U.S.-Russian relations

Obama’s First Week: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Published January 25th, 2009 by tcarpenter

President Obama is certainly off to a fast start.  The record during his first week, though, is mixed. 

One good early action was his decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, shut down the secret CIA prisons in various overseas locations, and tighten the standards for interrogating terrorist suspects.  Gitmo and everything associated with it will likely go down as one of the more shameful episodes in American history.  Even though Bush administration officials repeatedly denied that the U.S. engaged in torture, the reality was otherwise.  Cynical euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation techniques” sounded like dialogue from characters in a George Orwell novel.  Of course, we all want to minimize the danger of new terrorist attacks, but there are certain lines that a society must not cross if it wishes to remain a moral society.  Torture is one of those bright red lines.

While President Obama’s decisions on that issue removed a stain on America’s honor, his proposed remedy for the ongoing economic recession embodies many of the worst ideas liberal Democrats have been peddling for decades.  Advocating another $825 billion in spending when the federal government is already running a deficit that is likely to exceed $1 trillion this year constitutes fiscal folly.  Even the underlying goal to jump start more consumer spending is flawed.  Jim Rogers, one of world’s most successful investors over the past three decades put the matter very well: “The idea that you can solve a period of excessive borrowing and consumption with more borrowing and more consumption” is “ludicrous on its face.”

The ugly portion of the Obama administration’s first week was the confirmation of Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.   In her earlier confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, she pledged that the administration’s foreign policy would be one of “smart power”–filching a term that I and other scholars have used for years.  That wouldn’t be so bad if what she advocated was even remotely smart.  But virtually everything she said was merely warmed over conventional wisdom–and usually the worst aspects of the conventional wisdom.  Clinton emphasized the supposed need to strengthen NATO–that Cold War-era dinosaur of an alliance–and add new members, such as tiny Balkan states, Georgia, and Ukraine.  The former are militarily useless (as is Georgia) and membership for Georgia and Ukraine would further damage the already tense relations between the U.S. and Russia.  The rest of her testimony was equally bad.  America must keep other useless, costly military commitments, such as the one to South Korea, somehow solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (like we haven’t been trying to do that for the past four decades), take a hard line with Iran (like we haven’t been doing that for the past three decades) and engage in more humanitarian interventions and nation-building missions.  Those, apparently, we can accomplish with all of our spare money and troops.  If there were such a requirement as truth in advertising for presidential appointees, Hillary’s foreign policy would have to be labeled “dumb power” not smart power.  For an approach that is actually smart power, check here.

The NATO Dinosaur

Published October 21st, 2008 by tcarpenter

Check out the excellent article by Doug Bandow of the American Conservative Defense Alliance on Washington’s policy of expanding the NATO alliance to include more useless security dependents in Eastern Europe.  When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, NATO outlived whatever usefulness it might have had during the Cold War.  But the alliance is not merely an institutional dinosaur, it increases the danger of a needless military clash with a nuclear-armed Russia.  Several of the new NATO members have extremely unfriendly relations with Moscow.  Washington’s current proposal to add Ukraine and Georgia to the alliance would increase the danger even more.  The new administration would be wise to heed Bandow’s analysis.

Washington Is So Generous–With Our Money

Published September 3rd, 2008 by tcarpenter

Secretary of State Rice announced today that the United States would provide $1 billion in aid to help the Republic of Georgia recover from the damage it suffered in its recent war with Russia.  It’s bad enough when American taxpayers have to pay for wars in which the United States was a belligerent.  But this was a war between two other countries.  And one can’t even say that Georgia is an ally of the United States.  America has no defense treaty with that country.  Even worse, the war began when Georgia’s president, Mikheil Saaskashvili, disregarded U.S. warnings not to fall into the trap of provoking Russia.  Instead, he ordered an artillery barrage against the capital of a secessionist region that was under Russia’s protection.  Apparently it didn’t occur to him that it was a bad idea to pick a fight with a country whose military forces were ten times larger than his own.

So now American taxpayers, who are already laboring under a $9 trillion national debt and an annual federal budget deficit of $400 billion, should pay for the Georgian government’s folly.  Thanks, Condi.  It’s not like we had anything better to do with that money.

U.S. Pot Calls Russian Kettle Black

Published August 16th, 2008 by tcarpenter

John McCain blisters Russia for its military intervention in Georgia, saying “in the 21st century, nations don’t invade other nations.”  Excuse me??  What does the good senator think the United States did in Afghanistan and Iraq?  And the last time I looked, both 2001 and 2003 were years in the 21st century.  The man has apparently no sense of irony, or he is elevating hypocrisy to a whole new level.

Similarly, President Bush accuses the Russians of “bullying” behavior.  Now, I certainly don’t like what the Russians are doing in Georgia–even though the Georgian government is not exactly the poor democratic victim of unprovoked aggression as it it typically portrayed in the Western media.  But even if Moscow’s actions do constitute bullying, consider the number of occasions since the end of the Cold War that the United States has initiated military force against small, weak countries.  Panama, 1989, Iraq 1991, Somalia, 1992, Haiti, 1994, the Bosnian Serb republic, 1995, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq (again), 2003.  Only the invasion of Afghanistan was truly justified on the basis of self-defense.

Before Bush, McCain, and their warhawk allies start lecturing Russia about improper use of military force, they need to acquire one crucial foreign policy tool that they apparently lack.  A mirror.