Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fred Hiatt VSPs On Foreign Policy Again

Oh, I just cannot resist.  So in yesterday's Washington Post, editorial page editor, Fred Hiatt does his foreign policy Very Serious Person (VSP) act again (his domestic version has him calling for cutting social security benefits every several months or so) in a column, "An experiment gone wrong: Obama's policies expose the dangers of U.S. disengagement."  On the foreign policy side Hiatt ventilates neocon fantasyland mirages.  If only Obama had done this or that, all would just be so much better.  I agree that Obama has made mistakes, only my list of his mistakes tends not to be Hiatt's.  Most of this Hiatt has bloviated about previously, but some is new.  I shall note four quotes from his column (which is signed) and then comment.

1) "All U.S. troops were withdrawn from Iraq.  Whether this was at the insistence of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as Obama's defenders argue, or because Obama offered so few troops, and so half-heartedly, that Maliki was bound to reject the offer matters less than this: Obama was content with the zero option and as he made clear at the time, sanguine about Iraq's prospects without a U.S. presence"

Well, Iraq is certainly in bad shape now but there are two point on this.  The first is that it is utter nonsense to claim that if somebody says they want you out of their country then what is really going on is that they want you to demand that you keep an even larger amount of your troops in their country than you were otherwise asking to.  This is like saying that if a woman tells a man to stop raping her, what she really means is that he should rape her twice as much.  Hiatt and other VSP neocons constantly repeat this argument, but it is some of the worst nonsense I have ever seen, and Bush was being told to get out completely and unequivocally by Maliki when he was president.

The other point on this is that if the US had not invaded Iraq there would not have been any al Qaeda there or any spinoffs that would eventually become what is now this awful  Islamic State, led by a guy who spent four years in a US prison camp there, the erstwhile new caliph, al-Baghdadi.

2) "After bombing Libyan forces to depose Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi, Obama declined to send trainers or other support to the new government."

Now I happen to agree that it would have been better if the US, or better yet NATO, trainers had been sent to Libya after the fall of Qaddafi.  However the main problem is that the weak new Libyan government did not want or ask for any such trainers.  Only in the last year have they changed their mind and made a request for such from NATO, not from the US.  Those have not yet arrived, due to disagreements over who is to send those trainers, and it may be too late to prevent disintegration of the never unified post-Qaddafi government.  But "trainers" cannot be sent in if they are not requested, and they were not until recently.

There is also the minor problem that since Benghazi happened, nearly all discussion of Libya policy in the US has been dominated by congressional hearings on that event, with the entire foundation of such investigations having been based on a lie, as I have repeatedly pointed out, namely that what happened there had nothing to do with the infamous anti-Muslim video.  The recently captured organizer of the attack, Khattadi, has in fact repeated that the video did inspire the attack.

3)  "Obama declared that Assad, in gassing 1,400 civilians to death, had violated civilized norms and crossed his, Obama's, red line.  He asked for congressional approval for a military response; then he shelved that request in favor of a deal, brokered by Russian President Vladimir Putin, for Assad to hand over his chemical weapons."

Which he did.  Assad now has no chemical weapons that we know of.  Obviously it was the threat to bomb Syria that brought about this result.  We would have been better off if Obama had bombed Syria, killing who knows how many more civilians, but not have engaged in a negotiation to get rid of the chemical weapons?  Is Hiatt completely out of his mind? 

 4) "Obama offered Putin a 'reset' strategy of improved relations.  But when it became clear that Putin wasn't interested-that he wanted to re-create a Russian empire while blocking the achievement of a Europe whole and free-the West again had no strategic response.  Obama could have bolstered a unified Europe with military, diplomatic and trade measures. Instead, as Putin wrecked democracy in Russia, annexed Crimea and fomented war in Ukraine, Obama and his European counterparts were reactive and divided."

One upshot of the reset was that Obama obtained a renewed nuclear arms control treaty with Russia, which is still in place, despite some reports that now that relations with Russia have gone bad parts of it are having difficulty being implemented.  This would not have happened without any reset.

Given that Hiatt seems to want US troops on the ground in Iraq, Libya, maybe Syria, and also seems to support supporting US allies in Asia against China, if not necessarily a full "pivot to Asia," which he seems to mock, there are definite limits to how much military bolstering the US can do in Europe, and doing so in such a non-NATO (and non-EU) members as Ukraine was completely out of the question.  The US has been in negotiation with the EU over a trade agreement, but that has not gone anywhere fast because such things go very slowly anyway.  Europe is divided on many things, including degrees of economic relationship with Russia, whether nations are in NATO or not, the EU or not, and within the EU, in the eurozone or not.  The idea that there was something, anything, that Obama could have done to have fostered more unity in Europe is nonsense, and it is pretty obvious that there was very little that Obama or anybody in Europe could do to stop Putin from annexing Crimea or messing further in Ukraine once the Ukrainians themselves overthrew the Yanukovich government, which is what immediately triggered Putin's actions on both fronts (and I have been highly critical here repeatedly of Putin on those actions).

More generally, Hiatt's VSPing amounts to criticizing a supposedly "cautious, modulated retreat from US leadership."  However, the only actual "retreat" involved in any of this is the troop removal from Iraq, which Hiatt is simply fantasizing could have been avoided without simply imposing our will on the Iraqi government.  All the rest amounts to criticizing Obama for not expanding military operations in a whole series of countries.  This was never feasible or reasonable, but making unfeasible and unreasonable recommendations is par for the course when Hiatt gets on his foreign policy VSP high horse, as he did here.

Barkley Rosser


Sandwichman said...

Why doesn't he kill two (or more) birds with one stone: eliminate social security entirely and instead draft the elderly and send them all to Iraq.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

Excellent, S-man. However, these VSPs do not want to do anything that is not "respectable," and something as ingenious as that, well... :-).

Myrtle Blackwood said...

Re: "The other point on this is that if the US had not invaded Iraq there would not have been any al Qaeda there ..."

There's got to be an enemy out there somewhere! And it has to exist BEFORE we invade. Not afterward, Barkley!

"The truth is, there is no Islamic army or terrorist group called Al Qaeda. And any informed intelligence officer knows this. But there is a propaganda campaign to make the public believe in the presence of an identified entity representing the 'devil' only in order to drive the TV watcher to accept a unified international leadership for a war against terrorism. The country behind this propaganda is the US . . ." -- Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook

We could have a war against 'selfishness', or a war against 'bad parenting'. At least we could identify some real enemies. Could be a cheaper war too.

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...


Cook overstates things. It does not have an army, and it is not clear that it is involved in any current terrorist activity, but there is still an al Qaeda group existing in northwestern Pakistan and possibly across the border in Afghanistan as well, led by Ayman al-Zawahiri. But it really does not amount to much.

It is also true that the current Islamic State's earlier incarnations did at one time have an affiliation with al Qaeda, but that was broken some time ago. Needless to say, IS does have an army, and one that has been doing pretty well militarily, although reportedly its most effective troops are Chechens.

Myrtle Blackwood said...

I would feel a lot more comfortable about a query on Robin Cook's statement about the non-existence of Al Qaeda if he didn't go missing a few days after he made this statement.

And if Pierre-Henry Bunel, a former agent for French military intelligence wasn 't reported to have said the very same thing.

And if it wasn't reported that "Officials from the Palestinian Authority have accused the Israeli spy agency Mossad of setting up a fake al-Qaeda terrorist cell in Gaza. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said that Israel had set up the mock cell in order to justify attacks in Palestinian areas. [BBC News - 12/8/2002]"

And if there weren't so many, many official lies associated with the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan.