Commentary Magazine


Topic: Henry Kissinger

Cruz to Rand: Tea Party ≠ Isolationist

Senator Rand Paul is smart enough not to place too much importance on his victory in the presidential straw poll held at the recently concluded CPAC conference. Paul was undoubtedly the favorite of the conservative activists who attended the annual big conservative jamboree and received the biggest ovation of all the GOP stars who spoke there. Yet he is sure to remember that his father Ron also won the straw poll in 2010 and 2011 without it aiding his noisy but ultimately futile 2012 presidential candidacy.

However no one, least of all, his GOP rivals, should think that Paul hasn’t expanded his base from his father’s band of libertarian extremists or won’t be a first tier contender in 2016 when runs for president. He has maintained the momentum he got from his filibuster on drones last year while also carefully avoiding confrontations with the GOP establishment he’s eager to supersede. Many of his backers thought the disastrous government shutdown was a good idea and want to make all members of the party leadership to pay for the compromises they forged in order to extricate Republicans from the corner into which the Tea Party had painted them. However, Paul is quietly backing his Kentucky colleague Mitch McConnell for re-election. He’s also sent out signals to the establishment that he should be trusted to avoid extremism by saying that the shutdown wasn’t such a good idea.

But none of that changes the fact that Paul remains outside the mainstream of his party on foreign policy. As Ted Cruz, Paul’s main rival for the affection of Tea Party voters, reminded the country today on ABC’s “This Week,” it would be a mistake to think the Kentucky senator’s neo-isolationist views represent the sentiments of most conservatives or even Tea Partiers. Resentment against big government and suspicion of President Obama’s actions may have helped boost Paul’s popularity, but the idea that it is Rand’s party on foreign policy is a myth.

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Senator Rand Paul is smart enough not to place too much importance on his victory in the presidential straw poll held at the recently concluded CPAC conference. Paul was undoubtedly the favorite of the conservative activists who attended the annual big conservative jamboree and received the biggest ovation of all the GOP stars who spoke there. Yet he is sure to remember that his father Ron also won the straw poll in 2010 and 2011 without it aiding his noisy but ultimately futile 2012 presidential candidacy.

However no one, least of all, his GOP rivals, should think that Paul hasn’t expanded his base from his father’s band of libertarian extremists or won’t be a first tier contender in 2016 when runs for president. He has maintained the momentum he got from his filibuster on drones last year while also carefully avoiding confrontations with the GOP establishment he’s eager to supersede. Many of his backers thought the disastrous government shutdown was a good idea and want to make all members of the party leadership to pay for the compromises they forged in order to extricate Republicans from the corner into which the Tea Party had painted them. However, Paul is quietly backing his Kentucky colleague Mitch McConnell for re-election. He’s also sent out signals to the establishment that he should be trusted to avoid extremism by saying that the shutdown wasn’t such a good idea.

But none of that changes the fact that Paul remains outside the mainstream of his party on foreign policy. As Ted Cruz, Paul’s main rival for the affection of Tea Party voters, reminded the country today on ABC’s “This Week,” it would be a mistake to think the Kentucky senator’s neo-isolationist views represent the sentiments of most conservatives or even Tea Partiers. Resentment against big government and suspicion of President Obama’s actions may have helped boost Paul’s popularity, but the idea that it is Rand’s party on foreign policy is a myth.

The assumption that all those who sympathize with the Tea Party agree with Paul on foreign policy is as much a product of liberal mainstream media manipulation as is the canard that they are racists. Those who identify with or view the movement favorably share a common mindset about the need to push back against the expansion of big government and the tax and spend policies that are its foundation. But many of those who call themselves Tea Partiers want nothing to do with Paul’s antipathy for a strong defense and unwillingness to maintain a stalwart U.S. presence abroad to stand up for our allies and our values.

Cruz has carved out a niche for himself among those most antagonistic to the party establishment as well as the liberal big government machine. But today he outlined a point on which he, and many other grass roots conservatives part company with Paul:

“I’m a big fan of Rand Paul,” Cruz said in an interview aired Sunday.” “We are good friends. I don’t agree with him on foreign policy. U.S. leadership is critical in the world. I agree we should be reluctant to deploy military force aboard, but there’s a vital role, just as Ronald Reagan did. When Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an Evil Empire, when he stood in front of the Brandenburg Gate and said ‘Tear down this wall.’ Those words changed the course of history. The United States has a responsibility to defend our values.”

In doing so, Cruz drew a clear distinction between his beliefs and a Paulite view of America’s place in the world that is for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from Obama’s predilection for retreat from confrontations with aggressors such as Iran or Russia.

Paul sought to align himself with Reagan’s foreign policy views on Fox News Sunday by declaring that his “reluctance for war” shouldn’t be confused with a “lack of resolve.” But to defend that position he cited an op-ed published in the Washington Post on the crisis in the Ukraine by Henry Kissinger as something he agreed with.

While no one doubts Dr. Kissinger’s deep store of knowledge about foreign policy, his piece combined common sense about the limits of America’s ability to undo Russia’s seizure of the Crimea with a sorry rationalization for Vladimir Putin’s aggression. The former secretary of state’s citation of Russian claims to the Ukraine and attempt to argue against strong Western outrage about this crime was exactly the wrong message to send to Russia at a time when it is trying to subvert the independence of that country in order to reassemble in one form or another the late and unlamented Tsarist/Soviet Empire.

The article was a cri de Coeur for a revival not of Reaganite foreign policy but of Kissinger’s own amoral détente with the Soviets that treated human rights (including the fate of a persecuted Soviet Jewry) as an unimportant detail. This sort of “realism” has always had its advocates within the GOP but it was exactly the sort of Republican establishment mindset that Reagan bitterly opposed in the 1976 and 1980 GOP primaries.

For the last generation, the Republican mainstream has, with some notable exceptions, united behind policies that emphasized a strong defense and a foreign policy that rejected retreat in the face of aggression while also upholding American values. It is interesting as well as gratifying to see that for all of his desire to torch the establishment on every other issue, Ted Cruz is very much part of this consensus. Paul can pretend he was more influenced by Reagan than his extremist father (whose views on foreign policy would make him more at home on the far left than the right). But as long as he remains an outlier on this crucial element of presidential politics, he shouldn’t be thought of as representing all Tea Partiers, let alone most Republicans.

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“The Philosopher Deals with Truth; the Statesman Addresses Contingencies.”

In his foreword to Raymond Aron’s book Memoirs: Fifty Years of Political Reflection, Henry Kissinger wrote:

For a man like myself, involved for many years in the mundane tasks of diplomacy, Aron’s book is not always comfortable reading. Clearly, his judgment of my efforts as a statesman is less admiring than mine of his contributions to Western thought. This is as it should be. The philosopher deals with truth; the statesman addresses contingencies. The thinker has a duty to define what is right; the policymaker must deal with what is attainable. The professor focuses on ultimate goals; the diplomat knows that his is a meandering path on which there are few ultimate solutions and whatever “solutions” there are, more often than not turn into a threshold for a new set of problems.

I thought about this passage while reflecting on the tension that often takes place between activists, academics, and commentators on the one hand and lawmakers and policy makers on the other. They inhabit, if not different worlds, then different continents in the same world.

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In his foreword to Raymond Aron’s book Memoirs: Fifty Years of Political Reflection, Henry Kissinger wrote:

For a man like myself, involved for many years in the mundane tasks of diplomacy, Aron’s book is not always comfortable reading. Clearly, his judgment of my efforts as a statesman is less admiring than mine of his contributions to Western thought. This is as it should be. The philosopher deals with truth; the statesman addresses contingencies. The thinker has a duty to define what is right; the policymaker must deal with what is attainable. The professor focuses on ultimate goals; the diplomat knows that his is a meandering path on which there are few ultimate solutions and whatever “solutions” there are, more often than not turn into a threshold for a new set of problems.

I thought about this passage while reflecting on the tension that often takes place between activists, academics, and commentators on the one hand and lawmakers and policy makers on the other. They inhabit, if not different worlds, then different continents in the same world.

Writers, intellectuals, and those commenting on daily events have the luxury of judging those in power against the standard of perfection, often forgetting that those in authority have to make difficult judgments in imperfect conditions, where opposing parties exist and one’s will cannot be imposed.

Those in positions of political power, on the other hand, need to be held accountable by those who are not. When you work in the highest reaches of government the dangers of insulation and self-justification are enormous, and it’s perfectly legitimate for commentators to offer critical critiques. But in doing so analysts should admit that it’s not all that difficult to offer up harsh judgments about public officials when you’re sitting behind a camera, a microphone, or a keyboard. It’s harder to run a campaign than to comment on one; it’s more difficult to govern than to eviscerate those who do.

Near the end of Memoirs, Aron, in a chapter that is both sympathetic and critical of Secretary Kissinger’s tenure, writes, “For a half century, I have limited my freedom of criticism by asking the question; in his place, what would I do?”

This didn’t keep Aron, a philosopher and journalist of great insight and intellectual courage, from offering powerful and necessary criticisms over the course of his life. (When Marxism and anti-Americanism were in vogue in France, Aron refused to be swept up into those powerful currents.) Yet his assessments were tempered by his appreciation of the different roles played by public intellectuals and those who are in the arena. Here, like in many ways, the qualities Aron possessed are worth emulating.

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James Baker Keeps Digging

Josh Rogin’s interview with former Secretary of State James Baker is teased at the top of ForeignPolicy.com’s home page with the headline: “The Realists Strike Back.” The Star Wars reference is appropriate, because it seems Baker is having his Admiral Ackbar moment.

The purpose of the interview is Baker’s response to recent reporting by Rogin on the prominence of some foreign policy “realists” in Mitt Romney’s transition team and the discomfort that is causing among other foreign policy advisers. In the interview, Baker explains that he deserves to be mentioned alongside Henry Kissinger, because Baker believes himself to be among the greatest statesmen this country has ever known. Where did he get this idea? From Thomas Friedman. But a glance at the Friedman column in question singing Baker’s praises makes one thing clear that Baker seems not to have noticed in time: It’s a trap!

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Josh Rogin’s interview with former Secretary of State James Baker is teased at the top of ForeignPolicy.com’s home page with the headline: “The Realists Strike Back.” The Star Wars reference is appropriate, because it seems Baker is having his Admiral Ackbar moment.

The purpose of the interview is Baker’s response to recent reporting by Rogin on the prominence of some foreign policy “realists” in Mitt Romney’s transition team and the discomfort that is causing among other foreign policy advisers. In the interview, Baker explains that he deserves to be mentioned alongside Henry Kissinger, because Baker believes himself to be among the greatest statesmen this country has ever known. Where did he get this idea? From Thomas Friedman. But a glance at the Friedman column in question singing Baker’s praises makes one thing clear that Baker seems not to have noticed in time: It’s a trap!

Here is what Friedman writes about Baker:

The three U.S. statesmen who have done the most to make Israel more secure and accepted in the region all told blunt truths to every Israeli or Arab leader: Jimmy Carter, who helped forge a lasting peace between Israel and Egypt; Henry Kissinger, who built the post-1973 war disengagement agreements with Syria, Israel and Egypt; and James Baker, who engineered the Madrid peace conference. All of them knew that to make progress in this region you have to get in the face of both sides. They both need the excuse at times that “the Americans made me do it,” because their own politics are too knotted to move on their own.

As this is the paragraph that mentioned Baker, he should have read it prior to endorsing its message. There’s the moral equivalence that has become a trademark of Friedman’s, and the outlandish claim about Israel’s security and place in the region.

Even if you grant that Carter should get a great deal of credit for the 1979 peace deal–and you shouldn’t, because Carter opposed it, tried to stall and prevent it, and then finally jumped aboard when he could no longer hope to torpedo it–you’d still have to be delusional to believe what was written there. Friedman’s no history buff of course, but he should be familiar with Harry Truman, whose early recognition of the Jewish state was critical to its acceptance and survival in its early days.

Kissinger does belong in that group–but so does his boss, Richard Nixon, who worked with Kissinger to plan and implement Operation Nickel Grass to keep Israel supplied and armed during the Yom Kippur War.

There are others, of course; George W. Bush’s support for Israel during the Intifada, Reagan’s support for Menachem Begin–against the wishes of much of his cabinet–during the first Lebanon war, etc. But the point is that if Baker only read the paragraph mentioning him he should still have known not to brag about it.

But the reason it’s a trap is because of what was written before that paragraph. Here are some choice quotes from it:

  • “Since the whole trip was not about learning anything but about how to satisfy the political whims of the right-wing, super pro-Bibi Netanyahu, American Jewish casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, why didn’t they just do the whole thing in Las Vegas? I mean, it was all about money anyway”
  • “They could have constructed a plastic Wailing Wall and saved so much on gas”
  • “In order to garner more Jewish (and evangelical) votes and money, the G.O.P. decided to ‘out-pro-Israel’ the Democrats by being even more unquestioning of Israel”
  • “State Department officials, not to mention politicians, are reluctant to even state publicly what is U.S. policy — that settlements are ‘an obstacle to peace’ — for fear of being denounced as anti-Israel”
  • “the main Israel lobby, AIPAC, has made itself the feared arbiter of which lawmakers are ‘pro’ and which are ‘anti-Israel’ and, therefore, who should get donations and who should not”

You get the point: Most of the column was about the nefarious presence of Jewish money in the election. This is the flag Baker is now running around Washington waving at reporters to prove he’s a statesman. Something tells me it won’t help.

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Scoop Jackson at 100

Freedom25, a group that seeks to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Soviet Jewry, reminds us that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Senator Henry Jackson, the intrepid Democratic senator from Washington State who was a bulwark of the fight for freedom against Communism.

Jackson is worth remembering not just because of his hard work for the just cause of freedom for Soviet Jewry and his dogged opposition to appeasement of the Soviet Union. His career embodied a rare brand of patriotism as well as insight into international affairs. He was also the best example of a political breed that is now all but extinct: a liberal on domestic issues who was an ardent hawk on foreign affairs. It is on the shoulders of men like Jackson that a genuine bipartisan consensus on defense issues, opposition to Soviet tyranny and support for the State of Israel was built. Though he passed away in 1983, all these years later he is still deeply missed by his country.

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Freedom25, a group that seeks to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1987 March on Washington for Soviet Jewry, reminds us that today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Senator Henry Jackson, the intrepid Democratic senator from Washington State who was a bulwark of the fight for freedom against Communism.

Jackson is worth remembering not just because of his hard work for the just cause of freedom for Soviet Jewry and his dogged opposition to appeasement of the Soviet Union. His career embodied a rare brand of patriotism as well as insight into international affairs. He was also the best example of a political breed that is now all but extinct: a liberal on domestic issues who was an ardent hawk on foreign affairs. It is on the shoulders of men like Jackson that a genuine bipartisan consensus on defense issues, opposition to Soviet tyranny and support for the State of Israel was built. Though he passed away in 1983, all these years later he is still deeply missed by his country.

The expression “Scoop Jackson Democrat” is a term that is now falling out of use because there are few liberals left who understand that while Americans can afford to differ on domestic policy and the economy, we must present a united front against foes of liberty. Though once his sort of politician was commonplace in an era when both major parties were “big tents,” nowadays it is inconceivable that a Democrat who shared Jackson’s worldview could survive a primary. This principle was conclusively proven when Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman lost the Democratic nomination for the Senate the last time he ran for re-election in 2006 because of his support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lieberman, who is retiring from the Senate this year largely because another independent run would be unlikely to succeed, is aptly termed the last such “Scoop Jackson Democrat.”

Though nowadays many claim credit for securing the freedom of Soviet Jewry, in the early days of the movement, support from major political figures was by no means automatic. But Jackson, whose opposition to Soviet imperialism was a matter of principle, not political convenience, was steadfast in his advocacy for Moscow’s captives. Undeterred by the fashionable support for détente with the Soviet Union championed by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Jackson became a thorn in the side of both the Nixon and Ford administrations as well as of the Kremlin. His sponsorship of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment linking Soviet trading rights to the right of Jews to emigrate became an impassable roadblock to those who wished to prioritize commerce with the evil empire over freedom. Despite Kissinger’s efforts to outmaneuver him, Jackson prevailed, and his signature legislation became the lever by which Soviet policy was undermined and eventually overthrown.

Today, we hear a great deal about the need for bipartisanship, a line of argument that is generally a cover for getting officials to throw their principles overboard in order to accommodate the majority. Jackson’s brand of bipartisanship was of a different variety. It was forged in a belief that the defense of freedom at home and abroad was a higher calling than the appeal of parties or presidents. Without him, the consensus in support of Israel’s fight for survival as well as opposition to Soviet tyranny would have been diminished if not impossible.

Though Jackson’s brand of Democrat may no longer be the flavor of month, his example still inspires new generations of thinkers and activists who uphold the ideas he held dear. It is no accident that when a British group dedicated to those principles was formed, it took his name. Henry Jackson’s 100th birthday is an occasion for us to celebrate the victories he won on behalf of Soviet Jewry and American ideas, but it should also be a moment for us to rededicate ourselves to the brand of patriotism for which he is the exemplar. May his memory be for a blessing.

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Ronald Reagan on Democracy

The unfolding revolution in Egypt has provoked a wider debate about what has been called the “freedom agenda.” At the heart of this debate is whether the United States should champion democratic ideals. Some people, including many conservatives, are deeply skeptical of the wisdom of promoting democracy, arguing that some nations (most especially in the Islamic and Arab world) are unprepared for freedom. Making democracy and human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy is therefore unwise and, in many cases, injurious to America’s national interests.

With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting the words of the most important conservative figure of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan. President Reagan said plenty about democracy — including during his June 8, 1982, Westminster Address. That speech is worth quoting extensively, since Reagan laid out his argument with intelligence and care.

“Democracy is not a fragile flower,” Reagan said. “Still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.”

America’s 40th president went on to say this:

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections. The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.

In practice, Reagan did not place talisman-like powers in democracy, and he wasn’t stupid in his application of the principles he enunciated. He didn’t favor destabilizing pro-American authoritarian regimes if they were going to be replaced by anti-American totalitarian ones. Statesmanship involves the prudential application of principles to particular situations and moments in time, something at which Reagan excelled. Read More

The unfolding revolution in Egypt has provoked a wider debate about what has been called the “freedom agenda.” At the heart of this debate is whether the United States should champion democratic ideals. Some people, including many conservatives, are deeply skeptical of the wisdom of promoting democracy, arguing that some nations (most especially in the Islamic and Arab world) are unprepared for freedom. Making democracy and human rights a cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy is therefore unwise and, in many cases, injurious to America’s national interests.

With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting the words of the most important conservative figure of the 20th century, Ronald Reagan. President Reagan said plenty about democracy — including during his June 8, 1982, Westminster Address. That speech is worth quoting extensively, since Reagan laid out his argument with intelligence and care.

“Democracy is not a fragile flower,” Reagan said. “Still it needs cultivating. If the rest of this century is to witness the gradual growth of freedom and democratic ideals, we must take actions to assist the campaign for democracy.”

America’s 40th president went on to say this:

While we must be cautious about forcing the pace of change, we must not hesitate to declare our ultimate objectives and to take concrete actions to move toward them. We must be staunch in our conviction that freedom is not the sole prerogative of a lucky few, but the inalienable and universal right of all human beings. So states the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which, among other things, guarantees free elections. The objective I propose is quite simple to state: to foster the infrastructure of democracy, the system of a free press, unions, political parties, universities, which allows a people to choose their own way to develop their own culture, to reconcile their own differences through peaceful means. This is not cultural imperialism, it is providing the means for genuine self-determination and protection for diversity. Democracy already flourishes in countries with very different cultures and historical experiences. It would be cultural condescension, or worse, to say that any people prefer dictatorship to democracy.

In practice, Reagan did not place talisman-like powers in democracy, and he wasn’t stupid in his application of the principles he enunciated. He didn’t favor destabilizing pro-American authoritarian regimes if they were going to be replaced by anti-American totalitarian ones. Statesmanship involves the prudential application of principles to particular situations and moments in time, something at which Reagan excelled.

Still, there is no denying the centrality that freedom and human rights played in American foreign policy during the Reagan years. And those who are consistently skeptical about proclaiming the inalienable and universal rights of all human beings — who when they speak about democracy promotion these days almost always do so in critical terms — are standing shoulder-to-shoulder not with Reagan but with Henry Kissinger.

Secretary Kissinger, after all, downplayed the role of morality in foreign policy. He believed that the United States should largely ignore the human-rights violations of other nations. Democracy promotion for him was a peripheral concern, and sometimes not even that.

Oh, and Dr. Kissinger was (in the 1976 primary challenge against Gerald Ford) Reagan’s bete noire, and the Reagan presidency in important respects a repudiation of Kissinger’s realpolitik.

I admire much about Henry Kissinger. But on this, as on so much else, Ronald Reagan was right.

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Cold War Revisionism Run Wild

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

As J.E. Dyer pointed out a few days ago, the standard treatment of the Cold War in the academy of the 1970s and 1980s was that it was a bad idea. That argument had many facets, but among the most consistently presented of them was the theme that the artificial Cold War scare had been used to justify close American relations with anti-Communist dictators.

This anti–Cold War bias has, to my mind, waned slightly, in part because of the work of historians like John Lewis Gaddis, and in part because it’s now history, and as such is safe for everyone to be in favor of. Indeed, it’s so safe that President Obama is free to call for Sputnik moments.

Still, the argument about American foreign policy endures. Since both Democratic and Republican presidents fought the Cold War, our policy, whatever you care to say about it, was bipartisan. Yet by and large, the charge of friendship with autocrats is used to tar Republicans. As Mark Mazower, a historian at Columbia, put it last year, “the kind of values talk that Reagan . . . injected into the Republican Party” is “tolerance for nasty dictators so long as they were not Reds.”

As John made clear in his earlier post, in regard to the binary choice between authoritarians and totalitarians, the argument about whom the U.S. should work with in pursuit of its national interests in this imperfect world is an old, long, and complicated one, and the only immediately nonsensical position is that we should simply ally ourselves with the absolutely pure. But what is really wonderful is to watch media liberals suddenly — now that we have a Democrat as president — discovering the virtues of American collaborations with the autocrats. Here, for instance, is Chris Matthews on MSNBC’s Hardball on Tuesday:

[Americans] do not like seeing people treat their friends badly. We treated Diem terribly, we let him get butchered then killed in Vietnam even though he was our ally for all those years. We watched the Shah become, as Henry Kissinger called him, a “flying Dutchman” before he died. Americans do sense when we’re being right with people.

Well, we did – or rather, President Kennedy did — treat Diem terribly. But this sudden surge of sympathy for the Shah, coming from the left, is remarkable, for — in his day — the Shah was close to the top of the left’s list of villains. By itself, this is Cold War revisionism run wild.

Even worse, though, is the way Matthews personalizes it. It wasn’t just Diem we treated badly: it was millions of our friends in Vietnam. Sure, one man matters, especially when he’s president. But we’re not going to “be right with people” if all we do is worry about the fate of their unelected leaders.

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The Slap Heard Round the World

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has. Read More

It is amazing that the political revolution now sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa was started by a 26-year-old unemployed Tunisian man who self-immolated.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi, a university graduate whose fruits-and-vegetables market stand was confiscated by police because it had no permit, tried to yank back his apples. He was slapped in the face by a female municipal inspector and eventually beaten by her colleagues. His later appeals were ignored. Humiliated, he drenched himself in paint thinner and set himself on fire. He died on January 4.

That incident was the spark that set ablaze the revolution that overthrew President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who ruled Tunisia for more than two decades — and that, in turn, spread to Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year reign of power is about to end. Anti-government protests are also happening in Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, and elsewhere. It’s hard to tell where all this will end; but how it began may rank among the more extraordinary hinge moments in history. It may come to be known as the Slap Heard Round the World.

How hopeful or fearful one feels about the unfolding events in Egypt depends in large measure on which revolutionary model one believes applies to this situation. Is it the French, Russian, or Iranian revolution, which ended with the guillotine, gulags, and an Islamic theocracy; or the American Revolution and what happened in the Philippines, South Korea, Indonesia, Chile, and Argentina, authoritarian regimes that made a relatively smooth transition to self-government? Or is it something entirely different? Here it’s worth bearing in mind the counsel of Henry Kissinger, who wrote, “History is not … a cookbook offering pretested recipes. It teaches by analogy, not by maxims. It can illuminate the consequences of actions in comparable situations, yet each generation must discover for itself what situations are in fact comparable.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s clear that the driving force of events in Egypt are tied to the universal human desire for liberty and free elections, for an end to political corruption and oppression. What the 2002 Arab Human Development Report called a “freedom deficit” in the Middle East is at the core of the unrest. Events seem to be vindicating those who said that siding with the forces of “stability” [read: dictatorships] rather than reform was unwise and ultimately unsustainable. At some point the lid would blow. Now it has.

The danger is that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which is hostile to Israel and close to Hamas, hijacks the revolution. The goal of U.S policy must therefore be to influence this revolution, to the degree we can, in a way that advances U.S. interests and American ideals. This means taking an active role, both publicly and behind the scenes, in support of those who stand for liberal democracy (for more, see here).

The hour has grown quite late. As Max Boot points out, the equivocation of the Obama administration needs to end. Mohamed ElBaradei, a leading Egyptian dissident who appears to be rapidly gaining power, is right when he said the United States is “losing credibility by the day” by its support for the Egyptian dictator. Mr. Mubarak is, politically speaking, a Dead Man Walking. There is still time, but not much time, for the president to get on the right side of this revolution and the right side of history. Secretary of State Clinton’s comments yesterday, in which she called for an “orderly transition” to a representative government, were certainly an improvement from where the administration was last week, when she was assuring the world of the staying power of Mr. Mubarak and Vice President Biden was declaring, against three decades of evidence, that the Egyptian president was not a dictator.

Having worked in three administrations and in the White House during a series of crises, I have some sympathy for how difficult it is to navigate through roiling waters, when one has to act on incomplete information in the midst of chaotic and constantly changing events, the outcome of which is impossible to know. In that respect, the Obama administration deserves some empathy. It’s never as easy to guide events when you’re in government as it is to critique events when you’re outside of government.

Still, as my former colleague William Inboden has written, it seems to me that the Obama administration can be held responsible for two important errors: (a) its failure to anticipate what is happening in Egypt and prepare contingency plans. and (b) its neglect of human rights, democracy, and economic reform in Egypt for the previous two years. “These failures should be front and center in any post-mortem policy review,” Professor Inboden writes. “The Mubarak regime’s brittleness and Egypt’s stagnation have long been apparent to many observers.” But not, apparently, to the Obama administration, which seems to have been caught completely off guard. If the spark that set the region afire was impossible to anticipate, the dry tinder of the region was not.

One Arab nation that so far hasn’t been convulsed by the political revolution now sweeping the Middle East is Iraq — the one Arab nation whose government is legitimate, the produce of free elections and political compromise, and that has the consent of the people. When it came to Iraqi democracy, most of the foreign-policy establishment assured us that self-government there could never take root, that Iraq would simply be a pawn of Iran, that the ethnic divisions in Iraq were too deep to overcome, and that (as Joe Biden argued at the time) the only solution was partition. At this stage, it’s reasonable to conclude that these judgments were quite wrong. And while one can certainly debate whether the Iraq war was worth the blood, treasure, and opportunities it cost, it appears as if the Egyptian people, and not only the Egyptian people, are longing for what the people of Iraq have embraced: self-government. It isn’t perfect by any means — but for the Arab Middle East, it is a model for other nations to aspire.

(h/t: Victor Davis Hanson)

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Kissinger and the Moral Bankruptcy of Détente

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

The tapes from conversations recorded in the Oval Office during the presidency of Richard Nixon have provided historians with a treasure trove of material giving insight into the character of one of the most reviled figures in American political history. But the latest transcripts released by the Nixon Presidential Library and Museum have also put the reputation of the one figure that had emerged from that administration with his character unsullied by Watergate into question: former secretary of state Henry Kissinger.

On March 1, 1973, Nixon and Kissinger, then the national security adviser, met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. She thanked the president for his support for her nation and implored him to speak out for the right of the captive Jewish population of the Soviet Union to emigrate. After she left, the tapes document the way the two men deprecated her request:

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

While both Nixon and Kissinger were known to be largely indifferent to the fate of Soviet Jewry or any other factor that might complicate their quest to achieve détente with Moscow, the callousness of Kissinger’s remarks is breathtaking.

The tapes are filled with Nixonian imprecations, including many anti-Semitic remarks that are often, and not without reason, put into perspective by those who note that the president did not allow his personal prejudice to stop him from supporting Israel during the Yom Kippur War. But if Nixon’s hate speech is old news, Kissinger’s blithe indifference to the possibility of a Communist Holocaust is something distressingly new.

There are two issues here that must be addressed. The first is the question of a wrong-headed policy and the attitudes that sustained it. The second is one of how a Jew, or any individual for that matter, should regard human-rights catastrophes up to and including the possibility of mass murder.

As for the first question, this exchange neatly summarized the general indifference to the fate of Soviet Jewry that was felt by much of the foreign-policy and political establishment at that time. Nixon and Kissinger’s joint concern was fostering détente with the Soviet Union, the centerpiece of their realist foreign-policy vision. Based on a defeatist view of the permanence and power of America’s Communist foe, that vision saw accommodation with the Soviets as the West’s best bet. And if that meant consigning 2 million Jews to their horrific fate, not to mention the captive peoples behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe, the Baltic republics and other parts of the Soviet Empire, so be it.

The assumption that the only choice was between appeasement of the Russians and “blowing up the world” was one that was, at least for a time, shared by these two so-called realists and those Soviet apologists and left-wingers who were otherwise devout Nixon and Kissinger foes. But, as Ronald Reagan, Henry Jackson, and other critics of détente asserted at the time and later proved, there was a choice. America could stand up for its values and speak out for human rights without triggering nuclear war. It was by aggressively supporting dissidents struggling against Communist oppression as well as by sharply opposing Soviet expansionism that the West not only kept the peace but also ultimately brought down the empire that Reagan so rightly characterized as “evil.” A principled and moral foreign policy was not a threat to peace; it was ultimately its guarantor.

While Kissinger has always defended his role in the Nixon White House as being that of the sage voice of wisdom restraining the irascible president, this exchange reveals him in a way that we have never seen before. It is one thing to see human rights as irrelevant to American foreign policy, but quite another to express indifference to the possibility of genocide. For a Jew who suffered Nazi persecution as a boy in Germany and who escaped the fate of 6 million others only by fleeing to freedom in the United States to say that a new set of “gas chambers” would not be “an American concern” was despicable.

A generation before Kissinger sat in the Oval Office with Nixon, another president was faced with the reality of the Holocaust. At that time, those Jews with access to Franklin Roosevelt feared losing his good will and thus restrained their advocacy for rescue or other measures that might have saved lives. Those same insiders abused and did their best to thwart those who were willing to speak out against American indifference. The reputation of Stephen A. Wise, the most distinguished American Jewish leader of that time and a devout FDR loyalist, has suffered greatly in recent decades as later generations carefully examined his refusal to speak out during the Holocaust. But say what you will about Wise, and many serious historians have been harshly critical of him, it is impossible to imagine him joking with Roosevelt about what was going on in Hitler’s Europe or musing airily about their catastrophic fate as Kissinger did about the Jews in Soviet Russia.

Whatever Kissinger’s motivation in making his remarks about “gas chambers” might have been, even the most sympathetic interpretation that can be imagined reveals him as a toady seeking Nixon’s approval and looking to establish himself as a Jew who wouldn’t speak up for other Jews, even if their lives were at stake.

The foreign-policy attitudes illustrated by Kissinger’s remarks should be held up to scorn whenever they are trotted out by apologists for American support for tyrannical regimes, be they Arab despotisms or the Communists who rule China. And Kissinger’s dishonorable indifference to the suffering of fellow Jews should stand forever as an example to be avoided at all costs by those Jews who seek or attain power in our democracy.

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The Bracing Realism of Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

Richard Holbrooke was, as the obits have it, a “giant of diplomacy.” Indeed, he has a claim to being one of the most influential diplomats in American history who never became secretary of state — a job he should have been given by President Clinton. He is edged out by George Kennan in the annals of American diplomatic history, but his achievement in hammering out the 1995 Dayton Accords ending the war in Bosnia is as impressive as any feat of negotiations in the post–World War II era.

He was much less successful in his latest job as the administration’s chief “AfPak” envoy. Why is that? Part of the reason was his mistake in alienating Hamid Karzai; an American envoy’s job is to talk tough behind the scenes but to preserve relations with an important allied head of state. Holbrooke, inexplicably, failed to do that. But most of the blame does not accrue to Holbrooke. The problem was that in Bosnia, the skillful use of force had set the conditions for diplomatic success — something that has not yet occurred in Afghanistan.

By the time Holbrooke was called upon to negotiate an end to the Bosnian fighting, the combatants had been exhausted and Serbian attempts at aggrandizement had been stymied, first by a Croatian offensive, then by NATO bombing. They were ready to cut a deal. Not so the Taliban and their sponsors in Islamabad. General David Petraeus has only now launched in earnest the military operations necessary to frustrate Taliban designs and compel elements of the group to negotiate or face annihilation. Without the effective use of force, not even a diplomat as supremely skilled as Holbrooke could achieve success.

A personal note: I knew Holbrooke slightly and liked him. I realize he had a reputation in Washington for being abrasive and egotistical; that reputation probably cost him the secretary of state job that he coveted and had earned. But effective diplomats can’t afford to be shrinking violets. Sure, Holbrooke had an outsize personality, but so did Dean Acheson, Henry Kissinger, and other diplomatic superstars. Like them, Holbrooke also had enormous reservoirs of intelligence , savvy, and learning. And like them, he was a skilled writer; his memoir of the Dayton peace process was a classic. One of many regrets about his premature passing is that the world will be denied his memoirs.

He was a liberal but a tough-minded one — one of the last prominent hawks in the Democratic Party. He was, in short, a “neo-liberal,” which isn’t so far removed from a “neo-conservative,” a label that I teased him with and that he naturally resisted. The country as a whole will miss him, and so in particular will the Democratic Party, which could use more of his bracing realism in its counsels.

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Group Outlines the Conservative Case Against New Start

Earlier this month, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Jim Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Colin Powell laid out the “Republican case” for ratifying New START in the Washington Post.

But now another group of conservative national-security experts has outlined the case against the arms-reduction treaty. The New Deterrent Working group, which includes John Bolton, Edwin Meese, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, Bruce S. Gelb, and J. William Middendorf II, has sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Mitch McConnell urging them to reject New Start.

From the text of the letter:

As you know, President Obama insists that the United States Senate advise and consent during the present lame-duck session to the bilateral U.S.-Russian strategic arms control treaty known as “New START” that he signed earlier this year in Prague. It is our considered professional judgment that this treaty and the larger disarmament agenda which its ratification would endorse are not consistent with the national security interests of the United States, and that both should be rejected by the Senate.

Administration efforts to compel the Senate to vote under circumstances in which an informed and full debate are effectively precluded is inconsistent with your institution’s precedents, its constitutionally mandated quality-control responsibilities with respect to treaties and, in particular, the critical deliberation New START requires in light of that accord’s myriad defects …

The letter summed up the direct risks of reducing our nuclear capabilities, but the more compelling argument touched on the potential unintended consequences of the treaty. The group cautioned that New START could actually increase nuclear proliferation by prompting countries that rely on the U.S. for security to develop their own nuclear capabilities. In addition, reductions by the U.S. could encourage China to expand its own stockpile in pursuit of nuclear parity. Since the entire point of New START is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, this might be one of the more effective arguments against it.

The letter also argued that Russia’s inventory of strategic launchers would shrink dramatically over the next decade (from 680 to 270) because of aging and regardless of whether New START is ratified.

This vocal opposition from prominent conservatives may help keep Senate Republicans in line against New START. Three Republican senators are currently supporting the treaty, but six additional GOP votes are needed to ratify it.

Earlier this month, Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Jim Baker, Lawrence Eagleburger, and Colin Powell laid out the “Republican case” for ratifying New START in the Washington Post.

But now another group of conservative national-security experts has outlined the case against the arms-reduction treaty. The New Deterrent Working group, which includes John Bolton, Edwin Meese, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Lt. Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, Bruce S. Gelb, and J. William Middendorf II, has sent a letter to Sen. Harry Reid and Sen. Mitch McConnell urging them to reject New Start.

From the text of the letter:

As you know, President Obama insists that the United States Senate advise and consent during the present lame-duck session to the bilateral U.S.-Russian strategic arms control treaty known as “New START” that he signed earlier this year in Prague. It is our considered professional judgment that this treaty and the larger disarmament agenda which its ratification would endorse are not consistent with the national security interests of the United States, and that both should be rejected by the Senate.

Administration efforts to compel the Senate to vote under circumstances in which an informed and full debate are effectively precluded is inconsistent with your institution’s precedents, its constitutionally mandated quality-control responsibilities with respect to treaties and, in particular, the critical deliberation New START requires in light of that accord’s myriad defects …

The letter summed up the direct risks of reducing our nuclear capabilities, but the more compelling argument touched on the potential unintended consequences of the treaty. The group cautioned that New START could actually increase nuclear proliferation by prompting countries that rely on the U.S. for security to develop their own nuclear capabilities. In addition, reductions by the U.S. could encourage China to expand its own stockpile in pursuit of nuclear parity. Since the entire point of New START is to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, this might be one of the more effective arguments against it.

The letter also argued that Russia’s inventory of strategic launchers would shrink dramatically over the next decade (from 680 to 270) because of aging and regardless of whether New START is ratified.

This vocal opposition from prominent conservatives may help keep Senate Republicans in line against New START. Three Republican senators are currently supporting the treaty, but six additional GOP votes are needed to ratify it.

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What Vietnam Should Teach Us About Iran

J.E. Dyer’s excellent post yesterday correctly noted that this week’s talks with Iran, like the previous rounds, will merely buy Tehran more time to advance its nuclear program. That the West would commit such folly shows it has yet to learn a crucial lesson of the Vietnam War: though it sees compromise as the ultimate solution to any conflict, its opponents’ aim is often total victory.

Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and then secretary of state during Vietnam, expounded on this difference at a State Department conference this fall. As Haaretz reported:

The Americans sought a compromise; the North Vietnamese a victory, to replace the regime in the south and to unite the two halves of Vietnam under their rule. When they became stronger militarily, they attacked; when they were blocked, they agreed to bargain; when they signed an agreement, they waited for an opportunity to break it and win.

That same disconnect between the parties’ goals exists today over Iran’s nuclear program. The West repeatedly says its goal is compromise. Even as the UN approved new sanctions against Tehran in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her ultimate aim was to get Iran “back at the negotiating table.” And when the EU discussed additional sanctions in July, its high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, insisted that “The purpose of all this is to say, ‘We’re serious, we need to talk.’ … Nothing would dissuade me from the fact that talks should happen.”

Iran, however, isn’t seeking compromise; it’s playing to win. And that explains all its diplomatic twists and turns, like scrapping last year’s deal to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad immediately after signing it.

Diplomats and journalists, convinced that Iran, too, wants compromise, have espoused strained explanations, like disagreements between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief backer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But once you realize that Iran’s goal is victory, it’s clear that Tehran never intended to give up its uranium. It merely wanted time to develop its nuclear program further before new sanctions were imposed. The scrapped deal bought it a year: first the months of talks; then more time wasted in efforts to lure Iran back to the deal it walked out of; and finally, months spent negotiating the new sanctions, which weren’t discussed previously for fear of scuttling the chances of a deal.

Now Tehran again feels pressured, so, like Hanoi, it’s agreeing to bargain. It’s no accident that after months of preliminary jockeying, Iran finally set a date for the talks immediately after the WikiLeaks cables made worldwide headlines. The cables’ revelation of an Arab consensus for military action against Tehran gives new ammunition to an incoming Congress already inclined to be tougher on Iran and also facilitates a potential Israeli military strike: who now would believe the inevitable Arab denunciations afterward?

So Iran, cognizant of the West’s weakness, has taken out the perfect insurance policy: as long as it’s talking, feeding the West’s hope for compromise, Western leaders will oppose both new sanctions and military action. And Tehran will be able to continue its march toward victory unimpeded.

J.E. Dyer’s excellent post yesterday correctly noted that this week’s talks with Iran, like the previous rounds, will merely buy Tehran more time to advance its nuclear program. That the West would commit such folly shows it has yet to learn a crucial lesson of the Vietnam War: though it sees compromise as the ultimate solution to any conflict, its opponents’ aim is often total victory.

Henry Kissinger, national security adviser and then secretary of state during Vietnam, expounded on this difference at a State Department conference this fall. As Haaretz reported:

The Americans sought a compromise; the North Vietnamese a victory, to replace the regime in the south and to unite the two halves of Vietnam under their rule. When they became stronger militarily, they attacked; when they were blocked, they agreed to bargain; when they signed an agreement, they waited for an opportunity to break it and win.

That same disconnect between the parties’ goals exists today over Iran’s nuclear program. The West repeatedly says its goal is compromise. Even as the UN approved new sanctions against Tehran in June, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said her ultimate aim was to get Iran “back at the negotiating table.” And when the EU discussed additional sanctions in July, its high representative for foreign policy, Catherine Ashton, insisted that “The purpose of all this is to say, ‘We’re serious, we need to talk.’ … Nothing would dissuade me from the fact that talks should happen.”

Iran, however, isn’t seeking compromise; it’s playing to win. And that explains all its diplomatic twists and turns, like scrapping last year’s deal to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad immediately after signing it.

Diplomats and journalists, convinced that Iran, too, wants compromise, have espoused strained explanations, like disagreements between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his chief backer, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. But once you realize that Iran’s goal is victory, it’s clear that Tehran never intended to give up its uranium. It merely wanted time to develop its nuclear program further before new sanctions were imposed. The scrapped deal bought it a year: first the months of talks; then more time wasted in efforts to lure Iran back to the deal it walked out of; and finally, months spent negotiating the new sanctions, which weren’t discussed previously for fear of scuttling the chances of a deal.

Now Tehran again feels pressured, so, like Hanoi, it’s agreeing to bargain. It’s no accident that after months of preliminary jockeying, Iran finally set a date for the talks immediately after the WikiLeaks cables made worldwide headlines. The cables’ revelation of an Arab consensus for military action against Tehran gives new ammunition to an incoming Congress already inclined to be tougher on Iran and also facilitates a potential Israeli military strike: who now would believe the inevitable Arab denunciations afterward?

So Iran, cognizant of the West’s weakness, has taken out the perfect insurance policy: as long as it’s talking, feeding the West’s hope for compromise, Western leaders will oppose both new sanctions and military action. And Tehran will be able to continue its march toward victory unimpeded.

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WikiLeaks: Nihilism in the Guise of Transparency

Yesterday I wrote about the WikiLeaks document dump in terms of what we learned about Arab leaders and their views toward Iran. Today I want to focus on its damage to American national security, and to do so by quoting from Henry Kissinger’s memoir White House Years.

In discussing the so-called Pentagon Papers — the release of more than 7,000 pages of secret documents related to the Vietnam war — Kissinger wrote that the documents “were in no way damaging to the Nixon Presidency.” He points out that “there was some sentiment among White House political operatives to exploit them as an illustration of the machinations of our predecessor and the difficulties we inherited.” Kissinger rightly believed that this was against the public interest. He then zeroed in on a point that is apposite today, in the context of the WikiLeaks matter:

Our nightmare at that moment was that Peking might conclude our government was too unsteady, too harassed, and too insecure to be a useful partner. The massive hemorrhage of state secrets was bound to raise doubts about our reliability in the minds of other government, friend and foe, and indeed about the stability of our political system. We had secret talks going on at the same time with the North Vietnamese, which we believed — incorrectly, as it turned out — were close to a breakthrough. We were in an important point in the sensitive SALT talks. And we were in the final stages of delicate Berlin negotiations which also depended on secrecy.

… I continue to believe that the theft and publication of official documents did a grave disservice to the nation. In the event, the release of the Pentagon Papers did not impede our overture to Peking. But this does not change the principle. We could not know so at the time; nor did those who stole the documents consider the consequences of their action, or even care — their purpose was, after all, to undermine confidence in their government.

(For a very helpful overview of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance, see Gabriel Schoenfeld’s essay “Rethinking the Pentagon Papers” in National Affairs magazine.)

In this particular instance, there does not appear to be any evidence that the American government misled the public on any matter. Rather, it appears to be an effort to release secret communications simply for the sake of malice and to undermine confidence in order to create chaos, embarrassment, and offense.

The collateral damage from these leaks could be massive, as Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted. If foreign governments and diplomats do not have confidence that their candid opinions will remain confidential — if they must now edit their appraisals and judgments with the assumption that they will appear on the front pages of the New York Times or Der Spiegel — then it will make diplomacy and the conduct of foreign policy substantially more difficult.

One can imagine extremely rare circumstances in which exposing state secrets is justifiable or at least debatable. This case is nothing close to that. What we have in Julian Assange is a nihilist and a malcontent, disturbed and dangerous. He really ought to be stopped.

Yesterday I wrote about the WikiLeaks document dump in terms of what we learned about Arab leaders and their views toward Iran. Today I want to focus on its damage to American national security, and to do so by quoting from Henry Kissinger’s memoir White House Years.

In discussing the so-called Pentagon Papers — the release of more than 7,000 pages of secret documents related to the Vietnam war — Kissinger wrote that the documents “were in no way damaging to the Nixon Presidency.” He points out that “there was some sentiment among White House political operatives to exploit them as an illustration of the machinations of our predecessor and the difficulties we inherited.” Kissinger rightly believed that this was against the public interest. He then zeroed in on a point that is apposite today, in the context of the WikiLeaks matter:

Our nightmare at that moment was that Peking might conclude our government was too unsteady, too harassed, and too insecure to be a useful partner. The massive hemorrhage of state secrets was bound to raise doubts about our reliability in the minds of other government, friend and foe, and indeed about the stability of our political system. We had secret talks going on at the same time with the North Vietnamese, which we believed — incorrectly, as it turned out — were close to a breakthrough. We were in an important point in the sensitive SALT talks. And we were in the final stages of delicate Berlin negotiations which also depended on secrecy.

… I continue to believe that the theft and publication of official documents did a grave disservice to the nation. In the event, the release of the Pentagon Papers did not impede our overture to Peking. But this does not change the principle. We could not know so at the time; nor did those who stole the documents consider the consequences of their action, or even care — their purpose was, after all, to undermine confidence in their government.

(For a very helpful overview of the Pentagon Papers and its relevance, see Gabriel Schoenfeld’s essay “Rethinking the Pentagon Papers” in National Affairs magazine.)

In this particular instance, there does not appear to be any evidence that the American government misled the public on any matter. Rather, it appears to be an effort to release secret communications simply for the sake of malice and to undermine confidence in order to create chaos, embarrassment, and offense.

The collateral damage from these leaks could be massive, as Emanuele Ottolenghi has noted. If foreign governments and diplomats do not have confidence that their candid opinions will remain confidential — if they must now edit their appraisals and judgments with the assumption that they will appear on the front pages of the New York Times or Der Spiegel — then it will make diplomacy and the conduct of foreign policy substantially more difficult.

One can imagine extremely rare circumstances in which exposing state secrets is justifiable or at least debatable. This case is nothing close to that. What we have in Julian Assange is a nihilist and a malcontent, disturbed and dangerous. He really ought to be stopped.

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Explaining Foreign Policy Failures

Jackson Diehl thinks Obama’s foreign policy is badly out of date. Obama is frantic to conclude an old-style nuclear arms treaty while the “threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations.” He’s obsessed over Israeli settlements, which leads to bizarre dealmaking efforts (“a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement”), while the real threat to peace and stability in the region is the rise of the Iranian axis and a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state.

Why is Obama fixated on issues that were in vogue when he was a college student and oblivious or disinterested in the world as we find it in 2010? One can argue that this is simply a function of leftist ideology — a worldview frozen in time and sealed off from reality. In that conception, our enemies are misunderstood, America’s problems are largely of its own making, and we’d be better off re-creating the U.S. in the image of Western Europe than in pushing despotic regimes to democratize.

Then there is the rudderless-ship explanation. As Diehl observes: “this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy — or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.” We’ve seen the same in the economic realm — there is no one who understands free markets, has experience as an entrepreneur, or questions the class warfare, anti-business stance that has characterized the first two years of Obama’s term. In short, the administration is in over its head in a very complex and dangerous world.

And then there is the possibility that there is a method, however inept, to the Obama foreign policy approach. It is the path of least resistance. We want to make progress with the Russians, so we  give them what they want. The Palestinians harp on settlements, so we become their agent. Iran isn’t amenable to sanctions or engagement, but we’d better make sure no one gets the idea that we are headed for a military confrontation. The Chinese don’t want to talk about human rights, so we don’t. It’s always easier to beat up on small allies than to stand up to intransigent bullies.

None of these explanations is entirely satisfying or mutually exclusive. Obama’s foreign policy is made all the more curious by the fact that sometimes he gets it right. Obama, however reluctantly, has followed the Bush approach in Iraq and attempted to duplicate it in Afghanistan. In these areas he’s departed from the leftist playbook and to a large extent followed the advice of the one truly expert national security guru he has: Gen. David Petraeus. So go figure.

Perhaps it comes down to this: only when faced with the prospect of a massive loss of American credibility (e.g., a defeat in Afghanistan), a severe domestic backlash (American Jews’ falling out with him), or resolute opposition (from Israel on Jerusalem) does Obama do what is smart and productive for American interests. In other words, only when exhausting all other opportunities and trying every which way to force his ideologically driven preferences does he stumble upon a reasonable outcome. This, if true, contains a powerful lesson for Israel, for Obama’s domestic critics, and for our other allies: hang tough, be clear about the Obama administration’s errors, and don’t blink. Chances are, he will instead.

Jackson Diehl thinks Obama’s foreign policy is badly out of date. Obama is frantic to conclude an old-style nuclear arms treaty while the “threat of nuclear weapons now comes from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria, and maybe from terrorist organizations.” He’s obsessed over Israeli settlements, which leads to bizarre dealmaking efforts (“a campaign that even Palestinian and Arab leaders have watched with bafflement”), while the real threat to peace and stability in the region is the rise of the Iranian axis and a nuclear-armed, revolutionary Islamic state.

Why is Obama fixated on issues that were in vogue when he was a college student and oblivious or disinterested in the world as we find it in 2010? One can argue that this is simply a function of leftist ideology — a worldview frozen in time and sealed off from reality. In that conception, our enemies are misunderstood, America’s problems are largely of its own making, and we’d be better off re-creating the U.S. in the image of Western Europe than in pushing despotic regimes to democratize.

Then there is the rudderless-ship explanation. As Diehl observes: “this administration is notable for its lack of grand strategy — or strategists. Its top foreign-policy makers are a former senator, a Washington lawyer and a former Senate staffer. There is no Henry Kissinger, no Zbigniew Brzezinski, no Condoleezza Rice; no foreign policy scholar.” We’ve seen the same in the economic realm — there is no one who understands free markets, has experience as an entrepreneur, or questions the class warfare, anti-business stance that has characterized the first two years of Obama’s term. In short, the administration is in over its head in a very complex and dangerous world.

And then there is the possibility that there is a method, however inept, to the Obama foreign policy approach. It is the path of least resistance. We want to make progress with the Russians, so we  give them what they want. The Palestinians harp on settlements, so we become their agent. Iran isn’t amenable to sanctions or engagement, but we’d better make sure no one gets the idea that we are headed for a military confrontation. The Chinese don’t want to talk about human rights, so we don’t. It’s always easier to beat up on small allies than to stand up to intransigent bullies.

None of these explanations is entirely satisfying or mutually exclusive. Obama’s foreign policy is made all the more curious by the fact that sometimes he gets it right. Obama, however reluctantly, has followed the Bush approach in Iraq and attempted to duplicate it in Afghanistan. In these areas he’s departed from the leftist playbook and to a large extent followed the advice of the one truly expert national security guru he has: Gen. David Petraeus. So go figure.

Perhaps it comes down to this: only when faced with the prospect of a massive loss of American credibility (e.g., a defeat in Afghanistan), a severe domestic backlash (American Jews’ falling out with him), or resolute opposition (from Israel on Jerusalem) does Obama do what is smart and productive for American interests. In other words, only when exhausting all other opportunities and trying every which way to force his ideologically driven preferences does he stumble upon a reasonable outcome. This, if true, contains a powerful lesson for Israel, for Obama’s domestic critics, and for our other allies: hang tough, be clear about the Obama administration’s errors, and don’t blink. Chances are, he will instead.

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‘Why Saigon Fell and Jerusalem Hasn’t’

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

In yesterday’s post, I described how newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War reveal the enormous strategic impact that America’s perceived credibility as an ally (or lack thereof) has on the Middle East. But the documents also teach another important lesson about the modern Middle East — the importance of Congress.

In 1973, the Yom Kippur War erupted even as the Vietnam War still raged. Thus Israel and South Vietnam wound up submitting very similar requests for military aid to Washington. As then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Thomas Moorer noted in one internal discussion, “Many of the things [South Vietnam President Nguyen Van Thieu] wants, Israel wants too. We have to make some decisions.”

Ultimately, those decisions heavily favored Israel: Jerusalem got most of what it wanted; Saigon did not. But that was not because either the Nixon administration or the subsequent Ford administration preferred Israel to South Vietnam. It was because Congress did.

In 1974, then-president Gerald Ford explained this bluntly to South Vietnam’s foreign minister, Vuong Van Bac. After pledging the administration’s full support, he qualified, “Our problem is not us, but on the Hill.”

Then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger echoed this in an internal discussion in 1975. Congress, he complained, had told him:

“You’ve got to give aid to Israel because they win their wars, but we can’t give aid to other countries that are losing their wars.” Well, on that goddamn theory it’s a wonder that the Soviets are not in Bonn already. On that theory the Nazis would have taken over the world.

Haaretz journalist Amir Oren summed the lesson up nicely:

Fortunately for Israel, Washington does not only consist of the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, but also Congress. Thanks to Israel’s power in Congress, it has fared better than other, smaller allies, like South Vietnam. In the absence of congressional support, they did not win the administration’s affection; this is why Saigon fell and Jerusalem hasn’t.

Unfortunately, it’s a lesson few Israeli prime ministers seem to have learned. Because Israel’s Knesset has virtually no power over foreign affairs, Israeli leaders often fail to understand the crucial role that congressional support, or opposition, plays in American foreign affairs. They therefore focus exclusively on good relations with the administration, while ignoring Congress entirely.

That would be a bad mistake for any country. But it’s a particularly egregious mistake for a country that has traditionally enjoyed far more support in Congress than it has from even the friendliest administration.

Yet it isn’t only Israeli leaders who could benefit from studying this lesson: the newly released documents also provide a crucial reminder for American voters. Americans, of course, do understand the role of Congress. Nevertheless, there is sometimes a tendency to think that since foreign policy is primarily in the president’s domain, congressional votes should focus on domestic concerns.

But, in fact, as these documents show, Congress plays a vital role in foreign policy as well. The lesson is clear: if voters want a pro-Israel foreign policy, they must keep electing pro-Israel congressmen.

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The Real Middle East Linkage

Barack Obama’s administration is a big fan of “linkage” — the theory that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would, in his words, “change the strategic landscape of the Middle East” and “help us deal with terrorist organizations in the region.” And actually, he’s half right: America’s handling of this conflict does affect the Middle East’s strategic landscape. But the link, as newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War make clear, isn’t what Obama thinks it is. And therefore, his policies are making war more likely, not less.

Obama believes Palestinian suffering is a top Muslim concern that contributes greatly to radicalizing Muslim extremists. Thus, if America forced Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands, not only would Muslims like America better, but all the Muslim world’s other problems would be easier to solve, because a key source of radicalization would be gone.

That version of linkage is clearly delusional. Just consider last month’s deadly bombing by Sunni extremists of a Shiite march in Pakistan. The march was one of several nationwide to “observe Al Quds Day, an annual protest to express solidarity with Palestinians and condemn Israel.” Yet solidarity with the Palestinians evidently ranks so low on the Muslim agenda that Sunnis and Shiites couldn’t suspend their mutual bloodletting for one day to unite around this issue. So how would a Palestinian state ease this Sunni-Shiite divide?

But as the Vietnam documents show, linkage does exist. When the 1973 Yom Kippur War erupted, forcing then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger to spend months brokering cease-fire agreements between Israel, Syria, and Egypt, the Vietnam War still raged. So after one of Kissinger’s trips to the region, then-ambassador to Saigon Graham Martin asked him “about the connection between what was happening in the Middle East and Vietnam.” Kissinger replied:

It hurt us with the Arabs. [Syrian President Hafez] Assad said in his talks with me, “You look what you’ve done to Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Portugal, etc.” … Assad said, “Therefore if you look at this, you will give up Israel, and so [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat should simply not give in.”

In short, it wasn’t American support for Israel that hurt America with the Arabs, but the Arabs’ conviction that this support would prove ephemeral, as it had with other American allies. The more convinced the Arabs were that America would ultimately abandon its allies, the less reason they saw to compromise, the more inflexible their positions became, and the more they preferred alliances with America’s enemies instead (in this case, the Soviet Union).

The same dynamic is evident today. Obama’s avowed goal of putting “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, coupled with his downgrading of other traditional American allies in favor of longtime enemies, has convinced Palestinians that if they hold out, America will eventually abandon Israel, too. And why compromise now if they could have it all later? Hence the flurry of new demands, like no negotiations without a settlement freeze, that they never posed before.

It seems some things never change. Today, too, the real link between Israel and the broader Middle Eastern strategic landscape remains America’s credibility as an ally.

Barack Obama’s administration is a big fan of “linkage” — the theory that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would, in his words, “change the strategic landscape of the Middle East” and “help us deal with terrorist organizations in the region.” And actually, he’s half right: America’s handling of this conflict does affect the Middle East’s strategic landscape. But the link, as newly declassified documents from the Vietnam War make clear, isn’t what Obama thinks it is. And therefore, his policies are making war more likely, not less.

Obama believes Palestinian suffering is a top Muslim concern that contributes greatly to radicalizing Muslim extremists. Thus, if America forced Israel to capitulate to Palestinian demands, not only would Muslims like America better, but all the Muslim world’s other problems would be easier to solve, because a key source of radicalization would be gone.

That version of linkage is clearly delusional. Just consider last month’s deadly bombing by Sunni extremists of a Shiite march in Pakistan. The march was one of several nationwide to “observe Al Quds Day, an annual protest to express solidarity with Palestinians and condemn Israel.” Yet solidarity with the Palestinians evidently ranks so low on the Muslim agenda that Sunnis and Shiites couldn’t suspend their mutual bloodletting for one day to unite around this issue. So how would a Palestinian state ease this Sunni-Shiite divide?

But as the Vietnam documents show, linkage does exist. When the 1973 Yom Kippur War erupted, forcing then-secretary of state Henry Kissinger to spend months brokering cease-fire agreements between Israel, Syria, and Egypt, the Vietnam War still raged. So after one of Kissinger’s trips to the region, then-ambassador to Saigon Graham Martin asked him “about the connection between what was happening in the Middle East and Vietnam.” Kissinger replied:

It hurt us with the Arabs. [Syrian President Hafez] Assad said in his talks with me, “You look what you’ve done to Taiwan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Portugal, etc.” … Assad said, “Therefore if you look at this, you will give up Israel, and so [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat should simply not give in.”

In short, it wasn’t American support for Israel that hurt America with the Arabs, but the Arabs’ conviction that this support would prove ephemeral, as it had with other American allies. The more convinced the Arabs were that America would ultimately abandon its allies, the less reason they saw to compromise, the more inflexible their positions became, and the more they preferred alliances with America’s enemies instead (in this case, the Soviet Union).

The same dynamic is evident today. Obama’s avowed goal of putting “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel, coupled with his downgrading of other traditional American allies in favor of longtime enemies, has convinced Palestinians that if they hold out, America will eventually abandon Israel, too. And why compromise now if they could have it all later? Hence the flurry of new demands, like no negotiations without a settlement freeze, that they never posed before.

It seems some things never change. Today, too, the real link between Israel and the broader Middle Eastern strategic landscape remains America’s credibility as an ally.

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What a New National Security Adviser Means for Foreign Policy

There has been much speculation in Washington circles about what it means that Tom Donilon has replaced James Jones as national security adviser. My hunch is: not much. I am not particularly persuaded by theories that hold that Donilon is more left-wing than Jones, and that he will clash more with senior generals. Jones, after all, was not exactly an outspoken advocate of the surge in Afghanistan (or for that matter in Iraq).

My sense is that a lot of the reason why he was appointed, even though Obama had barely met him, was so that Obama, who has no experience in military affairs, would have a high-profile retired officer on his staff who could with credibility stand up to the Pentagon. Jones made news in the summer of 2009 when he warned Gen. Stanley McChrystal that any further troop requests would be a “whisky tango foxtrot” moment for the White House. McChrystal asked for more troops anyway, because they were necessary. Most of his request wound up being granted not because of any decision made by Jones or by Donilon, who was then deputy national security adviser but widely seen as the power behind Jones’s throne. The ultimate call was made, unsurprisingly, by Barack Obama himself. That’s the way it always is and always has to be. The president is the “decider in chief.”

A good national security adviser can help marshal the information the boss needs to make good decisions and then help to implement them, but it is extremely rare for a national security adviser to be a major power in his or her own right. Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski are notable exceptions to this rule, but there haven’t been many others — and it has been many decades since they were in power. Usually, the national security adviser is a reflection of the president. This was certainly the case with Condi Rice, who was widely faulted for not doing a better job of getting the Bush administration to march in lockstep behind the president’s policies. That failure was ultimately not hers but George W. Bush’s. It was he, after all, who appointed her and gave her the power she had — or didn’t have. So, too, it will be with Donilon. He is certainly not a foreign policy intellectual like Kissinger or Brzezinski; he is a consummate staffer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what it means is that we shouldn’t expect much change from his appointment.

There has been much speculation in Washington circles about what it means that Tom Donilon has replaced James Jones as national security adviser. My hunch is: not much. I am not particularly persuaded by theories that hold that Donilon is more left-wing than Jones, and that he will clash more with senior generals. Jones, after all, was not exactly an outspoken advocate of the surge in Afghanistan (or for that matter in Iraq).

My sense is that a lot of the reason why he was appointed, even though Obama had barely met him, was so that Obama, who has no experience in military affairs, would have a high-profile retired officer on his staff who could with credibility stand up to the Pentagon. Jones made news in the summer of 2009 when he warned Gen. Stanley McChrystal that any further troop requests would be a “whisky tango foxtrot” moment for the White House. McChrystal asked for more troops anyway, because they were necessary. Most of his request wound up being granted not because of any decision made by Jones or by Donilon, who was then deputy national security adviser but widely seen as the power behind Jones’s throne. The ultimate call was made, unsurprisingly, by Barack Obama himself. That’s the way it always is and always has to be. The president is the “decider in chief.”

A good national security adviser can help marshal the information the boss needs to make good decisions and then help to implement them, but it is extremely rare for a national security adviser to be a major power in his or her own right. Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski are notable exceptions to this rule, but there haven’t been many others — and it has been many decades since they were in power. Usually, the national security adviser is a reflection of the president. This was certainly the case with Condi Rice, who was widely faulted for not doing a better job of getting the Bush administration to march in lockstep behind the president’s policies. That failure was ultimately not hers but George W. Bush’s. It was he, after all, who appointed her and gave her the power she had — or didn’t have. So, too, it will be with Donilon. He is certainly not a foreign policy intellectual like Kissinger or Brzezinski; he is a consummate staffer. There’s nothing wrong with that. But what it means is that we shouldn’t expect much change from his appointment.

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Lessons from Tony Blair’s Memoir

In his excellent memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, Tony Blair writes about his electoral victory in 1997:

We were very quickly appreciating the daunting revelation of the gap between saying and doing. In Opposition, the gap is nothing because “saying” is all you can do; in government, where “doing” is what it’s all about, the gap is suddenly revealed as a chasm of bureaucracy, frustration and disappointment … I was afraid because, at that instant, suddenly I thought of myself no longer as the up-and-coming, the challenger, the prophet, but the owner of the responsibility, the person not explaining why things were wrong but taking the decisions to put them right.

Blair’s words touch on a truth which those of us who have served in government, and especially in different administrations and in the White House, can attest:

A president’s capacity to control and influence events is often more limited than it’s imagined. It’s not unusual for presidential directives to be ignored or undermined by the bureaucracy. Thousands of personnel decisions, some seemingly insignificant, can come back to bite you. An administration is held responsible for what happens on its watch, whether or not that’s justified. Urgent, complex problems demand a response even if the information needed to act on them is incomplete. The political culture is unforgiving. And all presidents and their aides, like all people, are flawed and fallible.

When you’re out of power and in the opposition, these truths are quickly tossed aside or simply forgotten. Governing seems much easier when all one is doing is critiquing others in columns and blogs, in speeches and on television. Position papers are simpler to write than policies are to enact. This tendency is particularly pronounced among political commentators, many of whom have no first-hand experience at what it means to govern.

The appropriate role of the opposition party, as well as of the commentariat, is to hold those in power accountable. Some presidential decisions deserve criticism – at times scathing. So to argue that there should be a moratorium on expressing disapprobation would be unwise as well as unrealistic.

What is required, however, is perspective — the realization that being chief executive is more challenging than being a commentator on Hardball with Chris Matthews. And from time to time, it’s worth showing understanding and even some sympathy toward those who have, in Blair’s words, gone from “scaling the walls of the citadel, to sitting in the ruler’s palace in charge of all we surveyed.”

The Obama administration, which came to office after having set expectations at stratospheric levels, is now learning the wisdom of Blair’s words. There is some rough justice in seeing brought low by events a president bestowed with an unusual degree of vanity and who has been so unfair and unforgiving in his critique of others. Still, the truth is that Republicans, once they begin to take the reins of power again in November, will experience something similar. What Henry Kissinger called the “moment of charmed innocence” and the “exhilaration of imminent authority” is soon buffeted by events. And so all us, myself included, need to temper our judgments with the realization that explaining why things are wrong will always be a far easier task than putting them right.

In his excellent memoir, A Journey: My Political Life, Tony Blair writes about his electoral victory in 1997:

We were very quickly appreciating the daunting revelation of the gap between saying and doing. In Opposition, the gap is nothing because “saying” is all you can do; in government, where “doing” is what it’s all about, the gap is suddenly revealed as a chasm of bureaucracy, frustration and disappointment … I was afraid because, at that instant, suddenly I thought of myself no longer as the up-and-coming, the challenger, the prophet, but the owner of the responsibility, the person not explaining why things were wrong but taking the decisions to put them right.

Blair’s words touch on a truth which those of us who have served in government, and especially in different administrations and in the White House, can attest:

A president’s capacity to control and influence events is often more limited than it’s imagined. It’s not unusual for presidential directives to be ignored or undermined by the bureaucracy. Thousands of personnel decisions, some seemingly insignificant, can come back to bite you. An administration is held responsible for what happens on its watch, whether or not that’s justified. Urgent, complex problems demand a response even if the information needed to act on them is incomplete. The political culture is unforgiving. And all presidents and their aides, like all people, are flawed and fallible.

When you’re out of power and in the opposition, these truths are quickly tossed aside or simply forgotten. Governing seems much easier when all one is doing is critiquing others in columns and blogs, in speeches and on television. Position papers are simpler to write than policies are to enact. This tendency is particularly pronounced among political commentators, many of whom have no first-hand experience at what it means to govern.

The appropriate role of the opposition party, as well as of the commentariat, is to hold those in power accountable. Some presidential decisions deserve criticism – at times scathing. So to argue that there should be a moratorium on expressing disapprobation would be unwise as well as unrealistic.

What is required, however, is perspective — the realization that being chief executive is more challenging than being a commentator on Hardball with Chris Matthews. And from time to time, it’s worth showing understanding and even some sympathy toward those who have, in Blair’s words, gone from “scaling the walls of the citadel, to sitting in the ruler’s palace in charge of all we surveyed.”

The Obama administration, which came to office after having set expectations at stratospheric levels, is now learning the wisdom of Blair’s words. There is some rough justice in seeing brought low by events a president bestowed with an unusual degree of vanity and who has been so unfair and unforgiving in his critique of others. Still, the truth is that Republicans, once they begin to take the reins of power again in November, will experience something similar. What Henry Kissinger called the “moment of charmed innocence” and the “exhilaration of imminent authority” is soon buffeted by events. And so all us, myself included, need to temper our judgments with the realization that explaining why things are wrong will always be a far easier task than putting them right.

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Success Without Victory

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

Developments with the war in Afghanistan are causing us to question our methods of warfare as we have not since Vietnam. Comparisons of Afghanistan to Vietnam are mushrooming, of course; Fouad Ajami has a useful one today, in which he considers the effect of withdrawal deadlines on the American people’s expectations as well as the enemy’s. But on Friday, Caroline Glick took a broader view of contemporary Western methods, comparing the U.S. operating profile in Afghanistan to that of the IDF in Lebanon in the 1990s.

As I have done here, she invoked the White House guidance report in December, according to which “we’re not doing everything, and we’re not doing it forever.” Such guidance, she says, “when executed … brings not victory nor even stability.” She is right; Fouad Ajami is right; and both are focusing where our attention should be right now, which is on the conduct of the war at the political level.

There’s a good reason why comparisons with Vietnam are gathering steam. It’s not the geography, the campaign plan, or the details of the historical context, alliances, or political purposes: it’s the behavior of the American leadership. As Senator McCain points out, President Obama has steadfastly refused to affirm that the July 2011 deadline is conditions-based. But I was particularly struck by the recent words of Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s special envoy for the “AfPak” problem, because they evoke a whole political doctrine of “limited war,” which dates back to the Vietnam era.

Holbrooke has been keeping a low profile. But he’s a crucial actor in this drama, and in early June he made these observations:

Let me be clear on one thing, everybody understands that this war will not end in a clear-cut military victory. It’s not going to end on the deck of a battleship like World War Two, or Dayton, Ohio, like the Bosnian war. …

It’s going to have some different ending from that, some form of political settlements are necessary … you can’t have a settlement with al-Qaeda, you can’t talk to them, you can’t negotiate with them, it’s out of the question. But it is possible to talk to Taliban leaders. …

What do [critics] mean by win? We don’t use the word win, we use the word succeed.

As an aside, I would have thought the Dayton process did, in fact, have relevance for the “peace jirga” process now underway with the Afghan factions, and that we might expect an outcome with some similarities to the Dayton Accords. But my central concern here is the virtually exact overlap of Holbrooke’s conceptual language with that of the Johnson-era prosecution of the Vietnam War.

That we had to seek a “settlement” with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong was received wisdom under Lyndon Johnson; in this memo from a key reevaluation of the war effort in 1965, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara leads off with it. His reference to “creating conditions for a favorable settlement” by demonstrating to the North Vietnamese that “the odds are against their winning” is a near-perfect statement of the limited-war proposition encapsulated by Henry Kissinger in his influential 1958 book, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (quotations are from the W. W. Norton & Co. edition of 1969). Said Kissinger:

The goal of war can no longer be military victory, strictly speaking, but the attainment of certain specific political conditions, which are fully understood by the opponent. … Our purpose is to affect the will of the enemy, not to destroy him. … War can be limited only by presenting the enemy with an unfavorable calculus of risks. (p. 189)

Kissinger’s title reminds us that it was the emerging nuclear threat that galvanized limited-war thinking in the period leading up to Vietnam. But that was only one of the factors in our selection of limited objectives for that conflict. Another was an attribution to the enemy of aspirations that mirrored ours, with the persistent characterization of the North Vietnamese Communists – much like Richard Holbrooke’s of the Taliban – as potential partners in negotiation. A seminal example of that occurred in Johnson’s celebrated “Peace without Conquest” speech of April 7, 1965:

For what do the people of North Vietnam want? They want what their neighbors also desire: food for their hunger; health for their bodies; a chance to learn; progress for their country; and an end to the bondage of material misery. And they would find all these things far more readily in peaceful association with others than in the endless course of battle.

It was not, of course, what the people of North Vietnam wanted that mattered; this political factor was sadly miscast. The LBJ speech was beautifully crafted and full of poignant and powerful rhetoric. But the rhetoric could not ultimately hide the bald facts, which were that Johnson wanted a settlement in Vietnam, that he had no concept of victory to outline, and that his main desire was to get out.

The speech was recognized at the time as “defensive” in character. And we must not deceive ourselves that Holbrooke’s words from earlier this month are being interpreted abroad in any other way. I’ve seen no reference to his comments in a leading American publication, but media outlets across Asia, Europe, and Africa have quoted him. It’s interesting that in 2010, he feels no need to cloak his blunt observations – so consonant with Kissinger’s dryly precise limited-war formulation – in the elliptical, emotive language favored by the Johnson administration in its public utterances. In the 1960s, the limited-war concept of disclaiming all desire to “win” was still suspect. But, as much as we have criticized it in the decades since, we have internalized and mainstreamed it as well. Holbrooke apparently feels empowered to speak clearly in these terms, without euphemism or caveat.

There is no good record to invoke for pursuing the strategy of “peace without conquest.” It took almost exactly 10 years after the LBJ speech for the strategy to produce the total collapse of the U.S. effort in Vietnam; a wealthy superpower can keep “not-winning” for a long time. All but 400 of the 58,000 American lives given to Vietnam were lost in that 10-year period, along with the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese lives taken in the fighting and the Communist victory.

But there was a lot of success in that period too. U.S. troops won every tactical engagement, including the defeat of the Tet Offensive in 1968. Under Nixon, North Vietnam was isolated and driven to the bargaining table. Under General Creighton Abrams, the defense of the South had, with the exception of air support, been successfully “Vietnamized” when the U.S. pulled out our last ground forces in 1972. But these successes could not establish a sustainable status quo.

Vietnam is our example of what “success without victory” looks like. We should be alarmed that the current administration seeks that defensive objective in Afghanistan. Such a pursuit is, itself, one of the main conditions for producing failure – and failure that is compounded by being protracted and bloody. As for the reason why that should be, Dr. Kissinger, with his clinical precision, must have the last word:

In any conflict the side which is animated by faith in victory has a decided advantage over an opponent who wishes above all to preserve the status quo. It will be prepared to run greater risks because its purpose will be stronger. (p. 246)

Kissinger acknowledged when he wrote these words – having both Vietnam and the larger Soviet threat in mind – that this was a limiting factor the Western powers had not devised a means of overcoming. In Afghanistan today, meanwhile, by Team Obama’s affirmation, we are the side not animated by faith in victory.

Read Less

Sally Quinn Gives Hillary a Merit Badge

Sally Quinn thinks Hillary Clinton has done a swell job. Actually, it sounds like she’s nominating Hillary for Girl Scout of the year (my observations in brackets):

Clinton has done an incredible job as secretary of state. [No, argument there. It’s incredible we could have annoyed so many allies and come up with no viable plan to keep Iran from going nuclear.] First of all, she has worked harder than anyone should ever be expected to. [“Hard work” is the sort of compliment liberals pay themselves for good intentions and poor results.] She has managed to do the impossible: She is the ambassador of the United States to the world [Doesn’t every secretary of state do this?], maintaining her credibility [Do we think the Brits, Israelis, Hondurans, not to mention our enemies, find her credible?] while playing the bad guy to President Obama’s good guy, such as with North Korea [How bizarre is it that Obama plays “good guy” to the world’s largest gulag?], Iran and Israel [According to polls, only a few percent of Israelis think he’s the “good guy”], and still looking good. She has been a true team player. If Clinton is dissatisfied with her role, you would never know it. She has been loyal and supportive to the president and has maintained a good relationship with him and with others in the White House. [Is any of this extraordinary?] If she is being left out of the policymaking [Yes, not really doing her job is a drag], or being sent on trips to keep her out of town, she has not shown it. She is cheerful, thoughtful, serious and diligent. [Clean, modest in dress, and polite too? Good golly, imagine describing Henry Kissinger or George Shultz or any other grown-up secretary of state in such terms.] There are no horror stories about her coming out of the State Department. [One would have to have ideas and be influential to make enemies] Most notable, though, is that Bill Clinton has not been the problem that so many anticipated. He has been supportive of her and of Obama, and he has stayed out of the limelight and been discreet about his own life. [Excuse me, but is “keeping husband out of scandal sheets” an accomplishment worth touting?]

OK, there’s not a single thing Hillary has done that is deserving of praise. So Quinn thinks she needs a promotion to VP. No, no, it’s easy:

After the president announced the switch, majorities in both houses of Congress would have to confirm Clinton to her new position, following the rules laid out in the 25th Amendment. She could then immediately begin campaigning for Obama for 2012, and she would also have at least two years in the White House as vice president to give her unassailable experience, clout and credibility. For his part, Biden would simply need Senate confirmation to get to work in Foggy Bottom.

Thunk. I’m reasonably certain that as inept and ham-handed as the White House has become, there is no one with the nerve to suggest this to Obama, nor a single senator who’d want to rubber-stamp such a harebrained idea.

Forget Hillary for a moment. Is Quinn serious, or is this an entry in a “Write a column so silly, not even Maureen Dowd could come up with it” contest? If it’s the latter, it’s sheer genius.

Sally Quinn thinks Hillary Clinton has done a swell job. Actually, it sounds like she’s nominating Hillary for Girl Scout of the year (my observations in brackets):

Clinton has done an incredible job as secretary of state. [No, argument there. It’s incredible we could have annoyed so many allies and come up with no viable plan to keep Iran from going nuclear.] First of all, she has worked harder than anyone should ever be expected to. [“Hard work” is the sort of compliment liberals pay themselves for good intentions and poor results.] She has managed to do the impossible: She is the ambassador of the United States to the world [Doesn’t every secretary of state do this?], maintaining her credibility [Do we think the Brits, Israelis, Hondurans, not to mention our enemies, find her credible?] while playing the bad guy to President Obama’s good guy, such as with North Korea [How bizarre is it that Obama plays “good guy” to the world’s largest gulag?], Iran and Israel [According to polls, only a few percent of Israelis think he’s the “good guy”], and still looking good. She has been a true team player. If Clinton is dissatisfied with her role, you would never know it. She has been loyal and supportive to the president and has maintained a good relationship with him and with others in the White House. [Is any of this extraordinary?] If she is being left out of the policymaking [Yes, not really doing her job is a drag], or being sent on trips to keep her out of town, she has not shown it. She is cheerful, thoughtful, serious and diligent. [Clean, modest in dress, and polite too? Good golly, imagine describing Henry Kissinger or George Shultz or any other grown-up secretary of state in such terms.] There are no horror stories about her coming out of the State Department. [One would have to have ideas and be influential to make enemies] Most notable, though, is that Bill Clinton has not been the problem that so many anticipated. He has been supportive of her and of Obama, and he has stayed out of the limelight and been discreet about his own life. [Excuse me, but is “keeping husband out of scandal sheets” an accomplishment worth touting?]

OK, there’s not a single thing Hillary has done that is deserving of praise. So Quinn thinks she needs a promotion to VP. No, no, it’s easy:

After the president announced the switch, majorities in both houses of Congress would have to confirm Clinton to her new position, following the rules laid out in the 25th Amendment. She could then immediately begin campaigning for Obama for 2012, and she would also have at least two years in the White House as vice president to give her unassailable experience, clout and credibility. For his part, Biden would simply need Senate confirmation to get to work in Foggy Bottom.

Thunk. I’m reasonably certain that as inept and ham-handed as the White House has become, there is no one with the nerve to suggest this to Obama, nor a single senator who’d want to rubber-stamp such a harebrained idea.

Forget Hillary for a moment. Is Quinn serious, or is this an entry in a “Write a column so silly, not even Maureen Dowd could come up with it” contest? If it’s the latter, it’s sheer genius.

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Barack Obama and the Limits of Government

There is certainly a valid point made by those who argue that there are limits to what government can do in the face of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the oil-rig explosion and oil-spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. No government — and indeed no human institution — can respond perfectly to such emergencies. And even if it did, it could not undo much of the damage. All of us, but especially conservatives, should recognize this.

The problem for President Obama, though, is that his comments on the government response to Hurricane Katrina were not terribly understanding of the limits of government to stop bad things from happening during a disaster. For example, then Senator Obama cited what he called the Bush administration’s “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina. And during the 2008 campaign, Obama said, “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe.”

It’s reasonable to assume, I think, that if the oil spill had happened on John McCain’s watch instead of his, Obama would be on television and giving speeches, lacerating the McCain administration for its weak and slow response, talking about a trust that was broke, the fact that our government was not prepared, that it focused on spin rather than competence.

The truth is that during situations like Katrina and the blowout in the Gulf, White House aides are working around the clock trying to mitigate the human and ecological damage. But there are enormous practical and logistical problems one faces. They are not nearly as easy to overcome as commentators pretend. We cannot make perfection the price of confidence, as Henry Kissinger — a brilliant and terrifically able public servant who also made mistakes along the way — once said.

We would all be better off if those working outside government were somewhat more understanding of the challenges facing those in government, even as they shouldn’t suspend reasonable judgments. At the same time, Barack Obama — who was hypercritical of administrations when he wasn’t chief executive — shouldn’t be shocked if he is held to the same standard he used for others.

Governing seemed so much easier when Obama was a senator rather than the president, when he could go on Sunday-morning talk shows and highlight failures here, there, and everywhere. Now that he is president and has stumbled so badly on so many different issues, broken so many different commitments, and made so many false claims, one might hope that he has been humbled a bit. But I imagine that hope is a fantastic one, given who it is we are dealing with.

There is certainly a valid point made by those who argue that there are limits to what government can do in the face of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the oil-rig explosion and oil-spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. No government — and indeed no human institution — can respond perfectly to such emergencies. And even if it did, it could not undo much of the damage. All of us, but especially conservatives, should recognize this.

The problem for President Obama, though, is that his comments on the government response to Hurricane Katrina were not terribly understanding of the limits of government to stop bad things from happening during a disaster. For example, then Senator Obama cited what he called the Bush administration’s “unconscionable ineptitude” in the context of Katrina. And during the 2008 campaign, Obama said, “We can talk about a trust that was broken, the promise that our government will be prepared, will protect us, and will respond in a catastrophe.”

It’s reasonable to assume, I think, that if the oil spill had happened on John McCain’s watch instead of his, Obama would be on television and giving speeches, lacerating the McCain administration for its weak and slow response, talking about a trust that was broke, the fact that our government was not prepared, that it focused on spin rather than competence.

The truth is that during situations like Katrina and the blowout in the Gulf, White House aides are working around the clock trying to mitigate the human and ecological damage. But there are enormous practical and logistical problems one faces. They are not nearly as easy to overcome as commentators pretend. We cannot make perfection the price of confidence, as Henry Kissinger — a brilliant and terrifically able public servant who also made mistakes along the way — once said.

We would all be better off if those working outside government were somewhat more understanding of the challenges facing those in government, even as they shouldn’t suspend reasonable judgments. At the same time, Barack Obama — who was hypercritical of administrations when he wasn’t chief executive — shouldn’t be shocked if he is held to the same standard he used for others.

Governing seemed so much easier when Obama was a senator rather than the president, when he could go on Sunday-morning talk shows and highlight failures here, there, and everywhere. Now that he is president and has stumbled so badly on so many different issues, broken so many different commitments, and made so many false claims, one might hope that he has been humbled a bit. But I imagine that hope is a fantastic one, given who it is we are dealing with.

Read Less




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