Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Those people across the ocean are Evil for doing the same stuff that makes us Good

Your American-hypocrisy-in-foreign-policy-blogging is outsourced to Matthew Yglesias:
Meanwhile, conflict with China is on the horizon. Despite McCain's proposed US defense build-up, "When China builds new submarines, adds hundreds of new jet fighters, modernizes its arsenal of strategic ballistic missiles, and tests antisatellite weapons, the United States legitimately must question the intent of such provocative acts." And despite McCain's proposal of a new multilateral institution from which China would be excluded, "When China proposes regional forums and economic arrangements designed to exclude America from Asia, the United States will react." Nevertheless, he wants us to believe that "China and the United States are not destined to be adversaries." But if McCain thinks that Chinese actions that are exactly the same as the actions he proposes for the United States should be viewed as hostile, then how are we going to avoid becoming adversaries?
It's kind of bizarre that it even needs to be said, but so long as a large number of American leaders persist to hold double standards applying to their own conduct, the chances for us making it to the year 2107 are pretty low.

While we're on the topic of crazy foreign policy (since 2003!) I'd like to just take this opportunity that, yes, trying to invade Russia and depose Stalin after WWII is a batshit crazy thing to talk about -- and I love historical counterfactuals.

Let me put this as simply as I can: the Western Powers tried to depose the Bolsheviks after WWI, when the balance of power between the Communists and the West was incredibly more favourable than it was in 1945. (Among other things, Trotsky had not yet won the Russian Civil War.) And they still failed miserably. By the spring of 1945, the Soviets were in a vastly more secure position than 1918, and any discussion of regime change needs to explain exactly how, outnumbered and (arguably) outclassed, the Allied armies were going to fight through Germany, Eastern Europe, and Russia to take Moscow. Remembering, of course, that the Nazis tried the same thing -- starting rested and well-fed on the Russian border! -- and failed.

Any attempt to attack Russian forces in Europe in 1945, if we eliminate the insane from the discussion, would have certainly enhanced Russian power, not decreased it. We were really lucky that nobody was as crazy then as the American right is today.

Jonah Goldberg, who never saw a foreigner he wasn't willing to have someone else's kid kill, thinks that it's still worth considering how nifty the world would have been if the US could have "settled Stalin's hash". And yes, I agree that a world without Stalin would have been nifty indeed. As would a world without Hitler, or Napoleon, or Genghis Khan, or Tiberius Caesar Augustus. The question for me is, why does Goldberg so manifestly lack the moral clarity to argue for America entering the war against Napoleon?

I'm not even that hostile to navel-gazing in general (good Lord, I'm a blogger!) but Goldberg is, like all of us, gazing with a politcal aim, one he states pretty clearly:
Before one engages the question of what was possible, it makes sense — and is very clarifying — to address the question of what was most desirable.
This manages to be 180 degrees, and several light-years, away from the state of matter scientists call "correct". If something is impossible, it's not worth discussing whether it would be desirable. It would be fantastic for me if I shit solid gold, but I don't foist this debate on my readers. Goldberg wants us to keep discussing the "desirable" because this way, we keep arguing about the Bush Administration's motives, not their results.

This is where the discussion should properly be held -- results, not intent. Attacking the Russians in 1945 would have reignited the global war that had just ended, and anything in Europe that was still left unburnt would have been put to the torch. America could have, amusingly, found itself allied with the same Japanese war criminals it had just been fighting, now united by their anti-Soviet mania. Whatever else happened (and I happen to think the likely results would have been cataclysmic for America) the death toll would have been in the tens of millions -- even an American victory would very likely have resulted in the Russians using the same "scorched Earth" tactics they used against the Germans, except this time the burn line would start in Berlin and move East on a river of blood.

A basic prinicple of economics, that field that right-wingers are alleged to love so much: nothing comes without a cost. It's as true in foreign policy as anywhere else. A suggestion to, say, depose a foreign tyrant, needs to be justified not on the intent, but on the results and on the costs.

You would think that, five years after the debate about invading Iraq started, we could at least all come around to agreement on this basic point. But no. The right hasn't learned a single fucking thing in the past five years. They still want us to talk about killing tens of thousands of people in foreign countries based on nothing more than happy-talk and good vibes. They're like hippies from bizarro world.

1 comment:

NonyNony said...

McCain's babbling is just more "American Exceptionalism" - everything is okay if America does it, but anyone else who wants to do it had better not try. And American right-wingers will say things like "well, we can be trusted to do these things, but China/Iran/France can't be trusted." No proof to back up WHY America can be trusted by no one else can, just assertion.

Of course, the reason we can be trusted and no one else can is directly because of the second part of your post - we have GOOD INTENTIONS! We only want to help the world to be free and capitalist and happy! Just like us! The Chinese, on the other hand, want everyone to be miserable and communist. And the Iranians want everyone to be Muslim! And the French want everyone to eat cheese, drink wine, and be socialists! So they all have BAD INTENTIONS and can't be trusted.

They have a complete inability to put themselves into another person's shoes - and that's as true of the idea of putting themselves into another country's position as it is of putting themselves into another person's position. No empathy and a lack of imagination will do that to you.