Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Weak" on national defense

One of the strangest aspects of American political discourse is the fact that despite the ruinous and catastrophic effects of neoconservative militarism being put into action, in the mainstream media Democrats are still expected to demonstrate that they aren't "weak" on national defense.

Glenn Greenwald wrote about this in relation to Howard Dean a couple of years ago

The only way to see the Bush movement as "serious, weighty, tough" foreign policy thinkers, and the only way to see Democrats like Dean as "frivolous and weak on defense," is to completely ignore (or distort) history and to operate from the premise that being terribly wrong is a sign of seriousness and wisdom and being completely right is a sign of frivolity and weakness.

And it is worth noting -- in fact, it is critical to ingest -- that the President pronounces himself more certain than ever that he is right about his foreign policy approach. The same approach that brought us the unparalleled disaster in Iraq, North Korean nuclear tests, a neglected and therefore resurgent Taliban, and an Iran that is seemingly determined to acquire nuclear weapons is what will continue to guide our country's behavior over the next two years if the President can continue to operate with a free hand. Only in the up-is-down world of the American media political dialogue would Republicans be deemed "strong and tough" on national security and foreign policy be considered their strong suit. It is almost impossible to have been more wrong than they have been, and to weaken this country more than it's been weakened over the past five years.
Yet we have a presidential contender - McCain - whose foreing policy plans can be thought of as Bush plus and he still is widely considered in the media to have an advantage on his opponent when it comes to being "strong" on national defense.

So in the spirit of the Greenwald post above, I'd thought we'd take a look at another shrill, left-wing, anti-American liberal communist who hated America and proved how unserious he was about national security because of his opposition to the invasion of Iraq in contrast to pundit superstars like William Kristol.

Jeffrey Sachs, writing in The New Republic (pdf file) March 3, 2003

It is now a mark of honor for many in the administration to stand up to the complaints of the Europeans and the United Nations. They smugly trust that American power will carry the day. But they are wrong. The White House is vastly underestimating how painful and difficult the Iraq conflict and reconstruction will be, because it is making a broader, deeper mistake: It is vastly overestimating the utility of military power. And, because of this mistake, the collapse of worldwide trust in the United States will have prolonged and pernicious effects, greatly multiplying the costs that our country will soon bear in a conflict. We will find that the president’s belief in the redemptive power of the military is misplaced—not because we’ll lose the war but because we’ll lose the peace or, more accurately, suffer prolonged instability and violence in the region and around the globe as the world turns increasingly hostile to American ideology and pretensions.

Three profound lessons about military power will be replayed in the aftermath of a war with Iraq. First, a conventional army on the ground cannot suppress local uprisings or guerrilla warfare without tremendous bloodshed and years of agony. For decades, the British could not suppress the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland. The vast military might of Israel cannot suppress the Palestinian uprising. The Russians could not suppress the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s or the Chechens in the 1990s. The United States took casualties and quickly departed from both Lebanon and Somalia and even now is struggling to gain control in Afghanistan outside of Kabul. Under much worse circumstances, the United States is about to insert itself for years into the vicious internecine struggles of Iraq, where tens of thousands of angry young men will be keen to pick off the occupying force. Our smart bombs won’t prove as helpful at ground level as they do at 35,000 feet.

In addition to our military power, therefore, we have to translate our economic wealth and technological prowess into a different kind of power—the power to help shape the global cooperation institutions on which we will depend for our livelihoods and our long-term prosperity. The much-maligned United Nations, the very institution we are doing so much to threaten by our current unilateralism, remains the single best hope for shaping a world to our liking in the twenty-first century. Through the United Nations and specialized agencies, such as the World Health Organization, unicef, or the Food and Agriculture Organization, we could deploy our economic strengths to overcome poverty, deal with climate-change problems, and fight debilitating diseases. We could help rid the world of the poverty that provides fertile ground for upheaval, dislocation, and terrorism. Over the long run, we would build international goodwill and shared values that would diminish the anti-American fury that threatens our lives and economic well-being. War with Iraq will, tragically, do the exact opposite.

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