The New American Threat to World Order

Gideon Rose wrote an impassioned, yet wrongheaded, defense of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, arguing that his policies keep America, and the world, on a positive track.

 

“The key to Obama’s success has been his grasp of the big picture: his appreciation of the liberal international order that the United States has nurtured over the last seven decades, together with his recognition that the core of that order needed to be salvaged by pulling back from misguided adventures and feuds in the global periphery.”

 

Rose, then proceeds to absolve Obama’s failures by relegating them to “feuds in the global periphery,” while elevating Obama’s obscure successes to the pinnacle of foreign policy genius–all in the name of maintaining the liberal international order.

 

As problematic as Rose’s evaluation is, his argument continues to fail on its own merit, especially in light of our changed approaches to rogue and dictatorial regimes. The liberal international order that the United States created after World War 2, enticed illiberal states to change their ways in order to enjoy the spoils of cooperation. Participation in the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, G20, and other intergovernmental organizations required member states to pursue liberal institutions that secure peace. Free press, free elections, representative governments and open societies make for peaceful, predictable partnerships–the kinds of partnerships that have led to the relative peace of the post World War 2 era, and the worldwide rise in economic prosperity. Failure to insist upon the adoption of liberal institutions rewards despotism, and can even enrich tyrants.

 

Yet, that’s exactly what Obama’s foreign policy has done.

 

In 2008, Senator John McCain criticized Obama’s desire to legitimize rogue states by opening diplomatic ties with them. Obama called McCain’s charge an appeal to the politics of fear. He went further, saying, “we need to…use all elements of American power – including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy — to pressure countries like Iran and Syria.” This rejoinder sounds consistent with what Rose, and others concerned with preserving the liberal international order, would welcome. However, even if Rose considers the Iran Nuclear Deal, the normalization of relations with communist Cuba, and the lifting of the weapons embargo with communist Vietnam, peripheral items, these Obama policies do not support the liberal international order. They do, in fact, quite the opposite.

 

Rose argues, for example, that Obama exercised sound judgement by responding tepidly to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2013, in part, because Ukraine (not a NATO member) didn’t deserve our protection.

 

“This policy seems eminently sensible,” Rose writes. “NATO members have an ironclad security guarantee of American protection, which Washington will unquestionably enforce if necessary…Ukraine will probably join the liberal order eventually, when circumstances permit. But it is not the United States’ job to fight to bring it in before then.”

 

Contrast this with our new stance with Vietnam. Vietnam persists as a communist nation, replete with political prisoners and basic injustices. Hours before Obama landed in Hanoi, the Vietnamese people held an election in which more than 98% of Vietnamese citizens voted to legitimate the illegitimate and oppressive regime. Still, Obama strengthened this regime–promising to sell it F-16s, drones, surveillance equipment and electronic warfare capabilities so that “Vietnam [can] fully link its kill chain between ‘see-ers’ and ‘shooters.’”

 

If this effort were meant to “pressure” Vietnam into liberalizing, then Obama would be serving the liberal international order. However, as Politico’s Edward-Isaac Dovere notes, “neither the Americans or [sic] the Vietnamese spent any time pretending the change had anything to do with actual democratic reform. Obama didn’t make a show of calling for it. President Tran Dai Quang didn’t make a show of pretending he was for it. They both knew it would have been a joke.”
What incentivizes nations to pursue liberalism–often reducing the power of the ruling class–when the benefits of the liberal global order fall upon illiberal states as well? Doesn’t Obama’s approach to these hostile states undermine the liberal international order? Or do a stronger Iran, Cuba, and Vietnam exist only in the periphery?

Ryan’s Reformicons Lead the Way

In an election year, politicians tend to be light on policy specifics (closer to Donald Trump’s platitudes than to Mitt Romney’s 59-point jobs plan). That’s because revealing too much too soon creates a target that opponents can attack for a longer period of time. Paul Ryan recognized this in 2012 when Romney approached him about joining the presidential ticket.

 

“When he [Romney] asked me, I said, ‘you do realize that I’m the guy with all the budget cuts. If you put me on the ticket, you own this budget.'”

 

Romney accepted Ryan, budget cuts and all, but lost the 2012 election anyway.

 

This time around, Speaker Ryan looks to push a congressional reform agenda he describes as “propositional” not “oppositional.” His goal is to have a tangible plan laid out this spring–before the 2016 general election. In other words, whoever becomes the Republican nominee will own Ryan’s congressional agenda.

 

I want our party to be the party of opportunity, upward mobility and the party with better ideas for fighting poverty…[and] since I want our party to be that, it goes without saying I want the House Republicans to do that, as well.”

 

Inspired by the late Jack Kemp, Ryan addresses poverty, an issue on which Republicans have traditionally led from behind. Preliminary insights suggest that the Speaker wants to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and to consolidate the sprawling federal funding for various poverty initiatives into “opportunity grants” that can be managed by the states. In addition to the poverty proposals, Ryan’s reform priorities include erecting a sturdier firewall to prevent an overactive executive from usurping Congress’ legislative duties.

 

But will Paul Ryan’s reform agenda burden the Republican presidential nominee? That depends on who wins the nomination, of course.

 

Ryan’s tone competes with the angry voices vowing to buck “establishment RINOs” who “don’t fight back” against “amnesty.” On the presidential campaign trail, this tonal divide is clear: Governors Jeb Bush and John Kasich join Senator Marco Rubio in Ryan’s eagerness to transform the GOP from loyal opposition party into a forward leaning majority party. In fact, when Ryan held a three day retreat in Baltimore to discuss the 2016 agenda, each of these gentlemen attended. Notably absent from the retreat, the two candidates most identified by anger, Donald Trump and Senator Ted Cruz.

 

Let’s be frank about it: Paul does not want Donald Trump or Ted Cruz speaking for the party,” says one Republican leadership source, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

 

Herein lies the problem. Many Republicans believe that Democrats benefit by framing their policies in an affirmative fashion. Democrats want to “give” people health insurance. They want to “give” people free college education. They want to “give” women the right to choose an abortion. Republicans, on the other hand, appear to be “against” healthcare, free college and reproductive choice. Most voters want more of everything, not less. This puts Republicans at a disadvantage, unless we learn to reframe the conversation.

 

Marco Rubio, John Kasich, and Jeb Bush, appeal to the Republican mainstream because they speak in terms of aspiration and optimism. They speak with the very tone Paul Ryan would like to advance. By contrast, Ted Cruz regularly uses verbs like “annihilate,” “destroy,” and “dismantle.” Donald Trump’s ban on Muslim visitors and immigrants, his staunch desire to erect a physical barrier to immigration, and his promise to punish businesses who choose to operate in a friendlier climate, all use threatening language that does not advance a positive view of conservatism.

 

Speaker Ryan understands that he and Mitt Romney won the 2012 election on issues, but lost on empathy. He understands Jack Kemp’s axiom: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” That is why Ryan is working tirelessly to unite the Republican Party and grow it, by showing the country what positive politics looks like.
If we nominate the wrong candidate, though, we may do more than lose the election–we may significantly damage the conservative movement.

The Art of the Pointless

Is politics still the “art of the possible?” In America, today, it appears as if politics has become the art of the pointless. Congress finally passed a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, along with a defunding of Planned Parenthood, and sent it to President Barack Obama–for veto. None of the lawmakers who supported the bill thought the president would sign it, but Republican constituents would have still demanded it be done. John Boehner’s House of Representatives passed an ACA repeal about 40 times, knowing the Senate would never bring the bill to a vote.

 

Why fight unwinnable battles? Apparently, futility is good politics.

 

Donald Trump sits atop the Republican polls, a seemingly unstoppable force–at least until actual votes are cast. His plan to fix the immigration crisis consists of building a giant wall along our Southern border and “making Mexico pay for it.” The wall will cost upwards of $20B, face eminent domain challenges across multiple states, and will do nothing to staunch the sizeable minority of immigrants who fly into America and overstay their VISAs. In short, it’ll never happen.

 

No matter. Mr. Trump’s supporters also like his policy proposal to curb domestic terror attacks by restricting immigrants and visitors who confess to being Muslim. If you ignore that a cunning jihadist can lie about his religious orientation and gain access into his target, the idea is almost plausible. Except that such a policy would run so far afoul of the law that crafting the language of the legislation would be an exercise in futility.

 

Perhaps Donald Trump isn’t such a viable candidate.

 

Luckily, then, there’s Ted Cruz–the Senator from Texas who led a government shutdown that did not (because it could not) achieve the goal he intended. Then again, Cruz’ goal may have been to raise money for himself, in which case, the government shutdown worked perfectly. In the last debate, Mr. Cruz ended a sharp spat with Marco Rubio by saying that he would not support a path to legal status for the tens of millions of undocumented workers already living in the United States. Refusing such a path means either accepting the status quo, a broken immigration system, or deporting each of the illegal immigrants.

 

Deporting 12 million illegal immigrants would cost somewhere between $166B and $285B. These figures neglect the less tangible costs of businesses closing, industries taking a serious hit, and the bad press we would receive as we broke up families to send more than 32,000 people out of the country every day. Imagine how the photographs from the largest forced migration from America will adorn future liberal history textbooks.

 

It will never happen, though. That won’t stop Cruz from suckering people into believing in impossibilities to his self-serving ends.

 

Before concluding that futility politics exists solely on the right, turn your attention to President Obama’s executive orders on firearms. Look, too, to his “common sense” policy prescriptions–none of which would have done a thing to stop any of the recent mass shootings or curb gun deaths, as most are the result of suicides. Still, though, gun control measures soothe Democrats’ consciences.

 

Both Democrat Presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, propose to make college tuition free, at least for students attending state schools. The cost of such a plan begins at more than $70B annually. This wouldn’t be a good investment even if it weren’t paying to send people to college who can already afford to go by their own means.

 

Combine this idea with Sanders’ plan for universal health insurance (Medicare expansion), his federal jobs programs for disadvantaged youth, his $1T infrastructure policy, and his expansion of Social Security benefits, and the likelihood of any of these plans coming to fruition matches that of Ammon Bundy’s standoff ending in his victory.

 

If American voters are so frustrated with politicians, why do we settle for and insist upon feel-good, doomed-to-fail, kamikaze, gestural politics?
There ought to be a law…

Iran Deal Epitomizes the Wrong Way to Encourage Peace

Capitulating to Oppressors Breeds More Oppression


Peter Beinart writes a piece in The Atlantic that elucidates the folly of constructivist political theory and President Barack Obama’s role in negotiations with Iran. Beinart expresses hope that the nuclear deal with Iran could bring Democracy to the nation and improve human rights conditions. Rather than rely on military threats, sanctions, and isolation to urge Iran in the right direction, he argues that a conciliatory approach bore fruit historically and can do so today. The theory belies logic and the price of failure is high.

Beinart highlights the case of Akbar Ganji, a journalist jailed in Iran for calling on the country to replace its theocracy with a democracy. Ganji has since been released and has fled Iran. From his safe haven, he argues that the Iranian people live in fear resulting from economic sanctions and military threats from the United States and Israel.

“If the United States and its allies ‘are truly interested in the development of democracy in Iran…they should set aside military threats and economic sanctions.”

Beinart agrees.

He chastises hawks’ simplistic view of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War successes:

“Reagan entered the White House in 1981, built up the American military, sent arms to anti-communist rebels, refused to negotiate arms-control deals, called the Soviet Union an ‘evil empire,’ and, presto, the Berlin Wall fell.”

Instead, Beinart argues, Reagan de-escalated the Cold War by meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev without preconditions, cooling bellicose rhetoric, and signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty.

“The lesson,” Beinart writes, is “that imposing sanctions and threatening war rarely strengthen human rights. It’s usually the reverse.”

With this in mind, the Iranian nuclear talks have devolved from the U.S. and her European allies calling on Iran to dismantle its nuclear program to now–a complete reversal of previous U.S. positions. The Wall Street Journal editorial page lists some of these major departures:

“Obama has already conceded that Iran can keep enriching uranium, that it can maintain 5,060 centrifuges to do the enriching, that its enriched-uranium stockpiles can stay inside Iran, that the once-concealed facilities at Fordow and Arak can stay open (albeit in altered form), and that Iran can continue doing research on advanced centrifuges.”

In addition to these concessions, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wants an immediate repeal of economic sanctions and no inspections under any conditions of Iran’s military sites. Whatever demands the West makes on Iran must be upheld, or else the sanctions will immediately “snap back,” President Obama claims. How these sanctions will be immediately reimposed remains unclear. According to Beinart, though, caving to the Ayatollah would benefit more people than currently face harm through sanctions and the fear of war.

So why, Beinart asks, “in the face of all this evidence…do American hawks…still overwhelmingly oppose Obama’s diplomatic openings?”

Americans believe in carrots and sticks. Reward for good behavior and punishment for bad. We fear that granting concessions to brutal dictatorships will encourage more brutal dictatorships. In particular, dictators motivated by antisemitism stop at very little to kill Jews. Beinart doesn’t negate this possibility in his piece, even calling on American leaders to “criticize dictatorships.” Apparently, though, when that criticism goes so far as to call a murderous regime “evil,” a red line has been crossed.

So, what should the West do to discourage despotism?

Neorealists/neoliberals argue that coalitions built around pro-social behaviors create a cohort of nations that benefit from cooperation. NATO, WTO, the World Bank and IMF, name some of the multinational entities that work under this assumption. Nations allowed to participate in these organizations prosper. Those that don’t, don’t.

America started the neoliberal model after the end of World War II left so much of the world in shambles. Up until that point, the wealthiest and most powerful nations ruled the globe single-handedly until their power waned enough to allow a rival to topple the world order and claw to the top of the heap. The neorealist model dispatches with that practice. Neoliberalism encourages leaders to allow a free press, hold elections, curb aggression against their neighbors–all in order to join some of the multinational groups that work hand in hand toward mutual benefit.

Beinart and Obama appear bent on a constructivist approach that offers carrots with no sticks. They believe that by lifting sanctions and capitulating to despots, they uphold human rights for the unfortunate subjects of Iran and similar countries. In reality, they allow bloodthirsty dictators the means to build tools to violate the sovereignty and human rights of people in other countries.

Reality, though, is not a place where constructivism thrives.