Results Matter

One thing I wanted to address on my earlier post on FDR/Obama parallels was that Krugman’s argument — that the New Deal was in fact, not large enough — sounds a bit like neoconservative foreign policy hawks who have derided Bush for not being quite crazy enough in the twilight of his Administration.

In all fairness, I’d think that taken to its logical extreme — which is utterly detached from reality — neoconservative foreign policies probably would work in accomplishing some sort of hegemony. For example, evidence exists that Iran was quite willing to bargain shortly following “Mission Accomplished” in 2003 when neoconservative Pollyannism regarding our military might seemed, well, not so Pollyannish. In reality, the subsequent five years have shown us stretched to our limits, and this school yard vision of talking loudly while swinging a big stick has been proven utterly daft. That said, it seems entirely plausible that were we able to affect stable regime change, foster a legitimate pro-American democracy, and also eradicate terrorism (which incidentally, didn’t exist in any meaningful way until we got there) in a medium sized country over a period of 6 months and at little cost, neoconservative theories might be today vindicated. Obviously, none of these things were possible, but it’s important to note that the theories informing neoconservatism have only been debunked inasmuch they relate to America’s ability to implement them.*

To bring things back to fiscal stimulus, while America may not have the military might to double down on neoconservatism, we do have the economic might to double down on expansionary fiscal policy. What’s more, it’s even been proven to work!

*DISCLAIMER: I’m not mounting a defense of neoconservative foreign policy; as a practical policy, it’s (to use a term preferred by John McCain) laughably naive. If America — who accounts for 48 percent of the world’s military expenditures — cannot successfully implement neoconservative policies, it seems unlikely that anyone can (at least without use of nuclear weapons as an offensive measure). Moreover, it’s not at all clear that a hegemonic role for America would be the least bit desirable. I haven’t given enough thought to what American hegemony would look like, but a simple glance at history shows that empire is an utterly unsustainable enterprise.

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Annals of Neoconservatism

Last night I was reading this article in Foreign Affairs detailing just how completely Supreme Leader Ayatolla Ali Khamenei runs the show in Iran. It’s a fairly good primer on Iranian politics, and will be extremely useful in understanding relations with Iran in the future, so I recommend reading it. One unrelated thing I stumbled across, and apparently missed at the time (I was just graduating high school — so give me a break) was this:

Still, following the attacks of September 11, 2001, Tehran cooperated with Washington. Welcoming the fall of the Taliban, a longtime enemy because of their extremist Sunni views and their attacks on Afghan Shiites and Iranian diplomats in Afghanistan, Tehran helped the U.S.-led coalition form a new Afghan government at the Bonn conference. Even after Bush’s famous “axis of evil” speech and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003, Tehran made a conciliatory gesture. After coordinating the move with [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei, Kharrazi, then the Iranian ambassador in Paris, delivered an unsigned letter to the Swiss embassy in Tehran suggesting that the Iranian government would contemplate recognizing Israel, reining in the region’s radical organizations, and proposing a security plan for the Persian Gulf. But the Bush administration, drunk on its quick military victory in Iraq, disregarded the offer. All sections of the Iranian regime, including Khatami and the reformists, interpreted the brushoff to mean that after Iraq, it was Iran’s turn to be invaded by the United States.

The phrase “drunk with power” might be needlessly dramatic, but it’s truth seems to be supported by reported fact.

“This document did not come through official channels but rather was a creative exercise on the part of the Swiss ambassador,” State Department spokesman Tom Casey said yesterday. “The last 30 years are filled with examples of individuals claiming to represent Iranian views. We have offered to Iran a chance to sit across the table from us and discuss their nuclear issue and anything else they would like, should they simply, verifiably suspend their uranium-enrichment activities.” (Emphasis added)

Of course, there’s no evidence to suggest the overture was disingenuous, and in fact, many sources agree the gesture was made with Khamenei’s consent. But with the “Mission Accomplished”, the Bush Administration brushed off the outreach and doubled down on their insistence on “preconditions.” As neoconservatives drum support for military intervention in Iran, remember there was a chance for a peaceful solution.

Political Tectonics

Granted this survey was done by Democratic pollsters, but behold, Republicans, on the future of the GOP:

  • While a sizeable majority of voters say Republicans have lost in 2006 and 2008 because they have been “too conservative,” a sizeable plurality of Republicans say, it is because they have “not been conservative enough.”
  • Over three-quarters of Republicans say Palin was good choice, while a majority of the electorate says the opposite.
  • Two-thirds of Republicans say McCain has not been aggressive enough, but a majority of voters think they have been too aggressive.
  • Looking to the future, a large majority of Republicans say the party needs to “move more to the right and back to conservative principles,” while an even larger majority of all voters say, it should move to the “center to win over moderate and independent voters.”
  • Finally, almost 60 percent of Republicans say “if Barack Obama is elected, he will lead the country down the wrong path and Republicans should oppose his plans,” while 70 percent of all voters say they “should give him the benefit of the doubt and help him achieve his plans.”

Who knows how this will play out, but if Obama wins after receiving a number of endorsements from moderate Republicans, it seems we’ll see a schismatic shift in power away from the far-right in general, but a further consolidation of neocon power within the GOP. At least initially, Democrats will embrace traditional conservatives, especially so where ideologies are most amicable (realism/liberal internationalism vs interventionist neoconservatism, for example), but I doubt the relationship will be sustainabile insofar as it might fuel a progressive agenda. Once the honeymoon period wanes, traditional conservaties will likely begin to find much of the progressive agenda dyspeptic, and at the same time, the far right will realize it has to broaden its appeal, and the balance of power will return to something more traditional. What this means for progressives (should Obama win — knock on wood), is that capitalizing on moderate conservative support out of the gate is imperative.

As for America, I’m not sure it means anything as much is it reflects a leftward shift of the middle and the far right’s general incompatability with reality.

(Implied in my argument is that the Democrats will actually pursue a progressive legislative agenda and not merely seek to ossify power on the left by kowtowing to moderate conservatives, which I think would be bad.)

Syriana

I’m surprised there wasn’t more talk around the blogosphere yesterday about our little skirmish into Syria. In general, this is the same basic tactic Barack Obama has outlined in terms of raids in Pakistan, with one notable difference. On the target of the raid, Abu Ghadiya:

One United States official described Abu Ghadiya as Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s “most prominent” smuggler of foreign operatives crossing the Syrian border into Iraq, and in February the Treasury Department named him as one of four major figures in that group living in Syria.

Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, or AQI, only became an insurgency after we invaded Iraq. While these targeted raids unquestionably beat invading countries at random to “show our strength” as a counter terrorism strategy, this particular target only exists because we opted to give the invading countries at random strategy a spin first.

School Yard Foreign Policy

One thing that’s so remarkable about the underlying philosophy of neoconservative foreign policy is how succinctly it can be refuted. Matt Yglesias, on the “weakness invites aggression” theme on which the McCain campaign has been recently capitalizing:

The entire “weakness invites aggression” worldview is something that’d really be worth looking into at some length. Presumably the truth of these dictum explains why Canada has been subject to so many more terrorist attacks than has the United States. Or it explains why France took advantage of the ongoing political crisis in Belgium to invade and conquer the Walloon portions of that country. And, conversely, it explains why Bush’s belligerence and militarism have managed to convince North Korea and Iran to give in to our non-proliferation demands. I dunno.

In defense of this school yard interpretation of international relations, conservatives often raise the specter of appeasement. This argument can be refuted on historical grounds, but the analogy doesn’t even merit serious consideration. Terrorism exists outside the state system and its weaponry and tactics are completely unconventional. Why is an analogy hinged on 1930s conventional military forces at all relevant? Is there any reason to believe that having a larger standing army or invading countries at random would have stopped 18 zealots from crashing airplanes into buildings? Am I on crazy pills?