Monday, September 3, 2012

Why The GOP Can't Be Trusted with Foreign Policy 1/3

McCain John  by Nomad

In this three-part series we take a look back at the evidence in the case against the Republican attitude on foreign policy. We begin with John McCain who seems to have an unfailing record of being dangerously wrong on almost every pronouncement he has made about foreign relations.

Part 1- McCain’s Speech in Tampa
Lost in Paul Ryan’s flagrant dishonesty and Romney’s sticky-gooey sing-song speech, the incoherent silliness of Clint’s burlesque with an empty chair, there was an appearance that might have gone unnoticed at the Republican convention.

His was a familiar face- a bit too familiar, actually: Arizona senator and 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain. Whoever decided that McCain’s appearance at the convention would enhance Mitt Romney’s paltry foreign policy credentials should probably defect to the Obama campaign before somebody catches on. 

Syria, According to McCain
For all of the independent and undecided voters (who hadn’t decided to turn the channel) McCain served as a bitter reminder of the failed military overreach, the pattern of duplicity and lies to the American public under Republican leadership. It was clear that McCain in his enthusiasm to rattle sabers hadn’t noticed that the mood of the country- its taste for war- has shifted. McCain mentioned the current civil war in Syria:
The situation is far worse in Syria. What began as peaceful protests has now become 18 months later a savage and unfair fight. With the full backing of Iran and Hezbollah and Russia, with tanks and helicopters and fighter jets, Bashir Asaad is murdering men, women, and children. More than 20,000 people have perished, extremists are gaining ground, and the conflict is becoming more dangerous by the day for our allies and for us. In other times, when other courageous people fought for their freedom against sworn enemies of the United States, American presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, have acted to help them prevail.
In spite of McCain's professed anxiety about the Syrian population, the American people do not share his worries, or at least, not his desire to thrust their sons and daughters into a civil war. 
Even if they did have that reckless idea, McCain neglects to mention the very real possibility of American engagement leading to first a regional conflict with Turkey, Iraq and Iran, but quickly becoming an international war involving both Russia and China. To promote the idea of taking any direct action in Syria is beyond foolhardy, it is a symbol of how out-of-touch and dangerous the Republican foreign policy model has become.

According to a March Pew Research Centre poll of U.S. public opinion, nearly two-thirds (64%) say the United States does not have a responsibility to do something about the conflict in Syria. Majorities of Democrats (69%) and independents (58%) continue to favor removing U.S. troops from Afghanistan as soon as possible. About half of Republicans (53%) favor keeping U.S. forces there until the situation is stabilized while 41% support removing the troops as soon as possible. 

The opinion about any kind of military intervention in Iran is a slightly more complicated issue. While there is no question that nearly everyone can see no good from Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, the true question is whether a military option is the effective solution. 

Often the wording in a poll question can greatly affect the results, especially when the question presumes that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon- an assertion that neither the IAEA nor U.S. intelligence officials say there is enough evidence to definitely support. 

After stripping away the embedded assertions in poll questions, the results are more conclusive. For example, a poll conducted by United Technologies/National Journal poll showed that only 17 percent of the U.S. public supported military action against Iran.
Forty-seven percent of respondents favored economic sanctions against Iran, only 13 percent said the U.S. should “go farther and take covert action against Iran such as sabotage and assassination of scientists working on their nuclear program,” and 17 percent would support “tak[ing] military action against Iran, including bombing weapons facilities inside the country.”
The question doesn’t even refer to military invasion, which would presumably have even less support than air strikes or cover sabotage. 
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Over the years, John McCain gradually devolved from war-weary former Vietnam POW, turned politician to the present-day war-monger par excellence. In Tampa, McCain at the podium told the audience:

It is said that this election will turn on domestic and economic issues. But what Mitt Romney knows, and what we know is the success at home also depends on our leadership in the world. It is our willingness to shape world events for the better that has kept us safe, increased our prosperity, preserved our liberty and transformed human history.
It was this sort of rhetoric that has in the past worked well for the Republicans. Add an American flag and a patriotic song and, for the right wing, it was like honey to the bees. At least, until the debauchery of George W. Bush. His administration was always eager to increase prosperity- at least for a few corporations awarded no-bid contract. He was also excited about shaping world events, to be sure.
The only question was: was it really “for the better?”

McCain’s rhetoric soared to nose-bleed levels.
We have led when necessary with the armed might of freedom's defenders, and always we have led from the front, never from behind.
He went on:
When long suffering peoples demand liberation from their jailers and torturers and tyrants, the leader of the free world must stand with them. Unfortunately, this is not happening. When Iranians rose up by the millions against their repressive rulers, when day beseeched our president, chanting in English, ``Are you with us or are you with them?'' When the entire world watched as a brave young woman named Neda was shot and bled to death in a street in Tehran, the president missed an historic opportunity to throw America's full moral support behind an Iranian revolution that shared one of our highest interests: ridding Iran of a brutal dictatorship that terrorized the Middle East and threatens the world.
Should McCain ever venture to Iraq, he might be surprised to hear whom they think is terrorizing the Middle East and who is threatening the world. But when it comes to jailing and torturing, McCain’s words perhaps hit little too close to home. 
That fine point would have been lost on the gushing and gullible convention crowd.

McCain’s Record of Being Wrong
As far as ridding the world of brutal dictators, America’s only major triumphs seem to have come by not listening to the advice of Senator McCain. By taking a minimalist approach, working with NATO forces, President Obama was able to assist the Libyan people dethrone Qaddafi, without a single fallen American casualty. 
On March 29, 2011 the president told the American public:
We believe that force should not be the first option. We understand the costs and risks involved in the use of force. So, whenever possible, we turn to alternatives that might change behavior -- condemnation that puts violators on notice, sanctions that increase pressure, embargoes that block arms to aggressors, and accountability for those who commit crimes. And should those prove insufficient, we have to be prepared to take the necessary measures to uphold international peace and security and protect innocent people.

And finally, we believe that the world is more secure and the interests of the United States are best advanced, when we act collectively. As I said last night, the burden of action should not always be America's alone. So in Libya today we see a broad and growing coalition, including Arab partners.
That's how the international community should work -- more nations; the United States right there at the center of it, but not alone -- everybody stepping up, bearing their responsibilities, carrying the costs of upholding peace and security. That's what it means to be united nations.
And how did McCain respond to that view?
"When the president says it would be a mistake to use military force in order to take (Gadhafi) out of power, which is U.S. policy ... I think (that) is a serious mistake. I think the president made a clear and convincing case for our military intervention." 
This attitude should have surprised few. McCain is particularly fond of the image of American soldiers marching into dusty villages with thrown flowers, celebratory dancing and elderly tears on wrinkled cheeks. As survivor of Vietnam, he above all should know that that fantasy is an exception in war. the truth is that even long suffering oppressed people have pride in their country and liberators will always be seen by most people as invaders and occupiers. 

When Chris Matthews asked McCain back in 2003, on the eve of the invasion, whether Iraqis would be greeting American soldiers as liberators, McCain said, “Absolutely, absolutely.” 

Back then, he was as equally confident about American leadership and its ability to transform the world as he is now.
But then this is a man who seems to have an unfailing instinct for being wrong and loudly proclaiming it from the rooftops. Before boots were on Iraqi sand, as the preparations for the invasion commenced, McCain continued to make unsupported claims against Hussein despite the serious doubts from all fronts. He told the press: 
"Saddam Hussein is on a crash course to construct a nuclear weapon" 
(This is now the same justification for launching an attack on Iran.)

McCain’s predictions before, during and after the Iraq war and occupation were amazingly incorrect, and in nearly every instance.
  • In March 2003, he stated that the conflict would be “relatively short." 
  • A few months later, as things went from bad to worse, he said, "I would argue that the next three to six months will be critical." 
  • By December of 2005 he was still repeating the same things, "We will probably see significant progress in the next six months to a year." 
In spite of this clear attempt to mislead the American public, McCain still hasn’t accepted his responsibility. In McCain’s case, it’s not merely the wishful thinking of a war hero long past his political due-date. It is pure deception, lies told to the American public. 

Proof for this charge can be found in this anecdote from The Nation:
In April 2007, accompanied by several members of Congress, Senator McCain made a surprise visit to Baghdad to assess the surge, had a "stroll" through a market in the Iraqi capital and then held a news conference where he discussed what he found: "Things are better and there are encouraging signs. I've been here many times over the years. Never have I been able to drive from the airport. Never have I been able to go out into the city as I was today. The American people are not getting the full picture of what's happening here today."

The next evening, NBC's Nightly News provided further details on that "stroll." The Senator and Congressmen were accompanied by "100 American soldiers, with three Blackhawk helicopters and two Apache gunships overhead." (In addition, the network said, still photographs provided by the military revealed that McCain and his colleagues had been wearing body armor during their entire stroll.)
Not everybody has been as duped by McCain’s warped view of American leadership as the Republican delegates. 
During the 2008, one journalist noted how faulty McCain’s judgment had been on a list of war-related issues. An 2007 essay by John B. Judis entitled  Neo-McCain:The Making of an Uber-Hawk" asks:
"In short, McCain's record on Iraq does not inspire confidence. He was wrong Chalabi, he was wrong about Iraq's ties to Al Qaeda and WMD, he was wrong about the reaction of Iraqis to the invasion, and he was wrong about the effect on the wider Muslim world. ... It's worth asking: Does he understand that he made mistakes? Does he draw any lessons from these mistakes? And is he once again willing.... to adjust his world view accordingly?"
If last week’s speech is any indication, clearly not. Still worse, McCain is just as ready, under Romney, to recommend plunging American troops into harm’s way, into unnecessary and unwinnable wars. Whether in Syria or Iran, he seems eager to move on to the next opportunity to make war, without any reflection on his past errors of judgment. In Tampa, McCain was back at pushing buttons:
Sadly -- sadly for the lonely voices of dissent in Syria and Iran and elsewhere in the world will feel forgotten in their darkness and sadly for us, as well. Our president is not being true to our values
McCain doesn’t elaborate on the values he mentions. In fact, the founding fathers were deeply skeptical of foreign entanglements. Thomas Jefferson once said: "Never was so much false arithmetic employed on any subject as that which has been employed to persuade nations that it is in their interests to go to war." 

Advising thoughtful pragmatic approach to foreign policy, George Washington in his farewell address, cautioned:
The Government sometimes participates in the national propensity, and adopts through passion what reason would reject; at other times, it makes the animosity of the nation subservient to projects of hostility instigated by pride, ambition, and other sinister and pernicious motives. The peace often, sometimes perhaps the liberty, of Nations has been the victim.
James Madison too noted the dangers of excessive military power.
A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.
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Time and time again, in the last century, American exceptionalism has blinded both Democratic and Republican leaders into committing its military to adventurism. Furthermore, the pursuit of war- which is always more dramatic- is addictive. Nothing, however, could surpass George Bush and his administration for abusing the public trust. 
As one source points out:
While trumpeting the spread of democracy, Bush has also claimed a singular position for the United States. The administration has repudiated long-standing principles of international law, downgraded multilateral institutions, and rejected a series of international treaties regarding the International Criminal Court, global warming, and other issues.
The United States emerged from the 1990s as an overwhelmingly dominant military power, and to the rest of the world, Bush now appears intent on exploiting that position to advance American interests and demand exemptions from the rules that other nations follow. Growing opposition to U.S. policy was already on the rise throughout Europe and elsewhere in the world long before Iraq. In much of the world, the banner of democracy looks like a deceptive cover for American hegemony.
After those eight years at the helm, it would be pleasant to think that the Republicans might have learned from their mistakes and they see McCain as some kind of walking hangover from that past. Apparently not. 
McCain is not alone and he does not represent the fringe of the party. By selecting him to speak at the convention, the Republican party has chosen to give its support to his views about the necessity of maintaining a Pentagon budget higher than during the height of the Cold War. 

Listening to McCain pontificating about American might and exceptionalism was like stepping out of a time machine to the days before Abu Gharib and the “Collateral Damage” video, before 2107 soldiers died in Afghanistan, before 4,409 died in Iraq, and before 30,182 soldiers were wounded in Iraq and before the number of U.S. soldiers who took their own lives exceeded the casualties of combat. Back to a happier time before truck and roadside bombs. In short, it was as if the human costs of war meant nothing to John McCain and to those who cheered him at the convention. 

And all that might be excused- perhaps- if only he could have pointed out how vastly improved the world has become from American intervention in the Middle East. 
McCain and others like him can tell us that this is the price to pay for freedom in the world. Many widows and widowers, orphans and parents of US servicemen might not agree. 
But at least, the world is rid of Saddam Hussein and that has to be a good thing for the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people should at least respect the sacrifice America made for their liberty. Right?

Death as Liberator
After living in fearful oppression- the kind most of us can’t begin to imagine- by a dictator supported-either directly or tacitly- by at least two previous American presidents, President George W. Bush launched a so-called war of liberation, predicated on the apparently erroneous threat of weapons of mass destruction  he claimed to exist there. 
As most of us recall, the so-called liberation of Iraq unleashed long-standing sectarian violence and when occupying forces lost control of the situation, the liberation turned to occupation. Suddenly liberty wasn’t what American soldiers had brought to the “long suffering peoples” of Iraq.

How many Iraqi civilians died as a result will never be known. The Pentagon maintained that it did not track Iraqi civilian deaths, independent of members of the security forces. According to the organization, Iraqi Body Count, however, the number of documented civilian deaths is somewhere between 108,430 – 118,484. (To put that into perspective, compare those figures with to the September 11 attacks. Its official death toll? 2,752. Each life, whether American or Iraqi, was important to somebody.) 

Prior to the invasion, one writer decried the brutality of the the Hussein regime in Iraq.   
Casualties from Iraq's gulag are harder to estimate. Accounts collected by Western human rights groups from Iraqi émigrés and defectors have suggested that the number of those who have "disappeared" into the hands of the secret police, never to be heard from again, could be 200,000. As long as Mr. Hussein remains in power, figures like these will be uncheckable, but the huge toll is palpable nonetheless.
Saddam Hussein’s reign of terror continued for slightly over 20 years while the occupation lasted 8 years, 8 months and 3 weeks. Of course, one cannot calculate Saddam’s Iraqi body count without adding the estimates the war casualties from the disastrous Iran-Iraq conflict.
The largest number of deaths attributable to Mr. Hussein's regime resulted from the war between Iraq and Iran between 1980 and 1988, which was launched by Mr. Hussein. Iraq says its own toll was 500,000,
Adding that, Republicans, like McCain and other war hawks, ruled the nation slightly better than Saddam. (In the next post we will be taking a closer look at the regime and those staggering numbers of war dead and the part that Republican foreign policy played.)
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By the end of his speech McCain's rhetoric became depressing familiar. McCain told the Tampa audience:
For the sake of the cause of freedom, for the sake of people who are willing to give their lives so their fellow citizens can determine their own futures and for the sake of our nation, the nation founded on the idea that all people everywhere have the right to freedom and justice. We must return to our best traditions of American leadership and support those who face down the brutal tyranny of their oppressors and our enemies.
But, this last sentence poses the question: What kind of model of leadership in foreign policy are the Republicans yearning for? Apparently not the sensible kind of Obama has offerred. If you had asked any conservative in Florida last week, they would have told you. Not George W. Bush, nor his father. 

They yearn for the good old days of Ronald Reagan. That they will say was a foreign policy built on strength. As Mitt Romney reminds us, “Ronald Reagan was a president of strength.” 

In the next part of this series we shall be looking closer into the Republican idol of foreign policy and the kind of strength he displayed. We will also examine how, if Mitt Romney plans to imitate that particular model, then we all should be thinking very carefully before November.