Monday, August 27, 2012

America's Gravest Threat - It's Own Foreign Policy

America Is Facing A Crisis

Once again, the nation is engaged in a fundamental debate about its future. What should we do with Medicare? How do we protect social security? How do we fix the tax structure? What should we do about energy? These are all important questions. However, none of them represent the most pressing, underlying problem facing the country. All of the debates around domestic issues are really irrelevant right now in my view. If we don't get the underlying problem fixed, we won't have much money for any of the domestic items that we need.

America’s gravest threat is not healthcare spending, social security, or energy. The national debt? That’s not it either. The debt problem is fixable, what is lacking is the political will to do it. America’s gravest threat is its own foreign policy. It is amazing that neither political party wants to discuss the elephant in the room. This is mainly because both parties are completely beholden to the industries involved…in this case, the defense industry.

Current American foreign policy, still largely built on the outdated 65 year old Truman Doctrine, is not in line with the realities of the present. The nation has a much leaner military, the largest total debt that it has ever seen, the biggest debt to GDP ratio since WWII, and it is still mired in an over decade long period of war that has cost taxpayers over $3 trillion - money that we will never get back. I am still wrapping my head around the fact that $3 trillion was wasted on two (unfunded) wars that were not worth it. Under a misguided Bush foreign policy, the U.S. tried to kill a fly by burning down the house. What was needed all along was a fly swatter -- good intelligence, human intelligence, allowing law enforcement to do its job, improving diplomatic relations and forming global partnerships, improving the nations image around the world, taking covert action, responsibly beefing up security where needed, using our economic power for positive change, changing foreign policy priorities to meet the realities of a new world, and only when necessary…use special operations forces. But trillions of dollars were wasted on failed adventures that left the Muslim world more radicalized than before. Never has more treasure been wasted to kill one man or even a ragtag group of men. Not to mention that the country is crawling back from the biggest economic collapse since The Great Depression. Yet the nation lacks a sensible, realistic foreign policy. In fact, the nation’s policymakers have pushed for more of the same.

Time to Mobilize On This Issue

The fact of the matter is, America desperately needs a new, more reasonable foreign policy if it wants to avoid becoming present day Greece…. Or worse yet, an ancient Rome. This is a crisis for the country. None of what we do with medicare, social security, energy, taxes or anything else to get the debt under control will matter if nothing is done about the true problem - America’s use of military power and its role in the world. The other issues facing the country did not create the debt crisis (which eventually hurt the credit rating)… it was the foreign policy that led the nation into two unfunded and unnecessary wars that, when totaled (to included care for wounded soldiers), could cost as much as $4 trillion, according to a report from Brown University. So it makes no sense to talk about these other issues, without dealing with this underlying problem. The fundamental problems surrounding the debt will not go away unless this country deals with the issue of foreign policy and what its role in the world should be.

Despite a new world and budget realities, the U.S. is still playing the role of global empire with over a half million troops airmen and sailors deployed to well over 100 bases around the world, all despite a smaller military.  Furthermore the country has far too many defense obligations around the world which keeps us entangled in conflicts between nations in every corner of the globe from the Korean Peninsula, The South China Sea, The Persian Gulf, Israel and Europe. Now the U.S. is working hard to get a foothold in the former Soviet Union. We have reached a point where any sort of conflict anywhere could easily drag the U.S. in. The U.S. is always a skirmish away from a very dangerous & costly war. We are overexposed and overstretched. Most of these defense obligations are not vital to our national security (particularly the homeland). Most of these treaty agreements were made under the Truman Doctrine’s Domino Theory for which our political establishment wholeheartedly still believes in. However, this is a concept that is mostly outdated.

Defense spending is about one-fifth of the total U.S. budget. A little more if you count related spending. While it’s not the largest part of the budget, it is the most bloated and adds more to the debt than any other expenditure. The reason? Wars often go unfunded and are tracked off the books. Taxes are not raised to meet the need, and other important programs are not cut. Instead, these wars (driven by a foreign policy that is more aggressive now than ever) become deficit balloons…and just get added onto the national debt. Other costs, such as Veterans Affairs budget are often counted separately…. But when you factor in costs to support veterans returning home… the deficit spending is unbelievable. A President Romney would be even worse. He pledges to vastly increase military spending by about $2 Trillion over 10 years, but does not say how he would pay for it.  We’ve heard that tune before - George W. Bush also failed to mention how he would pay for the 2 disastrous wars we stumbled into. Romney’s spending would likely be added to the debt.

It is an aggressive foreign policy that maintains this situation. However, America’s current foreign policy approach is unsustainable. We simply cannot afford to be global cop. It is going to continue to drag the nation down, both at home and abroad. A nation that is already broke cannot afford wars every few years.
I’m no fan of Pat Buchanan by any means… but he is one of the few Republicans who has a more realistic view of U.S. foreign policy. Even this staunch conservative believes that the U.S. is not on the right track when it comes to its role in the world.

Unfortunately there is no sign that the U.S. is changing course anytime soon. As a progressive, the biggest problem that I have with Obama and the Democrats is that their foreign policy is not vastly different from that of the Republicans. Support for the bloated military industrial complex is, in fact, a tradition for both parties. Strangely enough, with all of the dysfunction between the two parties and all of the gridlock, one would think that cooperation would be almost impossible. But one area where both Republicans and Democrats miraculously agree is on defense and the use of force around the world. Both parties believe that the U.S. must somehow maintain its role as the worlds police force, inserting itself even in internal conflicts and where the security of the U.S. itself is not at stake. The difference between the two parties is only on the surface. The core aims are the same.

In a poignant piece for the Atlantic, James Joyner describes the U.S. as being stuck in a “perpetual state of war” and points out the similarities between the two parties. While he describes conservative pro-war hawks as neo-cons, he also points out that pro-war hawks - which he calls “liberal interventionists” - also dominate the progressive side: 

are neoconservatives and liberal interventionists really so different? Neoconservative bastions like the Weekly Standard, Commentary, and the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies are passionate advocates of spreading American values. In Iraq, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and discovery that there was no WMD program to speak of were both accomplished in the first weeks of the war and with a relative handful of American casualties. If these had been our chief concerns we would have left immediately; the apparent U.S. goals in staying on so many years were democracy promotion and nation-building, both ideals the neoconservative White House leadership shared with liberal interventionists.

Further, while neocons are doubtless less patient than liberal interventionists when it comes to exhausting diplomatic options and achieving international consensus, what does it really matter if the end result is the same either way: military action.

Dr. Stephan Walt, in an outstanding article in Foreign Policy magazine, made a similar point on U.S. foreign policy:

The only important intellectual difference between neoconservatives and liberal interventionists is that the former have disdain for international institutions (which they see as constraints on U.S. power), and the latter see them as a useful way to legitimate American dominance. Both groups extol the virtues of democracy, both groups believe that U.S. power — and especially its military power — can be a highly effective tool of statecraft. Both groups are deeply alarmed at the prospect that WMD might be in the hands of anybody but the United States and its closest allies, and both groups think it is America’s right and responsibility to fix lots of problems all over the world. Both groups consistently over-estimate how easy it will be to do this, however, which is why each has a propensity to get us involved in conflicts where our vital interests are not engaged and that end up costing a lot more than they initially expect.

So if you’re baffled by how Mr. “Change You Can Believe In” morphed into Mr. “More of the Same,” you shouldn’t really be surprised. George Bush left in disgrace and Barack Obama took his place, but he brought with him a group of foreign policy advisors whose basic world views were not that different from the people they were replacing. I’m not saying their attitudes were identical, but the similarities are probably more important than the areas of disagreement. Most of the U.S. foreign policy establishment has become addicted to empire, it seems, and it doesn’t really matter which party happens to be occupying Pennsylvania Avenue.

The Obama Administration, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in particular, has embraced an assertive foreign policy. I refer to U.S. foreign policy under this Administration as neo-con lite. Many of the misguided initiatives carried forward under the Bush Administration; such as missile defense, the push for unnecessary (and destabilizing) NATO expansion, Gitmo, the compromising of civil liberties and the use of drones, have been embraced wholeheartedly by the Obama Administration. Most troubling is that Obama & Co. never renounced the Bush era doctrine of pre-emptive war. The Obama Administration still sees this nonsensical and dangerous policy as useful. Hillary Mann Leverett, a former member of the NSC and an expert on the middle east, has become a critic of Clinton’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, pointing out the lack of an even-handed approach. Leverett is also critical of Clinton’s hawkish approach on Iran. I recommend the work of Hillary Mann Leverett, Stephen M. Walt, Stephen F. Cohen, Juan Cole, John Mearsheimer and other experts who are critical of both Republican and Democrat administrations and who have been expressing their displeasure about the direction of the Obama team. These experts can’t be written off as far left like Zinn, Chomsky or Michael Parenti. They are very much within the mainstream. It is just that American foreign policy has gone so far off the rails towards the interventionist side that rational thinkers who are looking out for the best interest of the U.S. are seen as too dovish. 

Even Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was himself a hawk during his career as national security advisor and advisor to several other Presidents (even opposing efforts to thaw relations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union) sees trouble ahead for the United States:
Brzezinski Says Hillary Stands With Neo-Cons 
This is the area of greatest disappointment when I reflect back on President Obama’s first term. As Secretary of State, Clinton has been marginal at best. It’s a myth that she has done an awesome job. As a result of the current misguided policies, relations with key countries have suffered. She was late on supporting the Arab Spring, particularly in Egypt. She has most recently pushed for full throated U.S. intervention in Syria. A recent trip abroad resulted in eggs being thrown at her motorcade because the foreign policy that she has promoted is so out of step with current realities and in many cases out of step with the desires of citizens from a number of countries.

The so-called reset with Russia fell flat. Relations are now the worse they have been since the Soviet era. It is my belief that the Cold War never really ended and that it simply experienced a lull. We are now entering a new phase of the same Cold War. The U.S. and Russia have been competing adversaries since 1999, in a tiff sparked by the U.S. led war against the former Yugoslavia (led by another Clinton). More recently Russia-U.S. relations have deteriorated over the U.S. push to install a missile shield in Europe (a shield that makes no sense and that experts believe will not work), as well as the unnecessary & destabilizing push to expand NATO. U.S. presence in the former Soviet Union also raised tensions. The U.S. approach towards Syria and Iran have also soured relations.


Another War On The Horizon

Now the U.S. is about to go to war yet again. The U.S. is sleepwalking into another disaster. American policymakers really do love their wars, even if they do not always want to pay for them or fight themselves. It is looking more and more likely that the Obama Administration is going to allow Israel to draw this country into a disastrous war with Iran. This war would be even more nonsensical than the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. Israel, likely with the help of the U.S. (being beholden to Israel, the U.S. has no choice) is about to launch an attack based on a nonsensical idea of pre-emptive war-  surely Israel is looking at the U.S. as an example. It will be a war started under the irrational premise that Iran might one day attack Israel … completely nonsensical. Unfortunately American policymakers are able to get away with this. Why? Interest groups like AIPAC and the defense industry lobby carry a tremendous amount of weight. But more importantly, I believe that it has to do with the U.S. having one of the dumbest populations of any country in the industrialized world. Americans allow themselves to be sheeple.

Natanyahu, is an absolute radical when compared to other more responsible heads of government. At times brash and maniacal. He is certainly one of the most hawkish leaders in the free world. He is aware that an attack could harm the U.S., particularly the economy and Obama's standing as President. He would have preferred having Romney as President so that he would have an ally and enabler for his aggressive policies toward Iran and other countries in the Middle East. This will be a disaster for the U.S. Yet our policymakers have made this country a hostage of Natanyahu. Our foreign policy has essentially been signed over to him. When it comes to Iran and Middle East policy, the Capital of the U.S. may as well be Jerusalem. Luckily an October (or November) surprise never came. But whether it happens 6 months, 1 or 3 years from now really makes no difference. It will be a disaster no matter when it comes...and just as nonsensical.

Under the rules of the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, Iran has the right to engage in nuclear research & development. The demands being made on Iran have no basis in international law and are themselves, in fact, extralegal. Iran has the right to enrich uranium for industrial purposes. Western media always fails to explain the NPT rules.

Even if Iran were looking to build a nuclear weapon, a pre-emptive attack (which would start by air and Sea only) would not accomplish the goal of killing the program...again IF it exists. In fact, the opposite would occur. An attack would only ensure that Iran gets the bomb. They would kick out international inspectors and would go into bomb making full steam ahead. The only way to stop Iran once the U.S. and Israel start such a stupid war would be an all out ground invasion and occupation, requiring an amount of troops & equipment that the U.S. simply does not have. I encourage all to read the 'Iran Project Report' which spells out just SOME of the requirements and consequences of a war with Iran. The report, endorsed by dozens of current & former diplomats as well as top political and military leaders, basically confirms that such a war would be a disaster. A war would require hundreds of thousands of troops, many billions of dollars, would require a ground invasion and occupation and would be a mess. In fact, just an initial air attack on Iran would probably require ground forces because of the Iranian response. So an attack makes absolutely no sense.

A war with Iran would also have all sorts of other unintended consequences. It could drag in other nations. Russia has already hinted that it is making preparations to provide Iran with assistance in the event of an attack. Russia largely stood on the sidelines during the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and during U.S. deployments in the former Soviet Union. This time Russia, and to some extent China, have drawn lines in the sand around Syria and Iran. Russian and Chinese leaders have recently made remarks raising the possibility of a military conflict with the West, with Russia’s Medvedev in particular, mentioning the use of nuclear weapons (comments aimed at the U.S.).  Chinese officials were even more blunt, threatening to go to war over Iran.Although it may be just tough talk designed to deter the U.S., there could be substance behind the statements. This kind of bellicose talk has not been heard for a generation or more. In some cases it is worse than at the height of the Cold War. China enjoys some level of trade with Iran and gets a portion of its energy from the Persian State.

Another consequence, as if a major disastrous war is not enough, would be a backlash among Iranians. Currently many young Iranians are fond of U.S. freedoms and have adopted western culture and fashion. Although many believe in their nations right to develop nuclear technology. Many of these young Iranians have little sympathy for their hardline government. But launching a war against Iran will turn supporters away from the West and towards the very regime that the U.S. would like to see gone. The Iranian leadership is well aware of this. This is why they would like nothing more that to see the U.S. or Israel blunder and take some sort of military action. Such an attack would finally give the Iranian leadership what it has not been able to get for itself: widespread legitimacy & support from its own people. An attack would give them the support that has been elusive for the past few years and would validate their negative propaganda about the U.S. and Israel.

What makes this situation worse is that rational thought and common sense are not guiding the hands or minds of policymakers on either side. Religious fervor is informing both sides. Both sides believe that they are doing Gods work on some grand divine mission. Whenever you have a mix of religious dogma and defense policy, it creates a very dicey situation. With Israel and Iran, you have two religious States. These are not your typical secular institutions we are dealing with. Instead of playing grownup, the U.S. is about to allow Israel to make this colossal mistake. It appears that the U.S. is going to allow Jerusalem to pull us into a war (yet another) that we don’t need, and that will go against our interests. Relations with other nations will be irreparably damaged and the conflict could spread. Iranians will rally to support their leaders. Global oil prices will spike and Europe, already teetering on a cliff….will fall over it, into an even bigger crisis and we would likely see a global recession, possibly like 2008.…perhaps worse. The U.S. economy will certainly suffer.  All for a military attack that will not accomplish the desired goal. It makes no sense whatsoever. After all that we have gone through (and are still going through) to crawl out of the recent near Depression, and after getting to a point where Americans are rebuilding their lives and going back to work, we are about to throw away many of those gains because of the irrational fears of Israel.

I see no reason to be optimistic.

Unfortunately the chorus of public anger is not loud enough to get their attention. There does not seem to be much of an effort to stop a war in Iran or military intervention in Syria. This is unfortunate, because the drumbeat for war with Iran is getting louder by the day. There isn’t even an effort to make the need for a new foreign policy part of the national debate. It’s totally absent. All we hear are chest thumping statements from both camps, proclaiming their willingness to go to war with Iran because Israel wants them to. During the Presidential campaign Romney publicly promised war with Iran on Israel’s behalf. Quite unbelievable. Obama has been more nuanced... but Hillary Clinton is no dove. So it seems that America may be screwed no matter who is in office. This is why (knowing that Missouri was not a competitive State for Obama) I decided to support Jill Stein (Green Party Candidate) for President, because of her strong progressive domestic policy ideas and ultimately because her views were more in line with my own... particularly on foreign policy. But I just wish President Obama would listen to progressives like myself who have no voice under the so-called big tent.

The majority of Americans want to see a reduction in military spending in favor of other more important needs. This includes both Republicans and Democrats. Yet, policymakers have not pursued efforts that reflect that public sentiment. It is fascinating to me that members of Congress don’t seem to have a clue as to why two-thirds of Americans believe that the Country is on the wrong track or why the public approval of Congress has been as low as 12%. A misguided foreign policy is an example. Attention President Obama, White House Staff and members of Congress: Here is a clue. Americans are tired. We are war weary. 10 plus years of war…. 20 years of off & on military conflict is enough. $3 trillion dollars wasted is all that we can take, especially when pressing needs here at home are not being taken care of.

I suspect that the mandatory budget cuts for military spending, which are scheduled to automatically kick in under the Budget Control Act, actually won’t. There will be a last minute deal to keep that money flowing. Why? Because the Defense lobby has a lot of influence over Congress. Taxes won’t likely cover the cost because Republicans will block any effort to change the current tax situation. Draconian cuts in other parts of the budget will have to take place or we are looking at more deficit spending.  

Time To Act

There is still something that could be done. If enough people spoke up about this issue, perhaps we could at least get the topic on the table. Right now, the candidates won’t even mention foreign policy unless they are arguing about who is the toughest and most pro-war man for the job. Contact your member of Congress and press them on making this issue a part of the national debate. Reach out to the candidates and force them to answer questions about commitments that they have made to take us into yet more war. Something has to be done to bring this into the national consciousness and soon. Stop a war with Iran before it happens.

None of the other big problems can be solved in this Country without dealing with the foreign policy issue - an underlying problem that, directly or indirectly, impacts just about everything else. The potential nomination of UN Ambassador Susan Rice (a hardcore interventionist, ...from the Albright/old Brzezinski/Kissinger/Clinton school of foreign policy thought, far more pro-war than pro-dove) for the post of Secretary of State will be an indication of what direction the Obama Administration will take with foreign policy in its second term. The Russians (and others) have already taken the unusual step of saying (warning) that they don't want her... because she is too brash, rigid and aggressive. If she is nominated instead of someone more sensible, and more progressive like a John Kerry, I will puke. I am keeping my fingers crossed in hopes that this nomination isn't made.

“What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?” ~ Then UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright to Colin Powell on intervention in Bosnia.

Powell's response:
"I thought I would have an aneurysm. American GIs were not toy soldiers to be moved around on some sort of global game board".

Susan Rice as Secretary of State would be many times worse.

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