What About Those Horses And Bayonets?

Ignoring countless legitimate problems with the Bush/Obama foreign policy, Mitt Romney criticized Obama last night for what he apparently feels is an insufficiently muscular and ostentatious military presence in the world. He didn’t mention the number of military bases worldwide (close to 800 in around 140 countries), or the nations we’ve bombed during the last 4 years (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Somalia … am I forgetting one or two?), or the amount we spend on our military each year (over 42% of the entire world’s military spending and more than Russia, China, Britain, France, Japan and the next 6 countries combined). But he did express particular concern for the shrinking size of our Navy, which, he says, is down to 285 ships from whatever numerical strength he thinks should have been maintained. Obama’s comeback (horses and bayonets) was necessarily superficial, because neither he nor Romney have anything to gain by honestly addressing the size and cost of our military.

Even if we suppose the number of ships to be a meaningful standard, Romney’s charge demonstrates ignorance and/or shameless opportunism. According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, George W. Bush presided over the smallest navy since the 19th century (278 ships in 2007). But seriously, does any sane person believe that the United States Navy is less capable by any imaginable standard than it was in 1917? Is it less able to project power? Can it operate simultaneously in fewer places? Is there a navy out there somewhere that poses a greater threat to ours than Germany’s navy in 1917 or Japan’s navy in 1942?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then I’m not addressing you. The rest of us would do well to ask ourselves what it is Mitt Romney hopes to accomplish by such utterly meritless fear mongering. Does he really think that the comparative strength of our navy leaves us vulnerable militarily? Or was he just whistling to the dogs, trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator of nationalist sentiment? If the former, he is absolutely unfit to lead the already monstrous war fighting machine he aspires to command; if the latter, he is a deceptive scoundrel and Republican voters should be ashamed of themselves.


Facts or Propaganda?

As the final debate between Obamney approaches, I am bracing for what will likely be the undoing of the warm feelings I have been dutifully nuturing toward our candidate. Governor Romney’s blissful ignorance of America’s place in the world, constitutionally and in reality, remains the biggest obstacle to this conservative’s support. And his efforts to reassure voters by promising to defer to his military advisers are anything but comforting. The only thing the founders feared more than an executive with unchecked war-making powers was an autonomous military. James Madison must be digging out of his grave by now.

Not only does Romney fail to understand both the mess that is the American empire and the relevant constitutional law, he doesn’t even seem to have a coherent position of his own. In his much hyped VMI speech two weeks ago, Romney identified the “bedrock principles” of the Romney doctrine: “America must have confidence in our cause, clarity in our purpose and resolve in our might.” But as Gene Healy points out in an excellent piece in the Washington Examiner, “…those are attitudes, not principles. And if jut-jawed self-assurance that we know what we’re doing in the Middle East was the key to victory, we’d have a little more to show from the last 11 years of war. Hope is not a strategy, but hubris isn’t either.”

Worse than the over-confident and under-informed arrogance, however, is the deliberate deception and propaganda constantly peddled by both campaigns and the war lobbyists they work for. Nonsense about Muslims hating us because we’re free, idolization of Syrian “freedom fighters” with no acknowledgement of their terrorist connections, and fearmongering that borders on psychosis with regard to Iran are all examples of the schizophrenic foreign policy jumble that both candidates embrace. And the voting public seems tragically complacent about the utter lack of meaningful distinctions between Team A and Team B.

Several days ago I was reading a Foreign Policy article about the radicalization of rural Pakistani youth, and specifically the techniques employed by terrorist groups in recruiting teenage boys for suicide attacks. I was stunned by the sickening methods used to convince these uneducated and ignorant boys to kill and die. Without repeating the claims made in the article, I will only say that one cannot help seeing even a suicide attacker in a different light after the author’s description of their indoctrination.

As my wife and I were discussing the article, my oldest son arrived home from school. He greeted me with, “Hi dad, Mrs. – says Iranians are dangerous people, is that true?”

Oh boy, I thought, here we go. “Why does Mrs. – say so?” I inquired.

“She says they are building a nuclear bomb to launch at us.”

“And why does she think they would want to launch a nuclear bomb at us?” I persisted.

“Because they don’t like that we’re over there defending our oil.”

Now, in fairness to Mrs. -, who I genuinely like and admire, I’m reasonably certain that she wasn’t quoted verbatim. It is entirely possible that my son’s impression of her comments differed substantially from her intent. Be that as it may, the timing of his question, coming as it did while the deceptive propaganda of Islamic jihadists was fresh in my mind, was an uncomfortable, but inescapable, reminder that both sides are equally guilty of using rank propaganda and deception to motivate and gain the support of the masses.

The problems with such ridiculous claims (which, regardless of whether my son’s impression was accurate, are widely believed by rank-and-file conservative voters) ought to be obvious. First of all, to describe “Iranians” (or any other ethnic group) in such sweeping terms demonstrates a pitifully two-dimensional view of the world, not to say of human nature. Secondly, our own intelligence agencies have been unanimous in their opinion that Iran is not, at present, building a nuclear weapon. Nor are they enriching uranium to the level required for such a weapon. Thirdly, if Iran did succeed in building a nuclear weapon, they are clearly unable to deploy it via ballistic missiles that would threaten the US. Fourthly, if Iran ever did develop intercontinental nuclear capabilities, what motive could they possibly have for a first strike? And lastly, while it is undoubtedly the height of insolence for Muslims in general and Iranians in particular to live on top of our oil, the evidence does not favor our appetite for oil as a pat explanation for Iranian animosity toward the US.

But its been a long time since evidence was last allowed to get in the way of the military-industrial complex. I expect Romney to differ from the President tonight only in the violence of his rhetoric. I would love to see him advocate a more humble and constitutional foreign policy, one that would present voters with a real choice to deal with the national debt, stop alienating allies and manufacturing enemies, and put James Madison back to bed. He has changed his position on most other issues, so perhaps there is reason to hope.

But, alas, hope is not a strategy.

Is This What America Stands For?

I intended to launch this blog with my reflections on the Republican National Convention, and would have done so but for two unforeseen events: the attacks on American diplomatic posts in Cairo and Benghazi, and an excellent article by Jack Hunter that summed up much of what I was thinking with regard to the RNC better than I could have. The embassy attacks and the tragic deaths of four Americans in Libya have dominated the news for the last forty-eight hours or so. The reckless hawks who thumped their chests when we got Gaddafi and the silly idealists who polished their halos when Libyans got democracy now have an opportunity to reflect on what else we, Libya and the world got in exchange for our meddling.

Not that many of them will. The embassy in Cairo issued a press release Tuesday morning (in anticipation of the protests) repudiating the moronic “movie” that provoked the attacks and criticizing those who produced and promoted it. But popular conservative leaders, from Romney and Palin to local talk radio hosts, reacted in typically shrill and thoughtless manner, accusing the Obama administration of sympathizing with “terrorists” and responding apologetically to the attacks. As usual, any acknowledgement of our enemies’ grievances, or curiosity about their real motives, is seen as weakness at best, maybe even sympathy. Frankly, I am amazed at how quick so many have been to opine about free speech and to defend those responsible for the film.

Several years ago, a friend of mine recounted a trick he and his brother played on an elder relative during a camping trip. While the old man was using the outhouse, the boys captured several bees in a glass jar. They shook the jar violently for several seconds, then placed it against the air vent and removed the lid. Serious consequences ensued. While this rather humorous story isn’t a perfect metaphor, there is a lesson we can apply to the Libyan tragedy.

Ambassador Stevens was a victim of a heinous, entirely unjustified attack by criminals who believe that religious insults are grounds for murder. But we do not justify these criminals by acknowledging that others are also to blame. The Libyan government is to blame for failing to meet its basic obligation to ensure the security of foreign diplomats. Our own government is to blame for inserting America into a Libyan civil war in support of the criminals who have now turned on us. And yes, the imbeciles who produced the film in question are certainly to blame for deliberately provoking Muslims without any useful or constructive purpose.