Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Compost: Diplomacy in the Dark (Part II)

Part I was triggered by a Reason Magazine piece about the fall of Communism in 1989. In many ways, 1989 was the reverse fall of the dominoes that US foreign policy analysts saw years before.

The point of Part I was that the Reason piece lamented the incomplete lesson learned from the defeat of Communism. The moral is that the best parts of the Free World triumphed over the worst of the Second World (Communist countries). The free exchange of information and ideas, and the introduction of economic liberty, defeated the repression of peoples' natural desires. This was accomplished through force - the USSR and Soviet Satellites couldn't compete with the US arsenal - and through ideas - social and economic liberty was more appealing than darkness.

When the US invaded Iraq and toppled the regime, people wondered why there wasn't a real plan for the fallout that followed. The idea that US could "democracy build" in Iraq was quickly dismissed. Gradually, a government was formed. For years, bombings and the insurgency prevented any progress. In 2007, the counterinsurgency began to slowly take back villages, towns and cities. Basic things happened: roads and bridges were protected, markets and stores stayed open instead of blown apart, school children attended new schools. Restrictions on economic activity were lifted, and Iraqis began to create in a freer market. Ideas began to accompany the force that had been in Iraq since 2003.

Nothing of the sort has ever, at least as far as I can appreciate, happened in Afghanistan. Towns and villages go back and forth between the US, Afghani Warlords and the Taliban. Infrastructure put in place beginning in 2002 was destroyed over time. Ideas never fully followed the force existing in the country since 2001.

In the 2008 election, Democrats excoriated George Bush for taking his eye of Afghanistan. They claimed too many resources were diverted to the "war of choice" (Iraq), and there was no plan for last success in Afghanistan. As happened in Iraq, some Democrats contended that success was not an option anymore. The situation was so far out of control that 7 years of fighting and work had been for naught. Typically, while they were quick with the criticism, they were also slow on their own robust plan for success (to be fair, I can't remember McCain ever articulating a clear plan either).

Essentially, nothing has changed since the campaign. Barack Obama won, and still does not have a plan for success. Other threats that existed - Iran, Russia - also remain untended. For all the complaining that Obama did about George Bush's supposed short-sightedness (or incompetency), Obama has also failed to grasp the concept of force + ideas. He has no large-scale plan to battle the Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters on local levels, and he has no plan for the problems identified in Charlie Wilson's War/ Reason Magazine. There's still no ideas accompanying the force.

Obama has no ideas to accompany the American force because: 1) he doesn't believe in American exceptionalism. Americans don't have the right to foster a new way of life for people in repressed countries because there is nothing special about American freedom or America's position in the world; 2) he has no understanding of how America fought and ended the Cold War. His version of the Cold War ending is many countries - good and bad - agreeing to stop a silly fight about arbitrary goodness and evil (Socialist/Communist dictatorships weren't evil to him because he didn't see the evil in mediocrity disguised as parity).

Obama's failure to understand that the US (and other Western democracies) are special because they have offered, preserved and introduced freedom to more people in the last hundred years than any other movement or country in history. His worldview is that all countries are willing to consider the effects of their behavior on other countries. It's that somewhere, somehow the leaders of all countries have the ability to think and behave rationally. That's, unfortunately, just not true.

This failure to behave rationally/thoughtfully is embodied in Russia. Obama wanted to start a dialogue with Iran. Russia has a tenuous and possibly dangerous relationship with Iran (in the sense that Russians sell nuclear secrets to them and probably trade arms with Iranians). In order to have a broader front with which to begin discussions with Iran, Obama began to bargain with the Russians. The Russians were skeptical and annoyed at the missile defense shield schedule to be installed in Poland and other Eastern European countries who still live in fear of totalitarian repression.

Those countries see that the name has changed, but Soviet-style behavior and aggression lives on in Russia. As a token for their cooperation (but before Russia agreeing to anything), Obama canceled the missile defense systems. The expected reciprocation never materialized (Of course, Russia knew that Obama would never install missile defense anyway, so maybe the carrot just wasn't tasty enough.). Russia refused to assist the US in engaging Iran on stopping Iran's nuclear weapon ambitions. In addition, Russia has refused to even support UN sanctions against Iran.

Aggressive countries headed by repressive governments are nothing like the US. Iran and Russia are concerned with defeating US interests, because the US prevents them from consolidating resources (land, oil, water, weaponry, religious domination) under their power. Unless the leaders are backed into a corner and the people are a moment from revolt, their leaders will only take from the US. Anything that the US offers as a gesture will be taken and nothing will come in return. If this sounds like a denouncement of appeasement, it is.

All during the 2008 debate, McCain ripped Obama for Obama's declaration that he would meet with enemy leaders without preconditions. But simply meeting with the leader of an oppressive regime doesn't seem like such a harmful idea. Unfortunately, these leaders will use the concessions the US offers as tokens to demonstrate to their people that the US is weak and desperate for the oppressive leader's cooperation. They spin to their people that the US is scared of Russia's potential power or Iran's attempts at nuclear weapons. They can shape the message to make the US look as weak or bad as they want because they control the media. They are interested in self-preservation, not interested in the reality of global power and economy, and are entirely willing to lie for their own interests. There is no consideration of offering good will in exchange for the US's "tokens."

Instead of engaging the leaders, Obama had a golden opportunity to incite reform in Iran during it's Summer elections. While people were angered about Ahmadinejad rigging the election and protesting in the streets, Obama stuck to his ill-sighted plan for direct discussion with the leadership (forget the hypocrisy of non-interference in Iran and a total willingness to involve itself in Honduras).

After 10 months of ObamaDiplomacy, the only pattern that has emerged is a five-step plan for failure:

1. Talk about the elements of America's past global and domestic policies that were unsuccessful or unaligned with the modern liberal version of freedom. Apologize for sins the US did not commit, committed in the midst of efforts to liberate large groups of people, or committed so long ago they have no relevance to American's modern image in the world.

2. Institute policy of directly engaging hostile countries through diplomacy (and continue to get spit on by them).

3. Offer concessions to hostile countries (enemies) in return for their cooperation or concessions.

4. Ignore complete rejection of overtures and total lack of reciprocation from hostile countries, watch them escalate their erratic and dangerous behavior, and continue to offer concessions and/or to meet with.

5. Due to Step 1, Obama has conceded the US does not have the moral authority to use means beyond Steps 2-4. The US has no ability to lead because it has legitimized the hostile regimes through distorted engagement and concessions, leaving allies and US interests unprotected. Remove possibility of multilateral force because other countries believe Step 1 strips the US of authority to intervene.

As much as countries like France and Germany may not have liked what modern liberals portrayed as American arrogance under Bush, they like even less being totally unprotected by American force, and completely undermined in their ability to deal with hostile regimes in a traditional manner modeled after past successes.

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