In the shadow of the Iraq War
September 14, 2018 11:11 PM   Subscribe

Daniel Nexon writes for Foreign Affairs: Toward a Neo-Progressive [US] Foreign Policy - The Case For An Internationalist Left

Nexon elaborates at Lawyers, Guns and Money. Erik Loomis asked last year What Should A Left Foreign Policy Look Like?

Is The Left Ready To Handle National Security?
Why Democrats Have No Foreign Policy Ideas

The Left's Missing Foreign Policy, Aziz Rana. "On the pressing need, fifteen years after the Iraq invasion, for a non-imperial vision of the US and the world."

Michael Walzer asked in 2014 A Foreign Policy for the Left -"Is there such a thing as a leftist foreign policy? What are the characteristic views of the left about the world abroad? When have leftists, rightly or wrongly, defended the use of force?"

Where Is the Left Wing’s Foreign Policy?, Sarah Jones
The problem isn’t so much that left-wing candidates for Congress haven’t spelled out foreign policy positions on their websites—though that’s largely true—but that there’s little infrastructure to supply them with ideas once they take office. “There’s been an enormous failure by the progressive left, in terms of foreign policy-making think tanks. I mean, there’s just barely anything,” a senior Democratic congressional staffer told The New Republic. “The Democratic establishment—and I don’t want to just use that term because I think it’s broader than that—hasn’t been invested in foreign policy-making in the way that they should have.”
Michael Kazin introduces articles with Toward a Left Foreign Policy
Michael Walzer: Learning to Listen - "Internationalism, first and foremost, requires a commitment from leftists to listen to our comrades abroad."
Michael W. Doyle: New World Disorder - "Systems of government are scraping against each other like continents grinding at a fault line. The noise they make announces a new world disordered."
Forrest D. Colburn: The Left That Never Was

From The Ashes Of Order, What Next?
Traditional American foreign policy is dead. The President of the United States is now fundamentally hostile to the institutional structure of traditional American diplomacy, from his own State Department and intelligence agencies to international organizations like NATO and the WTO that the US has traditionally championed. Republican elected officials are broadly okay with this, believing it to be a worthwhile trade for its economic and social agenda. And the Republican base thinks it’s awesome, or, at minimum, an acceptable tradeoff for other priorities. So, now what?
A Bold Foreign Policy Platform for the New Wave of Left Lawmakers, Phyllis Bennis

OpenCanada: The State Of Leftist Foreign Policy
Is there space for alternative, progressive foreign policies to not only be promoted but implemented? If so, can the left-of-centre — Liberals and liberals, Democrats old and new, socialists, independents, you name it — see eye to eye on the best way forward?

By examining the current positioning of political groups on both sides of the spectrum in North America, Europe and beyond, this series identifies the challenges in defining those alternatives and imagines the actions that might make a stronger Left possible
posted by the man of twists and turns (44 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
What I really want from this kind of discussion is elucidation of a responsible way to lower our defense budget. I'm holding my breath and waiting for the bombs to drop.

Or, you know, what the Bushes said, but we actually mean it this time. No nation building, nuclear disarmament, don't back the baddies, don't try and econ with your gun arms.
posted by es_de_bah at 11:46 PM on September 14, 2018 [6 favorites]

Thanks, OP!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:52 PM on September 14, 2018

A move towards a non-imperialist/expansionist/neo-conservative foreign policy will pretty much de facto lower our defense spending, since we won't be fighting as many forever wars most likely.
posted by Punkey at 11:53 PM on September 14, 2018 [2 favorites]

Empower internationalized unions, and make that a cornerstone of US policy. Ha ha ha ha, right? But, no, really, that's the answer, same as it was after World War 2.
posted by mwhybark at 12:39 AM on September 15, 2018 [9 favorites]

This doesn't seem that hard. In fact, despite the alarmist headlines, these articles don't lack for ideas. How about...

* greatly reduce the defense budget
* commit to reversing climate change
* avoid intervention, no matter how tempting, except to defend existing alliances (NATO, S. Korea)
* encourage immigration
* triple non-military foreign aid; make this available to any democratic state
* stop supporting austerity programs; instead support a wealth tax and anti-poverty programs

The "alliances" bit might be controversial, but it shouldn't be after Trump: his policy of undermining those alliances and cozying up to Russia is the opposite of progressive.

At this point the Trump damage might be reversible; the Bush damage is the pain that keeps on giving. The best I can come up with for Afghanistan is to declare victory and leave.
posted by zompist at 1:31 AM on September 15, 2018 [11 favorites]

I keep seeing these claims that the left doesn't have a foreign policy. not only do I think that's wrong, but I believe the right has nothing good. "Send the Marines" is not the only way to deal with other countries. The left's policies are both comprehensive and so unlike what passes for foreign policy from the right that people have difficulty recognising it as such.
posted by krisjohn at 1:41 AM on September 15, 2018 [7 favorites]

The challenge for disentangling ourselves from Afghanistan/Iraq is one of the common issues raised in these kind of articles - how ready are we to stomach the fallout of leaving? Part of why this is forever war is that we've created such an artificial reality in the places we're in that when we leave, things are not going to change quietly or easily, and the consequences will very likely not be good ones. The Taliban's entire game plan in Afghanistan is "wait for the US to leave and then take back over and purge what was built", and it's a hard thing to say "well it sucks for them but it's better for us".
posted by Punkey at 1:45 AM on September 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think the problem with most foreign policy ideas I hear coming from the left is that they think we can never be culpable by inaction. We all hate war. But we can't stop wars from happening. We can only decline to get involved in them. But then when those wars we wanted no part of lead to genocide and war crimes, lead to democracies destabilized and replaced with dictatorships, can we really say we have no culpability in those outcomes? We could potentially have stopped them, and we didn't even try.

I think Samantha Power wrote a book suggesting that we had an obligation to try, and Obama, whose instincts were against intervention, hired her so she could keep him honest, could tell him that inaction has its own culpability.

This is like the "trolley problem" in moral philosphy... a trolley is headed toward five people trapped on the tracks. If you do nothing it will hit them. If you throw a switch it will be diverted to another track where it kills only one person. If you fail to throw the switch, how responsible are you for the deaths of those five people? If you throw it, are you more responsible for the death of the one guy who is killed instead?

Only in the real world, it's not one guy. It's a couple thousand US soldiers who might lose their lives if you intervene, vs. hundreds of thousands of foreign civilians who might otherwise.

I hear people on the left saying all the time that they are anti-war, but again, we can't stop people from going to war, just like we can't stop the trolley. We can only help decide who dies, and how many. And maybe we don't want that power, but giving it up is a decision that has moral consequences too.

And if you really were dedicated to minimize the number of war trolleys that come along, putting you in this position, what would that look even look like? I said we can't stop others from going to war, but maybe we can make it less likely?

Some conditions create wars more than others. Countries which trade heavily rarely go to war with one another. And international institutions with dispute resolution mechanisms, international laws enforced by international bodies with teeth so that countries don't have to pursue "vigilante justice" against one another... those help prevent wars too. And, like it or not, wars are less common when there IS an overwhelmingly dominant superpower (Pax Romana, Pax Brittania, Pax Americana)

Yet I almost never hear self-described anti-war leftists praise or defend any of that (especially our expensive Pax Americana.)

I get super frustrated with 1) "anti-war" leftists who have put zero thought into what causes wars, who act as if Dick Cheney and Halliburton started all wars in human history and if we could only get rid of them we'd have perpetual peace ... And 2) People who think foreign policy is boring and nerdy and irrelevant to the question of who should be president, as if "foreign policy" didn't mean "what do we do about wars and genocides and dictatorships and sweat shops and famines and refugees and assholes with nukes?"
posted by OnceUponATime at 1:48 AM on September 15, 2018 [27 favorites]

Wait, I wanna say one more thing...

I think the number one way we can reduce our moral culpability for the consequences of our action OR inaction is to admit refugees from the conflicts we either decide to intervene in (thus being directly responsible for some of the deaths) or not intervene in (thus being indirectly responsible for potentially more deaths.) So the most important foreign policy I want to hear from Democrats is "always admit as many refugees as we practically can."

It's not only morally right, it relieves the desperate and chaotic conditions which lead to MORE wars and terrorism.
posted by OnceUponATime at 2:02 AM on September 15, 2018 [13 favorites]

I think a major piece of the solution lies in unwinding the secrecy & alternate reality of the National Security State, replacing espionage & surveillance with transparent diplomacy & open source intelligence. The grinding of public vs classified truths creates much of the friction that causes conflict in the world. The Age of Secrecy is over. Time to enter an Age of Transparency.
posted by scalefree at 2:14 AM on September 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

As a non American I encourage people to read the Learning to Listen link.

Left in the USA isn't quite the same as Left elsewhere in the world and the denomination leads to preconceived notions (like in much of red raw capitalistic I got mine USA; socalism here in Brazil is equated with communism by the mainly uninformed and politically ignorant electorate urged on by the rabid right and their media shills.)

To form a foreign policy which is not the same as the previous foreign policies where R & D are so similar with their vested business interests then new progressive policies are neccesary as perhaps put forward by Yanis Varoufakis - a new international movement will fight rising fascism and globalists and also Bernie Sanders - A new authoritarian axis demands an international progressive front
As Yanis says in reply to Bernie:
It is high time that Democrats from across the world form a Progressive International in the interests of a majority of people on every continent, in every country.
Great FPP. Thanks.
posted by adamvasco at 6:52 AM on September 15, 2018 [4 favorites]

Part of why this is forever war is that we've created such an artificial reality in the places we're in that when we leave, things are not going to change quietly or easily, and the consequences will very likely not be good ones.

I've had thoughts about this myself, and out of the bad options available, the least bad one seems to be the solution from an older era -- Afghanistan needs to become annexed to the United States. Possibly a protectorate, like those strategically valuable islands all over the Pacific did after WW2, or possibly an new state, like Hawaii and Alaska during the Cold War.

If the territory is so important to American security that troops can never leave, AND if leaving would create a newer, bigger moral and humanitarian crisis, and if there's no way to restore the country back to a pre-intervention status (and when would that be? Pre-2001? Pre-1979? Pre-British control in 1880s?), then we have to admit that there's no way to separate the destiny of these two nations anymore.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 8:20 AM on September 15, 2018

But then when those wars we wanted no part of lead to genocide and war crimes, lead to democracies destabilized and replaced with dictatorships, can we really say we have no culpability in those outcomes?

This is a commonly-held but utterly false view about the reluctant yet benevolent practice of American military intervention and it's disappointing but not surprising to see it receive such enthusiastic support on this forum. Most telling is the failure to enumerate historical examples of these "just wars" we might be foregoing.

Pax Americana is a racist myth, my dude. The United States has been in almost perpetual conflict with the global south for the last century. They have spent decades destabilizing democracies (see Latin America, Iran, et al), thwarting the will of foreign citizens through genocidal violence (see Korea, Vietnam, et al) and supporting dictators, tyrants and terrorists (see Saudi Arabia, Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, et al).

You don't end up with a $700+ billion dollar military industrial complex by accident. The idea that this behemoth could be redesigned to do anything but enforce American capitalist hegemony is laughable.
posted by smithsmith at 9:03 AM on September 15, 2018 [21 favorites]

If the concern is actually human rights, what you can do is promise asylum to anyone from anywhere seeking to flee.
Expedited asylum with guaranteed economic security in their new homes, without extensive requirements of assimilation or giving up of old citizenships.

Also, the foreign policy mantra I follow is that the struggle is always at home. You make sure your state is not complicit in any of the problems other places have before you even consider going in elsewhere.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 10:11 AM on September 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

Wow, OnceUponATime, where to begin?

It is a complete straw man to say the left thinks inaction prevents culpability. In fact, the major problem with US foreign policy from a left perspective is that the US has repeatedly gone to war with other countries, or otherwise meddled in their affairs, for the benefit of the US ruling class and to the detriment of the majority of the US and world population. The critique starts from the reality of what is actually happening; it's hardly the case that the US has been simply minding its own business in international relations since, well, at least 1898. The best thing that the US could do to stop war crimes is to stop participating in them.

Example: Yemen, right now. The US could ground the Saudi air force tomorrow if it wanted to. But they don't. On the contrary, the US is supplying, refueling, and advising the Saudis, and has US soldiers on the ground assisting them. So millions of people -- MILLIONS OF PEOPLE -- have to suffer famine as a consequence, and we are witnessing the largest cholera outbreak in history. (This, of course, omits the previous US involvement in the country -- propping up Saleh, etc. And this is only one country; there are plenty of other examples of US imperialism that could be cited.)

That's your precious "Pax Americana." Praise is the last thing it deserves.

(I would say similar things about "Pax Romana" and "Pax Brittania", but that is rather off topic...)
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 11:54 AM on September 15, 2018 [19 favorites]

Only in the real world, it's not one guy. It's a couple thousand US soldiers who might lose their lives if you intervene, vs. hundreds of thousands of foreign civilians who might otherwise.

It’s telling that you never mention how war can also have a massively destabilizing effect that leads to prolonged and open conflict. Like... Iraq.

Originally invaded to overthrow Saddam Hussein as part of a post-9/11 “war or terror,” the Iraq war has led to the deaths of 4500 Americans, and another 20,000+ coalition forces. Roughly 35,000 Iraqis were killed fighting for the other side. Total estimates of civilians killed run from 100 000 to 1.2 million, with the best estimate being around 400-500,000 civilians killed.

(Of course, counting the dead is an extremely complicated process because it involves piecing together records of life in war-torn regions, and often in places where record-keeping was sparse to begin with. There’s an excellent book about this that discusses the politics of casualty counts, and how they’re manipulated to retrospectively justify or condemn war by various parties. I’ll post the title when I have a chance to find it.)

Then, of course, you have the political costs of destabilizing a region. ISIL, anyone?

Ongoing war in Afghanistan: they should be so lucky to have us there. I’m sure bombing weddings and funerals in Afghanistan and Pakistan are just a way of protecting them, too. No unintended consequences from that sort of thing. Yes, the naivety of leftists for focusing on these things, when there are hypothetical situations where the world would be worse off without America’s Army.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:08 PM on September 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

That book on death counts is Who Counts? The Mathematics of Death and Life after Genocide, by Diane M. Nelson.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 12:10 PM on September 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

To be clear... the Romans were brutal. The British Empire was brutal. America has been brutal. We used the only nuclear weapons in the history of the war. The war in Iraq was a terrible idea from the beginning. What we are enabling in Yemen is appalling.

But I know you guys know all that already. "The Left" already knows that stuff.

But we did not intervene in Rwanda. I never hear "The Left" outraged about that. Obama did not intervene against Assad. And he used chemical weapons to kill thousands and death camps to kill thousands more, destroyed a nation, and displaced half the population of his country. There is a genocide going on in Myanmar right now. Do you hear "The Left" talking about that? I don't.

This makes me angry.
posted by OnceUponATime at 12:59 PM on September 15, 2018

And yet... this is what I mean by Pax Americana. It is a real thing. It comes at a sometimes terrible expense. But it is real.
posted by OnceUponATime at 1:06 PM on September 15, 2018

If you think leftists don't talk about Rwanda, Myanmar or Assad, I don't know what to tell you.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 1:09 PM on September 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

Obama did not intervene against Assad. And he used chemical weapons to kill thousands and death camps to kill thousands more, destroyed a nation, and displaced half the population of his country. There is a genocide going on in Myanmar right now. Do you hear "The Left" talking about that? I don't.

This makes me angry.

What makes me angry is the suggestion that the only tenable position on foreign affairs is a binary between silent inaction and violent military intervention.
posted by smithsmith at 2:16 PM on September 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

What makes me angry is the suggestion that the only tenable position on foreign affairs is a binary between silent inaction and violent military intervention.

I did not suggest that.

Look, I think I was pretty clear about what I want. Engagement, non isolationism -- because trade and international institutions prevent wars. Acknowledgment of the costs of inaction, not just the costs of action -- and of the potential benefits of each, including historically low numbers of world wide deaths in violent conflict in recent decades. More talk about the atrocities that are going on right now (very much INCLUDING Yemen, and the role we play there) and conscious decision making about what our options are weighing the costs and benefits of various possible interventions in each case.

And always, whether we intervene or not, admitting as many refugees as we can.
posted by OnceUponATime at 2:48 PM on September 15, 2018 [1 favorite]

(And to clarify the whole Pax Americana thing a bit more... I think the very fact that we exist as a superpower is responsible in part for that. Not specifically what we have done with that power... I don't see how the Korean War or the Vietnam War or the Iraq war really made the world safer. But all that defence spending probably kind of... does. And that is despite and not because of our sometimes brutal use of that power. Same with the British and Roman Empires. Peace was not their goal, just a sort of side effect of the "monopoly on violence" they commanded on the international stage.)

Here are some articles which make this point a little better...

Europe’s Dependence on the U.S. Was All Part of the Plan

Trump says American allies should spend more on defense. Here's why he's wrong.
posted by OnceUponATime at 3:07 PM on September 15, 2018 [3 favorites]

Syria has been a highly contentious issue within the Left for years, with a range of opinions. I definitely don't want to get into an argument here over the right course but if you think the Left has been ignoring Syria then you aren't paying attention.
posted by mcmile at 3:09 PM on September 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

I also like this article which makes a similar point about American economic, as opposed to military, hegemony. Be sure you like what will replace it before you eagerly give it up.

“America First!” means China wins

Okay, and then I will just say, I want "the Left" to have positions on these issues, not just fights about them.

Okay, now I'm done. Sorry. I'll just listen now.
posted by OnceUponATime at 3:11 PM on September 15, 2018

That America First article makes a central claim that the US maintains global hegemony because everyone likes and trusts them. Which is nonsense.

You might ask: How did we get power like this? Why do other nations let us keep it?
And the answer is that we have been entrusted with this kind of power because (for the most part) we have used it benignly ...our occasional abuses of that power have stayed within reasonable bounds.
In short, we have been fairly faithful stewards of other nations’ trust.

Pull the other one, it's got bells on.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 4:50 PM on September 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

Foreign policy discussion, at least on the English speaking Internet, to me often is very US-centric and seems to push to the side the rest of the world and how they see the US and how those countries also see one another. I feel centering the US as the primary actor kind of warps views of international relations and we should try to get out of that. (And yes, I'm well aware that I am committing the same mistake since this post focuses primarily on the US as well!)

Related, it's kind of frustrating that the US is such an important and influential country, but Americans usually only think about world in a few ways. This is probably because of the US's importance that it has the privilege to think about the world less than the world thinks about the US, but it's also a little bit because it's a continental country that sits between two oceans. The rest of the world is seen by the US pretty much through the lens of business, war, disasters and maybe the occasional breakout hit like Despacito. The world is more interconnected etc., but less Americans are studying foreign languages. And I know someone is going to say, "Well we are connected by the Internet and everyone in the world knows English," but I feel similar to how a well-informed population is good for democracy, a polyglot population helps with international exchange and understanding. For me, it shouldn't even be a political issue that every American should at least learn one language other than English. We should try pushing for more refugees and immigrants, but also push to make it easier for Americans to get passports (and use them). All Americans should do more with engaging with the other parts of the world. The end of the Cold War, China joining the WTO, and 9/11 & WOT were all signs that we should have started doing things like this (and a bunch of other things along those lines) a long time ago.

Buuuuttt, if you don't care for my mushy lets-all-get-copies-of-Rosetta-Stone suggestion and want more things that the Democratic Party can focus on in the short term, I would suggest:
1) Reduce/take away the power for the president to wage war and deploy US forces to armed conflict and give it back to Congress
2) Replenish and increase funding for the US State Department that thanks to Tillerson has been hollowed out
3) Increase funding for USAID
4) Rejoin the Paris Climate Accord
posted by FJT at 6:16 PM on September 15, 2018 [7 favorites]

It's heartbreaking to see something like the war in Rwanda.

But the basic question for the interventionist always has to be: would it be better if we carpet-bombed the place, killed half a million people, ran the country as a military occupation for a decade, and spread war and terrorism to all the neighbors?

There's no shortage of instructive examples. There's not many cases of quick, short, happy interventions.

(And yes, there's WWII. The vast majority of interventions are not WWII and enormous harm has been done in thinking that they were.)

Plus, where there's a trouble spot, the odds are good that it's because of an earlier intervention, or the fact that both the US and the Soviets preferred dictatorships and insurgencies as allies. So the other question for the interventionist is, who's going to be pissed off about this in 30 years?
posted by zompist at 6:45 PM on September 15, 2018 [6 favorites]

It's just the issue of overcoming the idea that there are things that are not within our power to correct. We've so internalized the idea that American power, particularly military power, is so overwhelmingly strong that we can just summon positive outcomes through force alone. There's bad guys over there doing bad things, let's send our good guys to stop them - it's a tempting thought to a lot of Americans.

A more restrictive foreign policy means that we're going to see more things like Iraq under Saddam, like Rwanda, like Syria. People from those regions, even if we let in as many as we can, they're going to want to know why the United States, with all our power, isn't doing more. Why we stood by and let their homes be torn apart, watched as their friends and family were gunned down, why we let a dictator terrorize a nation. And we're going to have to be okay with the answer being, "Because it would hurt us more than it would help you." And I really, really doubt that's an answer we're going to be okay with having to give. It certainly won't satisfy the refugees.
posted by Punkey at 8:10 PM on September 15, 2018 [2 favorites]

That's just rephrasing the same thing, where this is dichotomy of "silent action vs violent intervention." Being opposed to a bloated military doesn't mean sitting by while bad things happen. There are other ways to get involved besides sending our military -- diplomacy is a strength, too. There are other reasons not to get involved in a military conflict, besides "this hurts us more than it helps you" -- like the real concern that bringing the military to a place could cause collateral damage. There's a whole lot of ground between "let's send our troops" and "sorry, not interested."

"The Left" isn't some unified front of people who totally agree that the military is bad, maaaan, and that the best thing to do is let other countries suffer because it's not in our best interests. This is a cartoon vision of leftwing politics that makes people out to be callous at best and cruel at worst. It's kind of offensive.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 10:36 PM on September 16, 2018 [2 favorites]

Hi, can anyone in this thread who is gently chiding the naive left for thinking that all war is bad please enumerate the many successful American military interventions post-WWII? Or perhaps, if that's not possible, explain why non-military intervention would have led to worse outcomes. I'm hard-pressed to think of any myself.
posted by runcibleshaw at 9:46 AM on September 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

Something like 18 million people die every year just due to poverty, but those deaths are ‘normal’ unlike the deaths in Rwanda and never enter the conversation on how imperial resources should be used for ‘humanitarian intervention’.
posted by moorooka at 7:24 PM on September 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

For a country to take (non-cyber) military action at a great distance in the 21st century mostly means bombing. Even the U.S., with the greatest capability for force projection in the history of the human race thanks to military spending higher by orders of magnitude than our peers, still accomplishes most of its application of force as a combatant nation in a war through bombing and other aspects of aerial dominance.

So when someone suggests that we might “help” a situation somewhere via military action they're really saying, "Maybe we could helpfully bomb them."

And we're going to have to be okay with the answer being, "Because it would hurt us more than it would help you."

Totally not true—the answer is that it would hurt them more than it would help them. Even apart from all the helpful bombing, how can anyone say with a straight face that in the bigger picture “Okay this time we invade the Middle East it will make things better”? Especially now that the world has seen a large chunk of the American populace, from which our volunteer military force is drawn, vote for the use of that military for what is basically state-organized piracy when we “take the oil” in the course of our pre-emptive wars?

We'll be lucky if the wars of the future are only as bad as the French and U.S. in Vietnam, the French in Algeria, and the Russians in Chechnya.

And what's more, compounding the helpful bombing and helpful occupation and helpful destruction of organizations like Communists or Taliban or Baathists—which just so happens to fulfill political objectives related to our interests—is the geopolitical attention the invasion attracts: the recipients of our “help” are further harmed beyond the nominal incipient casus belli not only by our own actions but by the fact we're hanging out a huge convenient cheap-to-pull lever to be fiddled with by other world players. Ronald Reagan obtained a whole, what, fifteen years'? Worth of Russian semi-retreat from the world stage as an adversary by, among other things, trickling just enough arms into the Soviet War in Afghanistan, and giving mujahideen bus tickets to the border and training them to build car bombs, to cheaply make the affair extra-high-casualty, ruinous of every city in the country being “helped”, and leaving behind traumatized people ripe for theocratic subjugation in exchange for morsels of peace and stability.

And hey, two birds with one stone... the mujahideen networks we worked to establish (someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the CIA and ISI directly worked to establish the Haqqani network which straddles the Afghanistan-Pakistan border?) and theocratic subjugation which fell into place after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan then provided the pretext for our invasion two decades hence. Just like Reagan helping Saddam Hussein to gas some Kurds in the 80s set us up for an invasion or two there—the latter invasion and occupation “accidentally” handing the country over to Iranian control, hey look at the billiards lining up with that leave too, and what do you know we now have a president who speaks with admiration of how good Saddam Hussein was at killing terrorists (the Kurds). And now MEK is no longer on the State Department terrorist organization list, just like the Haqqanis weren't up until a few years into our War in Afghanistan, or like the Carter Administration took Iraq off of the list of State Sponsors of Terror when it looked like we might want to start selling them weapons... only temporarily of course, until Bush 41 put them back on the list.

This cycle and these feedback loops can be frozen and withered and starved, but we have to get out of this mindset that the only thing able to stop bad guys with a military (or genocidal para-military) are good guys with a military. The difficult boring non-immediately-lucrative diplomatic and international development work involved in preventing these situations from happening in the first place needs to be regarded as essential and essential to make reliably and sustainably functional like a sewer system, or an agricultural system with flexibility and excess capacity able to survive market stresses and natural and man-made disasters—bombing and shooting is not what's going to prevent plague or famine and it's not going to stop the other horsemen either.
posted by XMLicious at 3:35 AM on September 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

many successful American military interventions post-WWII

It depends on your definition of "sucessful."

Just think about some comparable cases in pairs.

We did not send military force to try to stop in the Rwandan genocide. We did use military force to try to stop the Bosnian genocide.

We did not use military force against Assad. We did use military force against against Gaddafi.

We did not send any military to help Ukraine when Russia invaded. We did send support to Kuwait when Iraq invaded.

We sent troops to Somalia in the 1990s. We did not send troops to Sudan in the 2010s.

We sent troops to Korea in the 1950s. That war ended in a stalemate, with the Kim dictatorship in control of half but not all of the country. We have not used military force against North Korea since, and the grandson of Kim I'm Sung is now threatening the South (and us) with nuclear weapons.

I dunno. It seems like a pretty mixed record to me. I mean, there are few really happy endings whether we use force or not, but sometimes it seems like we HAVE been able to send the trolley down the track where only one person dies instead of five.

On the other hand, the second Iraq war was madness. It was insane that we actually knocked the UN weapons inspectors out so that we could claim Iraq had WMDs(!)

I promise you I was out in the streets protesting that war in 2003.

Vietnam was madness by the end, if not all along. Carpet bombing in Cambodia, Mai La I, you have to burn the village in order to save it... whatever our original intentions were, they don't justify that.

And nothing justifies Abu Ghraib, or Guantanamo.

But we don't HAVE to be gratuitously evil. That's a choice ourbkeaders have made... In particular, Nixon and Bush II, two of the worst presidents in our history.

I guess I have gotten to the point where I just want to be on the side of refugees (including economic refugees and climate refugees!) And as Punkey says, the question refugees usually ask is "Why didn't you do MORE?"

And I find that question really hard to answer. I wish my political tribe had a better answer.

I am missed off at Trumpian "America First" style isolationism and the eaybwe are now completely turning our back on refugees. And I want a robust answer to that. I want us to show, somehowmn some way, that we care about what happens to people elsewhere in the world.

That doesn't have to mean sensing troops, but I don't think we should rule that out a priori. And I don't think we should use being anti-war as an excuse for just not caring.
posted by OnceUponATime at 6:44 AM on September 18, 2018

I dunno. It seems like a pretty mixed record to me. I mean, there are few really happy endings whether we use force or not, but sometimes it seems like we HAVE been able to send the trolley down the track where only one person dies instead of five.

OnceUponATime, I'm not sure how any of the examples you cited in your most recent comment fit the narrative of US intervention resulting in the less-worse outcome. If there is any use for the "trolly problem" analogy, it would be that US intervention switched the trolly such that it went down the track where more people die.

For instance, in the intervention in the former Yugoslavia, atrocities increased after the bombing, as predicted by the US commander.

I don't know what the counterfactual would be in Libya, but I find it hard to believe it could be worse than a failed state with reestablished slave markets.

The bloodshed in the first Gulf War could have been prevented had the US not effectively (and perhaps unwittingly) given its ally Saddam the green light to invade Kuwait.

US intervention in Somalia quickly went beyond the bounds of the purported humanitarian deployment, escalating the conflict.

And... you want to talk about genocide? Let's talk about what the US did to North Korea, since you mention it. After the North Korean/Chinese forces fought the US to a standstill on the land, the US conducted a massive air bombardment of North Korean civilian targets. At least 50 percent of eighteen out of the North's 22 major cities were obliterated, among other destruction. Historian Bruce Cumings writes:
The United Nation's Genocide Convention defined the term as acts committed "with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group." This would include "deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part." It was approved in 1948 and entered into force in 1951 -- just as the USAF was inflicting genocide, under this definition and under the aegis of the United Nations Command, on the citizens of North Korea.
There is clear repetition here. The US just repeatedly throws the trolly switch in the "kill more people" direction by using military force. Why is this pattern so difficult to detect?

Also, if you want to be on the side of "the refugees," a great way to do that would be to be against these US interventions in the first place, which inevitably produce more refugees than there would be otherwise.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:04 AM on September 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

I could argue each if those characterizations, but it would take us a ways afield. But don't you think there is something a little unlikely about the narrative that we ALWAYS make things worse?

I suppose not if you are of the opinion that military action, in general, by anyone, always makes things worse. I used to believe that, used to be a pacifist. But even then I had trouble saying that military action wasn't justified in WWII and the US Civil War.

Now I think... What is special about those wars? What about other genocides and other enslaved peoples?
posted by OnceUponATime at 9:29 AM on September 18, 2018

I am sorry for posting so much (and typing so sloppily on my phone.) I have just really been struggling with these issues lately, and wanting to talk about them.
posted by OnceUponATime at 9:32 AM on September 18, 2018

I don't begrudge anyone that's thinking through these issues. That's, of course, a responsible thing to do; I encourage it.

don't you think there is something a little unlikely about the narrative that we ALWAYS make things worse?

In a probabilistic sense, yes. If we assume every intervention is a coin flip regarding what the impact will be, then, yeah, it would be virtually impossible for that coin always to come up tails.

However, we are dealing with politics, not coin flips. And in fact the US intervening is a dependent event; a prior decision must have been made by the US rulers to take military action. And so we must ask: what are the factors that lead to that decision? Well, this leads us back to the left critique of US intervention I mentioned earlier: the US takes military action to advance the interests of the US ruling class which, in the great majority of cases, do not align with the interests of the majority of the US population or the majority of the population of the target country. Thus it is no surprise that, upon repeated instances of military adventurism, the outcome of such actions is largely the same.

Sure, there are counterexamples. Most Americans think American entry into WWII is one, and I'm inclined to agree. However, WWII was a really long time ago, and it's difficult to think of a beneficial US military intervention since then.

I suppose not if you are of the opinion that military action, in general, by anyone, always makes things worse.

I am not of the opinion that every military action, at any time, in any place will worsen a situation -- I am also not a pacifist. I remain open to the possibility that there could be, or has been, a military action that has had beneficial consequences. But that would require some convincing based on the particulars of the case. Chomsky, to mention one informed observer, is of the opinion that there have only been two such cases in the post-WWII era:
We might ask finally whether humanitarian intervention even exists. There is no shortage of evidence that it does. The evidence falls into two categories. The first is declarations of leaders. It is all too easy to demonstrate that virtually every resort to force is justified by elevated rhetoric about noble humanitarian intentions. Japanese counterinsurgency documents eloquently proclaim Japan’s intention to create an “earthly paradise” in independent Manchukuo and North China, where Japan is selflessly sacrificing blood and treasure to defend the population from the “Chinese bandits” who terrorize them...

The second category of evidence consists of military intervention that had benign effects, whatever its motives: not quite humanitarian intervention, but at least partially approaching it. Here too there are illustrations. The most significant ones by far during the post–Second World War era are in the 1970s: India’s invasion of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), ending a huge massacre; and Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in December 1978, driving out the Khmer Rouge just as their atrocities were peaking.
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 11:42 AM on September 18, 2018 [3 favorites]

Speaking of WWII, are we using the phrase “anti-war” to mean “not generally pro-war”? During the beginning of this century's Iraq War I had some people refer to me as a “pacifist” despite the fact I had only criticized the one war in their presence.

It seems as though, unless one is in favor of Nineteen Eighty-Four levels of constant warfare—since if we weren't limiting ourselves to helping out petromonarchies and other situations where "U.S. interests" were involved, on a global scale at any given time we're going to be able to find multiple conflicts and not-yet-militarized situations which will fit just about any standard of justifiable war—that may end up making you “anti-war”.

So I guess I'll take on “anti-war” as a moniker if that's what it means, but the entire apparent framing of the question is seriously fucked up.

Even with the vast amount of resources we euphemistically devote to “defense”, we're only going to be able to start and/or be involved in a handful of wars at once. So for all the other situations around the world we could potentially be making war in, we at least temporarily need some other policy to apply. I just think that the foreign policy we're of necessity directing at all of the wars we're not starting is also the one we should probably apply to most of the ones we are considering starting or intensifying.
posted by XMLicious at 5:34 PM on September 18, 2018

Call me naive, but I think a good foreign policy starts with a good domestic policy. Penalize corporations that send jobs overseas, start making stuff here again. Support and encourage unionization and taxing the rich and jailing war profiteers. Once we start making things, the world will be our customers, and if you're trying to sell something, you don't trash your customers house or else they won't buy anything.
posted by ambulocetus at 5:10 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I would agree entirely except for the fact that access to markets is often part of the reason for intervention.

Concern that a market will become unavailable is about as serious as it gets for getting business to support intervention, because even if the war itself is bad for your business, inability to do business is worse.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 5:15 AM on September 19, 2018

The problem is the only things we make to sell to the rest of the world anymore is guns and bombs. I think the United States has the potential to turn this planet into a far better place, but we have to get our priorities straight before we can even think about that.
posted by ambulocetus at 5:22 AM on September 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

I can't deny that manufacturing has gone down, but it doesn't matter if they're manufactured elsewhere by an American company if the problem is that the target is trying to develop domestic industry instead to meet their needs.
Plus, access to markets can mean financial markets and there's always what you're looking to buy to consider as well as what you're trying to sell.

For an extreme and older example, consider the Opium wars.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 5:26 AM on September 19, 2018

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