Friday, August 01, 2008

Samantha Power on the Dems and national defence

Samantha Power: Dems need to be aggressive in talking about the disaster of the Cheney-Bush foreign policy

Samantha Power has a good article in the current issue of the New York Review of Books, The Democrats & National Security 07/17/08 (08/14/08 issue). It begins with a conventional recitation of the notion that voters trust Republicans more than Democrats on "national security".

But then she goes on to analyze why the Dems shouldn't be intimidated by this assumption and offers some concrete suggestions that Obama and the Democrats can use that combine good policy with smart, aggressive politics. Reviewing a book by Peter Scoblic on hardline Republican foreign policy, she writes about how reckless and foolish "tough on defense" Republicans have often been, especially under the Cheney-Bush administration:

Having suffered through what one diplomat called the "enemy deprivation syndrome of the 1990s," September 11 gave hard-line conservatives an opportunity to apply their pre-hatched theories; and from the start they sought to unshackle the United States from international agreements and to reduce reliance on diplomatic engagement. When the Bush administration scored a rare recent diplomatic success, convincing North Korea to open up some of its nuclear records, Vice President Cheney was so disgusted by his own administration's pragmatic decision to take Pyongyang off the US terrorist blacklist that he snapped at reporters, "I'm not going to be the one to announce this decision. You need to address your interest in this to the State Department." He then abruptly ended the press encounter, and left the room.

What is striking about Scoblic's account of the hard-line conservatives' disdain for diplomacy and pragmatism is the resilience of the central tenets of their ideology. As they ridicule Senator Barack Obama's willingness to engage in negotiations with America's enemies, they seem unchastened by recent history. In 2003, for instance, when the reporter Jeffrey Goldberg told Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense, that US troops in Iraq had not been greeted with flowers, Feith said that the Iraqis had been too spooked by the presence of Saddam supporters to show their true emotions. "But," he said, "they had flowers in their minds."
She also addresses the issue of how to handle the dangers to Iraqi civilians as the US withdraws from Iraq, recognizing that the Republicans will do all they can to blame the Democrats for anything bad that happens in that regard.

As she points out, Obama has been addressing that issue, though our lazy media can hardly bother to notice:

Prominent Democrats must drive home the continuing costs of remaining in Iraq - costs to Iraq, the region, Afghanistan,[9] US military readiness, and national security as a whole - while describing the specific ways an Obama administration would limit the harmful consequences of withdrawal. (In fact, Obama outlined such plans in a speech last year but it got little attention and needs reinforcement from the Democratic echo chamber.)

Obama has long stated his intention to retain a Quick-Reaction Force in the region to carry out counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda and other such networks. He has made clear his concern for Iraqi civilians in mixed neighborhoods who might be more vulnerable following a withdrawal of US combat brigades. He would offer these civilians fair notice of US plans and would be open to relocating those who would feel more secure if they moved. He has promised $2 billion to assist the two million Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries. He would establish a war crimes commission to gather the testimony of survivors and put militia leaders on notice that they may eventually be prosecuted. Obama's plan to meet with the region's heads of state is the first of many steps that will be required to prevent regional conflict. (my emphasis)
Her article also has some useful thought about comparisons between the Kosovo War and the Iraq War (as an "humanitarian hawk", Power was a supporter of the Kosovo War, as I was, too, though I don't consider myself an "humanitarian hawk"):

We don't know how events in 2003 would have progressed without the Kosovo war, but it is hard to imagine that President Bush - a man who repudiated five treaties in his first year in office[7] and has consistently ridiculed the UN - would have been deterred in any way by the absence of past precedent.

Moreover, while some prominent "liberal hawks" favored the Iraq war, plenty of those who had supported NATO action in Kosovo for humanitarian reasons opposed the war in Iraq on those or other grounds. [Matt] Yglesias wrongly implies that support for one war inevitably entailed support for the other; he also unfortunately lends credence to the surprisingly prevalent fiction that Bush invaded Iraq for humanitarian purposes.

Still, NATO action in Kosovo did make UN Security Council authorization seem more optional than it had in the past. Also, the Kosovo war helped build support for the invasion of Iraq by contributing to the false impression that the US military was invincible. The mistaken recollection that the US victory over the Serbs was nearly effortless, combined with the Bush administration's quick initial overthrow of the Taliban, caused many Democrats to agree with the Republican claim that the war in Iraq would in fact be the "cakewalk" that Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz promised. (my emphasis)
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