Profit or Principle?

The West is back to engaging lucrative dictators

Nicolas Sarkozy is as pro-American a president as France will ever have. But when he was received last Saturday at the Bush compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, for an "informal" meeting with President George W. Bush, he was probably hoping this would not be interpreted gastronomically. The Bushes offered hamburgers and hot dogs rather than lobster or swordfish, leaving the slighted family fish supplier, Steve Kingston, to declare: "I hope it won't be taken badly in France."

In fact, detractors in France seemed far more disturbed by where Sarkozy was vacationing, namely the tony retreat of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, than by what he was putting into his mouth. The high price tag of the president's holiday was a consistent object of derision, but the reality was that many Frenchmen seemed even more uncomfortable with Sarkozy's plain message that things were back to normal with the United States—meaning the United States of the reviled George W. Bush.

If so, the critics might want to look again. On the U.S.-French agenda were three Middle Eastern issues of common concern: Iran, Darfur, and Lebanon. But while Bush and Sarkozy are closer than Bush and Jacques Chirac ever were, when it comes to the Middle East, Sarkozy's France is going the way other European states are in detaching itself from Washington and from the implications of the Bush administration's war on terror. That's not to say there invariably is disagreement. Rather, the European-American relationship with regard to the Arab world and Iran is drifting back to what we had before 9/11, when the pursuit of national interests trumped any declared common effort to advance democracy and human rights while isolating repressive regimes and "rogue nations."

Take the recent release by Libya of six foreign medics, most of them Bulgarians. This opened a Pandora's Box of recrimination when it was suggested that France, which played a principal role in the liberation, had overseen a more sinister quid pro quo: the medics in exchange for Libya's being allowed to buy weapons and a nuclear reactor from France. The French government insisted there had been no tradeoffs. Sarkozy was even more affirmative in denying a nuclear deal. However, Paris was forced to concede that a weapons deal had been agreed after the son of Libya's dictator Moammar Qaddafi broke the story to the French daily Le Monde.

But what Seif al-Islam Qaddafi disclosed suggested more than just arms sales, which are allowed now that Libya is no longer under an international sanctions regime. He told Le Monde: "First, the agreement [with France] involves joint military exercises; we will be buying Milan anti-tank missiles from France to the order of 100 million euros, I think. Then there is a project for the manufacture of arms, and for the maintenance and production of military equipment. You know it's the first arms supply deal between a Western country and Libya [since the sanctions ended]."

At home Sarkozy was attacked by the Socialists for being willing to transact with an autocrat like Qaddafi. But the president is likely to weather that storm. His party agreed to a parliamentary inquiry scheduled to begin in autumn, and most probably this will serve to push the dispute to the backburner. After all, the Bulgarian medics deal involved many more states than France. According to the head of Bulgaria's intelligence service, Kirtcho Kirov, some 20 countries, including the United Kingdom, participated in what looked like a bazaar of liberation. Kirov recalled that the person who put him in touch with his Libyan counterpart was Marc Allan, the former head of global operations for MI6, the British foreign intelligence service.

Why the U.K.? Because the British authorities hold a vital card in the game of bringing oil-rich Libya back into the international fold. He is Abdul Basset Ali al-Megrahi, the Libyan former intelligence agent being held in Scotland for his alleged involvement in the Pan-Am bombing over the town of Lockerbie. In June, Britain's judiciary allowed him to appeal his sentence for a second time. For most observers Megrahi is a scapegoat; someone who went to prison so the international community would not have to go after the real culprit: Moammar Qaddafi. Megrahi's future release may be part of the tentacular medics deal, in exchange for which, presumably, the U.K. will also be invited into the lucrative Libyan market.

It hardly takes Libya to show that the U.K. is going its own way in the Middle East, or that the mood toward the United States is changing in London. Already, U.S. forces are preparing for a possible British withdrawal from the southern Iraqi city of Basra early next year, amid signs that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wants out of the Iraq conflict.

The growing U.S.-U.K. disconnect was also evident in the conclusions of a report by a select committee of the House of Commons addressing Middle Eastern matters. Among other findings, the report criticized the British government's rejection of an early cease-fire during the summer war in Lebanon last year—a decision taken by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair in accordance with Washington. The MPs also called for an opening of dialogue with "moderates" in Hamas, cast doubt on the success of the U.S. "surge" in Iraq, and warned that the use of such terms as "war on terror" and "arc of extremism" provoked "resentment" and was "unhelpful and that such oversimplifications may lead to dangerous policy implications." The real target of these conclusions was, plainly, the Bush administration's post 9/11 terrorism policies.

An older nemesis of the administration, the Socialist government in Spain, is also taking a much freer line on Lebanese and Syrian affairs than the U.S. would like. The Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, has repeatedly sought to engage Syria's dictatorship, despite open U.S. skepticism. Moratinos' attitude has also disturbed the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority in Lebanon, with one parliamentarian describing his benign attitude toward Syria as "not reassuring." Recently, Moratinos traveled to Damascus to meet with Syria's leadership, even though there was a very high probability, confirmed by United Nations officials, that Syria played a role in the bomb attack that killed six Spanish peace-keepers of the U.N. Interim Force in South Lebanon on June 24.

Still, it's not all bad between Washington and Europe—nor is the U.S. itself particularly consistent when it comes to dealing with autocrats, as it continues to bolster the regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. Most European states are on the same page as the U.S. in opposing Iran's nuclear ambitions and its rising power in the Persian Gulf. On the Palestinian front, up to now European governments have sided with Washington on isolating Hamas (though that may be changing). In Lebanon, France may soon adopt measures similar to two White House Executive Orders denying travel to or blocking the property of individuals deemed to be undermining Lebanon's sovereignty and democracy.

However, the more uniform rhetoric heard in the aftermath of 9/11 is now a memory. The Europeans are doing their own thing, and so is the U.S. What that means in practical terms is that it is once again acceptable to cajole despots if national interests mandate it. So whether your name is Qaddafi, Assad, Mubarak, or Abdullah, the moral of the story is: Enjoy the greater breathing space you now have to asphyxiate your own people.

Reason contributing editor Michael Young is opinion editor of the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon

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  • thoreau||

    Michael Young, if you think our policy in the Middle East was ever about democracy and human rights then you are probably too mentally compromised to tie your own shoes.

  • GinSlinger||

    I was not a geography major, but when did they move the Darfur region to the Middle East?

  • Syloson of Samos||

    thoreau,

    Well, for some people in the Bush administration it was.

    GinSlinger,

    Same thing I thought.

  • ||

    Michael Young, or any other Iraq hawks preening themselves about their superior concern for democracy and human rights:

    Please name for me a single example of the Bush administration and its collected Iraq hawks standing behind democracy and human rights when doing so conflicted with the pursuit of our national interests.

    For counter-examples, I'll offer their support for coups against elected leaders in Haiti and Venezuela; Bush's "looking into Putin's soul" while the Russians raped Chechnya; our support for the dictators in Uzekistan and Turkmenistan; our silence in the face of Chinese repression of the Uighers; their support for Israel's expansion of its anti-Hezbollah actions to punish the democratic government in Lebanon; the constant demonization of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Red Cross for their condemnation of our detention and torture policies; and the continuation of the occupation of Iraq in the fact of the overwhelming, plainly-stated desire of the Iraqi people for our exit.

    But I'm sure you can come up with plenty of examples of the "heroes of democracy" who apologize for this war setting aside realist, national-interest concerns in favor of advancing democracy and human rights.

  • ||

    joe and thoreau,

    I am not defending this administration, but I think it's unfair to suggest that they don't have any desire to promote the liberalization of Iraq. Yes, the same people can tolerate despotism, etc., when it's in our interests to do so, but that's par for the political course, isn't it?

    Naturally, it would be nice if their love of freedom extended to the United States :)

  • ||

    I certainly can't get too worked up about Libya and France conducting joint military exercises.

  • Syloson of Samos||

    Pro Libertate,

    Yeah, that's what I was partly getting out. Thanks for fleshing it out.

  • ||

    Pro Libertate,

    If you value something, you make it a priority, not treat it as a pleasent side-effect.

    For all their self-congratulations, I've never seen anyone in the Bush administration dmeonstrate through their actions the slightest interest in advancing democracy and human rights if there was any cost to any of their realist policy goals. I have seen them drop democracy and human rights like a hot potato whenever when there was a political goal to be accomplished by doing so, though.

  • ||

    ...but I'm sure the Democracy Crusaders who've spent the last several years attending their mutual admiration societies will be along any minute with a cornicopia of counter-examples.

    Yup, any minute now.

  • thoreau||

    What about the purple fingers, joe?

    Anyway, Michael Moore is fat. Look, do you see him? Over there. Just look!

  • ||

    People are complex, even politicians. Look at me--I'm this normally even-handed, reasonably civil poster, yet I'm part of the Urkobold menace. Even I can't explain that :)

    joe,

    Like I said, with one hand they really mean it, with the other they say screw it. U.S. foreign policy has never been any different. And, as you and I agreed in the past, that's a damned shame. There's something to be said for trying to lead from a position of moral superiority. Shining beacon on the hill and all that, you know.

  • ||

    One need not have any faith in the Bush Administration to conclude that it was preferable to have people in Iraq vote for a government, in hope that it might eventually become a less remarkable event. In any case, we still are where we were four years ago, in terms of likely outcomes. If the people of Persian Gulf do not achieve self government of their mineral resources, and choose to trade peacefully and profitably with the rest of the world, they will suffer the typical fate of militarily and economically weak people who sit atop natural resources demanded by far more powerful populations, while displaying hostility towards those more powerful people.

  • ||

    See, if the administration didn't really care about democracy in the middle east, why did we invade? What possible national interest did it serve? The neocons at the Weekly Standard had been itching for the invasion since the mid-to-lat 90's. They really thought they were going to make freedom burst forth all across the middle east.
    Which makes the whole thing just that much sadder.

  • ||

    There is way too much thought going into this when Hanlon's razor will suffice:

  • ||

    Nate,

    You're kidding, right? WMDs, invading neighbors, stable oil supply, a decade of expensive sanctions brought to an end, a client state in the Middle East, bases out of Saudi Arabia, encirclement of Iran, al Qaeda connections, demonstration of might before the world, sticking it to the UN - all of these were offered as reasons to invade Iraq before the war even started, and every single one of them (regardless of their truthfulness or wisdom) are national-interest-directed goals.

  • ||

    For counter-examples, I'll offer their support for coups against elected leaders in Haiti and Venezuela; Bush's "looking into Putin's soul" while the Russians raped Chechnya; our support for the dictators in Uzekistan and Turkmenistan; our silence in the face of Chinese repression of the Uighers; their support for Israel's expansion of its anti-Hezbollah actions to punish the democratic government in Lebanon; the constant demonization of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Red Cross for their condemnation of our detention and torture policies; and the continuation of the occupation of Iraq in the fact of the overwhelming, plainly-stated desire of the Iraqi people for our exit.



    joe, I agree with you on this. But the difference is, I support a neutral foreign policy and free trade with any country that wants it, similiar to Switzerland, because I don't believe that an activist U.S. foreign policy will ever be anything different. You, on the other hand, have some grand visions of a great activist U.S. foreign policy, and you think that if we just have the right people in office it will all work out.

    So joe, do you think Switzerland, or Sweden, or any other neutral country, has a worse foreign policy than the United States? If not, don't you think it would be a good idea to emulate their obviously less destructive foreign policy?

  • ||

    But perhaps I'm setting the bar too high by demanding examples of a willingness to pay a cost in realist terms. Perhaps the Bush administration and its media organs are so incredibly Kerry-esque in their attention to nuance and careful weighing of competing concerns that they've simply been driven to paralysis in their foreign policy, and have yet to find a humanitarian, democratic mission whose benefits outweighed the costs in realist terms.

    So let me lower the bar: can anyone name for me an example of a foreign policy initiative that the Bush administration has pursued in the absence of an expected gain in realist, national-interest terms?

    You don't even have to show me that they were willing to pay a price to advance democracy and human rights; just show me where they made a serious effort to push for humanitarian goals in the absence of an expected realpolitik payoff.

    Come on, democracy/liberalization/human right were supposedly the defining foreign policy goals of the past six years, while the pursuit of realpolitik was, allegedly, all-but-abandoned. Lord knows this administration has had an activist foreign policy. It shouldn't be hard to come up with an example.

  • ||

    You mean nations only deal with other's in a way to further national goals? Really?I thought F.D.R. respected Stalin's enlightened rule.

  • ||

    Rex,

    The last five years would seem to demonstrate the absurdity of your claim that it doesn't matter who is guiding our foreign policy.

    Do you now how many Americans have died in the Balkins since we moved to stop the Serbs' ethnic cleansing there? Zero. Proclaiming that one cannot distinguish between that bit of activism and the Iraq debacle - other than to note that the Presidents who brought them about were, in fact, two different people - is a proclaimation of one's own purposeful blindness.

  • ||

    Nope, Michael Pack, that's not what I mean. There was another point I was making - one whose subject is something more specific that "nations."

    I didn't think I was being opaque here.

  • ||

    Joe,he differents between Iraq and the Balkans is the people decided to lay down arms and try to build a country.The Kurds are another good example.You can't just fault the U.S. without putting much blame were it belongs.The Iraqis are are not some uncivilized group.In many ways they are more enlightened than the Japanse and Germens after WWII.They also have resources that neith county posess.For another example look at Panama.Their doing quite well after the U.S. invasion.

  • ||

    Michael,

    The Serbs and Kosovars decided to lay down arms and live in peace? Are you sure about that?

    Because I'm pretty sure they didn't.

    And you're still not understanding my point - I'm not a "US Out of Everywhere" partisan here. Didn't you see Rex accusing me of wanting to have exactly the same foreign policy as George Bush?

    I'm not making an overarching argument about "US Power Good" or "US Power Bad." I think you actually have to look at the facts of each case to draw a conclusion about that. Panama is a good example of a US invasion that did some good - even if the need for that invasion lies largely at our feet, at least we cleaned up our mess.

    The point I'm making in this thread is a small one, dealing with how realpolitik and idealism have operated in this president's foreign policy.

    I don't think they have been genuinely idealistic. I think they just adopted pretty slogans to dress up their power grab, and the ease with which all but the most reliable Bush-apologist dead-enders have dropped that language is quite telling.

  • ||

    I agre with many of your points but I'm not willing to let the Iraqis of the hook.As for the Serbs,it was a European problem and they couldn't handle it.I was one who thought the people of Iraq would build a better country when given a chance.You can blame Bush all you want but the blame falls at the feet of the Iraqis.

  • ||

    And you're still not understanding my point - I'm not a "US Out of Everywhere" partisan here.

    I'm not sure I understand that sentence. Partisanship would dictate that we invade the countries that the party we support want to invade (whether Sudan, Iraq, Serbia, or Iran). Being "US Out of Everywhere" would be completely non-partisan (see: Moore, Michael for a respectable example from a repugnant human being).

  • ||

    This is a bit of a double-post I did this somewhere else, but...

    If the people of Saudi Arabia woke up tomorrow morning and found themselves in a democracy, one that truly reflected what they wanted, I seriously doubt that that government would be well disposed toward the United States. ...and if that's the case, amid the War on Terror, why would want a democracy there?

    How do democracy hawks account for Hamas coming to power--wasn't that democracy's fault?

    "Already, U.S. forces are preparing for a possible British withdrawal from the southern Iraqi city of Basra early next year, amid signs that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown wants out of the Iraq conflict."

    My understanding is that the draw-down was announced in February. ...and we're talking about a barrel that's already been emptied--a draw-down from 7,100 to 5,000 is nothing compared to the 45,000 that were there in the begining.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6906724.stm

    Signs that Gordon Brown wants out? ...they're practically already gone.

  • ||

    Johnny D.,

    "Partisan" in the sense of zealously advocating for that policy. There are more meanings to the word "partisan" than "supporter of one of the major political parties in America."

    I, personally, am a partisan of the Red Sox and California wines.

  • ||

    The 'breathing room'/'asphyxiation' comment got me to thinking.

    When has a hardline stance ever accomplished anything towards the quality-of-life of people in autocratic societies?

    If there were anything to be accomplished by isolating and ostracizing 'rogue states', wouldn't the last century's preeminent example of said isolation -- Cuba -- show some signs of whatever it is that's supposed to be accomplished?

    Sanctions, isolation, and restriction of trade and travel don't seem to stop the autocrats from oppressing their own people. In fact, they seem to be enabled and invigorated by that kind of treatment. It gives them a convenient boogeyman to point at when explaining to their people why crackdowns and oppressive tactics are necessary. "It's not *my* fault. It's those goddamned Americans."

    Or did I totally misremember the entire Iraq sanctions debacle?

  • ||

    Well, Ken, if the people of Saudi Arabia were to gain self government tomorrow, and were to then choose to wage war on the citizens of the United States, as some of their citizens already have, the people of the United States would have gained a great deal of clarity at a time when the people of Saudi Arabia were still at maximum disadvantage, in terms of being able to harm the citizens of the United States with any degree of proficiency. The people of Saud Arabia would then receive in short order a rather thorough education as to their foolish choices.

    On the other hand the typical Saudi may not be a moron, and thus may conclude, "Hey why don't we just sell the oil, and use the money to develop ourselves, instead of buying Airbus 380s for one family, or instead of getting jdamed by the Americans!"

    Mind you, I make no predictions on what their choice would be, but I'd rather discover their preferences now instead of 25 years from now.

  • ||

    Will Allen,very good post.

  • ||

    There's no such thing as waking up in a democracy.

    Democracy is as much a cultural and social orientation as a system of filling offices.

    Those cultural and social practices take a long time to develop, and can only develop among people who look at their fellow citizens as part of their polity. That's why our democracy started at the town level, then the state level, and only then the national level, and even then only gradually became more democratic.

  • ||

    "Partisan" in the sense of zealously advocating for that policy. There are more meanings to the word "partisan" than "supporter of one of the major political parties in America."

    My apologies, joe. The general use of the word "partisan" refers to support of a political party's policies. I didn't realize you were using a more nuanced version of the word.

  • JBinMO||

    First of all, why should my tax dollars go to activities that do not benit this nation?

    Second of all, I'm not saying your wrong here, what proof is there that we had anything to do with the attempt to overthrow Chavez. You hear it, but it is never backed up with proof.

  • ||

    Those cultural and social practices take a long time to develop, and can only develop among people who look at their fellow citizens as part of their polity. That's why our democracy started at the town level, then the state level, and only then the national level, and even then only gradually became more democratic.

    It doesn't help that Iraq was sewed together by the British Empire. It is a frankenstein state, imposed upon the region.

  • ||

    If Bush ever cared about freedom, the first thing he should have done is dissolved Iraq and allowed each town and city to make its own allegiances, to other cities or other states. Because, even if you don't think that taxation is theft, it is clear to me that Iraq was the furthest thing you could get from a legitimate institution. Instead, he invades, imposes price controls on vital goods, and manipulates the laws in the US and Iraq to favor his cronies.

    The administration isn't taking a detour away from freedom and democracy, it is and has been heading in the opposite direction all along.

  • ||

    "Mind you, I make no predictions on what their choice would be, but I'd rather discover their preferences now instead of 25 years from now."

    I won't concede that an all out war between our cultures is inevitable. Even if it was, I wouldn't accept that in the meantime we shouldn't do what's in our best interest in terms of protecting our people.

    So, in the meantime, if the battle's with Al Qaeda and its supporters, and Al Qaeda's enemy is the Saudi government... To borrow a term I detest, isn't democracy objectively pro Al Qaeda? Isn't Al Qaeda convinced that if the Saudi people had their way, that Saudi Arabia would look more like Al Qaeda's vision of it?

    Shouldn't we treat the enemy of our enemy as our friend? ...in the meantime?

  • Bazil||

    "the pursuit of national interests is once again trumping efforts to promote democracy and human rights."

    that's a negative as well. Michael Young may not be as perceptive as one was lead to believe. Pursuit of National Interests (of US) has rarely been the policy in the middle east.

    Dogged support for the Despots of Saudi Arabia, or the Despots of Kuwait, Bahrain, UAE, Jordan and Egypt. Or brushing under the rug Israeli Defense Forces illegal activities such as using cluster bombs in civilian areas, or aiding Islamic Terrorist Baluchi groups on the Pakistan side to attack Iran (for now, later they'll attack us), or helping Turkey's muted ambiguity about the Armenian genocide...

    None of these are in anyway help US interest. If anything they've just bought us enemies. If we weren't supporting the Saudi Royal family's grip in power, perhaps we wouldn't need military bases in that country, and maybe Bin laden wouldn't have the excuse of "infidels in my holy land" to justify his murderous deeds.

    Thomas Jefferson was one sharp cookie when he envisioned America's foreign policy doctrine as "trade with all, entangling alliance with none"

    If only American leaders would listen to the founding fathers they theatrically like to emulate. Or heed the wisdom of the constitution, there would be far less dead Americans. And the middle east will figure itself out. It has for 6000 years.

    American ideals are far too precious to be traded away for perceived safety.

    America should either invade and change all of the middle east and add it as US territories (in short Own the joint) or leave it alone and just buy the oil. Anything in between is trouble.

  • ||

    "Those cultural and social practices take a long time to develop, and can only develop among people who look at their fellow citizens as part of their polity. That's why our democracy started at the town level, then the state level, and only then the national level, and even then only gradually became more democratic."

    That's what I understand the invisible hand to mean as it pertains to "Moral Sentiments".

    I think I oppose inflicting it on other people. The British started off down the road to Imperialism in the name of abolishing slavery, didn't they? ...at least in Africa. I think we all need a way to get rid of our leaders periodically, but I'm not so sure democracy is a universal value. Like saving for retirement, I'm not so sure it should be inflicted on people.

    I've seen how unfair democracy can be. We fought a civil war in this country to overthrow a democratic tyranny. It seems like no one talks about the ugly side of democracy in public, there doesn't seem to be anyone calling it out for what it is. There are clear arguments against democracy in our canon, but I suspect people in the Muslim world understand this better than we do.

    It took a democracy to bomb, invade and occupy a nation in response to an attack by a third party.

    It says so right here.

  • ||

    Well, ken, I never asked you to make such a cocession, for as I clearly wrote, I make no predictions as to what their choice would be. If most of them want war, however, I'd like to find out now, while they can't do much, rather than spend the next 20 to 30 years in a low intensity war with a splinter of their population which has access to oil revenues and is highly committed to improving it's capabilities, while being insensitive to deterrence.

  • ||

    Oh, and when I asked, "How do democracy hawks account for Hamas coming to power--wasn't that democracy's fault?", it wasn't a rhetorical question.

    If Mr. Young or any other democracy hawks out there want to answer, I really would like to know.

  • ||

    Bazil, there is no such thing as just buying the oil, for the American electorate demands the material benefit of having Saudi oil being added to the fungible global oil supply on an uninterrupted basis, which means being in a position to continuously support the Saudi Royal Family, which means being in continual conflict with those elements of Saudi society which oppose the Saudi Royal Family. As long as the American electorate demands the benefit of a global economy which features uninterrupted Saudi oil extraction, somebody in Saudi Arabia is going to wage war on the American electorate. We may as well find out how large that group is, while nobody in Saudi Arabia is exceptionally proficient at mass killing.

  • ||

    "If most of them want war, however, I'd like to find out now, while they can't do much, rather than spend the next 20 to 30 years in a low intensity war with a splinter of their population which has access to oil revenues and is highly committed to improving it's capabilities, while being insensitive to deterrence."

    Our enemies had power in Afghanistan--look what they did with it! What are we talkin' about here? Please tell me no one's suggesting that the Taliban would have behaved differently if it had come to power by way of an election.

    ...and what I'm talking about is depriving our eneimes of those resources and oil revenue. Yes, there are elements within Saudi Arabia who funnel oil derived support to Al Qaeda and its ilk--how much worse would it be if those were the people in charge?!

    I suspect that if there were free elections in Saudi Arabia the resulting government there would be more apt to support our enemies, not less so. Is there some compelling reason to think otherwise?

  • ||

    Ken, you don't need to be a democracy hawk to see the benefit of knowing the depth of your enemy's support, especially while your enemy still lacks means.

  • ||

    I think that's a really steep price to pay for that information.

  • edna||

    "How do democracy hawks account for Hamas coming to power--wasn't that democracy's fault?"

    it's democracy's fault in the same sense that when someone is killed in a gang shooting, it's the gun's fault. people need to be free to make their choices, and if the choices are bad, they will suffer consequences. i think that's the basis of libertarianism...

  • edna||

    I, personally, am a partisan of the Red Sox and California wines.

    these are two major faults of yours, joe. but people can and do make foolish choices and they should be allowed to suffer the consequences.

  • ||

    ken, if the people of Saudi Arabia were to elect an Al Queda government, then the people of the United States would wage a pitiless war on them, with great justification, while such a government's ability to inflict damage on the people of the United States was still quite limited.

    The attacks of 9/11 were quite minor in the context of large scale war, and their success was mostly due to the people of the United States not being fully aware that there were fact people seeking to wage war on them. No such lack of awareness would exist if the people of Saudi Arabia were to freely choose an Al Queda government.

    Like I said, I make no predictions, but there is chance that the people of Saudia Arabia would prefer to sell oil than get killed by the droves.

  • ||

    ken, the price of ignorance is far, far, more expensive if your state of ignorance is relieved only after your enemy has greatly improved his ability to effect destruction, particularly if your enemy is imbued with a rather manichean view of the world, and is thus not especially sensitive to deterrence.

  • Patrick D||

    "I was one who thought the people of Iraq would build a better country when given a chance.You can blame Bush all you want but the blame falls at the feet of the Iraqis."

    That's quite a cop-out.

    To restate, the flawed Arab character is to be blamed for Iraqis' inability to sever their tribal and religious ties (traditional security) and embrace democracy and individual rights (vague promises of freedom) when confronted with the violent reality of daily life in "the central front in the war on terrorism" created by the U.S.

    What is really striking is how much freedom is still being surrendered in the U.S. (where individual freedom is the tradition) after two terrorist attacks six years ago.

    Time to review.

    To use the administration's jargon of the day, if your primary objective is to secure small, hard-to-detect, highly mobile WMD weapons caches and labs in a country the size of CA with porous borders so they don't fall into the hands of Islamist terrorists you go in with the biggest force you can to do the job. The U.S. only invaded with enough troops to overthrow Saddam's gov't which, logically, was only a milestone.

    The situation since the invasion has evolved to one characterized by terrorism, sectarian and tribal violence, and run-of-the-mill organized crime at least partially assisted by Iraq's neighbors. The administration frequently portrays these circumstances as unforeseen and, to be fair, much of the criticism against them is political sniping based on hindsight.

    However, the administration was portraying the war in Iraq as the "central front in the war on terror" while it was still in the planning stage and has since described it as a "fly paper" strategy. Mission accomplished. What did they think the central front in the war on terror would look like and why weren't they prepared?

    Another objective was to help Iraqis build a "vibrant democracy" in the heart of the Arab and Muslim worlds. No matter what your opinion of Arab and Muslim culture, the fly paper and building democracy strategies are logically incompatible unless you invade with the biggest force possible to protect the Iraqis from the Islamist terrorists you are intentionally attracting, not just overthrow the gov't.

    Calling Syria and Iran evil and "putting them on notice" publicly and often, not invading Iraq with the biggest force possible to secure the Iraqi side of the borders as well as possible, and then whining about them assisting insurgents and terrorists that you intend to attract in the first place further highlights incompetence.

    In summary, if you believed the administration's initial definition of the threat and accepted their objectives, then you must also conclude that the plan demonstrated them to be liars or incompetents. Either way, they are unacceptably dangerous.

  • Patrick D||

    Ken and Will,

    I just finished an excellent book on the history of the U.S. - Saudi relationship, the rises and falls of Islamic fundamentalism there in the past, the origins of the current wave, etc. I recommend it if you're interested.

    Thicker than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership with Saudi Arabia by Rachel Bronson

    Its contents will shed some light on your topic of democracy in Saudi.

    As an aside, it reminded me of when I was a Middle Eastern Studies student in the mid 80's and how hard it was to find anything on the Arabian peninsula or North Africa. Courses were dominated by the Ottoman Empire, the Arab-Israeli conflict and just getting a handle on the Islamic Revolution in Iran. The emphasis was and probably still is pretty myopic.

  • iih||

    On a separate topic, I was away from my computer all day and just read through the discussion regarding the Padilla case:

    http://www.reason.com/blog/show/121989.html

    Some standard comments until, of course, I came along ;-) and posted my own view at:

    http://www.reason.com/blog/show/121989.html#767321

    and was hoping to hear back from someone. Last post there was at 8.11 (EST), so I am guessing that everyone considered the discussion over.

  • DannyK||

    Before 9/11, the US dealt extensively with thuggish regimes that had stuff we wanted. After 9/11, ditto.

    Can Mr. Young point to a single time in recent history when the US gov't wasn't coddling some son-of-a-bitch or another?

    For that matter, how is one to make friends and allies in the Middle East without coddling thugs and murderers? There's Israel, there's Lebanon (if you stretch the definition of democracy a bit) and... did I mention Israel?

    And of course, Palestine is the ultimate example of the paradox of the Middle Eastern democracy: the more open fair elections are held, the more openly anti-American governments there will be.

  • ||

    As a matter of fact, going to war - even a "war for democracy" - requires you to step up your thug-coddling a step or two.

  • ||

    Do you now how many Americans have died in the Balkins since we moved to stop the Serbs' ethnic cleansing there? Zero. Proclaiming that one cannot distinguish between that bit of activism and the Iraq debacle - other than to note that the Presidents who brought them about were, in fact, two different people - is a proclaimation of one's own purposeful blindness.



    joe,

    Everyone in the Balkans hates America, the people who we stopped from being ethic cleansed went on to do plenty of their own ethnic cleasing. That foreign policy was pretty much a disaster. Just because Bush set the bar so damn high on foreign policy disasters, doesn't mean the conflict in the Balkans wasn't a big mistake. Both the Democrats and Republicans are not fit to run U.S. foreign policy.

    You are just trying to avoid my question - Would the U.S. have been better off with a Swiss style foreign policy for the last 20 years, or not? Clearly, being neutral would have avoided the conflict in the Balkans, and the conflict in Iraq! Is giving Clinton the power to execute the first conflict so important to you that you wouldn't give it up in order to prevent Bush from executing the second one?

  • ||

    Israel is probably one of the furthest things from the list of dictators or totalitarian societies we "coddle":

    Pakistan springs to mind. Russia...China...Saudi Arabia...

    If "Israel" is the first thing that falls from your lips as some big, bad, civlian-slaughtering totalitarian society, then you're either anti-Semitic or an idiot. Either way, please depart with the half-brain you came with.

  • Gahan||

    Um, I think DannyK's point was that Israel is one of the only non-totalitarian allies we have in the Middle East.

  • ||

    I'm not sure the Balkans campaign was a good idea, but you really can't be taken seriously unless you recognize that the Balkans were in a state of disorder while Iraq was in a state of order. Our foreign policy goals were to restore order in the Balkans, wrongheaded or not. But in Iraq, we took order and turned it into chaos in the hopes of bending to our will. These are fundamentally different aims.

  • ||

    Dammit, I'm not Bill Cosby. Or I was for one stupid joke.

  • ||

    If you can use the word disaster to describe the end of a brutal war and the interruption of a genocide, done without the loss of a single American life, then you clearly aren't taking the matter seriously.

    You plainly want to believe that "a pox on both their houses" is the only thing you need to know about foreign policy, Rex. Fine, just don't expect me to take you seriously when you have to torture the facts to maintain your blissful ignorance.

    Would the U.S. have been better off with a Swiss style foreign policy for the last 20 years, or not?

    I'd certainly like to see things move in that direction, but "Swiss-style" is too far.

    Clearly, being neutral would have avoided the conflict in the Balkans, and the conflict in Iraq! While having a foreign policy that isn't based on pretty-sounding nonsense would have allowed the brilliant, effective action against the Serbs, without bogging us down in Iraq.

    You are an ideologue - you know exactly what our policies on certain issues should be without even having to know anything about the situation. In this case, an isolationist foreign policy is the answer to every foreign policy challenge that emerges.

    Well, I don't buy it. Some situations call for one solution, some call for another. I am ignoring your false dilemma - we're either Switzerland or we're Dick Cheney - and I'm not going to pretend that I have a responsibility to play along with that silly fallacy.

  • ||

    joe-

    Didn't the charges of Serbs ethnically cleansing Albanians turn out to be mostly false?

    In fact, now the Serbs (thanks to NATO!) have pretty much been ethnically cleansed from Albania.

    Thanks, but I don't appreciate our country being used as an unwitting tool in a 1,000-year old intractable conflict most people here know nothing about.

  • ||

    Ayn_Randian-

    Israel is not totalitarian, and its not the most evil country in the world. However, Israel is hardly a paragon of virtue. They are better than the Arab countries, but who isn't?

  • Patrick D||

    "Israel is probably one of the furthest things from the list of dictators or totalitarian societies we "coddle":"

    Ayn_Randian,

    Just an observation for you; the thugs in the Middle East that get the greatest amount of "coddling"... and cash... are the ones that make nice with Israel. So, while I wouldn't call Israel itself part of the problem, the United States' relationship with Israel certainly is.

  • ||

    Israel would be better off without the support of the United States, particularly the (majority) of people in that country that want peace.

  • Chris S.||

    Israel is probably one of the furthest things from the list of dictators or totalitarian societies we "coddle":

    Pakistan springs to mind. Russia...China...Saudi Arabia...

    If "Israel" is the first thing that falls from your lips as some big, bad, civlian-slaughtering totalitarian society, then you're either anti-Semitic or an idiot. Either way, please depart with the half-brain you came with.


    Israel is the first thing that falls from many people's lips because they get such a disproportianate amount of aid. Perhaps I suffer from a lack of creativity or poor googling skills, but do we currently give foreign aid to other first world countries?

    On that note, I'm not even sure why China is on your list of countries we "coddle." USAID gave them a nominal sum of money for SARS, but other than that...

  • Alex D. Tuckerville||

    One thing I have not seen mentioned are the autocratic countries that we supported who are now democracies. Such as South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Phillipines. By dealing with autocratic societies, especially if you have something they want, you can guide them towards more openness and democracies. South Korea is probably the most successful example.

  • ||

    Cesar,

    There was a pretty vigorous revisionist campaign waged by various elements of the right and the radical left to deny that Sebs' atrocities, but the mass graves don't lie. For more info, I'd recommend Amnesty International, and perhaps a Google on "Operation Horseshoe."

    There was been ethnic cleansing of Serbs who'd been settled in Kosovo during the late 20th century. It's a shame that it occured, but nothing on the scale of the campaign waged by the Serbian military and militias agains the Kosovars.

    But let's say our actions were completely worthless. They accomplished nothing. I would still take 50 Kosovos over a single Iraq, wouldn't you?

    That was why I raised the example - as a counter to Rex's breezy assertion of equivalence between a Clintonian and Bushie foreign policy.

  • ||

    But let's say our actions were completely worthless. They accomplished nothing.

    That seems about right. As soon as NATO troops leave, the conflict will continue--as it has for the past thousand + years.

    But let's say our actions were completely worthless. They accomplished nothing. I would still take 50 Kosovos over a single Iraq, wouldn't you?


    Yes but I'd prefer neither. And something that starts as a "Kosovo" mission can sometimes begin to look an awful lot like Iraq. Remember Somalia? That was a "humanitarian" mission, too.

    Thats why I'd prefer neither. Unless American territory or security is directly threatened, its wise not to use force.

    That was why I raised the example - as a counter to Rex's breezy assertion of equivalence between a Clintonian and Bushie foreign policy.

    They are certainly in no sense equivalents, I will give you that. The differences are enough to be important.

  • ||

    Cesar,

    The Kosovars and Serbs were not killing each other for the past 1000 years. They had periods of peace throughout the last millenium, including several decades during the last century. The difference between the peaceful periods and the wars was the existence of a political order that established peace. Whether that can be accomplished is still an open question. Do you think your already-decided-upon policy preference could possibly be influencing your opinion as to whether such an order can be achieved? How closely have you been following the final-status debate, anyway? You aren't just assuming the conclusion that conforms to your policy preference, are you?

    Remember Somalia? That was a "humanitarian" mission, too. Approximatley a dozen Americans dies in Somalia. We saved over half a million lives escorting those convoys - and didn't lose a single life during that part of the mission. That's a really lousy example. But I will agree that changing the mission from a humanitarian one to "bringing bad guys to justice" was a dumb move - and a damn good example of why we need to understand, not deny for political reasons, the distinctions between different military and foreign policy missions.

    If we don't, it makes it easier for people who want to wage wars of imperialism to cloak them wars of pre-emptive self defense, and to allow humanitarian missions to change into efforts to be the world's policemen.

  • ||

    Great debate.

    Photography Poses

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