All posts filed under: Foreign Policy

Tyranny’s Mouthpiece

On September 8, 2019, Syria’s state news agency published an article about the beginning of the Third International Trade Union Forum in Damascus, which hosted “dozens of intellectuals, journalists, (and) political and social activists from Arab and foreign countries.” Among the attendees were the American journalists Max Blumenthal and Rania Khalek. If you want to know why Blumenthal and Khalek were welcome at an event organized “under the auspices of Bashar al-Assad”—aside from the fact that they’re frequent contributors to the Russian propaganda outlets Sputnik and Russia Today—the rest of the article should give you an idea. It condemns the “aggressive terrorist war” launched against Syria, along with the “economic war that constitutes terror in and of itself” (a reference to U.S. sanctions). It calls for a media campaign to galvanize world public opinion in support of the Syrian government and “reveal the truth about the U.S. policy of besieging independent and free countries.” It points out that the “real goal of the war on Syria is to stop it from being a force that …

A Shameful Betrayal

For the sake of America’s national interest, all communications between President Trump and Turkish strongman Tayyip Erdogan ought to be severed forthwith. Such conversations tend to spur flippant and ignominious decisions by the American president to diminish the American position in the Levant that simultaneously endangers America’s loyal friends and its strategic interests. Few will remember, but the disgrace in which President Trump is currently involving the United States in northern Syria was not only foreseeable but had actually been announced well in advance. Last December after a call with President Erdogan, Trump declared the withdrawal of U.S. forces in Syria on the grounds that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS] had been vanquished. This impetuous claim—is this president capable of any other kind?—was immediately belied by the Pentagon and the wider U.S. intelligence community, which insisted that ISIS was on the defensive but nowhere near defeated. The Islamic State still fielded thousands of fighters, operating throughout swathes of Syria and Iraq, and remained a lethal threat to U.S. national security. The next …

The Hell of Good Intentions—A Review

A review of The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of U.S. Primacy, by Stephen Walt. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, (October 2018) 400 pages. Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, is sick of academics, politicians, and journalists who regard the United States as the “indispensable nation,” which has to remain “engaged around the world” to ensure that the “US-led international order” is upheld. These are the fundamental assumptions that have underpinned American foreign policy since the end of the Cold War—a foreign policy that goes by many names, depending on who you ask. Left-wing critics call it “neoliberalism” or “neoimperialism,” Hillary Clinton calls it “American leadership,” and Walt—author of The Hell of Good Intentions: America’s Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of US Primacy—calls it “liberal hegemony.” Walt isn’t alone in decrying liberal hegemony—John Mearsheimer (Walt’s collaborator and a fellow realist at the University of Chicago) published The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities around the same time as The Hell …

“War Is the Least Conservative Undertaking”—An Interview with Dr William Ruger

The recently concluded National Conservatism Conference in Washington, DC, attempted to examine this post-liberal moment and the return to great power rivalry in foreign policy. It was no surprise that foreign policy realism billed one whole day at the conference—the realist outlook cuts across the political spectrum, and often unites national conservatives and libertarians against neo-conservatives and liberals.  For those who are uninitiated, realism in foreign policy is a school of thought reaching all the way back to Thucydides, which focuses on narrow national interests based on strategic concerns. In post-Cold War US politics, this usually translates into greater restraint and less activism abroad. I spoke to Dr William Ruger, Vice President for Research at the Charles Koch Foundation, Cato Institute fellow, and a foreign policy realist, about what the conference reveals about the current moment in American politics, and the foreign policy challenges ahead. *     *     * William Ruger: Neo-conservatism, interventionism, and primacy are tired vehicles that haven’t served American security, prosperity, or our way of life here at home. So rather …

Why We Should Embrace Our Age of Nuclear

The age of humans may soon be known as the age of nuclear. For two decades, scientists have debated whether we are living in a new geological epoch. They appear to have decided that we are and that the invention of nuclear energy should mark its beginning. Twenty-nine of the 34 members of the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) voted this week to declare the invention and testing of nuclear weapons as the beginning of the Anthropocene or geological age of humans. The two other main contenders for demarcating the start of the epoch were the rise of agriculture, which radically altered landscapes, and the birth of the industrial revolution, which has accelerated climate change. The 1945 explosion of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the radioactive fallout from outdoor nuclear weapons testing, which continued until 1963, is physically embedded in glacial ice and earth sedimentation. Advocates for the invention of nuclear as the best way to mark the beginning of the human age note that, unlike anything done by hunter-gatherers, agriculturalists, or industrialists, nuclear …

The Iraq War Was Not About Oil

Why did the U.S.-led coalition attack Iraq in 2003? Sixteen years after George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” speech, the answer seems obvious to some: oil of course! When war was waged, this was the widespread view in Jordan (71 percent), Morocco (63 percent), Pakistan (54 percent), Turkey (64 percent), Germany (60 percent) and France (58 percent). After all, the U.S. was the largest oil-consuming nation and Iraq had the second-largest oil reserves in the world. These suspicions are strengthened when we consider how the White House was being run by retired oil executives—Cheney, Condoleezza Rice and Bush himself. However, closer examination suggests these factors were a coincidence rather than a conspiracy. The Iraq War was not fought for oil. Big Oil, Sanctions and Saddam American oil companies didn’t want to topple Saddam Hussein; they wanted to trade with him. They were prevented from doing so, not by the regime but by the U.S.’s full support for the U.N.’s oil embargo that was imposed on Iraq when it invaded Kuwait in 1990. In 1997, Conoco’s CEO …

The Fragility of the Liberal World Order

A review of The Jungle Grows Back: America and our Imperiled World by Robert Kagan. Knopf (September 2018) 192 pages. In its natural state, international relations is little more than a ‘jungle.’ There is no umpire to ensure fair play, no global police force to punish wrongdoers, and ‘good boys’ are rarely rewarded. Prevaricate or show weakness and you risk being picked off and consumed by bigger beasts. Prior to the end of the Second World War, European geopolitics was characterized by this remorseless logic. As states vied for hegemony, tens of millions were killed in war and conflict, and human tragedy and suffering were on scales almost beyond the imaginable. Today, however, we have complex forms of global economic interdependence, sets of global institutions that fuse us together and a transformed jungle that incentivize ‘good boys,’ as well as rules, norms and ultimately military power to make sure they remain good. How did our international jungle, an almost constant in human history, come to be so tamed? In his latest book, The Jungle Grows Back: America …

Nationalism and Liberal Empire

A review of The Virtue of Nationalism, by Yoram Hazony. Basic Books (September 4, 2018) 304 pages.  Saying that nationalism has become the number one topic in the current political and intellectual discourse is to state the obvious. Not a day goes by in the West, without another think-tank symposium, a journal article, an op-ed piece, or a long scholarly book, warning us of the rise of nationalism. With the pro-Brexit vote in Britain and the election of President Donald Trump promoting an “America First” agenda  — to the threat that this global political trend poses to the long-term survival of liberal democratic societies, to the foundations of the so-called liberal international order, and perhaps even to the entire Enlightenment Project as we know it. Send help! Much of this fashionable bashing of nationalism seems to almost take it for granted, that nationalism, which in essence is the recognition of the nation-state as the central force that provides stability to domestic and international political order, is the close political relative of, if not synonymous with, protectionism, …

‘Anti-Imperialism’ and Apologetics for Murder

A consistent feature of the British socialist Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has been support for Islamists and Third World dictators. Corbyn himself has dined with his “friends” in Hamas and Hezbollah, and saluted the Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro. Andrew Murray, one of his consultants, is a sympathiser with the Juche regime in North Korea. Yasmine Dar, a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, is an admirer of the Ayatollah Khomeini. Chris Williamson MP, Corbyn’s longtime supporter and friend, is a big fan of the Castroite regime in Cuba. And Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s Director of Strategy and Communications, was formerly a Guardian columnist, of whom the leftist commentator Brian Whitaker once wrote: [Milne] views international politics almost entirely through an anti-imperialist lens. That, in turn, leads to a sympathetic view of those dictatorial regimes which characterise themselves as anti-imperialist. It’s the same with Islamist movements where they oppose Western-backed regimes… To understand this curious phenomenon it is necessary to return to the West after World War Two. First World Failure, and Third World Hope By the end of …

The World According to Realism

The late political scientist Samuel P. Huntington argued in the 1993 Foreign Affairs article “The Clash of Civilizations?” (later expanded into a book with the question mark removed) that post-Cold War conflict would precipitate over differences in identity, religion, and culture. Fareed Zakaria, a former Huntington student, wrote of his mentor’s thesis, “While others were celebrating the fall of communism and the rise of globalization, he saw that with ideology disappearing as a source of human identity, religion was returning to the fore.” Huntington was writing in response to the argument of another former student, Francis Fukuyama, that a Hegelian “End of History” was upon us. In the heady days following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Huntington held the minority opinion that geopolitics and power still mattered, and worried that American foreign policy was entering a new era of history with its eyes half shut. Stephen Walt points out that at the time of Huntington’s article liberal internationalism was ascendant, al Qaeda was a minor threat, the Middle East was healing, and America was king. …