2009/10/14

The GWOT and social progress

It's difficult to add much to this post on Charles Krauthammer's Weekly Standard piece on why President Obama is allegedly hastening America's decline, but I'll make a few extra comments anyway.

Krauthammer feels that "decline is a choice" and that America can remain the world's top dog if it wants to. I'm not so sure about that because the problem with the US remaining dominant is more than just the single nation of China. It's that before World War II and the following decolonization, the non-Western world was easily dominated by the advanced weaponry and advanced way of organizing their armies that the rest of the world simply couldn't match. We saw in Iraq, however, that Third World people are now able to do so. Nir Rosen authored a series in Asia Times back in 2005 that examined the Iraqi resistance to the American occupation. He shows us not just a stubborn and determined group of fighters, but a canny and sophisticated group that made good use of whatever technology they could get their hands on. The easy domination over other nations that Western powers enjoyed from around 1500 to roughly 1950 is over.

No, I disagree with his statement that "Decline--or continued ascendancy--is in our hands."

The current foreign policy of the United States is an exercise in contraction. It begins with the demolition of the moral foundation of American dominance.

Is it the statements made by President Obama that are demolishing the "moral foundation of American dominance" or is it actions like the tortures that took place at Abu Ghraib? Keep in mind that these tortures were justified by low-level functionaries like Judge Jay Bybee and John Yoo, they weren't simply the rogue actions of some out-of-control people indulging their own twisted desires. These were people who were carrying out official US policy.

Obama didn't just say "America's been bad," he instead went over many actions that the world already knew about and that it clearly and loudly disapproved of and he agreed "Yeah, these actions are wrong."

What happens if the US is no longer dominant?

But that leads to the question: How does this new world govern itself? How is the international system to function?

I would suggest that perhaps the rest of the world probably doesn't need a world sheriff or a daddy figure or an administrator. I would further suggest that liberals refuse to view US power and dominance as inherently good things not because the US is fundamentally bad but because all nations are fundamentally bad. In other words, liberals view competing international powers in much the same way our Founding Fathers viewed competing domestic political interest groups back in the day.

The UN may not be up to snuff today, but that hardly means that the liberal experiment in world government is a failure. Clearly, the countries of the world won't be able to get rid of armies and weapons tomorrow, but Europe is doing a pretty good job melding all their different countries into one framework. It is not the United States of Europe and may never be, but it's grossly premature to say that the experiment will never succeed.

Demonstrators are shot in the streets of Tehran seeking nothing but freedom, but our president holds his tongue...

Krauthammer ignores the very sound and sensible reason that Obama "holds his tongue" and refuses to interfere. It's because the Iranian opposition has asked America to keep its distance. The last thing Iranian supporters of a democratic Iran want is the US throwing its weight around, trying to "liberate" them. Partly because the Iranian opposition may (quite reasonably) fear that the US may seek to do so for the exclusive purpose of liberating Iran's oil fields, but mostly because Iranians consider democratization to be an internal affair that outsiders cannot effectively steer. It's not that the US specifically can't effectively usher Iran towards democracy, it's that no outsider can do so. Iran's opposition figures that democracy has to be something Iranians gain in their own way, on their own timetable.

Krauthammer seem quite upset that "there is no more 'Global War on Terror.'" Well, that's right. Maybe because the GWOT was a complete, total and unqualified failure. First of all, the GWOT has been extraordinarily expensive to parts of the Mideast:

As of April 2009, in the Occupied Palestinian, Iraqi and Afghan Territories post-invasion non-violent excess deaths total 0.3 million, 1.0 million and 3.2 million, respectively; post-invasion violent deaths total about 10,000, 1.3 million and 2-4 million...

The same piece estimated US deaths from terrorism (Including the 3,000 killed on 9-11) at about 10,000. Bit of a disproportionate response, I would think. The GWOT has also been very expensive as far as civil liberties are concerned, with citizen protections against overly-intrusive surveillance being especially hard-hit. And what did America get for it's money, time and effort? The chart here only goes to 2006, but it's rather obvious that the GWOT was having the exact opposite of its intended effect. Deaths and injuries due to terrorism steadily increased.

A recent piece in the Boston Globe shows that continuing along the course advocated by those who would like continued war in Afghanistan could very easily end up having the same corrosive effect on social progress in the US that the Korean War had under Harry Truman and that the Vietnam war had under Lyndon Johnson.

Krauthammer follows with a "parade of horribles" where it's rather difficult to see just what the US has lost that's of any value. My concern with these examples is not that Krauthammer is being at all untruthful, but that in all cases he's only telling part of the story, that he's only giving us a very partial and limited view of what's actually going on with these issues.

So when Krauthammer reaches the preliminary conclusion that:

The express agenda of the New Liberalism is a vast expansion of social services--massive intervention and expenditures in energy, health care, and education--that will necessarily, as in Europe, take away from defense spending.

My response to that is "And your problem with this is...?"

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