response while you were writing your last reponse, so we have a bit of a time lag here.)

    A fair comment on the drones and the Libya authorization. I'm not sure how the present Congress would have reacted to a timely authorization request, but that's really beside the point. On the other hand, delaying a decision would have made it pointless.

    I'm hoping the advisers in central Africa are not going to lead to a quagmire, and I suspect they won't since the LRA has already been pushed out of its base territory. We shall see. Also I'm generally not a fan of assassination as policy (except in those cases where we're already bombing the civilian population but have to avoid the presidential palace because we don't do assassination--that's a little weird).

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  28. Scott,

    Obama has always fully supported the war in Afghanistan. His only criticism of Bush was that he didn't prosecute the war vigorously enough.

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  29. Couves,

    Nevertheless, he has structured himself an exit.

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  30. Couves: "Obama has always fully supported the war in Afghanistan" is a simplistic description, and is also not reflected in the reporting.

    Obama has always supported going after the perpetrators of 9/11, and in the '07-'08 time frame settled on the "taking the eye off the ball" theme in his critique of Bush policy. The reporting by Woodward and others, and in fact Obama's own statements and decisions, reflect not "full," but expressly limited support for "the war." He has been criticized from the neo-imperial right since the West Point speech for being insufficiently interested in victory, among other things by announcing a time limit that the enemy can work with. This has also been the basis for a realist defense of his policy as a "framework for withdrawal" (or Mr. Monje's "structured... exit"), perhaps a more technocratic version of "peace with honor."

    The approach can be demagogued in different ways and from both directions, but, like it or hate it, it is not the same thing as "full support" for "the war." It is a re-definition of the war (including its aims) with an eye to getting out with the least disruption - the strategic version of a fighting retreat.

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  31. Scott, CK:

    Bush also established a timetable for withdrawal in Iraq, and was attacked by some on the right for doing so. Obama is following this same policy in Afghanistan (surge followed by withdrawal). The policies are so strikingly identical, I find it hard to understand how you can really disagree on this point.

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  32. The endgame policy is very similar yes, Couves. But would Obama have gone into Iraq in the first place? Would he have had similar strategy until the surge followed by withdrawal?

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  33. Regarding Obama being the same as Bush's third term: Obama inherited two ongoing wars and has been gradually withdrawing from both.

    .

    No, Obama has merely followed the Bush policy in one, and massively escalated the other, by nearly quadrupling our troop counts in Afghanistan.

    This all in addition to initiating another war in Libya, without a congressional vote, in addition to other troop deployments in Africa.

    As I say, it's at least been productive that we've all been made to understand that the Left's longtime "anti-war" bleating was all just a sham.

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  34. Anonymous...

    I'm not sure we can really compare Libya to the Bush wars.

    Firstly, over the past 10-20 years congress has steadily been shying away from taking votes on foreign affairs. They haven't wanted to be involved in foreign affairs, and have left a lot of discretion to the president, whether Republican or Democratic.

    Secondly, I'm not sure we can characterize the "war" in Libya similarly to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We didn't put one soldier on the ground. Also, it wasn't a unilateral approach by the US like Iraq was, it didn't have UN support. While the action in Libya did have UN support and was very much pushed by the Europeans, mainly Sarkozy.

    Simply, the stated reasons for action were completely different. The supposed action in Libya was for humanitarian intervention, vs. Iraq was for WMDs. Granted we can argue about the merits for "humanitarian action" and whether this really was, but I'm comparing the arguments our leaders made for action.

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  35. It's a complicated comparison, Couves. For example, Bush's "timetable" came after the climax of fighting: It was negotiated throughout 2008 with the Iraqis, and wasn't even finalized and approved until after the U.S. presidential election. Prior to the Surge and through its implementation, it was a cornerstone of Bush war policy and then of McCain's to favor a "conditions-based" withdrawal only. When the Mittster failed to recite the catechism word-perfectly in a primary season debate, McCain virtually accused him of being an Al Qaeda sleeper agent (ok, I'm exaggerating a little here). Obama's setting of a date to commence withdrawal came with his announcement of the Afghan surge, and PROVED to the neocons and dittoheads that he was still an Alinskyist Socialite through and through.

    The policies are roughly similar: Any such policy in a is sooner or later going to include announced dates for withdrawal of forces, and you'll always find a hawkier hawk that thinks we're selling out. You'll find elements on the further-right still unhappy with the fact that we withdrew forces from Europe instead of going toe-to-toe with Red Army after the defeat of the Nazis. Afghanistan 2011 is more like Iraq 2011 than it's like Atlanta 1865, but that doesn't make the first two identical to each other.

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  36. Ian,

    Yes, I said that above and I'll say it again -- Obama would not have gone into Iraq. No sane person would have. But he certainly would have gone into Afghanistan, only he would have sent in many more troops much more quickly. This is what Obama has actually said and his actions certainly back him up.

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  37. CK,

    I'm sure you'll excuse me for not looking at Obama's actions through the eyes of the partisan right. ;)

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  38. I'm not sure we can really compare Libya to the Bush wars.

    .

    I agree, we can't, because Bush sought and obtained Congressional approval for the Iraq and Afghanistan actions, as per the Constitution, while Obama launched an extra-constitutional war in Libya, absent Congressional approval.

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  39. Consider yourself excused, Couves. At least you're not complaining that Obama has failed to fulfill some cartoonish caricature of "the Left," and thus counts as a hypocrite.

    He's not President Gandhi, and he's not Cheney the Conqueror. Nor is he Bush III. He's just constrained by the same forces that would likely have constrained a President McCain, a President Rodham Clinton, a President Edwards, a President Couves, and probably even constrain a President Godforbid Perry.

    I just think O should be given credit for what course corrections he has in fact attempted, and still, despite all, represents.

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  40. I just think O should be given credit for what course corrections he has in fact attempted, and still, despite all, represents.

    .

    Really? And what would those be, precisely? Be specific. I've been reading through this discussion, and I don't see them described anywhere. But maybe I'm just looking for cartoonish caricature and a chance to yelp hypocrisy about "the Left".

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  41. That Obama went to war in Libya without any sort of consultation with Congress is a problem. To say that Bush's Congressional vote was "as per the Constitution" is a distortion. The vote wasn't even about going to war per se, although everyone knew, or should have known, that the administration was going to interpret it that way. Actually, the Congress has not declared a war in accordance with the Constitution since 1941, seventy years ago.

    That Obama is following Bush's exit timetable in Iraq is true. As CK notes, it was the product of a lengthy negotiation and there was no real reason to disrupt it. As I said before, there are negative consequences to just packing up and running, both in terms of the people on the ground and in terms of politics back home. However, the current Republican spin wants to suggest that the surge and the exit are somehow the essense of the Bush policy, and they are not. The essence of the policy was starting the war in the first place. The rest is a floundering struggle to make the best of a self-made bad situation.

    Would Obama have gone into Afghanistan and gone in bigger? I don't know; it is certainly possible. But even if it was conceived poorly and conducted worse, the Afghan war had at least some justification. We had been attacked and Afghanistan was at least connected to that attack. You can't say that about Iraq.

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  42. A President Couves? Now maybe that would be interesting.

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  43. CK -- No "constraints" caused Obama to more than triple our troop deployment to Afghanistan. President Couves certainly would not have done this. Nor would President Biden for that matter. But I think it's fair to say that this is a “course correction” that Bush would approve of.

    Scott -- Obama has always said that he approved of the war in Afghanistan (aka, The Good War) and he has criticized Iraq for drawing resources and attention away from it. This was a central part of his campaign and he certainly hasn’t repudiated it. Are you disputing what Obama himself says?

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  44. "No "constraints" caused Obama to more than triple our troop deployment to Afghanistan. President Couves certainly would not have done this. Nor would President Biden for that matter."

    Well, we don't really know any of that fersure, fersure. Maybe Prez Couves would conclude that going a lot bigger (or at all?, I'm not fully briefed on PC's position) was worth it if it enabled PC to share ownership of Afghanistan with Gen Petraeus and others, while pushing any judgment of outcomes into the nebulous future: A tough decision, a great disappointment to the blog-commentariat, and even to PC, but seemingly the best and only way to keep the PC administration, and the key other elements of the PC program, on course.

    The constraints I refer to may offer room for maneuver, but they mean that every yin gets a yang, not always in the area where you're yinning.

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  45. anon 2:13 "Really? And what would those be, precisely? Be specific. I've been reading through this discussion, and I don't see them described anywhere. But maybe I'm just looking for cartoonish caricature and a chance to yelp hypocrisy about "the Left". "

    The comment implies that you're unaware of any differences between what Obama has done, or sought to do, and the ideal American-conservative foreign policy as you see it.

    In addition to undertaking the Afghanistan adventure within an explicit framework for withdrawal, declining to invest in a re-negotiation of the Iraqi SOFA, trading useless missile defense installations for a "re-start" with the Ruskis, supporting the Arab Spring, refraining from bellicose escalation against Iran, very marginally testing the limits of the American effective Greater Israel consensus, among other positions that have alarmed conservatives, I'd point to Libya as a good example of the course correction within general continuity that I mentioned.

    As far as I can tell, the "legality" of our support for military operations in Libya falls into a gray area that presidents have somewhat frequently exploited, for good and ill, going back to the Founding. Setting that question aside, the shape of the operation - cost- and risk-minimization via an official multilateral consensus, with those most directly affected assuming the operational lead - is quite different from what Bush and Post-Bush conservatives prefer. Just ask 'em. They think we may have supported the wrong side, or they think we should have gone in stronger and earlier, or that we shouldn't have been involved at all, or they think all those things at once. That we put the French and the Brits in a position to take credit rankles them. That the revolutionaries prominently include Islamist appalls and frightens them.

    Similarly, though it's impossible to pin y'all down on this one, they/you consider Mubarak preferable to post-Mubarak in Egypt. Rather than seeing Turkey as a potential counterweight to Iran, in classic and traditional "offshore balancing" mode, many conservatives seem to fear a new Ottoman Empire presumably on the way to a new Caliphate and Shariah Law in Oklahoma.

    I could be more specific - on torture policy, on environmental policy, on nuclear disarmament, and so on - while acknowledging O's at best extremely limited progress on many of these fronts, but, returning to my initial reply, first you'd have to let me know whether or not you have completely disavowed all that... stuff the right has been pushing of late.

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  46. CK,

    ". . . a gray area that presidents have somewhat frequently exploited, for good and ill, going back to the Founding."

    Yes, the first undeclared war started in 1798, against France (confined mainly to naval operations in the Caribbean). That, of course, doesn't include Indian wars.

    President Couves,

    I wouldn't say Obama "lied" exactly. My guess is that he made a political calculation that (a) the Afghan war was more popular with the electorate (at the time) and (b) endorsing the Afghan war would give him political cover for withdrawing from Iraq. (Just because he was following Bush's schedule on Iraq didn't mean the Republicans would refrain from attacking him for it, nor have they.) That said, it took him a considerable amount of time to follow through on the commitment and the announcemnt of the surge was accompanied in the same speech with the announcement of the withdrawal schedule . . . or, to be more precise, the beginning of the withdrawal schedule, leaving himself some flexibility on how long the withdrawal would take so he could take conditions on the ground into account.

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  47. CK - I'm incorruptible. Not for all the poppies in Afghanistan would I leave a brigade there.

    But seriously, do you think Biden is unaware of the constraints on power? He strongly argued against Obama's policy right up until it was made final.

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  48. Scott: I don't follow. If Obama was actually against the war, then why did he more than triple our troop presence there?

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  49. Couves,

    "Actually againgst the war" is probably too strong. But tripling the troop presence was the way to get out. In that, he was following the Iraq pattern. Simply leaving Iraq in 2006, at the height of civil war, as he himself had advocated at the time, would have been a disaster in military and political terms. The surge made withdrawal from Iraq viable; the reduction in violence brought about by the surge made withdrawal look less like abandonment and defeat. I presume he was hoping for something similar in Afghanistan. It appears to have worked in the south, although the fighting may simply have been displaced elsewhere. Whether the fighting will pick up again in either or both countries after we're gone only time will tell.

    Also, Biden is not the president, so he is freer to speak from the heart, as it were. It's for the president to balance the various views and make a decision.

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  50. Needless to say, it still sucks for the troops being sent in in order to be pulled out.

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  51. If Obama is sending people to die just to give himself political cover or to "balance the various views," then he's unfit to hold office. I can't believe that he's capable of such a thing.

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  52. Well, as the French say, that's war. It's a big part of the reason you shouldn't get involved in the business in the first place, and certainly not for frivolous reasons. In this case, political cover isn't some sort of ego trip, it's the way to get them out at all.

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  53. I'm most concerned about Republican interaction with Europe. I think any candidate other than maybe Romney would try and score domestic political points beating up on Europe as they try and spark a recovery after what is looking to be another recession. Taking punches against European socialism and trying to tie the Democrats to failed stimulus that created another recession in Europe could really do damage with most countries. Between the need for European support at the G-8, the climate change negotiations, and as an eventual buffer against Chinese foreign policy, alienating Europe could have terrible consequences.

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  54. Now, I was going to let this fine thread disappear into the void, my only regret being that I failed to associate myself with and minimally expand upon Mr. Monje's statement about Biden's "freedom to speak." I'd put it more as freedom to pull left against the right, but setting all that aside.

    "If Obama is sending people to die just to give himself political cover or to "balance the various views," then he's unfit to hold office. I can't believe that he's capable of such a thing. "

    Who made that argument? (You're giving in too easily, Monje!) It's not a question of "balancing views" as an intellectual exercise, but of taking into account both the conflicting views and the real risks and objectives they represent. A C-in-C ought to be able to determine that a precipitous retreat would risk a military disaster there, a political disaster here, with significant follow-on effects all over the place. Neither you nor anyone can say that his approach cost more lives, in A-stan or beyond, than attempting an accelerated withdrawal would have.

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  55. Scott: I couldn't disagree more. It's time to bring the troops home when there are no war aims left worthy of their lives. Political cover is certainly not one of those.

    CK: I see, so if I only knew what the President knew, I'd see it his way? Do you forget that this is what people said about Bush when we went into Iraq? I feel totally confident in saying that we should have left Afghanistan a long time ago.

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  56. Couves,

    One of the consequences of going to war is that it creates new realities and new obligations apart from the war aims that sent you into it. That's part of the reason I complain more about Bush starting wars than about Obama not ending them sooner. "Political cover" in this case is not an aim, it's an instrument for getting the troops out.

    By balancing views, I didn't mean any sort of mechanistic "cutting the difference," but, as CK says, a consideration of the various options, and their consequences, being pushed by the different advisers, departments, and so on. If Biden hadn't pushed for a reduced strategy, all Obama would have heard would have been advice to go in big and stay there. That doesn't mean Biden, as president, would have followed the advice he gave here, just as Obama, as president, didn't do what he advised regarding Iraq in 2006.

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  57. "I feel totally confident in saying that we should have left Afghanistan a long time ago."

    I wish I could disagree with you. The only problem is that, once you're there and have decided you wish you weren't, there's a broad spectrum from "run away! run away!" through "framework for withdrawal with least damage to larger interests" to "aw, let's stick around and see if things look different" to "we made our bed we'll have to lie in it."

    It's not a moral evil to accept that "run away!" might lead to lots of problems and unnecessary harms, and that some forces might provide not just "political cover" but real, honest-to-God "cover," as in covering fire. If you can appreciate that, then you can just begin to appreciate the very, very long chain of contingencies and uncertainties, not all of them confined to the particular theater of operations, that shape an actually implementable strategy as opposed to a wish.

    There's no dishonor to taking multiple contexts into account and unsentimentally balancing risks. If you can't do that, then maybe I don't want you for Prez after all (though I might like having you as a candidate!).

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  58. Scott,

    Yes, the war aims changed. My contention is that the current war aims are not worth another American life or limb. And your idea that we have to triple our troop strength as "an instrument for getting the troops out" is an absurd rationalization.

    As to Biden, we don't have any reason to believe that his views were not offered in good faith.

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  59. Just two quick points.

    First, tripling troop strength wasn't my idea, but I believe it was intended to suppress the violence long enough for us to get out and hopefully longer.

    Second, I never said Biden's advice was given in bad faith, just that when you're president you don't necessarily get to decide based on what makes you feel good.

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  60. CK: I don't know why you assume that I'd be unaware of or insensitive to the "very long chain of contingencies and uncertainties." But that's going to exist whenever we pull out -- we're going to have to eventually deal with the situation without boots on the ground. Look, the bottom line is the defense of this nation. I'm not convinced that the President's policy enhances that defense, and so I'd prefer not to spend the money and lives necessary to achieve it.

    As to actual "covering fire" there has been no point at which our troops couldn't have provided their own cover and safely redeployed out of that country.

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  61. Scott: So Biden is just saying things that make him "feel good"? Do you really not think that there's a rational argument for leaving Afghanistan immediately?

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  62. The comment implies that you're unaware of any differences between what Obama has done, or sought to do, and the ideal American-conservative foreign policy as you see it.

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    No, my comment implies no such thing. My comment has few implications beyond those explicitly stated. However difficult it is for you to put aside your ever wary vigilance for your evil Faux News enemies, cartoon caricaturish and hungering for hypocrisy accusations as those evildoers are wont to be, that's what you should try to do.

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    In addition to undertaking the Afghanistan adventure within an explicit framework for withdrawal

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    There is always an "explicit framework for withdrawal". Spare us the fluff. Obama quadrupled our troop counts in Afghanistan, a most egregious escalation, but completely in line with the Beltway consensus, as most all Obama's foreign war actions seem to be.

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    declining to invest in a re-negotiation of the Iraqi SOFA

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    Again, in full alignment with past and existing Beltway arrangements.

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    trading useless missile defense installations for a "re-start" with the Ruskis

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    I'm failing to see much of anything different here. Recall that Bush famously looked into Putin's beautiful soul. And Bush declined to interfere with the Russians mucking about in Georgia, especially the foolish talk of NATOhood for those Georgian dopes, and he left missile defense hanging as an open issue. All in line with contemporary Beltway mindsets, clearly. Nothing new here, either. Same old, same old, pipeline routing and energy market squabbling with the Kremlin.

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    supporting the Arab Spring

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    Bush and Rice were on Mubarak's back for some many years, and wanted him to stop jailing journalists and Muslim Brotherhood types, and open the electoral process, which he ignored. Again, this is all in full alignment with Beltway party aims, then and now. The current Egyptian military junta is quite Mubarakian, if you notice, but don't hold your breath waiting for the Obamabots to criticize it. And I'd submit that the "arab spring" began with the Iraq invasion in 2003, not that I favored that action, but we can draw a direct line from it to today's state of affairs. Little difference here either, no matter Obama's blather (and I hope you're not persuaded by his blather).

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    refraining from bellicose escalation against Iran

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    Bush's intelligence report of a few years ago said the Iranian nuke program had been suspended for quite some time, and called off the dogs. But it seems it's the Obama wing of the Beltway war party that's firing up the bombs away talk re Iran. You're not making your point here, my man. You're making mine. The Obamabots are even more bellicose than the Bushbots, if anything. All in line with the Beltway party, of course.


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    very marginally testing the limits of the American effective Greater Israel consensus

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    Nobody believes that. Not even you, I'm guessing, and you don't seem to have much trouble believing stuff.

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  63. I'd point to Libya as a good example of the course correction within general continuity that I mentioned.

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    Huh? This is the one thing that the Obamabots HAVE done differently, and not for the better. Khadaffi's entire nuke program has been sitting down in Oak Ridge, Tennessee for a number of years now... fully inventoried and intelligenced. Additionally, Khadaffi worked to put down islamofascist murderers in his own lands, even as he spared those who went along with the program. And you think spinning on a dime, dumping this guy and killing him does anything to talk the mullahs and the Dear Leader out of their unhelpful directions? What incentive have you given them to do so? And why is it you think presidents should unilaterally intervene in others' civil wars? And let's not forget the colonialism aspects of this. Nobody anywhere is unmindful of the real reasons for this war. I dearly hope you're not a shiny eyed leftist thinking otherwise. Few in the rest of the world look at it this way. The one thing that firmly changed here is China's and Russia's tentative support for this action, but I suspect after we pick through the rubble we'll find they've made out economically in this transaction, and thus gave their support, colonialism uber alles, once again.

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    As far as I can tell, the "legality" of our support for military operations in Libya falls into a gray area that presidents have somewhat frequently exploited, for good and ill, going back to the Founding.

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    Not that I can see. A 1/4 century ago, the Left in Congress shrieked like stuck pigs over a couple dollars to the Contras. Today, the Congress isn't even part of the discussion, as wars are initiated, directly involving US forces, by presidents alone. Presidents are to just start wars on their whim, and by your leave, it appears. I think you're fantasizing this "back to the Founding" business. I don't see it anywhere, "back to the Founding". We see it right now, extra-constitutional wars being authorized by one man. And that action against the French in late 18th century came with congressional authorization, fyi to whoever mischaracterized it above.



    Again, to answer the original question the blogger posed, the real worry is that the next president, whoever it is, will follow the misguided "Obama Doctrine" in which the president unilaterally initiates war. This is a perversion, and a threat to this republic.

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  64. Neither you nor anyone can say that his approach cost more lives, in A-stan or beyond, than attempting an accelerated withdrawal would have.

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    It is sad, that the arguments in favor of Obama's quadrupling our troop counts in Afghanistan come down to the above. Just sad.

    One helpful thing for our politics, something we've learned, is that the Left's anti-war shrieking was just a pure sham. I'd say it was clear from the gitgo, especially after the 2004 presidential election, but today we can put that sham to rest. Our politics is more productive, without shams.

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  65. Couves: "But that's going to exist whenever we pull out -- we're going to have to eventually deal with the situation without boots on the ground. Look, the bottom line is the defense of this nation. I'm not convinced that the President's policy enhances that defense, and so I'd prefer not to spend the money and lives necessary to achieve it. "

    All well and good. Your preferred course of action - which I'll continue to insist would have to be realized in detail, in contact with the enemy or enemies and in coordination with allies and others, with varying degrees of support and risk, and so on - might be superior, and it goes without saying that some options will turn out to be more costly in lives and treasure than others. All differences in political opinion, not just over military strategy and tactics, eventually turn into matters of life and death, but you can't have a democracy if every difference of opinion is immediately converted into "my considered preference vs. your crime against humanity and the nation."

    As for the Biden counterfactual, eventually it breaks down along the same lines that all of them do. I can tell myself that if Biden were Prez and Obama VP, their roles might well have been reversed, except I don't know that, and the truth is that Biden not only didn't win, but didn't ever garner significant support anywhere. Also, I'm not sure that the Biden option as argued in 2009 would have led to a much superior result by late 2011 in any respect other than that we probably would have fewer troops there by now.

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  66. CK, I never said that Obama's policy was a "crime against humanity and the nation." You're putting words in my mouth -- I don't believe anything like that. I fully accept that Obama is trying to enhance the security of our nation, I just disagree with the methods he is employing. If you're made uncomfortable by the fact that Americans are dying for a policy that you yourself seem unsure about, then I count that as a good thing.

    Also, I fully accept that any withdrawal would need to be worked out in detail, coordinated with allies, etc. I'm not sure why you think I disagree with any of those rather obvious points.

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  67. "You're not making your point here, my man. You're making mine."

    Sorry, amidst the assorted doubly reactionary reactions and half-evidenced half-truths asserted as undeniable facts, I don't see how you're making any point at all other than, perhaps, that Obama is more or less a mainstream politician, who may differ on specifics with the likes of Bush and Rice, but is still one of "them" - that is, a party to what your counterparts on the far left like to call the Washington Consensus. Who claimed anything else? Could be that if and when a real revolution in such matters is ready to occur, whoever happens to be president is more likely to sign off on it, or resist it impotently, than lead it.

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  68. "I'm not sure why you think I disagree with any of those rather obvious points."

    Because you began by asserting that he "fully supported the war," and then switched to "if he didn't and doesn't, then he's playing with lives and the defense of the nation for merely political reasons."

    Necessitating a defense of pragmatic compromise in this context as possibly something other than an expression of craven self-interest.

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  69. ...the Washington Consensus. Who claimed anything else?

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    Um... you claimed anything else, my man, that your guy Obama was doing wonderful and truly unique work, for which he deserved much credit. And when I pressed you to describe it all, you delivered the useless list I dismantled for you, following which you decided to whine about said dismantlement, before agreeing with it.

    You'll have to sorta stick with a position, if you want to have a good argument, my man. Does neither of us any good for you to flit about like a butterfly.

    There is one thing that isn't of the Washington Consensus, however, and that is the "Obama Doctrine" that's been developed, although here again you appear off, in describing it as historically unremarkable. It is quite remarkable historically, in fact, as demonstrated by the Left not 1/4 century ago shrieking hysterically at even the hint of a president exercising an independent foreign policy, and now suddenly the Left advocates not just independent foreign policy, but independent initiation of foreign wars.

    So again, the biggest thing we all have to fear, no matter who wins the WH in 2012, is that they exercise the newly invented Obama Doctrine.

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  70. CK: I was responding to Scott's contention that Obama's Afghanistan surge should be understood as political cover for withdrawal. I only meant to show how this paints the President in a very bad light. If I misunderstood Scott, he never corrected me...

    In any case, my previous comment clarified my position regarding Obama. Yet you immediately followed that up by misrepresenting my position yet again, complete with a fabricated quotation. I'm done with this conversation.

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  71. Sorry if in the context of a blog-conversation, my summary characterization of your position looked like a "fabricated quotation." Didn't mean to blacken your name for all eternity. I thought it was a fair rendering of the position you took, as it came across.

    Also, you're not president either. Nor likely to win my vote at this rate.

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  72. Couves,

    In case you're still out there.

    This is how I see the process from a fundamental point of view.

    For any fundamental policy decision, foreign or domestic, there are a host of rational proposals. There will also be some that are irrational or counterproductive, but we can leave those aside for the moment. The rational proposals will differ in their definition of what the problem really is, in their focus on specific aspects of the problem, in their assumptions as to how causes lead to consequences, in the precise array of costs and benefits, and in the distribution of those costs and benefits, with different people being hit by different proportions of cost or benefit. Each of these proposals will have advocates who will portray their proposals as the only acceptable choice and denounce all others as idiotic, self-destructive, or corrupt. Some of those advocates will be sincere, and some will be looking to funnel the benefits to their constituents and the costs to others. Lawmakers, bureaucrats, and lobbyists can afford to take a narrow view that focuses on the interests of their constituents, departments, or clients, and they are expected to do so. The president has to--ought to--take a broader perspective. We know that politics and human psychology militate against the president taking a truly comprehensive view, but he must take a broader view than the advocates. His own ideas, preferences, and priorities will count--he's the president--but he must also consider the views of others. He must maintain a political coalition, soothe allies, fend off or appease adversaries, prevent bureaucracies from trying to undermine him, keep doors open to people whose cooperation he will need later on other issues; he must fit the policy on this issue into a broader array of all policies affecting all issues, so that they don't conflict with each other too much, and somehow keep it within some sort of budgetary constraints. All of this will involve compromises. The compromises will be affected by the clash of interests and visions on this particular policy and also by the demands of other policies and issue areas that fight for priority. All of that, in itself, is not dishonest, corrupt, or deceptive. It's how things work when you're not a dictator, and--more than people think--even when you are.

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  73. Very nicely stated, Mr. Monje. Kind of a shame that it's appended at the end of a near-dead thread, but them's the internets, I guess. The perspective your describe eventually brings us to the point where the leadership dialectic turns on its head, and phrases like "leading from behind" enter into the political vernacular. It also helps explain the familiar contradiction, endlessly frustrating to every kind of partisan and other representative of merely particular interests (even particular moral interests asserted as universals), between the president's constitutional role and the needs and aims of mere politics.

    In regard to your conclusion, however, it may be doubtful that such a process can ever avoid dishonesty, corruption, (and/) or deception. How a politician or theorist can, should, or will cope with that issue is such a universal problem of politics that it tends to define politics. I suspect you're already familiar with the discussion, which is about exactly as old as its subject.

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  74. Scott: Thank you for elaborating, but we're just going to have to disagree on this. The President is not a dictator, but he is Commander-in-Chief. He has complete responsibility for national defense and I expect him to use it wisely. This is especially the case when it comes to actual military combat. Would he possibly have received some blowback for a speedy withdrawal? Perhaps. But if it's in the national interest, I expect him to make the tough call. I don't expect him to finesse every detail of our defense deployments, but on the major ones -- and Afghanistan is surely top of the list -- I expect him to pursue only that policy which best serves the national interest. That's what leadership is all about.

    And even if you're right about the nature of Presidential leadership, that doesn't change the fact that the policy is still a bad one, and many Americans will pay for the mistake with their lives.

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