Thursday, November 20, 2008

future of foreign policy, continued

More on this thread, which I highlighted yesterday. Gotta hate on Will Marshall's second reply. Yes, it's alarming that the public still trusts Republicans more than Democrats on national security even after these last 8 years. The problem, for me, is that Democrats don't have a coherent foreign policy, and allow Republicans to frame the debate on the issue. Effectiveness of keeping America and its allies safe should be the overall judgment. Allowing the debate to be framed as an issue of "toughness" guarantees a hawkish, unilateral nationalism that will weaken us abroad, as it has for the past 8 years.

But Marshall falls into the "do something!" trap. To wit: "my post focused on the hard cases of national security: rallying support (at home and in Europe) for what looks like a long military engagement in Afghanistan. Creating more representative and robust collective security institutions to actually stop the slaughter in Darfur and the Congo."

News flash, Will: peacekeeping missions only work when there is a peace to keep. The UN's Department of Peacekeeping was skeptical of sending troops to Darfur for the same reason that they're now skeptical of sending them to Somalia: it's an active war zone. Strengthening UNAMID does nothing to stop the underlying ethnonationalistic conflict between the Darfur tribes and the central government in Khartoum, any more than it would solve the proxy war in Somalia, or the ethnic nightmare of Congo. It's setting the UN up for failure, and besmirching "international" institutions like the UN by misusing them in a do-gooder, got-to-do-something spirit that has bedeviled US politics since Bosnia. If you want to spend untold billions trying to pacify these regions in a demonstrably futile way, be my guest. (Actually not, since it's my tax money that gets blown on this sort of thing.) But it won't make the world a better place, or promote America's interest. It only involves us in ongoing conflicts and weakens our hand. A liberal policy that focused on protecting allies and forgoing futile nation-building exercises would get a lot more support at home, because it would be advancing the national interest and improving the state of the world. But the current foreign policy paradigm is controlled by the "toughness rule," and liberals aren't nationalist hawks or, if they are, they're internationalists on issues that can't be solved internationally. Let's solve climate change through international law and cooperation. Congo? Good luck.

p.s. Last point. Afghanistan's population will have tripled by 2050, a ten-fold increase over 1950. Strong and effective governance there has virtually no precedent in its history. Ditto infrastructure or public institutions. Opium is more than half of GDP. I also need to be convinced that we're not throwing money down a environ-deterministic-Malthusian rathole in Afghanistan before I can support a "long occupation." I want to know what the end looks like.

No comments: