As I’ve said before, Americans have come to believe that spending government revenues on U.S. citizens here at home is usually a bad thing and should be viewed with suspicion, but spending billions on vast social engineering projects overseas is the hallmark of patriotism and should never be questioned. This position makes no sense, but it is hard to think of a prominent U.S. leader who is making an explicit case for doing somewhat less abroad so that we can afford to build a better future here at home. Debates about foreign policy, grand strategy, and military engagement — including the current debate over Obama’s decision to add another30,000-plus troops in Afghanistan — tend to occur in isolation from a discussion of other priorities, as if there were no tradeoffs between what we do for others and what we are able to do for Americans here at home.
Maybe we can set up an efficient health insurance delivery system in Iraq or Afghanistan and then import it to the States. Call it a part of our COIN strategy, get Petraeus to endorse it and then ship it home under cover of night.
John McCain has been said to have neoconservative inclinations; to critics, this suggests a commitment to the unilateral deployment of military force to bring about a democratic transformation in once-hostile countries. The question of whether he’s a neocon, however, is not entirely relevant; McCain has advisers from both the neocon and realist camps, and he’s too inconsistent to be easily labeled. In one area, though, he has been more or less constant: his belief in the power of war to solve otherwise insoluble problems. This ideology of action has not been undermined by his horrific experience as a tortured POW during the Vietnam War, or by the Bush administration’s disastrous execution of the Iraq War. All this is not to suggest that McCain is heedlessly bellicose or reflexively willing to send U.S. soldiers into danger; he is the father of a marine and a Naval Academy midshipman, James McCain and John S. McCain IV, whose service he rarely mentions. And he opposed, presciently, keeping the Marines in Beirut in 1983, just before their barracks were bombed. But his willingness to speak frankly about the utility of military intervention sets him apart from his opponent. Senator Obama, though certainly no pacifist, envisions a world of cooperation and diplomacy; McCain sees a world of organic conflict and zero-sum competition.
Related: Matt Bai takes a deeper look at how Vietnam has affected McCain’s view of international relations; Matthew Yglesias believes that, contra conventional wisdom, Obama holds an advantage over McCain in the foreign policy arena, and should, accordingly, campaign from a position of strength; former US Ambassador to the UN Richard Holbrooke says whomever comes out on top in November will, come January, “inherit a more difficult set of international challenges than any predecessor since World War II.”
The truth, though disappointing from the point of view of journalism, is that the most promising humanitarian elements of foreign policy tend to be the boring ones. Timely and effective diplomacy can often avert humanitarian catastrophes before they break out at much lower cost than coercive force can end them once they’ve started. And the U.N.’s traditional peacekeeping operations, where parties to a conflict request third-party troops to help monitor and enforce a peace deal, have a solid track record of success but are perennially under-resourced by an indifferent United States. Greater commitment — political, financial, and (when appropriate) military — to these kinds of operations would bring much larger humanitarian benefits than would any hypothetic humanitarian wars.
Yesterday in his press conference, President Bush asserted that Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell told him “we have new information” on Iran’s nuclear program, but “he did not tell me what the information was.”
This morning, the cast of Morning Joe chided Bush’s claim. Co-host Willie Geist said, “It’s just not credible answer, I’m afraid.” Host Joe Scarborough ripped into Bush, saying that president is either “lying to the American people” or is simply “stupid”:
We are left with only two options here. Either the President of the United States is lying to the American people about what happened during that meeting, or the President of the United States is stupid.
I don’t think that’s an either/or proposition, Joe.