Samantha Power for Secretary of State
I must say I don’t care very much that Susan Rice withdrew herself from consideration for Secretary of State.
Of course, I despise the way in which a cabal of three senators managed to muddy her reputation over a minor kerfuffle concerning the Benghazi incident to the extent that she felt the need to step aside. It did not seem to matter to McCain and others that if Rice was inaccurate in her descriptions of events, then that constituted an intelligence failure within the CIA, not an attempt at mendacity on her part. Also disappointing was President Obama’s utter failure to defend her while this happened, instead watching from a distance as she took the hits, just to see if she could withstand the assault.
No, I’m more concerned with the fact that Rice not moving to Foggy Bottom means that she will remain U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, preventing the promotion of someone I genuinely do admire: Samantha Power. Her magnum opus, A Problem From Hell, demonstrated her concern for the construction of multinational alliances through the UN to prevent genocides and mass atrocities before they happen.
For the previous four years, she has been a a Special Assistant to President Obama and has been on the staff of the National Security Council as Director of the Office of Multilateral Affairs. She was reported to have been one of the driving forces behind the intervention in Libya. In so doing, she showed her understanding of the need to uphold the United Nations’ responsibility to protect, to remind states that they have a duty to protect its population from mass atrocities, and that if they fail to do so, the international community ought to step in.
Debate Night in America: When a Foreign Policy Debate Just Isn’t
Canada. Mexico. Cuba. Brazil. Tunisia. Jordan. Lebanon. Turkey. The Palestinians. The European Union. Kosovo. India. Burma. Japan. Vietnam. Indonesia.
These are the names of various nations (or supranational organisations) critical to the foreign policy interests of the United States that those tuning into last night’s debate did not hear about. Or, at least not in any substantive way.
The reasons for this were essentially two-fold. First, the illusion of a free exchange of ideas pertaining to international affairs lasted around ten minutes, when after a fumbling exchange on Libya, both candidates retreated to zingers and talking points. President Obama started it off, in fact, with this:
Governor Romney, I’m glad that you recognize that al-Qaida’s a threat because a few months ago when you were asked, what’s the biggest geopolitical threat facing America, you said Russia — not al-Qaida, you said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because, you know, the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.
But, Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policies of the 1950s and the economic policies of the 1920s. You say that you’re not interested in duplicating what happened in Iraq, but just a few weeks ago you said you think we should have more troops in Iraq right now.
Romney, later in the debate, cracked open the following canned attack:
Our Navy is smaller now than any time since 1917. The Navy said they needed 313 ships to carry out their mission. We’re now down to 285. We’re headed down to the — to the low 200s if we go through with sequestration. That’s unacceptable to me. I want to make sure that we have the ships that are required by our Navy.
Our Air Force is older and smaller than any time since it was founded in 1947. We’ve changed for the first time since FDR. We — since FDR we had the — we’ve always had the strategy of saying we could fight in two conflicts at once. Now we’re changing to one conflict.
To which, Obama said this:
Debate Night in America: Biden v Ryan
Quite clearly, the vice-presidential debate will be an occasion where liberals believed Joe Biden was the better man, and conservatives Paul Ryan. And, whichever man is declared the loser by Media will blame the proactive moderator for having asked too many tough questions of their man. Martha Raddatz, while I’m on that theme, moderated finely, hosting an excellent debate, asking her pointed questions in a way that only made Jim Lehrer look worse.
As to the candidates, if Paul Ryan is to be declared the loser — and of the two, it would be he who is most likely to come off worse — is it because he sort to evade the questions frequently, lying through his teeth about the President’s record, and avoiding specificity on his own plan for the economy. Ryan once more failed, for example, to explain how exactly he would pay for his voodoo economic plan: a 20pc tax cut across the board while increasing spending on defence. All he had to do was name one deduction he would end: he couldn’t.
Moreover, on the topic of abortion, Ryan gave a concerning answer when pressed if he would seek to remove the protections that gave women a right to choose. Raddatz asked, “If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?”. Ryan, before asking, pushed, sighed, and snorted a little through his nose:
We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision; that people through their elected representatives in reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process should make this determination.
In other words, if Republicans control the House, Senate, and the White House, Ryan would encourage the restriction of abortion access through legislation, in opposition to Romney’s current stance on the topic.
The Freedom of Think Differently
“Freiheit ist immer Freiheit der Andersdenkenden” — Rosa Luxemburg
The time to condemn Sam Bacile’s film on grounds of artistic merit, of which it possesses none, will come. The time to condemn those Islamists who stormed the U.S. embassy in Cairo, burning the American flag and creating a climate of intimidation in order to eradicate free expression, is now. The time to condemn those who slaughtered the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other embassy staff in Benghazi, Libya is now.
Sam Bacile is not responsible for the actions of terrorists in Benghazi and protesters in Cairo. To place the blame for these murders on to him would be a form of surrender to those who favour granting religious exemptions to the principle of freedom of speech. And, it would grant kudos to the idea that it is acceptable or understandable to react in the most sanguinary ways when one’s faith is tested.
It does not matter that Bacile’s film was rude, or — heaven forbid — blasphemous. It does not matter that Geert Wilders’ movie Fitna was incendiary and may have inflamed tensions in Europe. It does not matter that when David Irving stands up and denies the Holocaust, it offends our sensibilities and undermines the very study of history.
At What Point Do We Say Enough?
I increasingly find myself entering into alliance with John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman, in order to advance my foreign policy interests in the United States Senate. It is an uncomfortable place to be, but it is one which is necessary, since they have often been correct on the major questions of our time since September 11, 2001.
I say this particularly with regard to Sen. McCain. Not only has he aligned himself with Barack Obama in order to oppose the use of torture (or what Dick Cheney so menacingly called “enhanced interrogation”), but he was one of the leading voices in favour of the exercise of force in order to liberate the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, and prevent a genocide in Benghazi, Libya.
Now, McCain finds himself at the tip of the spear (to use a Bachmann-ism), campaigning for U.S.-led airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military forces, who are at this present time engaged in a civil war where, for the army, civilian and rebel as indistinguishable. On the Senate floor, McCain pleaded:
The time has come for a new policy. The United States should lead an international effort to protect key population centres in Syria, especially in the north, through airstrikes on Assad’s forces. To be clear: This will require the United States to suppress enemy air defences in at least part of the country. If we stand on the sidelines, others will try to pick winners, and this will not always be to our liking or in our interest.
McCain is exactly right, but efforts to assist rebel forces in Syria, or least stop the bloody progress of the Assad regime, have been halted and blocked in the United Nations. Therein rests the problem. For, the Obama Doctrine (as I understand it) has a clear tenet which demands that, in order to exert force in accordance with the global “responsibility to protect”, international coalitions must be constructed through multilateral bodies such as the United Nations and NATO. And, they must be legal under international law – this demands, more often than not, a UN Security Council resolution of some kind.
Thinking about Hitch and the crisis in Syria
The West is correct to express its outrage over the Russian-Chinese decision to veto a resolution in the United Nations Security Council, which would have called for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to remove himself from power. After all, if the Security Council can not agree on something as simple and obviously necessary as this, then what on Earth can it do?
But the resolution’s failure covers up for the fact that the Western tiger stomps on paper feet. France, the United Kingdom, and the United States oft states that it wishes to see the end of the al-Assad regime — a long-postponed act — but does not wish to undertake the one act which would guarantee such a conclusion: liberal intervention, a la Libya, Kosovo, or Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The question is, of course, should it? When the debate was very much raging over the liberation of Iraq, Christopher Hitchens set down four clear criteria by which a nation could be determined to have lost its sovereignty, and therefore be ripe for intervention. These were, if a nation:
- Could potentially misuse weapons of mass destruction;
- Were known to be harbouring terrorists;
- Was occupying or had occupied another member of the United Nations; and
- Was committing or had committed an act of genocide.
Le Meilleur Homme: Sarkozy in Light and Shade
There is no perfect candidate running for the French presidency. Then again, putting it mildly, since the inculcation of the Fifth Republic France has never had a perfect President.
The first, Charles de Gaulle, was a quasi-fascist military ruler with a nasty prejudice towards the non-French and Anglo-Saxons in particular. He took power under the cloud of a coup d’etat led by Jacques Massu and other fifth columnists in Algeria, and clung to power by bullying other nations and over-egging the narrative of French resistance during the Second World War. De Gaulle, it should be noted, led this so-called effort from a palatial structure on Carlton Terrace in St. James’s, and subsequently spent the better part of his presidency deriding the very peoples and nations who liberated France not once but twice from foreign aggression during the twentieth century — he was, then, the very epitome of an armchair general.
Those who followed de Gaulle could hardly be as pompous, but the French hardly witnessed a great deal of improvement in the calibre or moral fortitude of their leaders. François Mitterrand was a Petainist sympathiser who laid flowers annually on Armistice Day on the grave of the leader of the Vichy government, a puppet regime which collaborated with the Nazis and was complicit in the Shoah. Mitterrand also hid a secret daughter whom he had fathered with his long-time mistress, opposed German unification following the fall of the Berlin Wall, and presided over such disasters as the genocide in Rwanda (a former French colony and the most Catholic country in Africa), the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, and the HIV contaminated blood scandal.
He was succeeded by Jacques Chirac, a neo-Gaullist race-baiter with ideas above his station, who lead the effort in by-proxy support of Saddam Hussein, in opposition to the long-postponed liberation of Iraq. A French court convicted him late last year of “diverting public funds and abusing public trust” during his tenure as Mayor of Paris — Chirac used the city government as a platform to construct a powerful political and electoral organisation with himself at the centre, using public funds to pay members of his party for jobs which did not exist.
I say all this not just out of a combination of glee and disgust, but to put into some sort of context the competency which marked the Sarkozy presidency above all others, relatively speaking of course. This is not say to that he hasn’t been a little embarrassing, at times seeming as if he was stumbling from one comedic incident to the next: from his drunken post-lunch press conference after meeting Vladimir Putin, to a contretemps out on the stump where he castigated a citizen for neglecting to shake his hand.
The problem for Sarkozy is that these moments which should be considered trifling and ethereal have been blown up, as to make seem more monumental than they truly are, and paint a portrait of Sarkozy as an aloof, bumbling fool, not fit to inhabit the Élysée Palace. This goes some way to explaining why, based upon the most recent survey conducted by French polling organisation CSA, Sarkozy would lose in a runoff with the PS candidate François Hollande by 20 points.
Contrasting Revolutionary Seasons: 2011 in Retrospect
“We have had the Arab Spring; the Summer of Europe’s Indignation; Autumn was Occupied across the globe; and now, perhaps, there is the onset of a long Russian Winter. Regime change swayed to the same rhythms as the seasons.” – Howard Chua-Eoan, Time, December 26, 2011
Unbeknownst to those us of feasting or fasting this time last year, a revolutionary year was about to commence, one which would change the world entire. The Arab Spring – more than any other of 2011’s momentous seasons – galvanised and reinvigorated those in the free world who thought people power toppling pharaohs in the Middle East impossible, or had lost faith in the notion of universal values.
Based upon the manner in which revolutionary fervour swept across a whole region in a concentrated or collapsed period of time, the Arab Spring drew instantaneous comparison with 1989, or Europe’s Autumn of Nations. Then, following the opening up of the Soviet Union and Gorbachev’s decision not to reinforce Warsaw Pact nations under threat of collapse, six little Stalins were overthrown from the streets upward in the space of a few months, and (save for Romania) with little bloodshed to boot.
On the one hand, the immediate differences between the Autumn of Nations and the Arab Spring are manifest – enough perhaps to make the comparison between the two a little false. In the first instance, the nations of Eastern Europe fell as dominos with ease and in swift succession precisely because the Warsaw Pact states – connected by ideology and a neo-Stalinist system of governance – were interdependent upon each other, and dependent on one patron, for their existential security.
The Arab states, conversely, whilst appearing to be a bloc, are fractured along religious, political, and nationalistic lines, and are divided by a mutual suspicion and loathing amongst the strongmen who run (or indeed ran) those countries. Hegemons only exist in pockets, such as Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf. As such, notions of pan-Arab unity are but notions; thus, the dislodging of Gaddafi in Libya or Mubarak in Egypt did not necessarily mean that the Houses of Saud or al-Khalifa must fall in turn (as it turns out).
Previewing the CNN Debate
It seems odd to have to put the candidates through another debate on foreign policy, not only so soon after the last CBS/National Journal debate, but also given the events taking place (or rather not taking place) in Washington with regard to the supercommittee. That, combined with the economic meltdown in Europe make it a sweet time to talk about economics (again).
But, given that it’s my thing as it were, I would be remiss if I turned my nose up at a second chance to delve back into international affairs. And, in any case, given that Syria is headed for conflagration, given the fluid situation in Egypt and given the formation of a new government and the arrest of Saif al-Islam al-Gaddafi in Libya, now is a critical moment for the American public to hear what the candidates think on these things.
In fact, it might be argued that if one throws in the spectre of a nuclear Iran, the ongoing war in Afghanistan, the shaky situation in Iraq, the transformation in Pakistan into a failed state, and the economic and military rise of China, there has been no more important a moment since the conclusion of the Soviet Union for a Republican president candidate with a clear and dynamic foreign policy.
This evening, suffice to say should I manage to stay awake, I shall be looking out for the following from the candidates:
- Mitt Romney: He needs to be nailed down on a single issue, particularly in terms of foreign affairs. He loosely agreed with Perry on the zeroing out of foreign aid, and was ignorantly bold on China in the last debate to his discredit. He needs to give the voters and pundits something to chew on.
- Herman Cain: It is inevitable that the moderator will throw to Cain on the question of Libya. He needs to give a clear, concise and terse response to any remark, and not laugh his gaffe off as a by-product of the lamestream media with their gotcha questions. (I hold out little hope on this — it’ll be a car crash).
- Rick Perry: He performed more-than-adequately in the last debate, providing the star quote of the evening on moralistic foreign policy. I’d like to hear him talk more and with greater specificity on his foreign aid programme, and moreover not divert back to the matter of energy independence whenever he is stumped.
- Michele Bachmann: She needs to be more consistent. In the last debate, she was lucid on Pakistan and terrorism, then provided a clanger on China as a model for the United States in terms of reforming its social security and welfare.
- The others: Ron Paul to highlight the moralistic side of his foreign policy (and I’d like someone to nail in on the consequences of his isolationism, other than Santorum); Jon Huntsman to provide light on China, and go after Romney for his brazenness in the last debate; Rick Santorum to speak authoratively on Iran at this critical juncture (and if possible to clarify his stance on Israel).
I suspect and fear however that the attention and focus will be on Newt Gingrich, or as Paul Krugman put it recently, the stupid man’s vision of what a clever person sounds like. On Gingrich, I expect nothing: simply more guff and bluster, snipes at the media, and competent, perfunctory, and unremarkable answers which sound full of wonder and fuzzbox to the layman.
Wish me luck!