Foreign Policy

Is The Foreign Policy Elite Clueless?

Seems so

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The American foreign-policy elite seems to have no idea what it's doing.

Americans may believe the government — especially the foreign-policy side — is at least minimally competent, but when one surveys decisions from the last few decades, one has to wonder.

The current crop of policymakers, like earlier ones, know what they want to do: make the world safe for American leadership — or, less euphemistically, American hegemony: No rivals for American influence or access to resources and markets can be tolerated. As President George H.W. Bush said, "What we say goes."

Even by that standard, the policy architects and executors look incompetent — or unbelievably cynical.

No better evidence exists than the policies that led to the so-called Islamic State and President Barack Obama's response to it.

Let's begin with March 2003. President George W. Bush, citing imaginary weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein's fictitious connection to Al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks, sent the military to invade Iraq, overthrow the government, and occupy the country. Saddam's regime was secular, but he was a Sunni Muslim and the majority Shi'ites were especially oppressed under his dictatorship. With Saddam gone, the Shi'ites have dominated, and the emerging successor regime predictably moved close to Iran, the large Persian Shi'ite country next door. (Saddam, assisted by the U.S. government, launched a devastating eight-year war against Iran in the 1980s.) In response, Al Qaeda (which is Sunni) arose in Iraq for the first time and participated in an anti-U.S. and anti-Shi'ite insurgency, until the CIA paid the local Sunni tribal leaders to turn on Al Qaeda, whom they disliked anyway.

Thus Bush alienated the Sunnis and created a Shi'ite ally for Iran. Yet since 1979 (when the Islamic revolution overthrew the dictatorial monarchy of long-time U.S. client Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi) Iran has been demonized (falsely) by U.S. administrations as one of America's mortal enemies.

What was the Bush brain trust thinking when it did its favor for Iran? Was the plan to overthrow Iran's government next or merely to have a perpetual crisis? Crisis, like war, is the health of the state, after all.

Under the American occupation and the U.S./Iran-installed regime of Nouri al-Maliki, the Sunnis were shut out of the army and civil service, not to mention repressed — so much so that when the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) came along, the Sunnis were willing to tolerate its brutality rather than continue suffering under Shi'ite rule. Maliki is out now, but institutionalized sectarianism is not over.

Meanwhile, next door in Syria, the brutal Iran-backed dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad became even more egregious in 2011 in response to growing protests. Assad's regime is also secular, but his and his cronies' religion is related to Shi'ism, putting the majority Sunnis at a disadvantage. Obama, with the help of then secretary of state Hillary Clinton and British Prime Minister David Cameron, made a bad situation worse by declaring that Assad must give up power. Thus compromise would be suicidal for Assad, and Al Qaeda-type fighters from the region (such as next-door Iraq) were encouraged to flock to Syria because Assad's days were apparently numbered. ISIS was born when a capable and especially fanatical group of foreign fighters in Syria had strategic differences with the al-Qaeda affiliate.

So here we are. ISIS, a product of idiotic U.S. actions, controls large parts of Syria and Iraq, effectively erasing the border between them.

In response, Obama wants to obliterate ISIS (by air) without helping Iran or Assad or alienating Sunnis. Talk about squaring the circle! If recent history is any guide, arming the Iraqi army and the phantom moderate rebels against Assad amounts to arming ISIS. The nonaggression pact among ISIS and other anti-Assad groups, along with the U.S.-blessed Free Syrian Army's announcement that it would not join Obama's anti-ISIS coalition, seems to sink the president's plan.

Obama warns that ISIS could threaten Americans at home, yet American airstrikes make that more likely; the murders by ISIS of two American journalists were committed in retaliation for the first U.S. strikes.

If any part of Obama's plan makes sense to you, you might have a future in the foreign policy establishment.

This article originally appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation

NEXT: With Friends Like These: Bush Lawyer John Yoo Backs Obama's Undeclared War on ISIS

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  1. I’m not credentialed enough to criticize this administration.

  2. The next Urban Outfitters shirt have Kent State replaced with Islamic State? Won’t have to change the color pattern.

  3. “George W. Bush, citing imaginary weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s fictitious connection to Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks…”

    Citation for George Bush’s supposed citing of Hussein’s connection to the 9//11 attacks, please.

    1. I haven’t learned how to install workable links on this website yet, but here is a quote (you can copy and past a portion of it to find the actual article with a search of your own).

      “… The [September 11 commission] report challenged one of the Bush administration’s main justifications for the war in Iraq. Along with the contention that Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials have often asserted that there were extensive ties between Hussein’s government and Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network. Earlier this year, Cheney said evidence of a link was ‘overwhelming.'”

      Regards,

      Charles

      1. That’s basically repeating what Sheldon Richman said, but I neither remember, nor can locate, any quotes by Bush citing links between Iraq and 9/11.

        Cheney cited the (now discredited) Czech report that Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi official in Prague, but specifically noted that it was unconfirmed at the time. He has since acknowledged that the rumor seems unsubstantiated.

        Administration officials also pointed to links between Al Quaeda during the 90’s, which proved mostly unfounded, but never, to my knowledge, any direct links to the 9/11 attacks.

        It was posited as a rationale for war that destroying Iraq’s WMDs could prevent them from being distributed to terrorist networks, but not that this had happened or was specifically planned.

        There are plenty of legitimate reasons to really dislike Bush, but I’m tired of this “Bush said Iraq helped with 9/11” canard always being whipped out.

        1. Try a Youtube search, typing the following “Liberty Crier WMD LIES ? Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, etc. – the ultimate clip”

          I recommend the version posted by someone calling themselves “acerlghp”.

          Regards,

          Charles

          1. Again, the “WMD lies” or “imaginary WMD” though oft repeated are disingenuous.

            It presumes bad faith on the part of Bush from the beginning.

            It presumes that what we know now was known at the time, and that is was unreasonable to even think there was WMD in Iraq.

            And, it ignores the context of the situation, which was a huge factor in how this decision came about.

            Rather than arguing this point by point, there is an excellent article in the British newspaper “The Independent” here…
            http://blogs.independent.co.uk…..nableness/

            In particular, check out footnote #2.

            There are serious lessons to learn, and it ended up a cluster f***, to be sure. BUT, like Kure’i, I’m tired of the spin on this, as if it was a clear cut case – it was not.

            It just screams ad hominem attack.

            Unfortunately, that taints and otherwise serious discussion in this Reason article.

            It raises fair questions about the limits of our “elite’s” abilities, judgement, and competency on execution (all the way up to the President him/herself).

            This should inform additional caution in foreign affairs.

            This article does not answer, what is a better alternative? Not sure the alternative is non-action, or isolation, though.

            1. “Reasanon”,

              I scanned the article for which you provided a link since I do not now have time to read it in full (although I did read the footnote you suggested).

              We are going to have to disagree with regards to the lying versus faulty information debate, since I don’t think anything I provide will change your opinion. But for anyone else still reading, I would suggest looking into these three items:
              *The Downing Street Memo
              *O’Neill: Bush planned Iraq invasion before 9/11
              *60 Minutes: CIA Official Reveals Bush, Cheney, Rice Were Personally Told Iraq Had No WMD in Fall 2002

              I don’t know how much of the video you watched, but President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, and Secretary Rumsfeld are shown clearly lying. At best, I could understand you or someone else pointing out that they only lied about things they previously claimed, rather than intentionally lying to begin with and simply not remembering their original statements.

              But again, I think we’ll just have to disagree.

              With regards to alternatives vis a vis IS/ISIS/ISIL I don’t have a good answer either. I do think the Obama administration is going to use this situation to eventually attack Syrian loyalists and remove President Assad from power, which I think is wrong-headed and will lead to more chaos and instability.

              Regards,

              Charles

  4. The Foreign Policy Elite has been clueless since roughly the end of the Roosevelt administration. TEDDY Roosevelt. We’ve had a couple of Presidents who, through intelligence or luck, ignored the accepted Foreign Policy wisdom from time to time. But on the whole the foggy bottom crowd have proven themselves to be as clueless about Foreign Policy as a ‘possum in a stump.

  5. Breaking News 1965 Edition: Johnson to personally sign off on any airstrikes

    [Obama] faced many of the same problems in [ISIL]that Harry Truman faced in Korea. [Obama’s] principal problems were to fight the war successfully without widening the conflict to include intervention by [Iran, Syria] . This problem would color nearly every decision [Obama]made about the war, would force him (from his point of view) to take personal command of the air war in [ISIL], and would frustrate the military leadership, just as they had been frustrated during the Korean War.

    http://wp.me/p31sf8-12a

  6. Brilliant article. Mr. Richman should run for President of the United States, so he can get the country all straightened out on whatever path his visions deem appropriate.

  7. Of course they’re clueless. But they all have presented themselves their own fait accompli by their cluelessness in economic, fiscal, and monetary matters. Foreign policy is the tail on the domestic cluelessness dog. It may not be popular for some at Reason, but welfare and warfare are connected at the hip. Insanely asinine domestic policies are the foundation for insane foreign policies.

  8. “The American foreign-policy elite seems to have no idea what it’s doing.”

    —-

    I think the keyword here is “seems”.
    The sick and twisted fact is that they KNOW EXACTLY what they’re doing. Which brings to mind a quote from FDR, “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”
    I mean, after-all, FDR’s New Deal was designed in a way to “save us from capitalism” and “rescue the helpless people from the Great Depression.” The state-funded schools are still teaching this moronic fallacy to this very day, despite overwhelming economic evidence to the contrary.
    Furthermore, the POTUS and all the other supposed “decision makers” are nothing more than talking heads…reassuring the zombie-esque, bleating masses that everything is fine. The military industrial complex SEEMS to be the driving force behind the absurd foreign policy.
    Come on–you know the ol’ cliche: follow the money.
    Follow the g’damn money!
    Who profits from these wars?
    In 2000, the U.S. defense budget was approximately $312 billion. By 2011, the figure had grown to $712 billion.
    The 100 largest contractors sold $410 billion in arms and military services. Just 10 of those companies sold over $208 billion.
    Who will be the next enemy? Haha. You can almost see an Old-Timey CIA agent wearing a red & white pinstriped suit, with matching top hat and cane, “Step right up folks!”
    Chaos = business.
    Peace isn’t very good for the bottom line.

    1. FDR was wrong. Politicians are no better seers of things in the long run & outside their immediate sphere than are people in any other business.

  9. “The American foreign-policy elite seems to have no idea what it’s doing.”

    —-

    I think the keyword here is “seems”.
    The sick and twisted fact is that they KNOW EXACTLY what they’re doing. Which brings to mind a quote from FDR, “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”
    I mean, after-all, FDR’s New Deal was designed in a way to “save us from capitalism” and “rescue the helpless people from the Great Depression.” The state-funded schools are still teaching this moronic fallacy to this very day, despite overwhelming economic evidence to the contrary.
    Furthermore, the POTUS and all the other supposed “decision makers” are nothing more than talking heads…reassuring the zombie-esque, bleating masses that everything is fine. The military industrial complex SEEMS to be the driving force behind the absurd foreign policy.
    Come on–you know the ol’ cliche: follow the money.
    Follow the g’damn money!
    Who profits from these wars?
    In 2000, the U.S. defense budget was approximately $312 billion. By 2011, the figure had grown to $712 billion.
    The 100 largest contractors sold $410 billion in arms and military services. Just 10 of those companies sold over $208 billion.
    Who will be the next enemy? Haha. You can almost see an Old-Timey CIA agent wearing a red & white pinstriped suit, with matching top hat and cane, “Step right up folks!”
    Chaos = business.
    Peace isn’t very good for the bottom line.

    1. “Follow the g’damn money!”

      I’ve found commenters here very squeamish about this line of inquiry. They prefer instead to harp on the ‘cluelessness’ of politicians.

  10. I only clicked the SUBMIT button once…not sure why it double-posted.

  11. Ted Roosevelt was tight about the big stick… The only way to win against a crazy enemy is to kill them all or destroy their will to fight. Germany and Japan would are perfect examples… near the end of the war they were given two choices Total Destruction or Total Surrender. We don’t fight wars that way any more so the CRAZY ENEMIES just regroup and keep on killing…. The USSR was not Crazy, China so far is not Crazy… We can talk come to agreement, compromise, even divide up the world between us and lives would be spared… but you cannot compromise with someone who’s main purpose in life is to kill you. The problem in the Middle East is not of Countries or even Ethnic Groups it is a bunch of CRAZIES who are banding together to destroy the modern world.

  12. If you think their job is to serve the best interests of the US, it’s baffling and insane.

    If you realize that they are merely responding to incentives (in this case, that Uncle Sam is gonna make us feel safe with his big muscles, like a good street pimp must*) then this is not baffling at all.

    *as long as we bring him back enough sugar after each nightly stroll.

  13. “resident George W. Bush, citing imaginary weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein’s fictitious connection to Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks,”

    I have another bone to pick with this characterization of events; Bush said that we knew Saddam had Chemical Weapons. He did. Not a lot, but he had them. Bush said that he had attempted to acquire yellowcake uranium. I seem to recall Reason magazine reporting that several tons had been found in Iraq. I seem to remember Reason reporting that all manner of laboratories, supplies, and delivery systems were found which constituted violations of the previous surrender agreement.

    I think that one can honestly argue that invading Iraq was a mistake. I think that Bush should have stated explicitly that we were resuming an existing war with Saddam because he had never come close to meeting the surrender terms. But “Bush lied about WMDs in Iraq” is bullshit, made up by the same dolts who were comparing him to Hitler (while in public, with exposed faces, and not one of them has vanished between two days). I’m used to this tripe from the News Media in general. I expect better of Reason.

    1. Agreed. One can be agree that the Iraq war was a terrible idea, or that Bush was a disaster, or many other negative things regarding the two, without resorting to distortion. The facts speak for themselves, but apparently not loudly enough for Richman.

      1. I wouldn’t say I agree that Bush was a disaster. Given the calibre of people at that political level I think he did damned well; he only got us into a war on two fronts, and if the Twit Left hadn’t been so determined to destroy him at all costs that war might have served as a salutary object lesson for regimes we really don’t want to mess with (*cough* the Saudis; because WE DON”T WANT MECCA).

        By comparison; the present nitwit seems determined to involve us in every third world piss-up going. He’s ostentatiously clueless about the economy, even compared to Bush. His Affordable Health Care train wreck is approaching Irwin Allen proportions. Frankly, I’ve been missing Bush since about halfway through Obama’s first year in office.

  14. Saddam had poison gas enough to inflict on hundreds of thousands of Kurds, a horror that had the living truly envying the dead. Close enough to a weapon of mass destruction in my book.

    The real question remains- should we interfere in the affairs of other countries? Is it possible to put aside our oh so easy cynicism long enough to have an actual discussion?

    “If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same as not to see.”

    ?C. S. Lewis

    1. Actually, US policy then and since is that a Chemical Weapon is a WMD. Now, of course that could be argued (most everything can), but it was the policy position in place at the time.

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  16. What most people tend to forget is that it was the Clinton Administration that was pushing for war with Iraq, and had in fact dropped more ordnance on suspected Iraqi WMD infrastructure during Operation Desert Fox, than was dropped during Bush’s “Shock and Awe” campaign in the opening days of OIF.

    A notable quote:

    ” Earlier today, I ordered America’s armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors.

    Their purpose is to protect the national interest of the United States, and indeed the interests of people throughout the Middle East and around the world.

    Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas or biological weapons. ” Bill Clinton

    It was all lies intended to destabilize the Iraqi Government and divert attention from his escapades with the humidor in a blue dress, and the WMD narrative carried over into the next administration. Google “Dem WMD quotes” if you really want to see who was driving the push for war with Iraq.

  17. I love the title of this article. John Kerry has to be the clown of the year – rushing headlog into one wreck after another, only to make it worse. I feel sorry for the State dept pros who can only count the days until the fool is jetted out via the next election. And I agree that bombing the isis is the best ever recruiting tool for the jihadi boys. Send in the iraqis and kurds to slaughter them – they do not need us.

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