Isolationism Watch: The Ghost of Lawrence of Arabia Is Haunting Republicans…and Maybe Democrats Too

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Peter O’Toole’s performance as T.E. Lawrence in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia should remind us that all of us, of all political stripes, are dealing with stereotypes that could throw our foreign policy way off course.
The prevailing Republican view is well-documented. O’Toole put it this way in his quixotic and messianic quest to found an independent Arab state:

“[The Arabs] want to gain their freedom. Freedom…I’m going to give it to them.”

And that, albeit in an exaggerated, literary way, pretty much sums up the attitude of the White House and the Republican leadership in Congress – with some important exceptions, as Steve has noted.
My hope over these past few years has been that Democrats and eventually Republicans would embrace a more enlightened view: that people in the Middle East do want freedom – and economic opportunity, and peace, and rights, and dignity – and the United States should work with them as a partner to help them achieve these goals.
This rationale, in my view, is the right justification for redeploying troops from Iraq. Such a step, coupled with international partnerships and continued nonmilitary assistance, can help bring about a political solution in Iraq, as well as progress for Iraq’s neigbors.
But I’m not entirely convinced that this is the prevailing attitude in the Democratic Party. I’m worried some Democrats, frustrated with the Iraqis and sensing their constituents’ impatience, are simply ready to say, “not my problem anymore” and take up the isolationist cause.
Consider this from Hillary Clinton in her interview with NYT:

“No one wants to sit by and see mass killing,” she added. “It’s going on every day! Thousands of people are dying every month in Iraq. Our presence there is not stopping it. And there is no potential opportunity I can imagine where it could. This is an Iraqi problem; we cannot save the Iraqis from themselves.” (my emphasis)

I’m also unsure about where Carl Levin – whom I generally hold in very high regard – is on this. On one hand, he said:

“We have got to force the Iraqis to take charge of their own country,” Mr. Levin said at a breakfast meeting with reporters. “We can’t save them from themselves.”

Then, however, he immediately added:

“It is a political solution. It is no longer a military solution.”

Clinton, Levin, and others repeating the “save them from themselves” talking point need to get their acts together. Saying “we can’t save the Iraqis from themselves” suggests that Iraqis, left to their own devices, will tear each other apart. It reinforces the chauvanistic stereotype that people in the Middle Eastneed steely autocrats to keep them in line and stop them from killing each other. And it leads to the conclusion that no matter what the U.S. does, it cannot affect positive change in Middle Eastern countries.
The exaggerated, literary summation of this attitude?

“So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people; a silly people; greedy, barbarous, and cruel.”

That’s O’Toole as T.E. Lawrence again, this time in a moment of exasperation. I don’t believe that this is where most Democrats are headed. Most of them know better. And I think those who are projecting this attitude probably know better too, but believe they can win cheap political points with constituents by playing to their frustrations.
But make no mistake – the underlying attitude of the “save them from themselves” talking point is chauvanist and isolationist. If people are repeating it for political reasons, as I suspect, they need to stop right now. These political games make for dangerously bad foreign policy.
— Scott Paul

Comments

60 comments on “Isolationism Watch: The Ghost of Lawrence of Arabia Is Haunting Republicans…and Maybe Democrats Too

  1. kositka says:

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  2. Dumass says:

    Actually the Lawrence of Arabia quote I though most applicable right after Saddam’s overthrow was “There’s nothing here for a warrior. We drive bargains, old men’s work… Young men make war, and the virtues of wars are the virtues of young men – courage and hope for the future. Then old men make the peace, and the vices of peace are the vices of old men – mistrust and caution. It must be so” – Prince Faisal, actually Alec Guiness, while the lower-ranked British officer sputtered at seeing him and the British general compromising…

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  3. MP says:

    That’s an interesting perspective, Jerome, considering Great Britain’s meddling in the ME and desire to “solve” Europe’s “Jewish problem” are one of the chief causes of said strife and murder.

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  4. Jerome Gaskins says:

    As long as Israel is as important as Great Britain to the US, there will be strife, murder and genocide in the Middle East.

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  5. anon says:

    You assume that it is in our power to “call a halt” to our “decline.” I’d like to posit the theory that maybe it is not. The imbeciles that inhabit our elected offices notwithstanding, perhaps the rise and fall of empires is a natural occurrence, not altogether different from the changing seasons and the inevitable passing of time.
    This is an interesting philosophical conversation, to be sure, but in the end it’s merely a intellectual exercise. However, I do applaud your desire to improve the circumstances of our country and I assume the world.
    And thank you, POA, for not ripping my head off 😉
    I really appreciate seeing you engage rather than destroy. You have too much to contribute to this discussion and I hate to see you muddy the water in the process.
    Cheers.

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  6. Pissed Off American says:

    Perhaps it would also be helpful if you tried to view this forum as something other than a contest of “right” vs. “wrong.” These comments are merely an intermingling of opinions in response to Steve’s and Scott’s posts. You seem to have the attitude that others are all out to “defeat” your opinion and thus you have to “defeat” theirs in turn. Unfortunately, this atmosphere leaves no room for the give and take needed to learn. Your knee-jerk antagonism is a waste of time, and what’s more, it misses the point entirely. Nobody, least of all you, likes to be lectured or patronized and nobody, including yourself, has all the answers.
    Now, please feel free to tell me what an idiot I am 😉
    Posted by anon
    Knee jerk? I suggest you reread the thread, paying careful attention to the “tone” of the posting. I hope you have the ability for introspection, because if you do, you will apreciate the irony of your latest comment.
    There is an idea that I seemed to have missed conveying in the “home Depot” part of my comments. The issue isn’t narrow stiles or sloppy hinges. It is the American public’s inability to recognize narrow stiles in a door, or the feel of an inferior hinge as the door swings. We are in a large part inured and unaware of our own decline.
    Tasteful style and quality are becoming the luxuries of a very few elite. Just like health care, higher education, etc.. If greater society becomes unaware of its own decline, where is the incentive to call a halt to it?

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  7. anon says:

    What I wrote above is not an “argument” for or against anything, POA. Nobody is disagreeing with the fact that America IS in hegemonic decline. I was only attempting to broaden our perspective by pointing out the fact that many of the 6+ billion people on this planet are suffering unimaginably, and not because their French doors aren’t flush.
    It is clear from your name that you are an American. So am I. I fully understand that you are primarily concerned with the state of our union and that you expect more for your tax dollars. But, I also happen to believe that focusing myopically on our own country’s well-being, while much of the rest of the world suffers in absolute poverty, is a sin. But, hey, that’s always been the American way.
    Perhaps it would also be helpful if you tried to view this forum as something other than a contest of “right” vs. “wrong.” These comments are merely an intermingling of opinions in response to Steve’s and Scott’s posts. You seem to have the attitude that others are all out to “defeat” your opinion and thus you have to “defeat” theirs in turn. Unfortunately, this atmosphere leaves no room for the give and take needed to learn. Your knee-jerk antagonism is a waste of time, and what’s more, it misses the point entirely. Nobody, least of all you, likes to be lectured or patronized and nobody, including yourself, has all the answers.
    Now, please feel free to tell me what an idiot I am 😉

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  8. David N says:

    Finally: People have been talking about why the Iraqis, and the Palestinians, and various other people, indulge in wholesale slaughter of each other. This is especially easy to do when we, sitting in our safe, comfortable dens so clearly understand that it’s not a very intelligent thing to do.
    What we have to do is listen to these people, and try to understand how they think, and then address them as rational beings. These are people who can be rational, but their environment teaches them that they can only gain if others lose, that life, the market place, the economy, politics, everything, is a zero-sum game. How can we do that if American politics itself is treated as a sports event, instead of a way to govern a nation?
    This is what they believe: The West got rich by stealing the wealth of the Arabs. The only way the Arabs can get rich is by stealing it back. In the mean time, they have to steal it from each other. Because the sum total of wealth in the world is a fixed sum.
    Yes, they think that way. They have said so, if you read and listen to them, and take their words seriously.
    Thus, dealing with the world means not just dealing with “national interest,” that great, profound, fictional concept. It means dealing with ideas. It means listening as well as talking. Understanding as well as believing.
    All of this stuff has been out there. Nothing I’m saying is original or profound, just — in the course of things — ignored.
    Because it isn’t the conventional wisdom, which even those who say they are above it, and who think “outside the box,” are still captured by.
    Aummmmmmm.

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  9. David N says:

    There have been many complex, responsible, and intelligent things written in this stream, and a lot of nonsense to go with it. Even beyond the idea of how long it would take to sort it all out, I am not willing to believe that I am capable of doing so, certainly not to everyone’s satisfaction.
    So, what will I contribute? Perhaps by asking all of us to look at your own assumptions, question them, and ask yourselves to justify them.
    First, one-dimensional politics. While I welcome the step away from the belief that there are 2.0 sides to every question, there is a feeling that we haven’t gone far enough away from that zero-sum-game view of political discussion. We seem to have decided that political opinions lie upon a line that runs from extreme-left socialism, to liberalism, moderate leftism, centrism, moderate conservatism, conservatism, neoconservatism, fascism, and Dick Cheney.
    I ask that we try to question that, to step away from the labels that politicians and pundits and reporters use as a substitute for thought, and ask what any of those labels mean, and why we can’t come up with any ideas whose anticedents are less than a hundred years old.
    Next: isolationism vs. interventionism. It’s easy, of course, to criticize Bush’s stupidity and ignorance and the damage it has done. Important and necessary, but easy. The fact is that Bush’s foreign policy has been both isolationist and interventionist, and that’s what has been wrong with it. Isolationist because Bush does not believe in cooperating even with Americans, much less foreign allies. What’s striking is that none of his disasters have been a surprise. He said that he didn’t do nation-building, and has proven it. He said government doesn’t work, and has proven that under his leadership, that’s true, as well. He criticized Clinton for paying attention to opinion polls, and, indeed, has then proven that he truly does not care what the American people — any of them outside corporate boardrooms — think.
    Third, just what is foreign policy? Bloviating pundits talk about using “diplomacy” rather than military power as if they know what they mean. And the rest of the establishment acts as if they know what they’re talking about, so the public accepts their words.
    The fact is, we don’t know what diplomacy means any more. And the further fact is that there is a component of diplomacy, and economic relations, and governance, that we have completely ignored because we worship at the idol of “realism.”
    What I’m talking about is ideas and values. Of course, it is impossible to even talk about Bush exporting American values, because he doesn’t believe in them himself. But a rational president and administration has to be able to talk about the value of our values, and get people to understand that these are our greatest asset.

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  10. Pissed Off American says:

    It always amuses me to see someone marginalize the decline in our standard of living by pointing out how the citizens of third world countries are living. When does our own decline take us low enough that such arguments will no longer be used by such people? When they are picking the green stuff out of their tap water, if they have tap water?
    I don’t live in a third world country. I live in the United States of America. I expect better for my tax dollars, not worse. But it is getting worse. By the minute.

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  11. Ticia says:

    I updated Impeachment Watch for April today.
    Keep hope alive,
    ET

    Reply

  12. JonU says:

    If, as so many say, upon our immediate withdrawal the Iraq would degenerate into wider sectarian conflict and bloodshed, it argues that our military presence is indeed “saving them” from something. At the very least, “holding at bay”, powerful and destructive forces.
    I hear almost no one, and certainly none of the highest profile Dems, arguing for isolationism. Not one bit. You’re making quite a jump there, in assuming their calls for diplomatic solutions are a drift towards isolationism.
    They are arguing that the Iraqis are going to have to want to stop the violent sectarian conflict, for it to stop. That they will need to police themselves, just as we police ourselves. Violent religious reprisals are not tolerated by the vast majority in the U.S., and we have seen a huge drop in violent racial conflict over the past 60 50 years. Our earlier generations worked mightily to excise such behaviour and attitudes. Our current generation push constantly to reinforce it. Because we were willing to look inward and police ourselves, we are better for it.
    This is indeed something the Iraqis need to learn, if they wish to exist as “Iraqi”. We cannot stop their centuries old feuds. They have to. Such an argument *does* have merit.
    We can help. We can facilitate. But we cannot solve.
    Also, I heard very little talk from the Bush Administration in regards to “freedom”, during the build-up to the invasion. It was about (nonexistant) WMD’s, and falsely linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11. Conservatives only fell back to “spreading democracy and freedom” when they were proven to be lying about everything else.
    Invading Iraq was an *agenda*. A preexisting one. One our nation’s shock and horror over 9/11 was exploited over. And agenda the remarkable and unique, post-9/11 goodwill of the world was squandered over. And agenda cooked up by coddled and well-fed think-tank philosophers. Thank you PNAC, for your epic mess.
    Honestly, I believe the neo-cons had no intention of creating a democracy in Iraq. It’s my belief they fully intended to install a “benevolent” dictatorship, probably under Chalabi. (You’ll still find the occasional neo-con pundit who offers this as a solution.) Once that fell apart, they began crowing about democracy. But of course, they hadn’t ever developed the planning and foundational support needed to implement a messy concept such as democracy in the volatile Middle East. They never had thought things through, because they never intended to try democracy. At the point they pushed democracy as the central rationale for unilateral invasion, they were improvising.
    Iran and then possibly Korea were next on the agenda. We invade Iraq, it all goes well. We next invade Iran. It also goes swimmingly. Then with this well established U.S. international dominance, we can invade and force the North Koreans to submit. This also firmly establishes U.S. dominance over surging China.
    That was the plan. It was a catastrophic failure from the first step. But democracy was not a serious part of it. Not until the actual ideals of ordinary Americans forced themselves into the neo-con fever for dominance.
    I think you give far far too much credit to the neo-cons’ bid for totalitarinism, and the conservative movement that meekly lined up behind them.

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  13. Pissed Off American says:
  14. JohnH says:

    There is absolutely no possibility of the US turning its back on the ME so long as the world need its oil and natural gas. The dilemma facing the industrialized world is how to meddle in a way that will get the ME to produce the energy that is so desperately needed.
    Zathras, don’t you think it appropriate to focus a disproportionate amount of attention on the region that produces the resources that drive our civilization? The industrialized world can neglect the ME only at its own peril–unless we are prepared to chart a less energy dependent course.

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  15. larry birnbaum says:

    There’s no doubt that we bear tremendous responsibility for what’s going on in Iraq right now, and for what will happen after we leave (which we will).
    On the other hand I don’t think it’s merely my Western arrogance and chauvinism that leads me to think that the Iraqis, left to their own devices, will tear each other apart. They are doing it right now. Perhaps this is just aimed at getting us to leave, and the minute we do, things will settle down. Do you really believe that?
    The point is, it doesn’t diminish our responsibility for the violence in Iraq to point out that the Iraqis bear responsibility as well. And to derogate references to this Iraqi responsiblity as “chauvinism” reflects a view of the situation that strikes me as another illusion that will lead to, as you put it, “dangerously bad foreign policy.”

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  16. Edward Nashton says:

    This is exactly the wrong lesson to take from Lawrence. The reality is that there is a confusion in Washington over capability and willingness. Are the Arabs capable of making their lives better? Of course they are. They are human beings like each and every one of us, and their capability to do the right thing is no different than our own.
    So why do they continue to kill one another? Ah, that’s where willingness comes in. Are they willing to make the tough choices to improve their lives. The answer to that question today is no. Why are they not willing then? It depends upon their unique circumstance–something that the administration, neoconservatives and Wilsonians are unwilling to consider before they begin their projects to save man from himself.
    This emotional fervor reminds me of the welfare system in this country. Why is it when the people of the United States grant the downtrodden the ability to improve their lives, so many of them turn it down?
    Human beings, more often than not, tend to stray away from the difficult things in life–content instead to choose, what they perceive to be the easy path. Only when they are ready to do the right thing will they do it–it is outside of our ability to make them.
    Lawrence understood this very simple lesson and chose to work with the Arabs rather than force them to adopt his path and his way.

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  17. rich says:

    anon:
    “In decline America may very well be, POA, but we have a HELL of a long way to fall! You think that our infrastructure is crumbling? Take a trip . .”
    We dont’ have nearly as far to fall as you’d like to believe. POA isn’t posing a metaphor.
    Poor infrastructure overseas doesn’t negate the extremely poor state of infrastructure at home. Our infrastructure is literally crumbling, in extremely bad shape, and no real investment is on the way.
    Mexico, Vietnam, Turkey and Morocco are building high-speed rail with top speeds of 180-250mph. The US may build faster passenger rail–with top speeds of 110mph–by 2030.
    My Algerian doctor companion rolls her eyes at our health-care system. Relative to theirs, ours is hopelessly ineffective, riddled with unecessary costs/profit-taking, and very far from up-to-par in terms of delivery. We have the technology, but nowhere near the “best health-care system in the world.”
    Key Link: Attending to domestic needs first precludes the broken foreign policy institutions and military branches we see toiday. Look at the series of failures we’re forced to accept: Do you want more Katrinas at home AND a hollowed-out military and a policy of neglect and disinvestment that renders us non-competitive and vulnerable?
    Investment at home will upgrade that capacity abroad–eventually. Aligning foreign policies with our actual capacities and our real political interests will avoid over-extending ourselves & waltzing into quagmires. First chore in repairing foreign policy is to implement redress of grievances–at home.

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  18. rich says:

    Scott @ 08:24 AM:
    ” ‘the overgrown .. jungle of neoconservatism’ has already been well-pruned… but for the most part, I don’t feel the need to repeat conventional wisdom.”
    No one’s asking you to belabor the obvious. Better writing, though. And worrying that seeds might be “allowed to germinate,” when the neocons have hardly been brought to heel, lacks balance.
    I wrote “Dems” subbing for Levin-Clinton–I’d ask that you stop nibbling around the edges and deal with the meat of my posts (that was the 3rd).
    There is no “isolationism” in Levin’s/Clinton’s words. There is a reasoned moderation consistent with American foundational politics.
    Their mainstream (centrist) approach is painted by you as ‘isolationist’–obviously an extreme position.
    You don’t want to address the point, but you kinda want to take it all back–and still have the cake of isolationism. Won’t work. The critique of your post holds. There is no talk of isolationism, anywhere. Even Feingold has a very different outlook. Which raises the question: why are you uncomfortable addressing the issue raised? What about our foundational political values do you find objectionable?
    There is much cleanup work to be done. Trivializing that is unacceptable. Here’s why: It’s not so much that it’s unreasonable of you to gin-up mortal policy threat & openly mischaracterize the political landscape.
    It’s that any viable metric of a vital or radical center is the willingness to get up like Sam Nunn did, walk over to the White House, and significantly alter Bush’s course if not secure his resignation. Without that, the precedents Bush-Cheney will set are beyond the pale.
    It’s a bit spoiled, you know. To want all the benefits of centrism, without any of the responsibility. To want the bestest foreign policy, without the constitutionalist legitimacy to back it up.
    “And I certainly don’t feel the need to issue disclaimers.” Again, I’m not looking for “disclaimers,” nor for historical review. It’s better writing I’m after.
    A single word would clarify your intent. So thanks for the “p.s: it’s the country, not Democrats, that would “require a 180 on policy.”
    That’s why I said “What context?” Maybe I ticked you off, but it’s a bit smarty to retort “Want context? Want the ‘who’s most wrong?’ ”
    Of course not. But accurately characterizing Levin’s language relative to actual Dem & Repub positions & rhetoric would be helpful and much appreciated.
    —-
    Scott I concur with you on MANY points, including the importance & need for constructive engagement abroad, and the desirability of democracy in Russia.
    Just as no one likes a mobbed-up sheriff jailing traffic offenders, no one likes a criminal nation presuming to enforce the law, especially not outside their jurisdiction.
    Regional perspective is nice, etc., but if it’s used as an excuse to evade the major priority, then it’s you who lack perspective.

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  19. Matthew says:

    Anon, you are right about perspective. I frequently travel to England and the speed in which the wealth falls away when you leave London is quite noticeable. In contrast, you can visit hundreds of American cities that all have modern skyscrapers, fancy neighborhoods, etc.
    But before we become too smug, keep this is mind: It’s based increasingly on debt and borrowing. There is a reason that Paul Krugman says that America must produce something, not just buy and sell each other’s houses. The next recession, when it comes, is going to be quite frigthening. We are leveraged to the hilt. The other posts are noting the symptoms of the ever-increasing rot.

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  20. Michael says:

    anon writes:
    “In decline America may very well be, POA, but we have a HELL of a long way to fall! You think that our infrastructure is crumbling?

    “perspective is important.”
    Indeed, it is.
    My wife is Nicaraguan and has been saying for some time now that the USA more and more resembles a “third-world country” with each passing year. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and politics is just a way of keeping things that way.
    But you’re quite right, in a way: unless you are personally impacted by American economic decline, there are far more important issues at stake. All those little people in this country hoping for a brighter tomorrow will just have to wait.

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  21. anon says:

    In decline America may very well be, POA, but we have a HELL of a long way to fall! You think that our infrastructure is crumbling? Take a trip to India or Africa or China or Indonesia or Russia, etc., and tell us what you see there. Sure india’s economy may have grown by by over 9% last year, but there are STILL more than 250 million Indians living on less than $2 per day.
    Substandard escutcheons being sold at Home Depot? Try 3 billion people in the world without proper sanitation, 1 billion of who whom have NO access to clean drinking water. For them, substandard merchandise being sold at a western “super store” is literally an unimaginable dream.
    perspective is important.

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  22. Pissed Off American says:

    Meanwhile, wheres Pelosi? Is she touring New Orleans? Is she inspecting the recent tornado damage in the plains states? Is she immersed in debate with her colleagues, looking for solutions to the current economic crisis our nation faces? Seeking answers for the multitude of homeowners about to be foreclosed upon because of the greed and corruption of the of corporate money lenders?
    Nope, the bitch is currently over in Israel, addressing the Knesset. And we are paying her God damned inflated wages, and paying for our fealty to a foreign nation.
    Read the pretension illustrated by the mental masturbation we see above. As if we have the answers. While our corrupt and self-serving politicians sell us out to the highest bidder.
    I tried to do some basic finish carpentry on a house yesterday, using an array of components and hardware that were purchased at Home Depot by the home owner. Chinese goods, primarily. Hanging doors, mortising for hinges, etc. Just basic stuff. The screws would break, even with pre-drilling. The hinges no longer maintain an 1/8″ gap. The hinge pins are loose, allowing slop. The doors are rarely on a flat plane, commonly warped. The center mullions are not aligned with knob height, creating an aesthetic eyesore. The stiles on the french door are so narrow they cramp the handle escutcheons to the glass. The casing details are chunky and architecturally unsound in design. The list goes on and on. And this is what we are building our own infrastrucure out of. Our homes, our highways, our hospital’s, etc.. All being thrown together with substandard components. Substandard in function, in quality, and substandard in design. And with every passing year I see it getting worse and worse. Is this relevant? You bet. We are on the decline . Our hour in the sun is over. In every aspect of our society we have sacrificed quality for convienience, values for greed.
    And now we find ourselves the captives of a system run amok, where our supreme leaders sell the very soul of our nation to the highest bidders, and our own people go wanting while those such as Pelosi whore themselves to a foreign nation and global special intersts.
    We are in denial. We can’t even figure our how to save ourselves, much less the Iraqi people. This whole house of cards is about to tumble down around our ears.

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  23. Buck Batard says:

    Mark Twain’s essay “To the person sitting in darkness” might be an appropriate essay to read and reflect upon when discussing this issue.
    http://www.logosjournal.com/issue_4.3/twain.htm

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  24. Buck Batard says:

    When Roosevelt asserted that “righteousness and justice” were more important than peace, and that those goals sometimes required war, Carnegie reminded the president that since each side in war declared that it was in pursuit of righteousness and justice, the question was: who was to decide where the moral right lay? “No one, according to you,” he told Roosevelt. ‘They must go to war to decide not what is right’ but who is strong.”
    Roosevelt’s obsession with strength was a part of his own melodrama of beset manhood. Deriding peace advocates as the “male shrieking sisterhood of Carnegies and the like,” he confused physical courage with moral courage, and nations with individuals. Nowhere was this clearer than in his critique of arbitration treaties. The nation pledged to arbitration, Roosevelt wrote, would end up “dishonored and impotent, like the man who, when his wife was assaulted by a ruffian, took the ruffian to court instead of attacking him on the spot.” This was the sort of thinking (or not thinking) that led Senator Chauncey Depew to dismiss the anti-imperialist critique of the Philippines War as a “scuttle and run” strategy. The same sort of category mistake continues to plague public discourse today.
    Carnegie attacked this confusion head-on. Rather than promoting manly virtue, Carnegie charged, war only enhances man’s capacity for “physical courage, which some animals and the lower order of savage men possess in the highest degree. According to this idea, the more man resembles the bulldog the higher he is developed as a man.” Pruned of its pseudo-evolutionary arrogance, the statement stands as a rebuke to the silly verbal swaggering that still so often substitutes for actual policy debate.

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  25. Pissed Off American says:

    I fail to see anyone here arguing the situation in a moral sense rather than the intellectual banter we see above. We have moral obligations in Iraq that are not military in nature. We have destroyed the infrastructure of a nation, and murdered 650,000 innocent civilians in the process. Our military presence there is not contributing to the great debt we owe the Iraqi people. In fact, it is compounding that debt.
    There is much talk here about Hillary’s stance that it is an “Iraqi problem”. I think it is a Middle Eastern problem. It is a Muslim problem. The Sunni’s and the Shiite are not killing each other over questions of democracy or freedom. The killings are secular, and the reasons are seated in deep religious and historical divisions that I believe very few of us understand, or even have the capability to understand. And that is certainly and obviously true of our leaders as well, both governmental and military.
    It is western thinking that got Iraq into this mess. It is middle eastern thinking that will get it out.
    Our role should be restoration and rebuilding, just in the sense of funding. We have already demonstrated that our government and its agencies are too corrupt to be trusted to carry out the hands-on task of rebuilding honestly or ethically. An international oversight agency should be established through the UN to manage the funds.
    Another moral obligation to Iraq, and to the rest of the world, is to hold the framers of this crime accountable, under both domestic and international law. Bush and Cheney cannot be allowed to murder 650,000 people, and to destroy the infrastructure of a nation. The environmental and social costs to the Iraqi people are astronomical. And the health costs are unimaginable, particularly when one considers the tons of DU dust that has been introduced into the Iraqi environment. The 650,000 figure may just be the tip of it, as the health effects of exposure to DU become known through generations of study.
    And, we should give the Iraqi oil assets back. We have no right to them, and the privatization of these assets is nothing short of theft.
    All of the above is fantasy. There is no way ANY of these moral obligations will be met. And as an American, that makes me ashamed. And very sad.

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  26. ... says:

    poa- the info on the captive 5 iranians held somewhere in iraq by the usa doesn’t get the press that the 15 british soldiers do… thanks for pointing this out to the readers here who are mostly aware of this… the general public on the other hand has probably long forgotten… the success of the mainstream media relies on peoples selective short term selective memory.

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  27. Michael says:

    Scott writes:
    “The immense ideological and institutional deficiencies that got us where we are today don’t make isolationism any less dangerous. Neither do they, as I suspect some believe, dwarf it so greatly as to make it unimportant.”
    The more I think about it, the more bizarre this mindset seems to me. Isolationism is the big, bad boogeyman that frightens so, yet it wasn’t isolationism that created these “immense ideological and institutional deficiencies”. Though it isn’t the sole cause, obviously, interventionism has certainly been a major contributor to the problems we have today, perhaps even the greatest single contributing factor.
    Interventionism is what got us into the mess in Iraq – and soon Iran, if current indicators prove correct – and this is just the latest fiasco. Self-styled “realists” seem to think that foreign interests, the military-industrial complex and other trans-nationalist entities, are just part of the landscape and must be accepted and accomodated, without question. Why is this? Why is it that the interests of the United States and the majority of its citizens must always be weighed judiciously against the interests of outside players and those citizens ideologically or economically allied with them?
    I’m sorry. Maybe I’m just too dense, or too far outside the DC loop, to understand what’s so damned dangerous about isolationism. If both parties, Republican and Democrat, had been a little more isolationist, we wouldn’t even be discussing the mess in Iraq and the Middle East.

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  28. serial catowner says:

    Clinton’s dual position is quite striking- she would keep enduring bases, but when it comes to nation-building, they’re on their own.
    Of course, for many decades the US has fought to prevent democracy in the ME, and it’s hard to believe those enduring bases wouldn’t be the source of continued problems for any real nationalist movement in Iraq.
    As far as I can see, the US has no experience or developed tools for encouraging democracy or republican government (small-r republicanism being the framework that restrains demagogic democracy) in other nations. My former auto mechanic at least had the sense to tell me he didn’t have the skills or tools to work on my new car, and I should take it to someone who did. It’s a darn shame that so few of our ‘leaders’ can summon the perspective or humility to admit to us when they’re out of their depth.
    Over a long period of time internationalism has acquired a bad name with the American public because it has largely been championed by militarists, corporations off-shoring jobs, oil companies, and their considerable satrapy of political insiders, providing “foreign aid” in the form of guns that may be used against us, but seldom in the form of ‘Made In America’ mosquito netting.
    My own feeling is that much of this is now moot. We had 60 years in which to establish a positive prescence in the world and largely failed to do so. Our continuing ability to kill everyone else is a problem the world has to deal with, but I suspect they are largely resigned to dealing with this problem without our help.
    I appreciate the sincere intentions of Scott Paul, but it’s hard to imagine that anybody inside the Beltway could really act in a wise or thoughtful way. They just haven’t had the practice.

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  29. Rick B says:

    Scott,
    You said “I’m worried some Democrats, frustrated with the Iraqis and sensing their constituents’ impatience, are simply ready to say, “not my problem anymore” and take up the isolationist cause.”
    I’m not ready to speak for all Democrats, but my frustration is not so much with the Iraqis as it is with G. W. Bush and Dick Cheney. I think that the Democrats in congress, in spite of severe and well-justified doubts about the ability of the administration to do anything successfully at all (except steal the country blind) have given the administration everything they needed to succeed in Iraq. In fact, they have done this time and again, to their own ~political~ disadvantage.
    The Iraqis have not been especially useful in the process, but nothing could possibly match the utter incompetence (and Bush’s intransigence in all things reasonable) at bringing any degree of success from the pile of manure Bush put us into.
    Bush very clearly does not want any help of any kind, and like a nasty teenager, when offered help he will automatically react by doing whatever he can to screw things up even worse than they are now. The suggestions of the Baker-Hamilton commission are a case in point.
    America needs to drag the Bush administration out of Iraq. When that starts, sensible people in the rest of the world (to include Iraq) will need to be convinced that at last the nightmare of Bush-intervention is being closed out, and then they will step up and start trying to repair the damage that Bush et. al. have so successfully created for so long. And even if they don’t, then it can’t get too much worse than it is now. The latter situation is unlikely, because of Iraq’s oil resources. Iraq cannot be ignored by the world.
    The single biggest problem in Iraq is obviously the Bush administration’s utter incompetence, lack of connection to reality, and anti-social behavior with anyone who does not slavishly lie down and let the Bushies walk all over them. America’s most constructive actions in Iraq is to get the incompetent Bush admininstration and the military they control out of there. Nothing else can even be started until this is done.

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  30. Scott Paul says:

    For the record, I haven’t tried to claim any such “center,” nor have I accused Democrats of being out of step or radical or out of the mainstream. In fact, I’ve made clear that most Dems not utilizing isolationist rhetoric. But I’m concerned about what the use of this rhetoric might mean.
    Some commenters, it seems, think I am missing the forest for the trees by criticizing potentially isolationist tendencies in Democrats while giving neoconservative Republicans a free pass. Readers who are expecting “balance” in every post should recalibrate their expectations.
    To reference the above post, “the overgrown kudzu-tangled jungle of neoconservatism” has already been well-pruned. I may occaionally vent about what a terrible mess neoconservatives have gotten us into, but for the most part, I don’t feel the need to repeat conventional wisdom. And I certainly don’t feel the need to issue disclaimers to clarify what is the bigger issue, the more guilty party, or the more important criticism. The immense ideological and institutional deficiencies that got us where we are today don’t make isolationism any less dangerous. Neither do they, as I suspect some believe, dwarf it so greatly as to make it unimportant.
    Want context? Want the “who’s most wrong?” or the “what’s the biggest problem?” You’re certainly welcome to ask, and I may have time to read and respond. But that’s not what I’m aiming to accomplish at TWN.
    Scott
    p.s: it’s the country, not Democrats, that would “require a 180 on policy and a rethinking of assumptions” in order to engage constructively in the Middle East.

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  31. rich says:

    Couple more thoughts.
    1. With ongoing political discourse (2001-2006) spanning the entire spectrum from A to B, where A = occupation-Bush & B = Democrats, we’ve seen movement in the political landscape (2007). Democrats have moved from B to M, recognizing that fostering self-rule abroad reaps real politikal benefits, as it is consistent with our own founding rationale. Scott then assigns Z = isolationism to Democrats, seizing B as his own, and misnaming it the ‘center.’
    2. Usurping or assigning oneself (both Scott & Steve) ‘the center,’ or ‘the radical center,’ really won’t wash. (See #1 above.) But particularly w/Chuck Hagel, it’s become a point of contention here. Steve’s taken some unfair bashing on Hagel, but the idea Hagel’s a ‘centrist’ doesn’t hold up well. Hagel’s gone along with the Bush program, voting hard-right.
    What’s missing is a fuller picture of how Steve views Hagel as mitigating radical neocons in the foreign policy arena or moderating/rescuing the GOP—a worthy goal. Critics raise valid/troubling questions-—but how we reconcile them, what they say about Hagel, or how Steve views that isn’t clear. But ‘centrist’ doesn’t seem the accurate label here.
    Moderate relative to what? is at issue over and over.
    ‘Centrism’ is a privileging label/rhetoric that seems to convey moderation, reasonableness, civility, and pragmatism—-but it’s a useful construct only insofar as it sticks to shared American principles, speaks to all parties/quarters, is forthright about politician’s real rhetoric and real actions, and delivers pragmatic solutions. Where/when it cannot adhere to those four, ‘the center’ cannot hold.
    At that point, ‘centrism’ loses all value as a authoritative conceit or rhetorical trump card.
    3. Pols can hold strong isolationist and militarist traits at the same time. Interesting–Bush holds twinned isolationist & adventurist policies, by Scott’s own definition. Bush’s “contempt for international commitments. . . [his] opposition to treaties and international institutions, [his] narrow view of national interests” all fit precisely. Add a dollop of corporatism, and define the neocon militarism as unilateral, non-constructive, & dis-engaged –and you’re describing a strong trait of George W. Bush. Which always prompts the question: If Bush can opt out of the ABM or Kyoto Treaty, why can’t Iran opt out of the non-proliferation accord?

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  32. rich says:

    Scott,
    I noted you hope to forge a middle ground. One in which America could ‘work with’ Iraq. But who gets to claim that center?
    We haven’t, I think, misread you. And that’s clear in our comments.
    You write: “I’m not creating a false choice between occupation and isolationism.”
    You are pushing the notion that such a false choice exists in the political landscape, and is being fostered by Democrats. And you’ve badly misread and mis-stated Democrats’ explicit language to do so. Same thing.
    That lack of accurate reference to the ongoing rhetoric on both sides is disturbing. By positing a straw-man isolationism, you can try to lay claim to the ‘center’ currently held by Levin, Clinton, & the Democratic base.
    What’s odd is that Democrats of all stripes (esp non-DLC types) have ALWAYS been asserting that “the U.S. is capable of playing a more constructive role in the Middle East through diplomacy, trade, and nonmilitary assistance.”
    So why would Democrats of all people “require a 180 on policy and a rethinking of assumptions”?
    I mean, this is a valid question here–and a critical one.
    Scott, you write:
    “Those of you who feel that the seeds of isolationism can be allowed to germinate …”
    Again, I must ask you: What isolationism?
    Your stance lacks any proportion to the situation. Don’t you think you should prune the overgrown kudzu-tangled jungle of neoconservatism Before you panic at the prospect mere seeds of isolationism might “be allowed to germinate”? This lacks balance. Were I to take it at face value, I’d say you hold an extremist position.
    I still get the sense you’ve not learned the “Best & the Brightest Lesson” of Vietnam, in which brilliant men fail, badly, by substituting technical /intellectual capacity for Constitutional principle & a sound respect for political common sense.
    In short, the problem of Iraq is at root a breach of trust & a betrayal of process here at home, far more than an issue of technique or competence abroad. Even the foreign policy club owes its first allegiance to basic Constitutional integrity here at home–first. Before presuming to roll out shiny, bright ‘fixes’ abroad.
    Look, I agree with points you make, and obviously folks go to work everyday on their portfolios. But you don’t get a foreign policy until lawful governance & the social fabric are repaired at home. I mean you don’t get a functional foreign policy in practice, certainly not the kind you describe, but you also can’t expect our cooperation in evading the issue at hand.
    If you share the political values that define us as a nation, you need to join us in restoring those, first. Any foreign policy born of that breach of process and un-moored from any hint of the self-rule we reserve for ourselves is stillborn. Any good yielded, is accident–or sheer luck.

    Reply

  33. Scott Paul says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, everyone.
    Before you write, do take a minute to reread my post. I think some of you are misreading it.
    I’m not creating a false choice between occupation and isolationism, I’m sounding alarm bells that that choice is being set up by the majority of Republicans and a minority of Democrats, most likely for political reasons. It may require a 180 on policy and a rethinking of assumptions, but the U.S. is capable of playing a more constructive role in the Middle East through diplomacy, trade, and nonmilitary assistance.
    Those of you who point out that I may be making something of nothing – I hope you’re right. Those of you who feel that the seeds of isolationism can be allowed to germinate if that’s what gets us out of Iraq, I’m afraid we are not going to agree. We can get out of Iraq, reaffirm our commitment to stay engaged in the world, and avoid degrading Iraqis all simultaneously.
    I am not sure how some have read my post as advocating neoconservatism. The point is that isolationism and neoconservatism are both wrong choices, and I’m sorry to see one being used as a rationale to abandon the other. There are other, better rationales that will sell in Peoria.
    The direct question, from Dan, which is important: what is isolationism? Simply, it’s an attitude of indifference to problems that originate outside our borders, often coupled with contempt for international commitmnents. It’s reflected in opposition to treaties and international institutions, a narrow view of national interests, and mistrust for foreigners. Its proponents are as indifferent to human rights in Saudi Arabia or China as they are threatened by, say, a bid by Dubai Ports World to operate U.S. ports. In my view – very problematic.
    Two more quick points. One: yes, a number of friends and colleagues have told me Wes Clark has been staking out some very important ground on these topics – and conspicuously avoiding a lot of the potholes I’ve been pointing out. I’m going to check out his stuff.
    Finally, to Zathras, who I agree with – minus the part about my having the same views as George Bush. Neither the Middle East in General nor Iraq in particular should be the sole focus of U.S. foreign policy as it is today. Zathras is right: our foreign policy today is in shambles because of our obsession with Iraq and the Middle East. That’s a theme I would like very much to explore in a future post. But my problem with the rhetoric in the Iraq debate has to do with much more than “political correctness.” The Iraq debate has become so huge that it is obscuring policymakers’ more general outlook on how the U.S. should behave in the world. That’s what I’m trying to figure out – because if the Iraq debate becomes the breeding ground for isolationism as I fear it might, our entire foreign policy – not just our Middle East policy – will suffer.
    Thanks again for your thoughts.

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  34. Pissed Off American says:

    As an aside, while you are watching Blair and Bush spew and sputter about the brits held captive by Iran, you might wanna bear in mind the following article. I notice Blair hasn’t thanked the Iranians for refrainng from parading these fifteen sailors in front of the world in black hoods and leg-irons, like we are fond of posing our prisoners. I suppose it is also somewhat fortunate that these sailors are not being stacked five high in some corridor, naked, while some Iranian counterpart to the leering half-wit Lyndie England cheers the sodomization of her wards.
    Frankly, it appears that being in Iranian custody is a cakewalk compared to being in one of Cheney’s gulags.
    US silent on detained Iranians
    By Khody Akhavi
    WASHINGTON – As the Western media focus on the fate of 15 Britons detained for allegedly trespassing into Iranian waters, the status of five Iranian officials captured in a US military raid on a liaison office in northern Iraq on January 11 remains a mystery.
    Even though high-level Iraqi officials have publicly called for their release, for all practical purposes, the Iranians have disappeared into the US-sanctioned “coalition detention” system that has been criticized as arbitrary and even illegal by many experts on
    international law.
    Hours before US President George W Bush declared that they would “seek out and destroy the [Iranian] networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq”, US forces raided what has been described as a diplomatic liaison office in the northern city of Irbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and detained six Iranians, infuriating Kurdish officials in the process.
    The troops took office files and computers, ostensibly to find evidence regarding the alleged role of Iranian agents in anti-coalition attacks and sectarian violence in Iraq. One diplomat was released, but the other five men remain in US custody and have not been formally charged with a crime.
    “They have disappeared. I don’t know if they’ve gone into the enemy combatant system,” said Gary Sick, an Iran expert at Columbia University who served in the White House under president Jimmy Carter. “Nobody on the outside knows.”
    continues at…..
    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/IC31Ak04.html

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  35. rich says:

    Scott:
    You are careless in associating the Dems with one extreme of a false choice. Is it really an either/or situation? Either occupation or isolationism?
    Opposing a mindless occupation does not equate to a cut-&-hide or isolationist policy.
    Dems are pretty explicit about not defaulting to isolationism–and it’s hard for anyone to misread that. Worse, yours is a variation of Bush/Repub memes erroneously stating Dems a) patronize Arabs’ will to democracy; and b) are prone to cut-&-run.
    A balanced American foreign policy based on the same self-rule for other sovereign nations that America claims as the basis of our own exceptionalism–is hardly isolationist. Just realpolitik, Ameriican-style.
    The chauvinistic rhetoric–that Iraqis are not ready for self-rule (in whatever form), or need us to fight off imagined external enemies when native Iraqis do not want us there, or ridiculously, depend on us to keep the peace–belongs to the Republicans.
    That chauvinism is the last-ditch rationale of Lieberman, McCain & others to keep us in Iraq. Will you be as tough on Republicans?
    daCascadian: >>–no kidding.

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  36. Den Valdron says:

    Interestingly, Osama Bin Laden says the same thing as our pal Scott here. Bin Laden’s position is that the United States must stay.
    Go figure.

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  37. km4 says:

    Hello Scott Paul,
    Liked your post title “Isolationism Watch: The Ghost of Lawrence of Arabia Is Haunting Republicans…and Maybe Democrats Too”
    Yes but not this Democrat who is more proactive than anyone ( GOP or Dem ) in the ME.
    http://securingamerica.com/node/2304
    http://www.stopiranwar.com/

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  38. Matthew says:

    Urbino: We may be the first generation of Americans who actually gets over ourselves. Iraq was never a moral or idealistic war. We had our unipolar moment and tried to recast the world in our image. We murdered a lot of people and replaced Saddam’s neo-Stalinism with Rwandan-style savagery. Gee, I’m so proud. Aren’t you?

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  39. Mikef says:

    The problem is that the debate is taking place while George Bush is president. We can talk all we want about the proper way to help the Iraqis extract themselves from the situation we’ve placed them in, but we can’t force George Bush to listen. He’s demonstrated his contempt for advice from Congress, from the voters, even from his own Iraq Study Group. There is no way to convince him to make better decisions, he only listens to true believers.
    The next president won’t be able to change course for another two years. That leaves us with two choices, continue to follow George Bush, who has made one catastrophic decision after another, or cut our losses by halting the funds.

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  40. urbino says:

    I don’t think there’s anything condescending in saying the solution to the Iraqis’ problems lies with the Iraqis themselves. Nor, frankly, is there in saying we can’t save them from themselves.
    It doesn’t have anything inherently to do with their ethnicity or their religion or their geography. It’s just history. Peoples and places go through violent upheavals periodically. It seems to be the nature of human society. (Call it the Clemenza Theory of History.) God knows we in the West have gone through scads of them, and no doubt will again.
    I can’t fault anybody for looking at the situation in Iraq and thinking this is one of those times for the peoples of that place.
    Does that mean we shouldn’t do what we can to help them? Certainly not. It just means we have to recognize our limitations. Unfortunately, as Carroll touched on, we haven’t exactly been terrific at ‘benign neglect’ of that region of the world, either. The challenge, as when dealing with anybody going through a crisis, is to help without meddling.

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  41. Marcia says:

    There was a scene in the film “Lauwence of Arabia”
    when turmoil breaks out during the meetings due to a problem with the water supply, if I remember correctly, without pulling a “Sampson,” when the character played by Alex Guiness, Prince Feisal replies that his tribe does not carry water.
    We are all about there now. There are things that each country does or does not do and choas reigns.
    A relative told me of an incident during the distribution of two antique mosaiques, one destined to the Louvre, the other to stay in Damacus and when advised to keep the most beautiful one the Syrian representive immediately supposed the occidental envoy was taking the best so reversed the choice.
    I doubt that there is more confidence today among any of the ME countries. We certainly have not earned it.

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  42. David N says:

    Thank you, daCascadian, for your kind words.
    Somebody read what I wrote!!!!!
    Two additional thoughts, in that case . . .
    1. The irony that the only way we can really get together is to recognize everyone’s rights as an individual. When we try to clump people into tribes, we all lose.
    2. Behind the devotion to the Treaty of Westphalia is this wish that so many have that, hey, presto, our problems have been solved!! All we have to do is follow the dictates of some guy who lived four or two or whatever hundred years ago, and we will solve all our problems without having to think for ourselves. Of course, that’s not just an illusion, but a source of problems.
    Thus, my thesis that Republicans are the Party of Death. Both in the sense that their only solution to national security problems is to kill people, and in the sense that their solution to everything else is to point at dead documents, and if the documents are, in fact, living and active, kill them, too.
    The problem in this forum, though, is that these words are superfluous. Even those I disagree with are at least TRYING (and sometimes succeeding, just like me) to think about these things.
    The medium — this tubular thing we call the Internets — that brings us together is also, in a way, what keeps us apart. People flock to sites where everyone else agrees with them. That is definitely NOT true here at the Note, which is what I find attractive about it. But if my only plea is for people to think, well, that’s why we’re all here in the first place.
    Guess I’ll have to come up with some answers, instead of just questions. Dang it.

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  43. jf says:

    I usually use the word “chauvanist” to refer to Republicans, but I can see how the use of that phrase could be seen that way. Anybody hoping to create a dialog with the people of Iraq ought to be respectful of their dignity. In defense of Clinton and Levin, it is a very efficient phrase to describe what is going on right now, rather than a stereotype, and you all agree that “left to their own devices,” Iraqis will not “tear each other apart.” Hopefully you are entirely correct that when we leave, the Iraqis will resolve to stop killing each other on their own, and make good use of the billions upon billions of dollars we could be investing in rebuilding their infrastructure. But yeah, I see your point that the phrase is overloaded.

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  44. CheckingIn says:

    Er… follow the money that’s what I’m looking at. I HIGHLY doubt that Hillary and the other DLCers she leads will take an ‘isolationist’ approach. Our military industrial complex and corporates and other interested parties, are extremely interested in investing and staying in the ME. Also, wasn’t Clinton helping out Dubai recently?

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  45. jf says:

    Shoot, Scott, I apologize for bumping into your comments to pass along a OT heads-up, but I think the exchange will be a part of history. That was the last time I ever do it, not including this time.

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  46. jf says:

    When I saw this fascinating email exchange going on over at Salon, I thought of you, Steve. Former WaPo editor John Harris is duking it out with Gleen Greenwald. It would be interesting to hear your take on it.

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  47. Hedley Lamarr says:

    Iraq is a faux state made up from tribes and sects of a religion we don’t understand; least of all the central importance of religion in any government in that unhappy place.
    The Bush war in Iraq was a mistake from day one. It is FUBAR now. We can hold hands from afar, but sending our youth and treasure to cobble it back together is wrong.

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  48. JohnH says:

    daCascadian is spot on: “it was and IS about the control of oil resources.” The former oilmen occupying the WH want economic freedom for Exxon, Chevron, BP, Shell, but probably not for Statoil, Total, CNOC, etc. You are right, Scott, that “people in the Middle East do want freedom – and economic opportunity, and peace, and rights, and dignity – and the United States should work with them as a partner to help them achieve these goals.” Only problem is that if we help them achieve their goals, the shortest path to maximizing their income is by restricting oil production and not investing aggressively in new production.
    Now that Bush has proved that Arabs will not roll over and let their resources be stolen without a major fight, Democrats and Republicans are dealing with the consequences: how do you get Arabs, Persians, Russians, and Venezuelas to give the industrialized West all the oil it needs to satisfy its addiction at the price it expects to pay? Diplomacy doesn’t work, and war doesn’t work. Offering to monetize the wealth won’t work, because the West cannot be trusted with the money (the US loves to freeze assets of other countries).
    Meanwhile the clock keeps ticking on getting cheap Persian and Iraqi oil out of the ground before rising demand really puts pressure on prices. Question is who will save us from ourselves, a silly people; greedy, barbarous, and cruel, a people pretending to fight for freedom, democracy and human rights.

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  49. Matthew says:

    Scott: you’ve got to admit that “it’s their problem” is an easier sell in Peoria than “My God, what have we done to Iraq?” Hilary’s comments reflect as poorly on us as on the Iraqis.
    P.S. Please notice that people only started getting their heads cut off and markets bombed after we “liberated” Iraq.

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  50. Zathras says:

    No one looking at American national interests from the ground up would define them primarily in terms of the Arab world’s future — let alone of the future of one, mid-sized Arab country.
    But the Bush administration does. So does Scott Paul. Their positions differing mostly in degree rather than kind, they both make themselves prisoners of inertia: Iraq is more important that all our other foreign policy obligations and responsibilities now because it was four years ago — or, if you like, because the first Bush administration decided restoring the regional status quo that existed prior to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and just sitting there maintaining it was what victory in the Gulf War meant.
    Fundamentally, the future of Iraq is only as important to America’s future as we choose to make it. There are some four times as many Chinese as there are Arabs, and nearly four times as many Indians. Japan and several European countries each have by themselves economies larger than all the Arab countries put together. The Arab countries are all thousands of miles away, while Latin America is right on our doorstep. And being careless about walking on rhetorical eggshells about Arabs in Iraq is isolationist?
    On the contrary, American interests around the world have suffered and will continue to suffer because the entire attention of the American government has been taken up with Iraq for the last five years. American interests around the world have suffered and will continue to suffer because hundreds of billions of borrowed money and nearly the whole combat power of the Army and Marine Corps have been thrown down the Iraq rathole. It’s an absurd situation, one that cannot continue….and yet one that neither the administration nor many of its critics can see ever changing.
    Most of Scott Paul’s post here is about mere political correctness: all the things we are not supposed to say about Arabs, or at least about Iraqi Arabs. Well, fine; be sensitive. The fact remains that American national interests require the liquidation of the commitment in Iraq. We don’t get to do that and care too much about the details of what happens in Iraq afterwards.

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  51. Dan Kervick says:

    Scott-
    What does “isolationism” mean to you? I hear this term used over and over by foreign policy commentators, but I am hard pressed to distill a clear meaning from it.

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  52. adam says:

    What’s most fascinating about this discussion is how little people know about what America really did to make these ‘tribes’ become tribes that fight each other. Arab nationalism in the inter-war and post-WWII was a secular modernizing force that had religion safely in check, and was working hard to modernize the economy and bring development and social change.
    We completely fought these governments everywhere in the Arab World, most particularly Nasser, and supported the rise of the fundamentalists and the ‘tribes’, and installed many of our dictatorial and criminal puppets. And today, when we look and see the dictatorial and criminal puppets (Abdullah, Abdullah, Mubarak) and the Islamist fanatics (Al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hizbullah) we just blame the Arabs for this. Completely ignoring that WE are the reason for the rise of those two.
    What we did to the Arab World could be best described to the British supporting religious funadmentalists in America to rise against the founding fathers, then massacring the founding fathers and the revolutionaries, installing a puppet dictator loyal to the British and then watch as him and his religious nuts go to war and destroy America.
    For various reasons, the British were much nicer to us than we and the British were to the Arabs.
    Let’s at least have the decency to admit that and stop balming the Arabs

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  53. daCascadian says:

    rich >”…In practice, Bush’s decisions had nothing to do with sound stewardship, institutional capacity-building, or respecting or working with the wishes of Iraqis. Nothing…”
    Correct as far as it goes but you failed to follow your logic to the logical conclusion based on the evidence we have.
    It was and IS about the control of oil resources. Everything else is window dressing. Admit it and then move to the logical policies to clean up the mess Bush Handlers, Inc. has created.
    I`m not holding my breath waiting for this to happen of course.
    “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on him not understanding it.” — Upton Sinclair

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  54. daCascadian says:

    David N >”…ignoring the search for alternatives to modeling internaional relations after a four hundred years old European document whose core principle was the Devine Right of Christian Kings, is a bad idea…”
    A big BULLSEYE !
    Not only is it a bad idea, it is a very destructive & maybe even catastrophic one. It was a great idea at the time and worked, after a fashion, until reality caught up with the fantasies underpinning it.
    What we have learned since the Treaty of Westphalia IS important & should be the foundation of the next order of power arrangement. All the crew of this planetary spaceship need to be part of the deal.
    “Fire is the test of gold; adversity, of strong men.” — Seneca

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  55. rich says:

    Scott,
    When Clinton says “This is an Iraqi problem; we cannot save the Iraqis from themselves”–or when Levin says “We can’t save them from themselves”–they are hardly being chauvinistic.
    They’re merely recognizing the caPACity of locals to ably solve their own problems–and the limitations of any external ‘power.’ Locals always have the best tools and know the political landscape. It’s Democracy 101.
    Don’t equate a balanced American foreign policy based on the same self-rule for other nations that we claim as the basis of our own exceptionalism–as somehow isolationist.
    There’s no basis for that. And less cause for saddling Democrats with such an inversion of language, when that rhetoric belongs to Republicans.
    Clinton & Levin are merely re-stating the founding basis for America, and applying it to Iraq. Would you have the British “help” Thomas Jefferson draft the Declaration of Independence? Or “work together” to redeploy a military presence during the Civil War? I didn’t think so. Because that original lesson was:
    –You can’t kill the devil with a gun or a sword.
    –You can’t bomb the village to save it.
    –You can’t suspend civil liberties to protect citizens or ‘presserve our freedoms.’
    –You can’t install sovereignty at the point of a gun.
    –You can’t dictate democracy & freedom, because the means (orders or military force) contradict & eviscerate the ends.
    Such Oxymorons are no basis for a realistic, interest-based politics of American policy abroad.
    MORE important, Scott, you write:
    “[The Arabs] want to gain their freedom. Freedom…I’m going to give it to them.” And that …pretty much sums up the attitude of the White House.”
    There’s no reason to suppose Bush’s high-flown references to “Freedom” in the Middle East ever indicated his policies had that objective. Or that Bush ever had any intention of bringing democracy or self-rule to Iraq. The evidence at hand says otherwise.
    Let’s leave aside the violations of Constitutional process here at home in the rush to war. Even though they may not be brushed aside, and are critical to the point here. In practice, Bush’s decisions had nothing to do with sound stewardship, institutional capacity-building, or respecting or working with the wishes of Iraqis. Nothing.
    The Republicans under Bush have saddled America-&-Iraq with an Untenable Oxymoron. The occupation is unwinnable b/c it violates every aspect of America’s foundational principles. In both inception and execution.
    Worse, it is the RePUBlican fearmongering about a post-withdrawal bloodbath that is patronizing, chauvinistic, & colonial in nature. It’s a misbegotten excuse to stay. Republicans claim Iraqis cannot govern peaceably w/o America. That’s extremist.
    At worst, Clinton & Levin are framing this in a way Republicans can understand. Should we be “baby-sitting,” as Dave Obey said? Hell no.
    BUT Dems are only pointedly driving home just how chauvinistic & bankrupt the Republican position is and has been. Dems are not positing some deficiency of Iraqis or Arabs–but reminding us of their intrinsic human capacity. A capacity which is at the center of the essential American idea.
    How you can invert that–and in the face of Bush/neocon extremism, fret that Dems ‘go too far’–well, it’s beyond me.

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  56. Carroll says:

    “My hope over these past few years has been that Democrats and eventually Republicans would embrace a more enlightened view:
    .. that people in the Middle East do want freedom – and economic opportunity, and peace, and rights, and dignity – “and the United States should work with them as a partner to help them achieve these goals”
    Huummm..here is the problem with that ideal,as we all very well know….we can’t “partner” to help the “people” in the ME because 99% of the time OUR MOTIVES AREN’T PURE,..and never will be unless we get rid of the agenda people sticking their fingers in and stirring the ME pie.
    Nope, give me some “Isolation”. A period of isolation would bring some amazing clarity to US interest and all our adventures abroad.

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  57. bAkho says:

    Uh, no. You misunderstand and misrepresent the point that Democrats are making. Bush has been trying to impose his own political desires on the Iraqis through the use of US troops and playing off the Iraqis against each other. First Bush sent the chauvanist white boy Bremmer to teach our little brown brothers in Iraq about government. When Iraqis demanded their own elections, Bush caved. However, the US set up a government that was divided along ethnic and sectarian lines, a recipe for disaster, not a recipe for governing with respect for minority rights.
    The Democrats are correct. The US military cannot stop Iraqi sectarian violence. The sectarian violence will only end when the disparate factions agree that each has more to gain from a political compromise than from violence. For most of the US occupation, the US military has stood in the way of a political settlement. We have not brought important regional neighbors into the discussion. We have tried to install a government friendly to US interests, not one that makes the tough political compromises necessary for Iraqi unity. We have created a government that has no police force or military that is capable of compelling obeyance to rule of law. The leaders of the sectarian militia have far more power than the US puppets.
    Just parking the US military in Baghdad is not enough. The Bush Administration is clueless. What they have done with our military has made the situation worse, not better.

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  58. eCAHNomics says:

    The road to constructive engagement goes thru isolation–only in the sense that U.S. must get troops out of Iraq BEFORE anything more sensible can be done with ME policy. Any excuse is good enough to bring troops home.

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  59. David N says:

    Scott:
    We have been playing these silly games that make for seriously bad foreign policy for decades, now. It is one mistake that did not originate with the Bush Putsch.
    Mistake #1: Stasis is stability.
    Even without the excuse of the Cold War, we have supported despots like Mubarak and the Saudi Royal Family as they have imprisoned and oppressed their own people. We use as the excuse that the alternative is the Muslim Brotherhood or an equivilent oppressive jihadist Islamic government such as in Iran, and ignored the cultural, political, religious, and ethnic differences. This was at least something that the Clinton administration grappled with — unsuccessfully — after the latest military takeover in Pakistan. More often, no one even wants to think about this, much less try to come up with a solution.
    Mistake #2: Israel:
    There has been a pattern going back to Eisenhower that in the second term of a presidency, when the Jewish Lobby no longer controls ME policy, the adminitration — of whatever party — starts “getting tough,” or at least mildly criticizing, Israeli policies and actions. That is a pattern that Bush, for whatever reasons, has broken. The fact remains that no one will talk about the tragic history of the decision to take lands from people who had nothing to do with the Holocaust to give to European immigrants, in order to get the Jews out of Western countries.
    Mistake #3:
    Henry Kissinger. Broken record again.
    No one can think about basic assumptions. The most basic are the very foundations of the idea of the nation state, which have no support in the Middle East or the rest of Asia. Yes, there are places where the concept has succeeded. There are other places where it has become the excuse for genocide, tyranny, and poverty. Do the people of Darfur care what their passports — if they had any — say?
    Kaplan is the only writer who has even brought up this question, and I certainly don’t have any answers, here. But I do know that ignoring the search for alternatives to modeling internaional relations after a four hundred years old European document whose core principle was the Devine Right of Christian Kings, is a bad idea.
    But people in this town are wedded to the conventional wisdom, and those who even ask questions about it lose their positions and end up sitting in their dens ranting to moribund web sites, ignored and frustrated.

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  60. ... says:

    it would be unusual for an american politician to say america has a problem… in this case it is ‘iraqis problem’.. thanks hilary. if there is a problem it is always someone else who is the reason for it… it always amazes me how uncontemplative american politicians are… the problem is always out their somewhere, but america is never the source of the problem according to american politicians… saying so is political suicide it seems.. until they do, america is on a suicide mission with itself.

    Reply

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