Friday, August 15, 2008

Being a Hawk Does Not Mean You're "Experienced"

I really have no patience for the "analysis" of Obama and McCain's statements on the situation in Georgia. I don't really understand why, as a foreign affairs event is breaking that could significantly effect our future foreign policy, pundits in the media immediately being to parse statements made by both candidates...NOT to determine what either of them might actually do once in office, but merely as yet another means to judge horserace between the candidates and make ridiculous and ill-informed comments about whose statement will benefit or hurt them at the polls (honestly, do they really think that what McCain and Obama say about a conflict that 25% of Americans care about in a country that probably only 10% of Americans could find on a map, is really going to have an impact on the outcome of the election?)

Of course, it's not as if the candidates aren't eager to play this game (though they have a better excuse, since their job right now is to get themselves elected.) But unlike idiot pundits whose commentary is worse than useless, we can actually learn something from what the candidates or their proxies say about their own reactions. Here for example, is some of what McCain has had to say about the situation in Georgia:

In often-lengthy remarks about Georgia this week on the campaign trail, McCain repeatedly talked of how many times he had been to the region, let it be known that he had talked daily with Saakashvili since the crisis began and made it clear that there had been times he thought Bush's response could have been stronger.

He provided a primer for why Americans should care about the "tiny little democracy" and tried to tie the foreign crisis with a domestic one: oil. Georgia is "part of a strategic energy corridor affecting individual lives far beyond" the region, he said.

"We want to avoid any armed conflict, and we will not have armed conflict," McCain said at a fundraiser yesterday in Edwards, Colo. "That's not the solution to this problem. But we have to stand up for freedom and democracy as we did in the darkest days."

And here's what the Republican's favorite Democratic, Joe Lieberman, has to say about McCain's comments:

Lieberman, one of McCain's most ardent and vocal supporters, responded by criticizing Obama's more cautious first statement on the Georgia situation an example of "moral neutrality" that showed his "inexperience."

That of course is just stupid. Lieberman, among others, would like you to believe as they do that the more "experienced" you are in foreign policy and military affairs, the more hawkish, resolute and confrontational you will be (or vice doesn't really matter for their purposes.) But as you'll note, decades of experience do not translate into hawkishness. As only one example, there's Zbigniew Brzezinski, who-unlike McCain or Liberman-believes that the Iraq war was folly. Brzezinski has long experience in the real of foreign policy, and is by no means considered a dove of any kind. In fact he's considered a "realist", someone who believes that states do (and largely should) act out of concern for their own national interests (which may include the propping up of distasteful dictators and intereference with other nation's democratically elected governments.)

Neoconservatism is something of a foreign policy philosophy, though in truth the term serves merely to dress up the idea that America should serve as the beacon of liberty and democracy in the world and that we should reserve the right to arrange world affairs in the manner that suits that notion or our own national interests (whichever one seems paramount at the moment, at least as far as can serve as the necessary justification for action.) As we've seen, neoconservatives are less likely to question our nation's motives (or their own), are more likely to call for confrontation with nations that defy our interests, more likely to pursue military solutions to all sorts of foreign policy questions, view the world in starker terms than realists do, and believe to one extent or another that foreign policy is the only truly interesting realm of human affairs since it permits all sorts of crusades for light, goodness, liberty, democracy, freedom etc., etc., and allows them to plant themselves firmly at the center of the drama that is human history. They are less likely to be concerned with (or even understand) the limits of the usefulness of military action, are less concerned with the damage to our nation's "reputation", are sneering and dismissive of international institutions that exist to foster cooperation among states, and in general believe that no power either foreign or domestic should operate to restrain our military activity overseas. In other words, they are children. They are simple-minded, uncomfortable with nuance or complexity, they like to tell others what to do, and they don't like to be told what to do by others, and they think they are always right. They are the kind of people who-in other settings-want to be the team captain even though they are obviously least qualified, want to pick fights with people because they think it makes them look "tough" (when it actually makes them look insecure), and are dismissive of people who try to get along with others. They're the kind who, when you're sitting around the table gaming, always want to attack the bad guy even if it's likely to get their character killed, because they have no patience for any other approach. In fact, the neocon hawk is exactly like that. They always want to attack the bad guy because they don't really have anything personally to lose; it's always somebody else getting killed for their vision of the shining (and powerful and always right) city on the hill. And if the war they agitated for is lost, then it's always somebody else's fault.

This is what Lieberman, and others, tout as "experience." After decades of foreign policy awareness and activity, after personally fighting in the most disastrous war in American history, after living as a POW for years in North Vietnam, after witnessing the failure that was the invasion of Iraq that he personally called for, the conclusion that McCain has arrived at is that we need to use MORE military force in the world, that we should confront countries head-on with inflammatory language even when we don't actually have the power to make them change their behavior, and that every foreign policy crisis should be viewed through the lens of "freedom" and "liberty" even when none of the actual participants view it that way. Does this sound like someone who has learned anything from their decades of "experience"? Does this sound like the way an adult should think, or does this sound like the thinking of a child?


Mariamariacuchita said...

Thanks for writing this great analysis. I had not seen Liebermann's comments. He just wants McCan't to make him the next VP, no?

Nat-Wu said...

Nice smackdown, bro.

Xanthippas said...


Yes, that's almost certainly the case. Lieberman's nose is practically up McCain's ass at this point.