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November 16, 2004

Comments

A post like this would be much improved by actual knowledge of Carter's foreign policy. Please rewrite, after studying the issue.

Personally, I think it is mostly a marketing issue. I mean, Bush just came out and said the number one problem is nuclear proliferation...exactly what Kerry said in the debates.

I know this seems like an unusually dead horse to bother beating, but American foreign policy would be best served by having two parties both strong on national security

Absolutely, and I don't think it's a dead horse at all.

The problem is that the party that's weak on national security is (a) less interested in being strong on national security than in delivering a marketing message and (b) currently has control of both houses and the administration.

The Republican Party leadership has no reason to be strong on national security while being strong on marketing serves them so well.

The definition of strong republican foreign policy:

We are willing to send your kids to die in our wars.

A passing familiarity with the foreign policies of Harry Truman and John Kennedy would also be a real advantage. But just to bring you up to speed: Truman sent US troops to war against Soviet-backed Communist troops in a small country called "Korea", situated on the left-hand side (west) of the Pacific Ocean. He also involved a lot of airplanes in something called the "Berlin Airlift." Berlin is in "Germany", a country in "Europe" on the right-hand side of the Atlantic Ocean. Kennedy backed US involvement in a small Communist-ruled island called "Cuba", and two larger countries called "Vietnam" and "Laos", also against Communists. Cuba is south of the USA, near Florida, and Vietnam and Laos are also on the left-hand side of the Pacific Ocean.
You may also want to read a Very Important Paper by a man called George Kennan. This is called "The Sources of Soviet Conduct" and was used as the foundation of US policy towards the USSR by presidents from Truman on.

Sebastian, the horse is truly destined for the glue factory. First of all however, the selling of the president - the campaign, the ads, the posturing - falls into its predictable place in our tabloid society. Yglesias' piece on marketing a brand is not new, now dating back to Nixon's campaign. You still have to have a product. You say "The Democrats have acquired a weak brand in foreign policy because they have allowed themselves to be tightly associated with elements that much of the American public strongly dislikes". I believe it's deeper than that. The Democratic base and believe system is populist. This is not to condemn any piece or part of what populist may mean. But to take advantage of a populist condition, you have to feed that position to some extent. Unions must keep workers believing that conditions will be worse without them. The minority elite must feed their flock with doom and gloom and promote the very condition they claim to stand against. Those that profit from the elderly must maintain the fear that comes naturally to those getting on in years. And the poor must be convinced they are entitled to the rewards of the hard work of others. This is their 'brand'. Actually I believe derivatives of all of these positions are necessary. Sometimes it seems, the treatment of the symptoms represses the cure. So now I catch up with you. When national security rears it's ugly head, the Democrat's are a duck out of water. Kerry quacked and flapped and sputtered. Most could not believe what he was selling, I imagine not even many who voted for him. The Democrat 'brand' does not lend itself to 'buyers' shopping for that feature, regardless of felixrayman's fond memories of the Carter administration. (Mine are the failure of Salt II, the disaster in the desert, no Olympics, long gas lines and malaise!) And I think there was one more feature the Republican 'brand' has. Some sense that entitlements can be controlled. That is my take on moral values. This country needs a strong parent. A parent who can administer tough love. A leader who can make necessary unpopular decisions. Who knows, in 2008 we may need a different 'brand'. But it's not just in the marketing. American citizen shoppers know how to shop. They know what they need. And they buy what they want. They did it this time and they'll do it next time. And we trust, far into the future.

Ah.... time for an antidote.

it's an issue of style over substance...Americans seems to prefer style...spoils to the winners...until the Empire falls that is.

This country needs a strong parent. A parent who can administer tough love.

hey, i thought all the elites were supposed to be on the left!

I love that website, Dutchmarbel.

Sebastian, policies are also branded. Knee-jerk hawkism was branded as a "strong" foreign policy by Nixon in the Vietnam years despite the fact that knee-jerk hawkism had lead to the disaster of Vietnam. The same knee-jerk hawkism has been held up as the core of the Republican "strength" on foreign policy for thirty years. This is the underlying "gut level" defense of the war in Iraq: we may have invaded the wrong place at the wrong time, but dammit, at least we invaded somewhere.

It's just as disastrous as knee-jerk dovism, only it comes with a higher price and a lot more bodies - but knee-jerk dovism has been branded as "weak," as Nixon needed to do to discredit his critics in Vietnam. One thing Republicans have refused to brand as strong foreign policy, however, is simply being smart about where you put your military, and with good reason: that would raise the bar on military intervention from having the will to merely invade somewhere - which, as history has demonstrated, really isn't that much will at all - to having the competence and intelligence to pick the right fight, and to win that fight - something much rarer. It's a lot easier, as we've seen with this president, to talk tough, than it is to be tough.

That is my take on moral values. This country needs a strong parent. A parent who can administer tough love.

No surprise here. Republicans have been clamoring for a Daddy-state in large numbers for years. It's conservatives who are the dying breed.

Edward, empires, if you think we are one, do fall, or are knocked down. Interesting you think George Bush had more style than John Kerry. Ouch! I thought it was substance this time.

And Hi! cleek. You and haven't met. Did you really mean that, or were you just trying to be clever? Look out for that dreaded family lobby or those leaders trying to encourage people to better themselves and stand up on their own. Yeah Blog? How about those people that help people stand, you'll put them out of work. Life is tough enough without artificially padding those that are truly less fortunate. And cleek, 'ol buddy, you're absolutely right. Elitists know no bounds. I'm pretty sure I'm not one, though. Blog on!

"And I think there was one more feature the Republican 'brand' has. Some sense that entitlements can be controlled."

It's amazing that the brand still means that to you, since it was the Republicans who enacted the largest entitlement program in the last 30 years, not to mention their continued feeding of the corporate farmers at the trough. In fact, in the four years the Republicans have had control of both the executive and the legislative branches, can you name one thing they have done to control entitlements?

Oops, that's right, it's not about doing anything-- it's just about maintaining the brand.

I also find it amusing that while Sebastian claims the Democrats did not do enough to object to the Soviet Union, you complain that there were no Olympics under Carter. Of course, the first Olympics under Reagan were a stunning success, but I guess that's just more evidence that the Republican brand is a good one.

Gosh I'm bubbly today. Iron Lung, you say "It's just as disastrous as knee-jerk dovism, only it comes with a higher price and a lot more bodies." I'm not so sure that's true.

Ouch! I thought it was substance this time.

If you could, BBman, please let me know exactly what new "substance" George Bush promised with regards to the following in his campaign:

- troop levels in Iraq and military overstretch
- Israel/Palestine
- Iran
- North Korea
- Pakistan
- Saudi Arabia
- nuclear proliferation
- systemic torture and civil rights abuses in the US military (I'm presuming for the sake of argument that torture and civil rights abuses are not official policy - because surely no one human would knowingly vote for a man they believed to be an active advocate of torture)
- the increased marginalization of moderate muslims in the Arab world

...I would love to hear it, because from where I was watching, that man spit out one bland catchphrase after another for the entire campaign. If he has a plan to deal with any of this, beyond "staying the course," he has kept it a closely-guarded secret.

I also find it amusing that while Sebastian claims the Democrats did not do enough to object to the Soviet Union, you complain that there were no Olympics under Carter.

If I remember correctly he thought handing ownership of the iraqi oil to the iraqi people was a good idea, but he still despizes communism.

Dutchmarbel (who does not see *anything* good in the foreign policy of Bush unless one loves being perceived as a country with much more muscle than brain)

Iron Lung, you say "It's just as disastrous as knee-jerk dovism, only it comes with a higher price and a lot more bodies." I'm not so sure that's true.

The argument against knee-jerk dovism is, according to the branding, that it "demonstrates our weakness to the world," or some absurd piffle like that. This line of attack truly is absurd; who's gunning for the exposed underbelly of the Swiss? The real argument against knee-jerk dovism is that it amounts to mere isolationism, and reduces to moral cowardice in the face of a genuine opportunity to act (such as the chance to stop an ongoing genocide).

The argument against knee-jerk hawkism, however, is that not only does it show our brutality - which encourages reactive anti-Americanism in the form of terror, like we're seeing in Fallujah and throughout Iraq and in the record boost to al Qaeda recruitment, and discourages alliances which we need to fight that reactive anti-Americanism - but that in going to a "default-attack" stance, we make mistakes... a ton of mistakes. We wage the wrong wars, we invade the wrong countries. We fight wars we can't win. We DON'T fight wars we SHOULD be fighting, because we can't be everywhere at once. We lose the credibility to fight future wars that would be necessary. And we massively damage our credibility in the eyes of the world - at least as much or moreso than if we'd just stayed at home (again, Switzerland is sitting pretty right now).

The difference between the two? A ton of money, and a ton of bodies. I take it back: knee-jerk hawkism is FAR more dangerous than knee-jerk dovism.

systemic torture and civil rights abuses in the US military (I'm presuming for the sake of argument that torture and civil rights abuses are not official policy - because surely no one human would knowingly vote for a man they believed to be an active advocate of torture)

Yeah, the uproar about withholding medical aid from people in Fallujah is really deafening.

Yeah, the uproar about withholding medical aid from people in Fallujah is really deafening.

What? What does that have to do with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo?

Iron, maybe it's the 'knee-jerk' connotation. Sticking closer to Sebastian's thread, can America successfully navigate it's global position and whatever national security means these days without demonstrating it's military power. You speak of dovism and fighting the right wars. Do we fight any wars? I realize that we hold ourselves up for contempt by the very nature of being 'powerful'. Can we be successful without being powerful? Do we want to be Switzerland? Can we be? War is brutal, and we do send brutes to war. But are we consider brutes to the world? I don't believe that. Will this fight prevent other fights? I think it could, unless, as some hope, our resolve disinigrates within itself. What I get from Sebastian's post, is that we'd accomplish that very result most successfully if the world didn't dare think that was even glimmer of a possibility? Did the Democratic political party even consider that an option that would strengthen the American position in the world and actully bolster their position in 2008, or was it all politics all the time. No holds barred in the last election to get elected. I support George Bush because he was willing to lose the election believing he was right about our current state of national security. I didn't support John Kerry because he wanted only to be elected. He was neither a dove or a hawk - he was the candidate. True doves will keep us honest. True hawks will keep us safe. We need them both.

I'm not arguing for us to be Switzerland; I was arguing - in the abstract - that being Switzerland is better than having the Bush Doctrine, wherein we waste our political, military, and diplomatic capital on a fool's errand, on a mission that takes us nowhere, that wastes the lives of our soldiers and the lives of countless Iraqis, at the price of countless opportunities to actually make our nation stronger. Isolationists and Libertarians want us to be Switzerland - a complete withdrawal. I'm not calling for that.

I'm arguing for us to be SMART. Not to make a "show of force" - and let's be clear, George Bush, by blundering into Iraq has done the exact opposite of showing force - he's shown weakness. The whole world is reminded once again of what the once-omnipotent American superpower can't do, we're being frustrated by terrorists with homemade bombs - but to actually use force where it counts. If we'd put our military and diplomatic might - the global unanimity of purpose we had following 9/11 - into actually finding and wiping out the terrorists that attacked us, we might have been able to cripple al Qaeda by now, instead of acting as the world's most expensive recruitment poster. We might be able to put some muscle behind the limp-to-nonexistent diplomacy we've used in facing Iran and North Korea. We might have the stomach to get tough with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia - the real kingpins of Islamist terror - and halt the money train to al Qaeda.

You talk in abstracts, about "being powerful" and "being successful." Step back from abstracts and look at the reality. There is no success, no power, in where George Bush has taken this country. It's a dead end.

Blogbudsman: But are we consider brutes to the world? I don't believe that.

Why don't you believe that?

The rest of the world saw that the Bush administration believes that torture is a valid means of inquiry: that kidnapping is a valid method of getting terrorist suspects to prison camps: that non-Americans may be detained and tortured for an indefinite period of time without access to any legal representation: that the Geneva Conventions are outmoded: all the horrors the US military are inflicting in Iraq, a country which was no threat to the US: and then the rest of the world saw that, apparently 51% of those who voted in the US elections approved this brutish behavior, and wanted four more years of it. (And 50% of the US electorate didn't care enough about this brutish behavior to vote against it.)

So, what are your reasons for believing that the rest of the world doesn't perceive Americans as brutes? The Sorry Everybody website, which I admit is lovely?

Ameicans love a winner and hate a loser. Many Americans don't care what we fight for as long as we win. The Rethugs are perceived as strong on defense only because they advocate "winning" under all circumstances including those where there is nothing to win. Democrats think, evaluate and recognize unpleasant facts and, therefore, are able to acknowledge a losing proposition when they see one. What hapened between 1968 and 1972 is Congress realized that our reasons for fighting in Viet Nam didn't match the facts. Democrats learned that people in the Third World are far more concerned with their own nationalism than power games between us and the Soviets. Rethugs declared victory, pulled out, and blamed the defeat on the Democrats without learning anything.
Throughtout the Reagan years the REthugs continued to misinterpet civil wars and revolutions in the Third World as proxy fights with the Russians. They also continued to lie to us, using the "we are for democracy" slogan now being used to justify our invasion of Iraq. The most blatant example was Reagan's support for the Somocistas against the Sandinistas. The Sandinistas won, allowed themselves to be voted out of power, and Nicaragua did not become a Russian satellite, no thanks to Bonzo.
The "Republicans are strong on defense" thing is just a marketing ploy. In fact Rethugs have never understood foreign affairs, never respected the natinalistic feelings of other people, and never truthfully outlined their goals to the American people. They just seem stronger because they say they are.

wonkie,

terms like "Rethugs" will get you banned here. Please read the posting rules and adhere to them.

Thanks

OK Iron Lung, let's argue (me in abstract, you in absolutes)...

"I'm arguing for us to be SMART. Not to make a "show of force""

OK, force is out...continue.

"- and let's be clear, George Bush, by blundering into Iraq has done the exact opposite of showing force - he's shown weakness."

That's not really clear, but let me hang in there...

"The whole world is reminded.."

Ah, yes, the 'whole world'...uh huh...

"...once again of what the once-omnipotent American superpower can't do,..."

Once-omnipotent...wasn't the Britain and France? And Spain?


"...we're being frustrated by terrorists with homemade bombs..."

I kinda felt the USE of diplomacy was causing that. If it was just a military solution, those issues would've been resolved months ago.

"... - but to actually use force where it counts. If we'd put our military and diplomatic might - the global unanimity of purpose we had following 9/11 - into actually finding and wiping out the terrorists that attacked us,..."

I'm guessing you're referring to Afghanistan. Seems we're doing pretty well there. The 1500 miles of historically impenetrable mountains are truly a challenge. I'll admit global unanimity did not include interceding Saddams mutually beneficially relationship with France, Germany and Russia.

"we might have been able to cripple al Qaeda by now,..."

al Qaeda seems to be quite crippled.

"...instead of acting as the world's most expensive recruitment poster..."

I subscribe to the flypaper theory, so we'll probably not agree here. Let's move on.

"We might be able to put some muscle behind the limp-to-nonexistent diplomacy we've used in facing Iran and North Korea. We might have the stomach to get tough with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia - the real kingpins of Islamist terror - and halt the money train to al Qaeda."

Musclular diplomacy(don't do it Slart)against NK and Iran? What do you mean by that? And Pakistan and Saudi seem to be very uncomfortable in their skin these days. One money train at a time.

I don't think your absolutes hold any more or less water than my abstracts. What isn't abstract is that 60 million voting Americans (times four - the family factor - 240 million to 60 something) believe otherwise and terrorism is either dead, on the run or living in rat holes. Sorry everyone. Gotta run.

Blogbuds: I subscribe to the flypaper theory

Remember, when you subscribe to that theory, you unsubscribe to any theory that there was any humanitarian motive in invading Iraq: you are asserting that the US invaded Iraq in order to use it as a killing ground, civilian lives be damned.

Remind me again: So, what are your reasons for believing that the rest of the world doesn't perceive Americans as brutes?

Jesurgislac, not all of us strong, well intended, optimistic and hansome guys are brutes. We're just trying to do what's right. I trust that most of the world's citizens that don't have ulterior motives or that don't get all their news from CNN, CBS and the New York Times know the difference. And I don't unsubscribe to anything, I can multi task. And I'll leap over your 'be damned' argument by expressing how impressive it is that Iraqi citizens continue to line up to join the ranks of soldier and policemen, in spite of the heinous murderous actions of our enemies there. Neighborhoods are joining together to oust terrorists and make their cities safer. Their actions speak louder than your words.

Blogbusdman, you don't live in reality.

Last year, "significant" terrorist attacks were at a 21-year high. They show no signs of decreasing.

The flypaper theory is a joke, and a poor one. It's predicated on the notion that (1) there are a finite number of terrorists, (2) that American military intervention will not or cannot provoke new terrorist incidents, and (3) that the Iraqi insurgency is being fueled, to a large degree, by foreign fighters. In the wake of Falluja, we know that (3) isn't the case - most insurgents are home-grown. Why did these Iraqis take up arms against the US? They're not all Baathist dead-enders. Some are religious extremists. But a lot are just nationalists who just want us to get out - and they're going to be there as long as we're there. In recognition of this, (1) and (2) are likewise false. Our invasion has created terrorists where there were no terrorists before.

If this is true of Iraq, you can be damn sure it's true of al Qaeda, which has used Iraq in every piece of propaganda they've put out since the war. The images of US soldiers shelling mosques and trampling in holy sites was more than enough - but we went and gave them Abu Ghraib, and photo after photo of muslim men naked, tortured, debased, stuffed into bags. We have gleefully made ourselves into the caricature of the bullying Crusader army bin Laden speaks of.

And you think Al Qaeda is crippled. Who was it who sent us an early Christmas card right before the election? When the unthinkable happens - when a suitcase nuke goes off in the states - it'll be set off by al Qaeda, and it'll be in part because we've done jack to keep nuclear material out of their hands - or anyone's hands, for that matter.

With regards to negotiation and "muscular" diplomacy: you can't use "carrot and stick" diplomacy if you have no stick. We've broken ours in Iraq. What threat, short of nuclear bombardment, are we holding over North Korea right now? They know that war isn't an option for us, because they know that we can't wage war on them because our military is in Iraq. We can launch tactical strikes on Iran; this would undoubtably escalate into a full-blown war we simply do not have the troops to fight. This is what it means to feel the limits of being a world power. This is what it means to live in reality.

You don't live in reality. You live in a bizarre hawk fantasy land where we can afford to launch a few thousand bombs wherever we want to, bury a couple thousand soldiers and a couple hundred thousand of theirs whenever we like, and still come out stronger in the end. That isn't foreign policy. It's a wasteland.

Iraqi citizens continue to line up to join the ranks of soldier and policemen

Iraqi policemen are routinely calling in sick for work for fear of getting killed.

Sebastian, look to the beam in thy own eye before the mote in they neighbor's.

I agree that the Dems need to improve on foreign policy, but posts saying that we're weak because we opposed Iran Contra (I think you're talking about the contras) & a long record of completely ignoring the errors of the administration and party controlling the U.S. government in order to blame everything on Clinton, Carter and the Europeans just make me angry. It devolves into point scoring.

What errors has BUSH made in foreign policy? Or don't you think there are any?

"'...we're being frustrated by terrorists with homemade bombs...'

I kinda felt the USE of diplomacy was causing that. If it was just a military solution, those issues would've been resolved months ago."

Maybe I am misunderstanding you, but this sounds uncomfortably similar to LGF eliminationist "reasoning," i.e., we wouldn't have these problems if we just dropped a couple of nuclear bombs on Muslim Arab countries. Please tell me you mean something else, because it sure doesn't seem to me that the US army is operating under any significant "diplomatic" constraints.

One should note that one of Reagan's greatest policy successes wrt the Soviet Union, if not the greatest, was his successful diplomatic engagement with Gorbachev. This contributed significantly to the fact that the Soviet Union went out with a whimper and not a bang. Reagan recognized that Gorbachev, unlike his predecessors, was a leader who could in fact be trusted to keep his word and wanted to change things for the better, and that treaties signed with him were really worth something. He insisted on this in the teeth of much howling from the "Team B" ultrahawks who claimed that Gorbachev's opening to the West was just a ruse meant to disguise some further nefarious plans.

There's a lesson in this that Sebastian apparently has not learned.

I think the point of how Truman and Kennedy dealt with foreign policy is dealt with well in my sentence: "The post-Vietnam Democratic Party has associated with and promoted elements with a strong pacifistic bent."

If you are going to take the branding metaphor at all, you should realize that a good brand name doesn't last forever in the face of poor performance.

Someguy, the Democrats weren't weak JUST because of Iran-Contra. They were weak because of the entire philosophy which led to their willingness to abandon South America to Communism. The same philosophy which thought that unilateral disarmament was a good thing to advocate. Their willingness to hang the Contras out to dry was a symptom of their passivity in the face of Communism. It was that passive philosophy which ruined the Democratic brand on foreign policy. It has not been seriously dealt with, which has led to the continuation of the bad reputation.

Sorry about the bandwidth O-6. You and I both live in reality Iron Lung. And perception is reality. I'll bite. Last year 100 less people died in significant terrorist attacks which numbered 5 more from the year before. At least one of those mentioned in the corrected number was in Saudi Arabia, a country where some support terrorism. And I kind of agree with the flypaper theory being a joke, but if it does work, I support it. And I truly doubt that many of the murderous forces killing mostly Iraqi's are Iraqi nationalists fighting for the honor of their country. And I can't argue against what al Qaeda chooses to use for propaganda, gift wrapped or otherwise. Photo ops abound world wide. I don't see that as an arguement for anything. And what is keeping NK and Iran at bay - the U.N.? The French? Lung old boy (girl, people person), I'm still not sure what you're arguing FOR. Was Iraq a mistake because we should be attacking North Korea? Iran? Hopefully we don't have to do either. Hopefully, when the U.N. is purged of it's totally corrupt evolvement, they will be able to stand down these rogue countries with muscular diplomacy backed by a great coalition of free societies. That's my reality, thanks to America's resolve and great leader's that have surfaced in the right place at the right time all through our illustrious history. (Sorry Everyone)

So you are pro-Iran contra....there's not going to be a lot of common ground to share with you, here, and I see little point in reliving the hits of the 1980s. I agree that Carter and Clinton were lousy at foreign policy and we don't give it enough attention and it hurts us. That's as far as it goes, and believe me, you're not the one to convince me of that.

Why do you focus 99% of your critcism on an out of power party to which you don't belong, and less-powerful-than-us foreign countries whose policies you have little chance of influencing? You want to talk about everything but what Bush has actually done.

Someguy, the Democrats weren't weak JUST because of Iran-Contra.

Let me emerge for one last round of equine thanatopsy to ask: are you seriously asserting that Iran-Contra was a good thing? Are you seriously asserting that the scandal that made actual, honest-to-God criminals and possibly even traitors to the United States out of dozens of government officials was somehow justified? Because if you are, I'd love to hear your rationale.

It may seem counterproductive to help Bush become successful, but it would allow you to A) make things better and B) defeat the idea that the Democratic Party can't be trusted with foreign policy.

I believe the obligation is to help the country be successful. You are beginning from the assumption that Bush's policies are wise, so you conclude it would be a good idea for Democrats to support them. If one thinks Bush's policies are foolish, then isn't it appropriate to criticize them in the interests of national security?

Yeah, I seemed to have skipped over the "why were Democrats angry at Reagan?" bit, too. Iran-Contra wasn't just bad foreign policy; it wasn't just weak foreign policy; it was treason. What other word describes selling weapons to terrorists and using the proceeds to funnel money to other terrorists? All this is to say nothing of the Reagan Administration's unflagging support of Saddam Hussein. Remember him?

I'm seriously asserting that the Democratic Party post-Vietnam decision to support a policy of allowing the USSR to support violent revolutions throughout the world without serious (i.e non-paper) opposition from America is one of the key reasons why Democrats aren't trusted with foreign policy. That distrust is well earned and Democrats have done practically nothing to show that their awful instincts in that arena have changed.

Their intentional throwing of the Contras to the wolves was one of hundreds of horrifically bad decisions which were symptomatic of their retreat from engaging against one of the most bloodthirsty regimes in the world.

And it is that long-time retreat, and that over-trusting in treaties combined with an unwillingness to enforce them (see especially the history of the NPT) which has led to Democrats having an awful reputation on foreign policy.

Why do I care? I care because I think that we would be far more likely to get an excellent foreign policy if the Democrats could credibly engage in the process.

"I believe the obligation is to help the country be successful. You are beginning from the assumption that Bush's policies are wise, so you conclude it would be a good idea for Democrats to support them. If one thinks Bush's policies are foolish, then isn't it appropriate to criticize them in the interests of national security?"

Sure. And if you criticize them from an approach which doesn't retreat from the problems in the world, which doesn't abdicate responsibility to foreign powers who don't want to help, which doesn't pretend that Iran decided to seek nukes because of Bush, and which realizes that credible threats of military power are key to many diplomatic exchanges--especially with authoritarian governments, we might be on our way to useful criticism instead of carping.

The reason I complain about the danger of trusting the international treaty systems (like the NPT) is becaue so many people still trust them to protect us. If the international institutions refuse to enforce them--and they do--they are worse than useless. Trusting in them is the exact opposite of reality-based foreign policy.

Someguy: You want to talk about everything but what Bush has actually done.

Of course Sebastian doesn't want to talk about what Bush has actually done. Why would any Bush supporter want to talk about such a depressing, reality-based subject?

Dutchmarbel: Yeah, the uproar about withholding medical aid from people in Fallujah is really deafening.

IL:What? What does that have to do with Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo?

abuse of human rights by the military

And why, Sebastian, should we take seriously someone who thinks that not supporting the Contras was a "horrifically bad decision"? The Contras were a bunch of thugs fighting a democratically elected government. The Sandinistas were themselves no prize, but they came to power by overthrowing a vicious right-wing dictator, they promised and held elections every six years-- winning the first of these in 1984 and losing the second in 1990, and duly giving up power when they lost-- and they were not at all the Soviet puppets that the Team B crazies made them out to be.

More generally, why should we take seriously someone who thinks that propping up the Operation Condor dictators and the death squad dispatchers was a good idea, and smears the opponents of this wretched, criminal policy as wanting to "abandon South America to Communism"?

Sebastian: it's worth noting that for someone urging a tougher policy on Iran, your position on Iran-contra is, quite frankly, idiotic. Let's see ... besides rewarding a hostile regime for engaging in terrorism, it actually pushed the regime further towards radicalism once the plot was made public, served to confirmed the dangerous Iranian belief that the US is a paper tiger, undermined US efforts to persuade other countries not to sell weapons to IRan, and on and on and on. Not to mention that it was a total swindle, and the last hostage weren't actually released until December 1991.

I don't mind talking about what Bush has done, not that it is likely to help Democrats understand why their party isn't trustworthy on foreign policy. He successfully invaded Afghanistan and scattered the group which was using it as a safe haven. He did so despite the fact that both of the previous major powers who attempted to do so failed utterly. He did so without it becoming the quagmire that so many on your side of the fence predicted. He did so without much effective help from the international community. He also destroyed Saddam's power base and captured him. He is currently engaged in warfare against those who don't want to see a successful post-Saddam Iraq. Most of his mistakes in that area are mistakes of not going far enough--not dealing with Sadr soon enough and not dealing with Fallujah soon enough. The Democratic leaning would have led to even more extreme mistakes in both of those areas.

That was a fun digression from the topic of why the Democratic Party has a 30+ year of being untrustworthy on foreign policy.

Nicholas Weininger, "The Sandinistas were themselves no prize, but they came to power by overthrowing a vicious right-wing dictator, they promised and held elections every six years-- winning the first of these in 1984..."

Saddam also held elections quite frequently. The Sandinistas imprisoned and killed their opponents. Winning such an election has very little to do with being what you call a "democratically elected government". Your argument is quite common in Democratic circles, and it reveals yet again why the Democratic party was not and is not trustworthy on foreign policy. It is reminiscent of a discussion I had with a leftist on Crooked Timber, John Quiggin, where he suggested that if a US republic is ok he couldn't understand why we would object to a "People's Republic" like China. If you are fooled by mere names it is easy to understand why you can put so much trust in tissue-paper treaties.

I see. You think Republicans are trustworthy on foreign policy because from time to time they turn on the dictators they help prop up.

As for the 1984 election, 400 international observers including the British concluded it was without a doubt a fair election, although not a perfect one.

So, Republicans, including many of the exact same Republicans now in power, propped up Saddam while they full well knew he was committing the acts they later claimed justified an invasion, and they still can't face up to the fact that they preferred dictatorship to fair elections in Latin America. Add on top of that the fact they subverted the United States Constitution to provide terrorists with weapons.

One of the parties is untrustworthy on foreign policy, all right.

"As for the 1984 election, 400 international observers including the British concluded it was without a doubt a fair election, although not a perfect one."

You are dramatically overstating their conclusions. The observers were interested in verfiying the 'fairness' of the ballot collection and counting process. Imprisoning, beating and killing your opponents before election day doesn't show up on the 'fairness' scale of those observers.

You are dramatically overstating their conclusions

No actually, I was stating the conclusion of news reports discussing the results of the election.

As for the rest of your comment, Ronald Reagan was funding, both illegally and legally, a bloody guerilla war (including terrorist attacks on civilians) against the Sandinistas, and you point out that the election occurred against a backdrop of violence. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi might whinge about violence leading up to elections in Iraq, as well, to similar comedic effect.

The Contras' brutal practices of attacks on rural cooperatives, villages, and clinics, often involving the deaths of civilians and the torture and killing of Sandinista officials and soldiers, brought accusations that the Contras were conducting a deliberate campaign of terrorism. cite

Because of their opposition to the Sandinista revolution, the insurgents became known as the "Contras" (an abbreviation of contrarrevolucionario). The Sandinistas condemned the contras as terrorists, and their attacks on civilians were also condemned by numerous human rights organizations. In 1982, under pressure from Congress, the US State Department declared Contra activities terrorism. The Congressional intelligence committee demonstrated that they had "raped, tortured and killed unarmed civilians, including children..." and that "...groups of civilians, including women and children, were burned, dismembered, blinded and beheaded." After the U.S. Congress prohibited federal funding of the Contras in 1983, the Reagan administration continued to back the Contras by covertly selling arms to Iran and channelling the proceeds to the Contras. cite

You're arguing that Reagan did right to support the contras because the Sandinistas committed atrocities. Yet the contras also committed atrocities. Between the the choice of supporting a democratically-elected government and supporting a terrorist group who attack civilians, which should a responsible government choose?

Precisely. That's why the Reagan-era Republicans (and those who still support their policy of supporting terrorism) can never be trusted on foreign policy: there is too strong a tradition - as we see with your defense of Reagan's support for terrorism against democracy - of being weak on terrorism, weak on democracy.

I care because I think that we would be far more likely to get an excellent foreign policy if the Democrats could credibly engage in the process.

Engagement takes two, Sebastian. Do you seriously claim that Bush is going to listen to and act on any advice from any Democrat that he does not already agree with?

As far as I can tell, perception equals reality.

Sebastian for some reason perceives Dems as being weak on foreign policy, so every fp decision is viewed thru that prism. Reagan is, therefore, a GIANT who never faltered nor wavered (even though there is substantial evidence that he did both) and all dems are spineless multi-lateralists reliant only on useless treaties (despite substantial evidence to the contrary).

Moderates might argue that there is no consistent theory of foreign policy in either party, and look to the lack of nuclear war and the uncertain spread of democracy in, say, South Africa, as significant bi-partisan successes, with much of the credit actually belonging to the locals and not the american president.

Democratic partisans might argue that republican foreign policy, especially with regard to the fighting of proxy wars against purportedly communist regimes has done far more harm than good, been incredibly bloodthirsty, and has grossly interfered with the single most important right of any group of persons -- the right of self-determination.

eh. if you want to believe dems are weak on foreign policy, there is ample evidence. but please recognize that reasonable persons can differ, in reliance on the exact same evidence.

Francis

"Between the the choice of supporting a democratically-elected government and supporting a terrorist group who attack civilians, which should a responsible government choose?"

I'm sorry, weren't we talking about the Sandinistas? Then why are we pretending "democratically-elected government"?


"Democratic partisans might argue that republican foreign policy, especially with regard to the fighting of proxy wars against purportedly communist regimes has done far more harm than good, been incredibly bloodthirsty, and has grossly interfered with the single most important right of any group of persons -- the right of self-determination."

I'm sorry were we talking about the Sandinistas? Because if so, why are we talking about 'self-determination'?

You are guilty of obfuscation if you use terms like 'democratically elected' or 'self-determined' in the context of this discussion.

Which, once again, nay continually, makes my very point.

I think that there are sufficient examples of US interference in Africa, Central America, South America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the Asian-Pacific nations since WWII to make my point. But feel free to blow one example grossly out of proportion.

"Which, once again, nay continually, makes my very point."

Francis

"Reagan is, therefore, a GIANT who never faltered nor wavered (even though there is substantial evidence that he did both) and all dems are spineless multi-lateralists reliant only on useless treaties (despite substantial evidence to the contrary)."

Who would claim that? I have repeatedly argued that Regan was part of a long continuum of Presidents who dealt poorly with the Middle East. I believe that his choice to withdraw from Lebanon, like Carter's idiocy with Iran, like Bush's poor choice vis-a-vis Iraq, and like Clinton's pathetic cruise missile throw-away campaign, they all contributed to the horribly dangerous myth that the US could not be resolute in the face of even minor casualties. Like Carter, Reagan at least had the excuse of having to deal with Cold War calculations along the way, but he still ended up contributing to the dangerous perception of the US having a glass jaw in the Middle East.

As for "and all dems are spineless multi-lateralists reliant only on useless treaties (despite substantial evidence to the contrary)."

I wouldn't say 'all', but I would suggest that many are multi-lateralists who foolishly rely mainly on useless treaties and unfortunately there is not substantial evidence to the contrary. The NPT is a huge failure, and it is constantly lauded as a great diplomatic triumph. Same with the Agreed Framework. Apparently diplomats really are silver-tongued, they can convince each other that horrific failures are diplomatic triumphs and maintain the fantasy for decades.

I'm sorry, weren't we talking about the Sandinistas? Then why are we pretending "democratically-elected government"?

Because, as international observers agreed at the time, the Sandinistas were democratically elected in fair elections. That's why. When they lost later elections, they gave up power. See how that works?

The Sandinistas were, of course, opposed by terrorists, and those terrorists were illegally funded by a Republican president and his operatives. You continue to make excuses (without providing anything in the way of evidence) for the funding of those terrorists in opposition to a fairly elected democratic government, and that makes the point very definitively about who can be trusted on foreign policy.

Jesurgislac has it exactly right here - weak on terrorism, weak on democracy.

I have been away. However: Sebastian, one reason the Democrats are perceived as weak on defense is that we nominated a series of people whose strong suit was not defense. That, however, was a historical accident: in 1984, Gary Hart would have had a very good shot at winning the nomination had it not been for Donna Rice (was that her name?), and in 1988 Joe Biden would have had a good shot at winning had it not been for plagiarism problems. In both cases, candidates who were very good on defense but whose candidacies imploded for completely unrelated reasons, leaving us with Mondale and (ugh) Dukakis. And in 1992 it really was all about the economy.

(I also think, seriously, that one reason Democratic nominees are weaker on defense than Republican nominees is because of the NH primary. New England is part of our geographic base, not yours, so we are more likely than you to end up with NE candidates, who can then take advantage of NH being next door to their home state. Thus we tend to end up with more candidates from MA than we should. Speaking as someone who is from MA, I think that having the national nominating process systematically stacked in favor of MA politicians is a blight on the Democratic party, and one of the strongest arguments for letting some other state go first.)

No one "wanted to let South America go Communist" for its own sake. (For one thing, South America (as a whole) was not going to go communist.) There were people in the Democratic party who held the sorts of extreme views you caricature, but they were (then as now) a powerless minority. What people did think was that it was time to rethink the idea of supporting every horrible thuggish movement that appeared anywhere in the Third World that could plausibly pass itself off as anti-communist, on the grounds that (a) it was just not clear why some of those movements would represent an improvement over communism (Renamo, anyone? UNITA?), and (b) supporting them would only get us hated, and (c) if the Soviet Union wanted to get itself bogged down in Angola, so what? (NOTE: this would not have been the response had there been actual good guys to support there), and (d) this policy was essentially reactive, with us allowing ourselves to be put in the position of somehow feeling obliged to stick up for people regardless of their own merits or whether we had any significant interests at stake, rather than defining things in our own terms and deciding how to make the world a better place in our own way. I still think this is right. And the idea that Iran/Contra was a good thing (bargaining for hostages? violating laws?) is amazing to me.

And it's worth asking: in the genesis of the idea (as held in the Middle East) that you can do anything to the US and we will not respond, what event is more important than Reagan's failure to retaliate for the marines blown up in Beirut?

I am not trying to argue that we don't have a branding problem. I am trying to argue with your (Sebastian's) view of the causes of it.

I posted that without seeing Sebastian's reference to Lebanon, which renders my last sentence obsolete :)

Sebastian: "Ortega has never won an election where he could not kill his political opponents"
"Imprisoning, beating and killing your opponents before election day"
"The Sandinistas imprisoned and killed their opponents."
"pretending democratically-elected government"
"communist client sandinistas"
"guilty of obfuscation"

You keep repeating this like some kind of mantra, and you are (once again) invited to submit some evidence for review. Either share your sources so we can examine their credibility and draw our own conclusions about what electoral effect those particular beatings, imprisonments, and killings might have had, or stop insulting our intelligence with this cartoon bad guy nonsense.

Amen to Hilzoy's point about Third World thugs and dictators.

Hilzoy, you write "No one "wanted to let South America go Communist" for its own sake."

I certainly didn't argue that was the Democratic position just for the hell of it. It was the Democratic position because they did not want to be involved in the use of force that would have been needed to oppose the use of force that the USSR was willing to use. In fact they were unwilling to even help those who might use force.

Wishing that the USSR would not fund the takeover or actively takeover countries is not the same as actually doing anything useful about it. Wanting Communism to succeed is not something I have used as a charge against any signigicant portion of the Democratic party. The reason why post-Vietnam Democratic leaders look bad on defense is not because they wanted our enemies to win, but because they did not take part in the steps needed to make sure that they did not. The nuclear-freeze people did not come from the Republican Party, but they weren't stiff-armed by the Democrats either.

Nicholas, you write:

One should note that one of Reagan's greatest policy successes wrt the Soviet Union, if not the greatest, was his successful diplomatic engagement with Gorbachev. This contributed significantly to the fact that the Soviet Union went out with a whimper and not a bang. Reagan recognized that Gorbachev, unlike his predecessors, was a leader who could in fact be trusted to keep his word and wanted to change things for the better, and that treaties signed with him were really worth something.

I understand the lesson well. Force than diplomacy. In that order. I am all for diplomacy, backed by the actual willingness to use force. Such a willingness makes diplomacy much easier, and the lack of it is why European diplomatic initiatives with respect to military matters such as nuclear weapons are so awful. They are unwilling to even support the use of US force to enforce the treaties they sign. As such, the treaties are useless bits of paper which pretend to deal with the issue while giving authoritarian governments more time (and in many cases more money) to pursue their plans.

Let's see; treaties are useless, they're only devices to give rogue nations space and time to carry out evil. European nations are all useless quislings who should rubberstamp whatever the US dictates. And Dems will never, ever, ever use force even when our nation is about to be annihilated.

Wow.

BTW, I'd second Radish's request to see some evidence of your claim the Sandinistas killed off or imprisoned their political opponents. You've repeated this charge at least twice now without a shred of supporting evidence.

concerning the uselessness of treaties, i have just one comment for the moment:

NATO.

[please consider the history of Europe for about 1,000 years prior thereto.]

Francis

"NATO".
Well, I tend to agree, but unfleshed-out I have to call post hoc ergo propter hoc.

Sebastian: after saying that we didn't want South America (or, more accurately, Nicaragua) to go communist for its own sake, I tried to explain why we did not want to support the contras. It was not that we were unwilling to use force; it was that we thought the contras were thugs who would not obviously represent (a) an improvement (for the Nicaraguans) over the Sandinistas, or (more to the point) (b) enough of an improvement to make it worthwhile to intervene militarily. This is not a weak view, or even a dovish one; it's purely a view about whether one particular military action would have been worth it. Most Democrats thought not. I disagreed with a lot of Reagan's foreign policy, sometimes because I opposed military actions he supported (e.g., in this case), and sometimes in the opposite way (taking out terror camps after Beirut.) (Leaving aside the question whether we should have been there in the first place, which I frankly don't remember enough about and don't feel like googling. I do remember feeling very clearly that if we were going to send marines somewhere, we should have a better plan than 'hope that no one will try to kill them'. If memory serves, we did not in that case: we trusted that their mere presence would deter violence, we were wrong, and apparently our backup plan was: pull out. I thought that was both dumb and reckless with the lives of our troops. I have generally felt, about the military: if you're going to do it, do it right. One of many problems I have with this administration is that apparently they disagree.)

e.g. maybe the US/USSR dihegemony or whatever it's called had something to do with the peace. Plus there's globalization and technology-based prosperity. Plus it's just been 60 years and you're probably in poisson statistics. Plus what about Kosovo?

Wishing that the USSR would not fund the takeover or actively takeover countries is not the same as actually doing anything useful about it. Wanting Communism to succeed is not something I have used as a charge against any signigicant portion of the Democratic party. The reason why post-Vietnam Democratic leaders look bad on defense is not because they wanted our enemies to win, but because they did not take part in the steps needed to make sure that they did not

You seem to be arguing that Soviet aid or the threat of a Soviet takeover in Latin America justified US support for people that even Reagan's State Department called terrorists. This argument completely ignores history.

For example, in Nicaragua, after the overthrow of the dictatorship, Carter sent emergency and reconstruction aid to the Sandinistas. He reasoned that this was necessary to prevent the Nicaraguans from turning to communist (mainly Cuban) aid.

When Reagan took power, he immediately ended economic aid, imposed an economic boycott, and began funding terrorist attacks on civilians. What the end result of actions like this would be in a chiefly bipolar world were obvious to everyone. In 1982, after the beginning of Reagan's attacks, the Sandinistas signed an aid pact with the Soviets.

Reagan's blindly stupid (and illegal) foreign policy lost Nicaragua and doomed the country to a decade of violence.

Just another argument (although this one is backed up by facts) about why the Republican party is untrustworthy on foreign policy

Sebastian, you have absolutely no standing to complain about the Sandinistas imprisoning and killing their opponents when you defend Reagan's policies in Central America, which involved active support for a great many regimes that did a great deal more imprisoning and killing of opponents than the Sandinistas. The right-wing political movements in Latin America emphatically did not have the moral high ground.

Nor was there, as you imply, any great threat to be countered of the Soviets taking over South American countries by force. Which illustrates what I think is the systematic Republican problem with foreign policy over these past three decades: they have repeatedly mistaken phantom threats for real ones, and they continue to insist that the threats they saw were real no matter how decisively they are proven wrong, and to smear the people who point out the plain facts as appeasers and pacifists. Another example of this: your increasingly strained attempts to defend paranoid speculations about the indefinite future as a legitimate justification for war with Iraq.

(And I note that, in your quotation of me on Reagan/Gorbachev, you leave out the subsequent sentence which provides yet another example).

rilkefan: fair enough, though i'm going to need some help on poisson statistics (which makes me think of fish sticks). on kosovo, nato actually came thru, just very late and only with strong US leadership.

kosovo to me is a strong argument in favor of the democrat's version of foreign policy. International coalitions involving significant european commitment CAN be built. But in recent years they have required strong US leadership. (see also, e.g., Gulf War I.)

sometime the europeans cannot be convinced to join US efforts. (Gulf War II.) It's pretty clear that the europeans are extremely reluctant to act militarily on their own (Kosovo, Sudan).

but so what? on a pure realpolitik level we should be thrilled about european impotence in the absence of US involvement. If we are the essential player, then we get the best of both worlds: we get to use the europeans as a force multiplier, but they have no credible military threat without us.

Francis

The single greatest republican Foreign Policy success:

Overthrowing Mossadeq in Iran in 1953.

Leading to the creation of the Savak and the elimination of all political opposition exept that of komeiny, leading to the overtrow of the Shah and the hostage taking in 79/80,leading to a theocracy, leading to the situation we are in today, no diplomatic/commercial contact, inclusion of Iran into the "Axis of Evil" and leading Iran to get Nukes.

Blowback is a bitch!!!

fdl, poisson statistics is what you use to answer questions like, If there have been 40 major wars in the last 1000 years, how many wars should you expect in the next 60 years? There's a simple formula to calculate the likelihood of 0, 1, ... wars. One typically talks about gaussian statistics for questions like, I expected to have 10**6 events in my sample and I measured 10**6-2*10**3, does the theory work? (Hopefully there are no actual statisticians in the room.)

Anyway, we're on the same page re NATO.

I don't understand what lesson you want me to draw from NATO. The power of the NATO alliance came from the willingness of the US to put itself on the nuclear chopping block by threatening mutual assured destruction if the Soviets invaded Europe. It was very effective, but almost none of its effectiveness came from the utility of our allies. I think it was tremendously effective. But it was effective because it was a massive threat of force. I don't see how the existance of the NATO alliance damages my argument at all.

Hilzoy, as for the Contras, they represent one piece of the abdication puzzle. Post-Vietnam, the Democratic Party abandoned the rhetorical defense of the actual defense against Communism practically everywhere. They attacked the institution of MAD which made NATO useful, they were uninterested in taking concrete steps to stop or even impede the spread of Communist regimes in Asia, Africa and South America, and they generally signalled extreme weakness in every venue. I'm sure they came up with plausible justifications in every single instance instead of trying to transform the situation into confrontation that they could support--if such an example existed, but as a whole the strategy of passive capitulation was not acceptable to the American public and led to the enduring weakness on foreign policy which is evident now.

And I am not at all convinced that it is a result of bad luck on the part of the Democrats. If Republican front-runners had been swept up in scandal, the second-place candidate would not have been weak on defense. Carter, Mondale and Dukakis (to name 3 nominees in a row) were not unrepresentative of the party--which is precisely the problem.

Post-Vietnam, the Democratic Party abandoned the rhetorical defense of the actual defense against Communism practically everywhere.

No, post-Vietnam the Democratic Party took the offense both against communism and against traditional facist dictatorships. During the same era, the Republican Party failed miserably in the latter. Usually the excuses given were the same ones debunked earlier above.

that weak? Sam Nunn? the Nunn-Lugar bill?

while i'm no professional historian, i think that the success of the US in the cold war (to the extent that the collapse of the soviet union is due to US actions and not, say, Solidarity and Gorbachev looking at real budgets) is probably most fairly seen as a bi-partisan affair.

of course, if someone has citations to mainstream democratic position papers which support the assertion that: "they generally signalled extreme weakness in every venue", i'd love to check those cites.


otherwise, i'll stand by my earlier position that people on this thread see what they want to see, and disregard the rest.

Francis

Sebastian Holsclaw: as for the Contras, they represent one piece of the abdication puzzle.

This comment makes no sense. Would you care to explain why Reagan's support for terrorism against a democratically-elected government represents "one piece of the abdication puzzle"? Are you now arguing that Reagan had effectively abdicated?

I don't understand what lesson you want me to draw from NATO. The power of the NATO alliance came from the willingness of the US to put itself on the nuclear chopping block by threatening mutual assured destruction if the Soviets invaded Europe. It was very effective, but almost none of its effectiveness came from the utility of our allies.

You realize that a substantial part of Europe felt like they were used as the buffer between the US and the USSR, to be used as a convenient battleground away from home by the US if things ran out of hand. Missiles couldn't reach the US from the USSR and vice versa, so the US stored their nuclear missiles in European countries, which puts the chopping block geographically there.

NATO has always been the means of the US to control military affairs in Europe which is why the US through various means hindered and blocked the formation of a seperate European Defence force. The latter would lead to much more influence for the bigger European players, so it would give much more military power to (most likely) Germany or France. I have been an advocate for a European Defece force for years, and thus quite frustrated for years. Maybe the Rapid Reaction teams are a start, but building a military structure takes a lot of time, especially between seperate countries.

In view of the role of Nato and the firm grab of the leadership by the US I think it is a little rich to complain about the fact that the US has to *provide* the leadership in Nato affairs.

European Defece force. That's great.

My pet peeve in blogs and other online discussions is people who pick on a typo or a mispelling rather than answer the actual points being made. Sometimes this is because they are genuinely born proofreaders who can't bear even minor errors, but mostly this is because they are incompetent debaters who retreat into pointless, random criticism of this kind rather than acknowledge defeat gracefully.

I'm just saying.

And given that (if you've been following the threads), the poster who made the typo is a (rather fluent IMO) non-native speaker of English, this really suggests that only native speakers of English should be encouraged to express their opinions. Freedom Fries, anyone?

You're right, I'm a horrible proof reader, but you gotta admit, that was hilarious. I said the same thing copying someone’s French once and landed in the doghouse. I never thought about claiming it was a typo. I don't think my stream of consciousness style has produced a gem like this yet. I better preview this one closely. I do deserve the scolding, but I couldn't help it.

You're right, I'm a horrible proof reader, but you gotta admit, that was hilarious.

Actually, no. I find that kind of humor generally funny only when it's either value added - when the commentator does something more than simply point out the original poster's typo: or else where the original poster is pointing out their own typo (usually with value-added special effects). When done as you did it, it's not even amusing, let alone "hilarious".

We disagree again, J. - ILICISCOMK

Blogbuds: Really? When you read your own comment at November 17, 2004 06:37 AM, you ILICISCOMK?

FOADYM.

You lost me Jesurgislac. Have a nice day.

Sebastian:

It seems you conflate "strong foreign policy" with a wantonness in using force to get our way. Because the Dems are less likely to do that (I agree that they are), that makes them wimps or not trustworthy? Only if foreign policy is something akin to employing Guido to enforce your debts.

By the way, the "evil Sandinistas" are currently winning elections again in Nicaragua. I am not thrilled by it, but does that make it time to fund another contra-terror war against them, and junk the elections?

As for protecting Central America from commies, the 80s Repubs were famous for also supporting terrorist state murderers in Honduras and El Salvador. Hey - why limit the fun to the Nicaraguan contras?

Our self-interest is not promoted by such thuggery, and the unprincipled use of force does not constitute strength. Or else you think that Oliver North was a hero, rather than a criminal.

If Republican front-runners had been swept up in scandal, the second-place candidate would not have been weak on defense.

I wouldn't brag too much about the wisdom of the Republican runner-up. In 1992 and 1996 it was Pat Buchanan.

"Our self-interest is not promoted by such thuggery, and the unprincipled use of force does not constitute strength. Or else you think that Oliver North was a hero, rather than a criminal."

Unfortunately, the Bush Administration does think in exactly this way. Otherwise, North's co-conspirators (John Poindexter, Elliott Abrams) would never again be place into positions of public trust.

Perhaps, using Sebastian's choice of phrasing, we can only conclude that The Republican Party cannot be trusted with democratic institutions.

Way late, but I should have noted in my comment to fdl that poisson distributions are asymmetric, broad, and in particular tend to have significant probability at zero. Anyway, a better comment in the first place would have been that it's hard to draw fine conclusions from small samples.

Sebastian, how about engaging in a not-very-hypothetical thought experiment?

If Iraq manages to hold elections in the next 6 months, and a fundamentalist Islamic party wins a decisive victory, then what is the appropriate US response?

Do we assume the elections must not have been free and fair, regardless of turnout? If so, should the US -- either using its own soldiers, or by encouraging freedom fighters/insurgents/terrorists -- try to take down the government and install a more favorable regime?

Jes, c'mon dude. Posting rules.

"It seems you conflate "strong foreign policy" with a wantonness in using force to get our way. Because the Dems are less likely to do that (I agree that they are), that makes them wimps or not trustworthy? Only if foreign policy is something akin to employing Guido to enforce your debts."

Do you believe that the Democratic Party had an effective plan for stopping the spread of Communism in the 1970s and 1980s? If so, please sketch it out.
I have never heard of it.

"If Iraq manages to hold elections in the next 6 months, and a fundamentalist Islamic party wins a decisive victory, then what is the appropriate US response?"

There is no Constitution mandating some sort of secularism? Sounds like a poor hypothetical choice.

Quite right, Anarch. :(

Sebastian: Do you believe that the Democratic Party had an effective plan for stopping the spread of Communism in the 1970s and 1980s? If so, please sketch it out. I have never heard of it.

How about your answering one of the questions upthread, Sebastian?

Sebastian: exactly how big a problem was "the spread of communism" in the 70s and 80s? In the 70s, it spread in SE Asia, but neither Democrats nor Republicans had any idea how to prevent that from happening, given where we were at the time. It also spread to Nicaragua, but as I recall no one had a real plan to keep Somoza in power, nor did it seem desirable to do so; Carter had a plan to keep Nicaragua from allying with the USSR, but Reagan ditched it in favor of arming the contras. And there was, of course, the invasion of Afghanistan, which everyone thought should lead to sanctions and support for the mujaheddin, and no one thought should lead to anything beyond that, like invading Afghanistan ourselves in support of the mujaheddin. In the 1980s there were Angola and Mozambique, I guess, but in neither case did supporting the anticommunist forces seem like a good idea, given the forces in question. And somewhere in there was Ethiopia as well.

The thing is: most of these were, in one way or another, special cases. The fact that Vietnam went communist was of course because of the war, but the fact that Cambodia and Laos did too was arguably the result of our interference -- it is certainly not at all clear to me that if we had not deposed Prince Sihanouk in favor of Lon Nol, Cambodia would have fallen to the Khmer Rouge. We would have had a very hard time intervening there precisely because of our history in the region: we had no ability to convince people of our good faith at all.

Angola and Mozambique were the result either of Portuguese decolonization, which left both in awful condition and completely without any sort of professional class -- if memory serves, at decolonization, Mozambique had either one doctor and four lawyers or four doctors and one lawyer, for the entire country. In Mozambique's case, in particular, communism was a result of sheer cluelessness and a desire to find an ally as different as possible from the Portuguese. Ethiopia was the result of the collapse of Haile Selassie's regime, which fully deserved to collapse, but which left a serious vacuum in its wake. Likewise the Central American countries: horrible right-wing dictatorships which collapsed (Nicaragua) or gave rise to civil wars (Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala), and in which it was hard to see why the communists would be worse.

And Afghanistan was obviously a special case too, being on the border with the Soviet Union.

You might say: but that's a lot of special cases. True, but many of them were very unlikely to be reproduced. There were no other countries in the position of Afghanistan, no other regions in the position of SE Asia, no other countries who had yet to divest themselves of their colonies (unless you count the Brits with Hong Kong, but a less likely candidate for a repeat of the Angola experience would be hard to find.) There is no other country like Ethiopia in the world, nor any other regime like Haile Selassie's. Central America is the only model that had any chance at all of being repeated. And even so, it's unclear where it would have been repeated. The Middle East had its share of repressive regimes, but there Islam seemed like a good counterweight to communism; moreover, they had the example of Afghanistan at hand. Parts of Africa? Maybe. But it did not seem like a problem that threatened to spread across the globe.

Moreover, the one thing that did allow all these special cases to go communist was the fact that we had consistently ended up supporting the regimes that had oppressed and brutalized the peoples of these countries. We were allied with Portugal, created Lon Nol (not to mention the entire war in Vietnam), supported the various right-wing dictatorships in Central America, as well as Haile Selassie, and so on and so forth. As a result, when these regimes fell, it was natural that their opponents would seek aid from the Soviet Union, not from us. This raises the question, why were we consistently on the wrong side? Why, given our ideology, not to mention our history of rebelling against tyrants, did we so consistently find ourselves propping up the likes of Somoza? One part of Democrats' long-term plan was to divorce ourselves from thugs, and instead support democratic reforms in these countries, on the assumption that over time this would change the basic dynamic that led these countries to go communist. (Note: not the only part of our views; just a part.) -- If we consistently supported freedom, democracy, and human rights, then there would be no reason for countries that finally shed their dictatorships to assume that we would not be on their side. And then any further special cases that might arise would be less likely to assume that their future lay with communism.

"You might say: but that's a lot of special cases."

Considering that you have decided all of them were special cases, and in every case we should not fight Communism. Yes.

Furthermore, that is not the end of it. The enormous elements in the Democratic Party were for a unilateral climbdown on nuclear weapons, a position that would have dramatically undermined NATO.

Also, the Democratic Party was against the Reagan arms race which was designed to, and did, hasten the economic collapse of our greatest enemy.

Furthermore, your characterization of Democratic willingness to support fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan is wrong. Reagan had to constantly fight for the ability to fund the fight against the USSR there. (Note to those who want to complain about blowback, please refrain unless you have some inkling about how bad it would be for the USSR to have been successful in Afghanistan and unless you can at least pretend to address the likelyhood of Afghanistan successfully resisting without our help--nearly zero). Note also that the Soviet records indicate they were emboldened to go in to Afghanistan in the first place because Carter withdrew support of the Shah which allowed Iran to fall into the hands of Mullahs. The Soviets saw the fall of the Pro-Western Iranian government as a sign that Carter wasn't able to stomach a fight, and thought they could use Afghanistan to gain control over the Pro-Western Pakistan and to influence the now anti-Western Iran.

Considering that you have decided all of them were special cases, and in every case we should not fight Communism. Yes.

So, anyone anti-Communist is necessarily worthy of American support? Because if that's not axiomatic, your logic here is severely broken...

To be clear: I did not say we should not fight communism; I was questioning what seemed to be your assumption that Communism was spreading throughout the 80s and needed to be fought back. I thought we should have fought communism, but not if it meant supporting people who were just as bad. As it happens, and I don't think this is coincidental, most of the places that went communist in the 70s and 80s were places where the opposition was just as bad: C. America, the Portuguese colonies, Ethiopia. I did think, at the time, that had we not completely squandered any trust and goodwill we had in the region, we should have invaded Cambodia in '78 or so, but that we had. One more reason, I always thought, not to have invaded Vietnam in the first place. (Likewise, had we not invaded Iraq, we would be in a position to do something in the Sudan.)

If the Soviets decided to invade Afghanistan because they drew the wrong conclusions from our withdrawal of support from the Shah (from whom in my view we should have withdrawn support back when Mossadegh was in power), what is that supposed to show?

If you claim to be anti-Communist, but in nearly every single case you find a 'special reason' not to thwart the spread of Communism, it is perfectly logical to suspect that you don't consider anti-Communism to be all that important.

I have never claimed that the Democratic Party wasn't theoretically anti-Communist. I see that it was not in actual practice anti-Communist after Vietnam. And that is why Americans think they are so awful at foreign policy. If Republicans fail utterly in the War on Terrorism, the American public may think the same thing of them--that they were theoretically anti-terrorist, but practically not so much. But we aren't anywhere near there, especially since the Democratic Party appears to be even less able--due to its continuous romance with toothless treaty-making.

Leaving aside the question of Bush on terrorism, the original point of my long post was: what reason was there to think that the spread of communism in the third world was a serious foreign policy problem? The USSR was of course a serious foreign policy problem. Likewise China. But why in the third world? The original point of the post was to say: we didn't think it was one. We did think there was a huge problem with thuggish governments, and another huge problem with civil wars in the third world, and opposed various third-world communist movements qua parts of these problems. But framing the problem that way makes it clear why we didn't think the solution to the problem of Frelimo's being a lousy government was to support Renamo, or that the solution to the participation of Marxist guerillas in a horrible civil war in Guatemala was to support the Guatemalan military. As we saw it, the goal was to get not just to non-communist governments, but to democratic governments. The Republicans at the time, by contrast, had this lovely distinction between totalitarian regimes, which in practice seemed to mean communist regimes who abused their populations, and authoritarian regimes, which in practice seemed to mean non-communist regimes who abused their populations; and argued that we could work with the latter but not the former. Democrats disagreed, seeing little to like in Pinochet's Chile, for instance.

Furthermore, your characterization of Democratic willingness to support fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan is wrong

Who do you think began funding for the Mujahadein?

Also, the Democratic Party was against the Reagan arms race which was designed to, and did, hasten the economic collapse of our greatest enemy.

What happened to military spending as a percentage of GDP under Nixon/Ford? Under Carter?

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