Friday, January 09, 2009

Foreign Policy Schmuckery

For as much as I understand conservative foreign policy doctrine since WWII, I've never really understand why anyone listens to them.  It basically boils down to strength through weakness.  In essence, America is so weak and desperate that we need to bribe dictators to be our friends and we can't even have diplomatic relations with anyone who isn't our friends, lest they totally take advantage of us and gain the upper hand.

And so the only card we have to play is to abstain from dealing with our enemies in the belief that doing so will weaken them enough that they'll finally capitulate and agree to be our friends.  And because these are evil people we can never trust, it's simply a matter of waiting until the people in those countries overthrow the evil regime and give us some leaders who we feel we can work with; even if that means we have to starve the people until they do it.  And again, that involves them giving leaders who are willing to give us everything we want, even if that means we need to bribe them to be our friends.

And put that way, it's obvious this is all batshit crazy.  Seriously.  This is the dumbest idea of foreign policy ever, yet it's been considered the only "serious" option by a large percentage of our country for far longer than I've been alive.  And even now with Obama stepping in with his "new" way of doing things, he still has to tiptoe around the idiocy of the "serious" people and pretend that they have some sort of merit.  Not that I'm blaming him for that, as he's just working with the cards he's got.  But it'd still be nice if he could just outright state how batshit crazy the whole thing is.

Legitimizing Enemies

I mean, I find it completely inexplicable that we still don't acknowledge the legitimacy of Iran's government.  I'm sorry, guys, but this is how it works.  They took over the country.  They've been controlling it for most of my life.  It's their fucking country.  They're the leaders we have to work with and pretending that they're not legitimate does nothing but make us look like idiots.  Not only does our obtuseness on this issue not delegitimize their leadership or destabilize their country, it just makes us look like a bunch of schmucks.  And I fail to understand how that possibly works to our advantage.

And I guess I forgot about this, but apparently we're still doing the same thing with Hamas.  Ok, I get it.  Hamas is a really bad group who has done really bad things.  But hey, they won an honest election that we helped set-up.  It was even predictable before the election that they had a good shot at winning and they won.  Now we've got to deal with it.  This wasn't some sort of violent coup or strongman who stepped into a powership vacuum.  They won an honest election.  They're the leaders.  And again, ignoring this just makes us look like schmucks.

And I just realized the other day that we finally won in Vietnam, thirty years after we left.  My kids were watching the Disney Channel and they gave a special food report from one of their kids from Disney Channel Vietnam.  That's right, they're now broadcasting The Suite Life of Zach & Cody to the poor citizens of Ho Chi Minh City.  Having seen the show a few times, I have little doubt that they were wishing for a bombing campaign instead.  I know I always do.

And as a reminder, in the case of Vietnam, we actually stifled the agreed-upon elections because we didn't like who they'd be electing, got stuck in the middle of a prolonged civil war that we helped create, and ended up with a ruined reputation and a disheartened military.  Yet thirty years after the communist's victory, we've got Disney set-up and destroying them from within.  Perhaps if we had allowed the commies to win by elections twenty years earlier, Disney could have set-up shop in the 80's instead.  But the hardcore conservatives insisted it would be weakness to allow the commies to win by democracy, so we had to fight a pointless war instead.  Some people never learn.

Friend or Foe

And yet Obama is still required to jump through hoops in order to even begin the process of engaging in diplomatic relations with a democratically elected government that's been in power for three years.  It's all about sending "secret envoys" and whatnot.  But what's the secret?  They're the fricking government, for christ's sake.  Everyone knows it.  And they'll stay the government whether we acknowledge it or not.  And the only thing that is delegitimized by these silly games is our own foreign policy.

And for as much as we pretend as if the world is a black-white situation of good allies and evil enemies, which necessitates and encourages such strong stands on diplomatic relations; it's obvious that the whole thing is a joke.  Many of our "allies" are anti-democracy thugs who torture and oppress their peoples, and the only thing that makes them "good" is that they like us.  But of course, the main reason they like us is because we're good to them and allow them to do the things that we use as the justification for calling our foes "evil."  And if we treated them the same way we treat these "evil" regimes, they'd all hate us.

And so these distinctions of good v. evil countries is entirely absurd and pointless.  And much of it is based entirely on past foreign policy mistakes that we're still not allowed to label as mistakes.  We totally bungled the whole Castro situation in Cuba, but we're still supposed to pretend as if our "wise" foreign policy is just about to topple his regime; if only we kept it going for a few more decades.  Yet, the very reasons we give for calling Castro "evil" are the same reasons why another dictator remains our friend: Because we ignore their evil behavior as a reward for remaining our friends.

The Eternal Struggles

And so the governments in Iran, Cuba, North Korea, and the Palestinian territories remain our eternal enemies, simply because they've always been our enemies.  And if we changed our tune and started treating them the way we treat some of our "allies" who oppress and torture their people, we'd be "weak" because we'd start treating them differently than we did in the past.  And forget about being allies with them, America's position is apparently so tenuous that we'd be weakened just by acknowledging that these governments are, in fact, the official leaders of these country.  Everyone in the world knows that the Iranian government is the government of Iran, but America is forced to continue to pretend it's not true.

And it's obvious that whatever else this ally v. foe policy does for us, it's not based upon any sort of rigid system of morality.  Hamas is a "terrorist" group because they attack people we don't want attacked.  Castro is "evil" because he took land from people we support.  Saddam was "good" when he attacked a country we hated, and became "bad" when he attacked a country we supported.  This isn't about right or wrong.  It's about supporting a position because it's the position we've always supported.  And for as much as it's taken for granted that this is the only wise position to take, I've never seen any decent explanation for how it makes any sense at all.  

We can just hope that with a more sensible president, we'll be seeing a more sensible foreign policy.  I'm not suggesting that Hamas should be our ally, but merely that we acknowledge the legitimacy of their power.  An ostrich might think it shows weakness to expose its head, but that doesn't make it any more secure.  And our refusal to deal with these countries denies us the very tools we can use to influence their behavior.  

Our enemies have proven without a shadow of a doubt that they can maintain power without America's economic assistance.  Perhaps it'd work better if we gave them a taste of what they're missing.  Before long, they'll be piping in the zany antics of Zack and Cody and we will know that the enemy is ours.


Tehanu said...

This is the best takedown of the neocon mindset I've seen in ages. Thanks!

Doctor Biobrain said...

Thanks, Tehanu. Though it should be pointed out that, technically, this isn't limited to neo-cons. This was started by the anti-communists, who were straight-up conservative. Nixon, for example, rode to fame with this balls-out lunacy, and he predated the neo-cons. But the neo-cons fully adopted this garbage and made it their own.

And it's important to remember its origins. Because this was never really meant to be a sensible foreign policy. This was meant to help them with domestic politics, so they could club Democrats for being "soft" on communism. And the Bushies made great use of that too. The difference is that Nixon and his gang knew that it was primarily for domestic politics and cared less about the foreign policy implications. They weren't looking for war, they just wanted something to use to fight back against the New Deal liberal Democrats. When Nixon warned us about losing Vietnam in the 50's, he wasn't planning an invasion. He was trying to scare people so they'd vote Republican. The war was a by-product of the policy; not the intent.

The Bushies actually imagined it was a good foreign policy that also happened to help them domestically once victory was secured. They went into the Whitehouse planning to ride their strongman foreign policy into another re-election. Not with scare tactics, but with outright victory, and they used the scare tactics to get the war. But it was never meant to work like that. Nixon talked tough against communists as a way of attacking liberals for not talking tough enough. And so I suppose the difference between the old school conservatives and the neo-conservatives is that the neo-conservatives never understood that the whole thing was a flim-flam. These people are generally humorless and took the whole thing much too seriously.