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Thread: American Power

  1. #16

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    Yo, hello Dave! That's the whole point, buddy! US foreign policy is always changing because the characters are always changing, and every big man's got his own doctrine or lobby to adhere to or service.

    The BIG change, which is the thing that has changed American foreign policy in the context of 9/11, is the shift within the Republican party from the Realists to the Idealists. And, the thing is, that schism has been playing out for decades. Rummy was challenging Kissinger on his policies in the Nixon administration: he wanted to take Kissinger's place. And his idea was, end detente, and challenge the Soviets.

    And then you had Reagan and the end of the Cold War. George Schultz was the don, and things were dirtier and nastier than later on, and supporting right-wing dictators and murderous militias and white oligarchies was justified by the Washington foreign policy community: Jeane Kirkpatrick being key to this, funnily enough, with a Commentary article called 'Dictatorships and Double Standards' which was a weird and sick synthesis of Kissingerism and Neoconservatism served up as newly-minted doctrine.

    Then you no longer had the Cold War. But the heirs of Kissinger - Scowcroft, and later, Condi kinda - were still obsessed with Eastern European politics, while the Idealists started to focus on the Middle East. In the meantime, then, there's Clinton's administrations dealing with all the post-Cold War issues, and trying to work out what to DO with all that post-Vietnam/CW military power, and generally trying to work out what kind of foreign policy Democrats are suppossed to have anyway. Meanwhile Powell's in the Pentagon, with the 'don't do a damn thing' Powell doctrine.

    You know all this, right? So, is it not just too easy and convenient to view US foreign policy as one monolithic chunk of genocidal evil shit that spans centuries? How the hell is that useful???

    Maybe US foreign policy won't change cleanly, fundamentally, ever...because there are so many checks and counterchecks and party partitions and interest groups and there's Congress and there's Senate and there's Comittees and Special Advisors and all sorts...there's nothing clean, and there are too many fundamentalisms.

    But it's more basic. Listen, when Bush said that the mission of the US was to challenge tyranny and support and export democracy he was speaking the language of the Idealists and turning his back on the legacy of Kissinger and realpolitik: Bush's 02 State of the Union address openly condemned that very legacy. That's a pretty important swerve in US foreign policy.

    Now answer Pearsall's questions.
    Last edited by craner; 10-12-2004 at 11:53 PM. Reason: surgery

  2. #17

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    Change is not a myth. Myths don't change.

  3. #18
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    Alrighty then, good to see things pick up a bit.

    So yeah, absolutes aren't very useful, and the political world is definitely a lot more complex than people tend to think. Of course I don't think US foreign policy has not been in constant flux for as along as there has been a US foreign policy. But that's kind of my point, that despite the fact that "every big man's got his own doctrine or lobby to adhere to or service," the end result of US foreign policy has been strickingly similar accross all sorts of different Administrations. In a sense it didn't really matter whether there was a Democrat or a Republican in the White House during Vietnam, the war was fought pretty much the same either way.

    What I think this points to is that: a) US foreign policy is driven by a lot of factors completely outside of who is running the government (the economy being the real big one there). And b) though there are variations in policy, they tend to all come from within a similar and rather limited perspective--of priviledge, absolute faith in the capitilast system, and belief in America's right and duty to police the world (or something like that...I'm sure ppl will disagree on this). So essentially what I'm saying is that these larger factors have not changed. The swerve into Idealism is just one extreme within this spectrum.

    The thing to remember is that, Bush might have said some nice things about freedom and such, and you know, that's great. But we're not actually going to start judging politicians by what they say now are we? You have to look at what Bush & Co have actually done. They have continued to support many despotic regimes. They have invaded a country, killed a lot of civilians, and installed a government which its people do not support. It remains to be seen if a trully independant Iraqi gov't is created, which would be great. But I have my doubts.

    Anyway, you support Bush's rhetoric? Fine. I think it sounds kinda nice too. But I object to what he's actually done.


    Phew....so on to Pearsall

    Originally posted by Pearsall
    Well, perhaps you can tell me of a great power (either global or regional) in history that has not abused its power somewhat?
    Of course I can't (power corrupts, remember ). But that really doesn't mean we should be singing the praises of the US, does it? "No worse than any other great power" is hardly a compliment, nor is it a reason to stop looking for something better.

    Lastly, as for the US vs Soviets comparison, no I don't think they are equivalent, I'd much rather live in the States the Soviet Russia. However, I do think that neither of them are all that great in their influence on the world. Standing up to the Soviets was a good thing, but that wasn't exactly the only thing the US was doing during that time. And really, I'm not too sure how much stuff that went under the banner of "standing up to the Soviets" actually performed that roll. Most of the interventions in Central America (Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc) were framed as fighting Communism, but I think it's pretty clear that they really had fuck all to do with Russia, and all about extending American hegemony.

    alright, that'll do for now, I hope.

  4. #19
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    OK, so the US is the world's only military and economic superpower. What should it, as a nation state, do with that power?

    And what should the EU - that big, sprawling mass of 25 nations - do? Work with the US? Limit it thru oppositional tactics? And assuming it wants to pick and choose, how does it do that effectively? With an aging population (and hence a massive pensions bill just around the corner) and lacking a real Executive arm - I can't see the EU investing more militarily.

    P.S. One really banal comment I'd make concerns the relative lack of contact most americans have with other countries and cultures.

  5. #20
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    Default It's not just 'should we intervene?', it's also 'will it work?'

    The problem with US interventions is not just their hypocrisy. It's also the fact that these interventions almost always, without fail, go horribly wrong. The result is either that the aims of the intervention are not reached, while the target countries are left in a state far worse than prior to the intervention; or that the narrow aims of the intervention are technically achieved, while the country falls into chaos. (See, for example, Balkans in the early 90s, Kosovo in the late 90s, Iraq right now, Somalia, Afghanistan...)

    No one seems to be talking very concretely about actual examples of US intervention here. I think a closer inspection would reveal that they are generally, to use a non-technical term, giant cock-ups.

    And to tie this into the question of the abuse of American power... It tends to be the case that the rather narrow intellectual / intelligence / military frameworks through which the 'architects' of these interventions work are 'to blame' for this. It's a systemic thing.

    (Apologies for the short post - will furnish the above with examples and elaboration if I get some time.)

    Oh, and one more thing - I think Slavoj Zizek was right on the money when he said recently that the slogan for American policy could quite easily be a reversal of that old Green slogan - in America's case, "Think local, act global." Even in more 'liberal' administrations, the prime consideration is always national interest. Which may not be surprising, but it's worthwhile to remember as a guard against getting too misty-eyed about liberalism...

  6. #21
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    Lastly, as for the US vs Soviets comparison, no I don't think they are equivalent, I'd much rather live in the States the Soviet Russia. However, I do think that neither of them are all that great in their influence on the world.
    The point is that, even if you dislike America's influence on the world, from any objective standpoint it should be impossible to argue that the Soviet influence wasn't far worse. You were edging towards saying that but at the last minute caved back to moral equivalence.
    Last edited by Pearsall; 13-12-2004 at 09:07 AM. Reason: typo

  7. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by &catherine
    The problem with US interventions is not just their hypocrisy. It's also the fact that these interventions almost always, without fail, go horribly wrong. The result is either that the aims of the intervention are not reached, while the target countries are left in a state far worse than prior to the intervention; or that the narrow aims of the intervention are technically achieved, while the country falls into chaos. (See, for example, Balkans in the early 90s, Kosovo in the late 90s, Iraq right now, Somalia, Afghanistan...)

    No one seems to be talking very concretely about actual examples of US intervention here. I think a closer inspection would reveal that they are generally, to use a non-technical term, giant cock-ups.
    Hmm. So, American interventions are giant cock-ups? Ok, well, why don't we look at the Korean peninsula? When the Korean war ended South Korea was poorer than Egypt (which was about to embark on Nasser's great socialist dream). Look at the difference between the two today. If America had not intervened then the entire peninsula would look like the north does today, wouldn't it?

    I don't need to say much about American intervention in Western Europe beyond two words: Marshall Plan.

    More recently,in Bosnia the US were the ones who finally fixed things. For a couple years the US said to the EU "ok, it's your back yard, you deal with it." They didn't, and so then Clinton had to deal with it. Are the results perfect? No, but you aren't going to turn Bosnia into Ohio (or Victoria) over night. What should they have done? Allowed the war to continue until it burned itself out? Same with Kosovo, let the ethnic cleansing continue until the Albanians were all banished? I guess the European approach was really bearing fruit, huh, what with the 300,000 corpses.

    In regards to Somalia, it was about the most altruistic intervention in modern political history. America had no economic or geopolitical interests in Somalia, and the ultimate failure of the mission was due to the peculiar factors of the situation there, where the state had ceased to exist and the UN mission was trying to negotiate the Byzantine politics of an anarchic clan war.

    Iraq and Afghanistan are separate issues from intervention. Afghanistan was a necessary action from a US security standpoint and it has had the nice side effect of working out reasonably well. Consider the fact that millions of refugees have returned in the last couple years. Or the recent elections, which the international observers said passed with reasonably few irregularities. Is Afghanistan perfect? No, of course not. But are things moving in the right direction? It seems that way. You have to remember that this is a country that has been deep in conflict for over thirty years (most people forget that the reason the Red Army rolled in was because the ruling Marxist government was failing to best the insurgency that had been going on since the early 1970's). Nothing gets fixed over night.

    Iraq is a preemptive war and was not an 'intervention' in the sense of Bosnia or Kosovo or Somalia. I'm not going to defend it, because it's been a disaster. Although I do find it interesting/bizarre at how many orthodox Leftists are so eager for America to fail and for the most wildly reactionary fundamentalist elements to triumph.

    People seem to have lost their sense of historical perspective; if things are not magically transformed over night that doesn't mean it is wise to declare the whole process is automatically a disaster. All wars take a long time to recover from. Britain didn't end rationing until the middle of the 1950's.

    So, American interventions:
    Bosnia: Worked out reasonably well. Could have been better, but could have been a lot worse.
    Kosovo: Worked out reasonably well. Could have been better, but could have been a lot worse.
    Somalia: A pretty much unavoidable failure.
    Afghanistan: Moving in the right direction, could be a lot worse.
    Iraq: A total mess, hard to divine the future. Could get better, could stay the same, could get worse, could go really Hieronymous Bosch.

    Barring Iraq I am finding it hard to see in which of these countries American intervention made things worse than before, as you state.

  8. #23

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    And there's also this thing from 1947 called the Genocide Convention which is the founding legal document of post war intervention. It's a beautiful document. It's one of the most important things we have. It says that nations are morally and legally responsible for their actions and the crimes of others. When a country, or an ethnic group, or a militia, or whoever, commit genocide, the free world is bound, by international law, to act to stop it, and punish those responsible. The problem comes when nations or great powers ignore or defer responsibility. See Rwanda: the Clinton administration did everything to blur the definition of "genocide" in a desperate and criminal arrempt to avoid having to intervene. If you ditch intervention on the basis of its difficulties and flaws, its seems to me you throw the Genocide Convention out of the window too. Because if you say that no nation or powerbloc should intervene, then you say that the Genocide Convention is impossible to enact. And it's not.

    I'll be back later. I took the weekend off.

  9. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by bipedaldave
    Alrighty then, good to see things pick up a bit.

    So yeah, absolutes aren't very useful, and the political world is definitely a lot more complex than people tend to think. Of course I don't think US foreign policy has not been in constant flux for as along as there has been a US foreign policy. But that's kind of my point, that despite the fact that "every big man's got his own doctrine or lobby to adhere to or service," the end result of US foreign policy has been strickingly similar accross all sorts of different Administrations. In a sense it didn't really matter whether there was a Democrat or a Republican in the White House during Vietnam, the war was fought pretty much the same either way.

    What I think this points to is that: a) US foreign policy is driven by a lot of factors completely outside of who is running the government (the economy being the real big one there). And b) though there are variations in policy, they tend to all come from within a similar and rather limited perspective--of priviledge, absolute faith in the capitilast system, and belief in America's right and duty to police the world (or something like that...I'm sure ppl will disagree on this). So essentially what I'm saying is that these larger factors have not changed. The swerve into Idealism is just one extreme within this spectrum.

    The thing to remember is that, Bush might have said some nice things about freedom and such, and you know, that's great. But we're not actually going to start judging politicians by what they say now are we? You have to look at what Bush & Co have actually done. They have continued to support many despotic regimes. They have invaded a country, killed a lot of civilians, and installed a government which its people do not support. It remains to be seen if a trully independant Iraqi gov't is created, which would be great. But I have my doubts.

    Anyway, you support Bush's rhetoric? Fine. I think it sounds kinda nice too. But I object to what he's actually done.


    Phew....so on to Pearsall


    Of course I can't (power corrupts, remember ). But that really doesn't mean we should be singing the praises of the US, does it? "No worse than any other great power" is hardly a compliment, nor is it a reason to stop looking for something better.

    Lastly, as for the US vs Soviets comparison, no I don't think they are equivalent, I'd much rather live in the States the Soviet Russia. However, I do think that neither of them are all that great in their influence on the world. Standing up to the Soviets was a good thing, but that wasn't exactly the only thing the US was doing during that time. And really, I'm not too sure how much stuff that went under the banner of "standing up to the Soviets" actually performed that roll. Most of the interventions in Central America (Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc) were framed as fighting Communism, but I think it's pretty clear that they really had fuck all to do with Russia, and all about extending American hegemony.

    alright, that'll do for now, I hope.
    that was the only post here that really makes sense. the rest seems a bit divorced from the reality.

    Quote Originally Posted by oliver craner
    And there's also this thing from 1947 called the Genocide Convention which is the founding legal document of post war intervention. It's a beautiful document. It's one of the most important things we have. It says that nations are morally and legally responsible for their actions and the crimes of others. When a country, or an ethnic group, or a militia, or whoever, commit genocide, the free world is bound, by international law, to act to stop it, and punish those responsible. The problem comes when nations or great powers ignore or defer responsibility. See Rwanda: the Clinton administration did everything to blur the definition of "genocide" in a desperate and criminal arrempt to avoid having to intervene.
    the clinton administration also did their best to show that there was a genocide where there was none (kosovo), which apparently the bush administration is trying to do right now with darfur. it should be obvious that the genocide convention can be used to bully people into supporting actions motivated by less noble considerations. it's also obvious that these other considerations will always have more weight in what the "free world" really does than any obligations under international law. under these circumstances it is a bit naive to talk about the "responsibility" of great powers. even worse, it reminds me of the "white burden" argument from colonial times when european intellectuals were talking about the "responsibility" of european nations to bring civilisation and progress to less enlightened parts of the world.

  10. #25

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    "the clinton administration also did their best to show that there was a genocide where there was none (kosovo), which apparently the bush administration is trying to do right now with darfur"

    And we're the ones (I assume you mean Pearsall and I) divorced from reality?

    Hombre, man. Concentration camps. Death squads. Discriminate mass slaughter. State-propagated racism.

    There're pictures. There's film. I know that most of you are left-of-liberal but I never expected to hear any of you actually say that the Balkans, you know, wasn't really as bad as all that, or belittling the slaughter in Darfur.

    This is about as bad as it gets, I think.

    Well at least we're plumbing some depths now.

    Since when did the international left become colonised by unreconstructed isolationsists?

  11. #26

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    And if you don't believe in the essential validity of international law, if you don't belive in the sanctity of such things as the Genocide Convention, which I confess I do, and the better portion of the left used to too, please be more explicit about it, and then suggest a way forward, that's not a way backward, and doesn't sweep violent paroxysms - which happen in the real world - away under the carpet.

  12. #27
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    there was no such thing as genocide in kosovo. even according to nato estimates in the year prior to the bombing the number of people killed was ca. 2000 on all sides. when the bombing started the attrocities escalated (not surprisingly) and there were claims of hundreds of thousands of albanian men killed. after the war was over it was clear that this was just propaganda. ethnic cleansing was the main form of attrocity not only in kosovo, but also elsewhere in the balkans (and was perpetrated by all sides). that's not nice, but it can't be compared to what happened in rwanda.

    what is happening in darfur is also horrible, but again it's not genocide as far as i can see.

    there is no doubt that something should be done about conflicts like these, but i don't think it's irrelevant what. i certainly do believe in the essential validity of the international law and think all countries of the world should respect it. the problem is, neither the united states nor european countries care much about the international law if it gets in their way and they use it quite often to blackmail anyone who for whatever reason defies them. if international law favours the rich and the powerful we can't talk about justice.

    this has nothing to do with isolationism. i fully support international cooperation. there are even cases where i would support a military intervention even if the motivation of the participants is dubious. but i don't think the great powers ("free world") should be allowed to abuse international law for their own purposes.

    it should also be noted that quite a lot of current conflicts stem from past actions of big powers.

  13. #28
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    what is international law? consensus worked out over centuries by govns with big armies to oppress those with lesser armies, the balance of which tradition we are attempting to navigate...& not very well...effectively there is very little international law & even less that is codified...

    whatever the term for what occurred in rwanda or what is currently occurring in sudan is irrelevant...half the time of the un is spent arguing this sort of semantic gibberish...

  14. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by rewch
    what is international law? consensus worked out over centuries by govns with big armies to oppress those with lesser armies, the balance of which tradition we are attempting to navigate...& not very well...effectively there is very little international law & even less that is codified...

    whatever the term for what occurred in rwanda or what is currently occurring in sudan is irrelevant...half the time of the un is spent arguing this sort of semantic gibberish...
    that's a bit harsh. there are numerous international treaties that are essentially progressive, even if they are abused. i also wouldn't say it's irrelevant what term is used to describe what is currently going on in darfur - for the reasons given on this thread by oliver craner (except if you think international law is irrelevant, of course).

  15. #30

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    The Americans were edgy about Milosevic anyway. Wes Clarke had a pretty disturbing on-the-record conversation with him. Serbs know how to handle Albanian nationalists, said Milosevic. They'd had some experience, after all. When? "Drenica, in 1946." How do you do it, asked Clark. "We kill all of them. It took several years, but we kill them all."

    He wasn't even a madman. like Mladic; he was more cold, more rational.

    Then there was Racak, wasn't there? The Albanian village put to the sword by a Serb armed unit? That's what spurred military action.

    It was ethnic cleansing, the bud of what happened in Bosnia - what had been allowed to happen. I don't even know if action against Kosovo was based on the Genocide Covention - I cannot see why it would not have been. Ethnic cleansing - that counts as genocide, as far as I'm aware. Regardless of Genocidal intent, the massacres were starting again.

    I am not aware, however, of a numerical threshold in the Genocide Convention. I'm certainly not aware of one that could be justified. It's not a question of, 500 are dead so let's get stuck in boys. It's not quantitative.

    The context of Kosovo was Bosnia. It is impossible to divorce the two. Kosovo was a late intervention in the Balkan Wars; it was haunted by what had previously happened when Milosevic unleashed Serb Nationalist forces in a crooked pact with Tudjman the fascist Croat. If you want to look at Kosova divorced from Bosnia, which I think is rather futile and conveniant (for you), then yes, in terms of bodycount, the genocidal attack on Racak hardly compares. But that's because we intervened!

    I agree with most of what you said in your response to me, hombre, it made more sense than the way you broke into this argument anyway, which rather took my breathe away. The biggest contention I have with you, it seems, is the idea that intervention in the Balkans or, if you want to see it so, Kosovo, was an abuse of power. How so? Who was being bullied? Milosevic? The KLA? Either way, the tyrants and terrorists were being bullied. Good.

    As for Darfur, read the Darfur thread. I also think it's important to look closely at who is fighting, killing, and being killed, as well as for what reason. I don't think genocide is the wrong word here, either. And there are plenty of cases in which it has been.

    The deathtoll in Iraq, for example, has nothing to do with genocide.

    Genocide: the deliberate extermination of a people or a nation. On the basis of who they are.

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