March 3rd, 2008 by Rightsideup

This is one of those times when my two worlds collide: technology (which is what I do for work) and politics (which is what I do for fun). Netscape founder Marc Andreessen has a blog entry up about a meeting he had last year with Barack Obama, and technology blog TechCrunch has an article about it.

Both articles / blog entries draw the same conclusion about this particular exchange:

We then asked, well, what about foreign policy — should we be concerned that you just don’t have much experience there?

He said, directly, two things.

First, he said, I’m on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where I serve with a number of Senators who are widely regarded as leading experts on foreign policy — and I can tell you that I know as much about foreign policy at this point as most of them.

Being a fan of blunt answers, I liked that one.

But then he made what I think is the really good point.

He said — and I’m going to paraphrase a little here: think about who I am — my father was Kenyan; I have close relatives in a small rural village in Kenya to this day; and I spent several years of my childhood living in Jakarta, Indonesia. Think about what it’s going to mean in many parts of the world — parts of the world that we really care about — when I show up as the President of the United States. I’ll be fundamentally changing the world’s perception of what the United States is all about.

He’s got my vote.

The TechCrunch blogger (Erick Schonfeld) then goes on to add:

That last point is a pretty powerful rejoinder to the criticism that foreign policy is not Obama’s strong suit. His unique life history arguably puts him in a better position than any other candidate to change the anti-American attitudes rife in many other countries. What other candidate could do that simply by being elected?

This is the nub of the matter, isn’t it? That liberals (Democrats, whatever) think the goal of foreign policy is to get everyone outside the US to like us more, and therefore the key qualification here is being likable by non-Americans. Conservatives (Republicans, whatever) know that foreign policy is about securing the United States against foreign attackers and ensuring that the interests of the United States are protected.

The question about Obama’s foreign policy experience is entirely legitimate, because he has spent no time at all immersed in the real business of foreign policy, namely the art of diplomacy and the art of war (or “the continuation of diplomacy by other means,” as Clausewitz once said). He mistakenly believes that having spent time in foreign countries and having relatives there is the key thing (recall that George W Bush was criticised for not having spent enough time outside the US – whatever the failings of his foreign policy, they don’t have their roots in where he spent his vacations).

Obama’s arrogance on the topic of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is pretty breathtaking too. That committee is headed by Joe Biden and Dick Lugar, both of whom have several decades of foreign policy experience. For Obama to suggest that in the few months he spent in the Senate before running for President he amassed more knowledge than these two men or the others who serve on that committee is preposterous, and again suggests he is dangerously naive about the real meaning and importance of foreign policy experience.

March 23rd, 2007 by Rightsideup

The quote attributed to Andrew Jackson, “One man with courage makes a majority,” (see this link for an explanation of why we shouldn’t really attribute it to him) appears to have been both taken a little literally and distorted by his political descendants.

For the last several years (essentially since the 2000 election) Democrats and other liberals have acted as if small groups with strong enough opinions should be treated as if they were in fact majorities. After accusing George W Bush of “stealing” that election, they have since claimed that he was “not listening” on the war in Iraq, that we needed to pull out of the war, etc. even though for a long time these people did not constitute a majority. James Taranto included some comments on a recent story in his Best of the Web column this week (see Vandals for Peace).

Although the 2000 election provides a pretext (the 2004 election surely should have neutralised this, but of course didn’t), Democrats no longer even tie their civil disobedience back to the stolen election. They just act like they’re in the majority, and express disbelief when neither Bush himself nor their elected Democratic leaders in Congress are willing to adopt their extreme positions. They assume this means that they are “not listening” rather than understanding that their political leaders have listened and yet disagree with them. This must be particularly frustrating for them since Democrats now have a literal majority in Congress and yet haven’t pulled troops out yet. On the other hand, it appears the original quote (even if attributed to Jackson’s biographer and not Jackson himself) appears to have been “desperate courage makes one a majority” – so not such a far cry from the Democrats’ current interpretation “desperation makes a majority”.

Will this trend continue, or will things change if a Democrat wins in 2008? Chances are, the left wing of the left wing will continue to be unhappy with virtually any political leadership and will continue to act as if its strong opinions (not courage) make a majority.

March 22nd, 2007 by Rightsideup

Many news outlets covered the story about the attempted attack on the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon – including CNN, which had both an article and video.

So, it appears that even the UN is a target for Al Qaeda – it doesn’t make (to them) subtle distinctions between Westerners who favour the removal of dictators and Westerners who want to talk dictators down. Much as Democrats and other liberals want to suggest that the way to success in the Middle East is a UN-type approach, this is a useful reminder that Al Qaeda doesn’t think so.

Separately, Ban did remarkably well to regain his composure after the explosion hit, although even more impressive was Al-Maliki, who appeared barely to flinch.

March 3rd, 2007 by Rightsideup

Mitt Romney gave a phenomenal speech at the CPAC conference on Friday. It’s great written down (RedState has the full speech here) but he also did a great job delivering it (you can see part of it on Mitt TV here). So much better than his announcement speech, which was a bit of a damp squib. I guess it’s a pretty different audience at CPAC from the nightly news, but this is the kind of stuff he’s got to be saying and the way he’s got to be saying it to really get attention and win votes. I hope we have more of it.

February 26th, 2005 by Rightsideup

The US administration (and previous US administrations, including that of Ronald Reagan) has expressed its support in recent weeks for the institution of the European Union, the multinational body which acts increasingly as a federal state superimposed upon the nation-states of Europe. Interestingly, some of the most enthusiastic comments come today from Colin Powell in a post-resignation interview with the UK’s Telegraph newspaper.

From a US perspective, this makes solid strategic sense – endorsing the EU as a valid body for representing the interests of European powers has several advantages:

  • it allows Europe to pull something like its own weight in defence matters – each individual European country’s defence spending and capabilities are dwarfed by that of the US, and joining 25 countries’ capabilities together allows these countries to present something like an equivalent to the US’s immense military power. Since the US has been trying for the last thirty years to get European nations to pull their own weight militarily, this at least seems like a step in the right direction
  • it also allows European nations to speak with one voice – something which would be beneficial if it allowed the US to speak to “Europe” as a single coherent entity rather than as 25 separate nations, each with their own views and needs. The creation of the post of EU Foreign Minister under the proposed new EU Constitution would be a large step in this direction
  • it allows Europe to solve the problems in its own backyard directly without reference to Nato, the UN or other supranational bodies, thus excluding the US from situations which would best be handled locally.

For all of these reasons, US administrations have endorsed the creation and strengthening of the EU and the extending of its powers into the military sphere in particular over the last thirty to forty years. However, in a greater sense, this endorsement of the EU is not in the US’s best interests.

An obvious example is the recent war in Iraq, where a number of European nations endorsed and supported the stance of the US, while the two most powerful EU nations – France and Germany – and others did not. Under the proposed changes to the EU, the 25 countries would either have to speak with one voice, in which case they would not have supported the war in Iraq, or the creation of the post of EU Foreign Minister will be simply a hollow gesture, in which case it does not actually benefit the US at all. In Colin Powell’s interview in the Telegraph, he says, “I’ve always viewed [Javier] Solana as something like the EU foreign minister, anyway.” In which case, why bother to create the position formally?

Another problem with this approach, especially with Republican administrations, is that their ideological counterparts in the UK especially but also in the rest of Europe are actually the least enthusiastic about expansion of the EU’s powers. Thus, when Reagan endorsed the EU during the 80s, he actually was going against the grain as far as his closest ally in Europe, Margaret Thatcher, was concerned, since she was vehemently against any expansion of the EU’s powers.

This is more readily seen when one imagines US Republicans’ response to proposals to give the UN much broader powers, to regulate all industries at a supranational level, give it its own military force to be used as the broad membership wished, to over-ride the decisions of individual nation states within it, etc. If the UN tried to take on these powers there would be outrage in the US, and yet this is exactly the role the EU plays in Europe.

So, it would be far better if the US were to take a more moderate stance on the EU, not endorsing its expansion nor advocating its dismantling, while bolstering support for Nato, an institution which truly serves the needs of both the US and European nations militarily, without the headaches that a strengthened EU creates.

January 15th, 2005 by Rightsideup

It has now been announced that the search for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq has ended, without finding the weapons being searched for. This has naturally re-ignited the debate about the reasons for going to war in Iraq and the justification used at the time that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and might use them against his enemies in the Middle East and beyond. Since the war has always been unpopular with a (sometimes very vocal) minority and there have always been those who suggested WMDs were not to be found in Iraq, this is reasonable. But the fact remains that (a) the Bush administration genuinely believed that there were WMDs in Iraq and (b) even if there were no WMDs, the war was still justified. It is worth taking each of these points in turn.

(a) The Bush administration genuinely believed there were WMDs in Iraq

This point has been so belaboured by all involved that it does not justify an exhaustive treatment here. The facts, however, are these: not only President Bush and his team, but also the UK government, the UN, previous US president Bill Clinton and many others believed that there were WMDs in Iraq. This belief was reinforced by several facts: Saddam had previously had WMDs and these were not accounted for, Iraqi dissidents and sources within Iraq continued to tell western intelligence agencies that they did exist, there was some photographic evidence of programs still going in Iraq. In addition, in the category of circumstantial evidence, Saddam and his government continued to resist the efforts of the UN weapons inspectors to certify that his previously-held WMDs had been destroyed, behaviour that is difficult to explain unless there really was something to hide.

The question then becomes, how did our intelligence services get it wrong? And why did Saddam Hussein act as if he did have WMDs and fail to comply with the UN ultimatum that would have prevented war? Several explanations present themselves:
(1) WMDs really did exist in pre-war Iraq, but they were destroyed and/or moved to neighbouring countries such as Syria before the war began. Thus, all the evidence was accurate, but the WMDs were no longer in Iraq when the search began post-war.
(2) Saddam Hussein genuinely believed he possessed WMDs, because the culture of fear he had created made his minions mislead him into believing they still existed even when they didn’t. Thus, it is not surprising that the evidence suggested there were still WMDs in Iraq because the leader of the administration himself still believed there were WMDs
(3) Saddam Hussein knew he did not possess WMDs but had to resist the advances of the UN to maintain the respect (if that is the right word) of his people. He could not be seen to be bowing to outside pressure when his whole regime was based on a show of power and intimidation. This does not explain the evidence suggesting that WMDs existed in Iraq pre-war, but does explain his resistance against inspections.

Whichever of these scenarios is correct, it does not change the fact that the Bush administration and many others genuinely believed that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and that this posed a threat at least to Iraq’s neighbours and possibly also countries further afield including the US and the UK.

(b) Even if there were no WMDs, war in Iraq was still justified

The official justification for the war in Iraq was that Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and that he therefore posed a threat to Iraq’s neighbours and others. This justification was necessary because for many citizens of the US, the UK and other countries involved in the war, the only legitimate reason to go to war was to neutralise a threat against those countries. However, there were several reasons for going to war, and this was only emphasised because it was the most compelling and because there was a need to focus on a single justification to provide simplicity and clarity for the people of the countries involved to rally around.. This justification has subsequently turned out to be less compelling than it seemed at the time, but the other justifications still hold.

Arguably the best reason for going to war was simply that the international community had issued a number of ultimata to Saddam Hussein, with which he had refused to comply, and at some stage the UN and its members were going to have to back up their threats with action to maintain any kind of credibility with dictators such as Hussein. Although the US has been accused ever since of attempting to bypass the UN, the action of the “coalition of the willing” has actually bolstered the position of the UN and its leading members in that it prevented this loss of credibility. An interesting side-effect of going to war in Iraq has been the compliance of Libya with the demands of the US and UK to dismantle its own weapons programs. Regardless of whether WMDs were found in Iraq or not, the need to maintain the credibility of the international community in meeting threats posed by rogue threats remains a compelling reason for the war in Iraq after the fact.

Among the other reasons for going to war were:

  • the need to remove a cruel dictator from power – the “regime change” argument. This argument is shaky on its own, because it is easily argued that other countries have their own dictators, which are at least as worthy of removal as was Saddam, but it adds weight to the other justifications for war when taken collectively
  • the need to establish democracy in the Middle East as an example to the rest of the region. With elections in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine, the argument that Muslim countries are incapable of embracing democracy will slowly be exposed as the myth it is, just as the same myth about Asian cultures was debunked fifty years ago
  • the need to dismantle havens for terrorists across the world. Iraq has long been a safe haven for terrorists. Although some of the attempts to link the 9/11 attacks with Saddam’s regime have stretched the truth, it is the case that terrorists have been safe in Iraq for far too long. The war in Iraq may therefore also be considered a part of the Bush Doctrine that those who harbour and aid terrorists are to be treated like the terrorists themselves.

Therefore, even when the WMD justification has fallen flat, these other justifications, paramount among them the need to maintain credibility for the leading democratic nations in their international efforts, still make the war in Iraq justifiable. All of these arguments will be that much more powerful when the effort in Iraq is finished, when power is handed fully back to the Iraqis and when the insurgency is crushed. But they still hold considerable weight now and help neutralise the argument that the absence of WMDs in Iraq removes any justification for the war.