Thursday, May 25, 2006

More Isolationism, Please

This post at Democracy Arsenal misunderstands a few things, I think. In responding to the anti-left "liberals" who are still unrepentantly wrong about Iraq, Suzanne Nossel writes:
4. Being anti-war doesn't mean being anti a strong defense and an aggressive foreign policy - Though the Administration would have us believe otherwise, there's nothing incoherent about supporting assertive, effective American global leadership and believing that a) the Iraq war was anything but and b) the problems in Iraq won't be fixed by a continued American prresence. The Fighting Dems and the retired Generals who have openly criticized the conduct of the war all advocate a strong national defense and tough line on terror regardless of where they come out on Iraq.

5. Iraq is not Vietnam - Vietnam did engender a long period of American isolationism and protracted misgivings about U.S. military intervention in virtually any form. But Iraq won't do the same for various reasons: the mistakes and misconceptions of the Iraq adventure are so obvious that people are less prone to believe any American intervention would be similarly flawed; also, as painful as Iraq has been, casualties still are small relative to Vietnam...
This is where I disagree with the "Fighting Dem" militarist faction. These are people whose fundamental criticism of Iraq boils down to incompetence. The argument seems to be that the US should still resort to military force whenever it wants, so long as we a) do so competently, and b) don't lie so much.

We'd like to draw a clear line between, say, Tom Friedman ("I was wrong about Iraq before, but trust me this time!") and the pro-military wings of the Democratic party, but I don't see the clear distinction. Dems like Paul Hackett are still unabashed militarists, they just think Bush was wrong on this call.

The more fundamental problem with US foreign policy is a structural one, not Bush himself. So long as the US needs to maintain power in areas where they are unwelcome (the middle east as just one example) the US will be in what amounts to a Second Cold War. Except this time, the US will be fighting not Soviets, but Iraqis, Saudis, Syrians, and Iranians.

Secondly, in what universe did Vietnam engender a "long period of isolationism"? By the late 1970s Carter was meddling in Central Asia again, as well as propounding the Carter Doctrine - that the US would attack anyone who interrupted the supply of oil. Reagan's administration never seriously contemplated inaction on the world stage.

It's really bizarre that there's this narrative out there, where somehow the US was a lost, isolationist nation from 1975-1991 or so. This may come as a shock, but the US was in the process of fighting something called the Cold War during this period. Isolationism is not compatible with fighting, and surviving, a global standoff with a rival nuclear superpower.

Every continent in the world saw American force during the so-called "post-Vietnam" period, whether it was US support for UNITA in Angola, US naval vessels in the Persian Gulf during the "tanker wars", American assaults on democracy across Central America, or the support given to the South Korean junta prior to democratization. Say it with me: There was no "post-Vietnam" era. There was, at best, a punctuation in the equilibrium of US global power.

What worries me is that I believe that for the US to recuperate economically, politically, and even militarily, there needs to be a major withdrawal of US forces from various parts of the world. I don't think this is politically or psychologically palatable to the US population at large, and therefore I don't believe it's likely to happen voluntarily.

That only leaves the involuntary exit of US forces, or no exit whatsoever. Neither is a particularly optimistic scenario.

1 comment:

Westacular said...

"the mistakes and misconceptions of the Iraq adventure are so obvious that people are less prone to believe any American intervention would be similarly flawed"

Are they? If they're so obvious, why doesn't she list them, and actually discuss why they won't happen again? From here, they look like a lot of the same mistakes that were already made in Vietnam, and all the people who have seen and criticized the mistakes made with Iraq are retired or have been otherwise removed from positions of power.

How does that make their repetition less likely?