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Middle East Aflame
The Price of America’s Abdication
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  • JR

    Yes, people killing each other is horrible. But is there anything that we can do about this? I have the same opinion about this as I do about climate change. It exists, but the best bet is containment and adaption, not elimination.

    • Curious Mayhem

      For a decade, I’ve advocated — for those who object to the cost and apparent open-endedness of America’s involvement in a Middle East ripping itself apart — an alternative policy of quarantining the region.

      I hasten to add, it’s not isolationism — that is, we’re not going to isolate ourselves. We’ll continue to have relations and a foreign policy with the rest of the civilized world. But the policy means we isolate it — the It being a Middle East tearing itself to shreds.

      It would require reducing or ending relations with many countries there, including restricting or ending direct travel, as well as many diplomatic niceties.

      • Gene

        And if we quarantine the Middle East and other powers do not? I may be sympathetic to your position but in order to make the sale you’ll have to address the consequences of what Russia and Iran, for instance, could get up to in a region where American power has absented itself.

        • Curious Mayhem

          Gene —

          I don’t disagree. I advocated it as a thought experiment and a rational alternative to think about. It has big potential drawbacks, as you point out — and as do all forms of “isolationism.”

  • Pete

    Garfinkle and the rest of the neocons are due to be disappointed. The irresistible mega-trend that is just now beginning is for America is disengage from the world at least with respect to the U.S. being the world policeman.

    • Kevin

      I think Garfinkle is a Realist than a Neocon, unless by Neocon you mean Jewish.

      • Pete

        No, I do not equate neo-con with being Jewish although, yes, many neo-cons are Jewish.

        Garfinkle is no realist. He strikes me as one who believes in the American empire as both being needed and good for the world. As such he supports interventions where no true and immediate American national interest is at stake.

        But here as elsewhere, Garfinkle and the neocons are spitting into the wind. The American public’s enthusiasm for foreign adventures is over.

        Look how Garfinkle thinks. He write of ‘the abdication of U.S. responsibility’ in the Middle East.

        Earth to Garfinkle. Come in please. The U.S. owes no responsibility to the Middle East.

      • Curious Mayhem

        If you’ve read anything by Garfinkle beyond a few sentences, you know he’s not a neocon. His book, Jewcentricity, makes that much clear. And he worked for Colin Powell, gentle readers — not a neocon either.

        I’m trying to find the “neocons” these days. They’re largely a boogeyman now, a once-real political tendency that has vanished, or become merged into other streams of American politics. It hasn’t been a distinctive tendency in US politics for a generation. It got hysterical, lurid, and misleading coverage because of the Iraq war. “Realist” is another term that gets overused and misused by people who either are trying to hide their real agenda or don’t know what they’re talking about. The last important realist thinker in American foreign policy was Henry Kissinger, and that was decades ago. The last politician in that mold was Bush Sr.

        As for “American leadership,” that’s a standard liberal-internationalist phrase which many self-styled conservatives and more than a few “realists” use. It is in no way “neoconservative.”

        • Kevin

          My take on Garfinkle’s thinking is that it’s largely old school realism – Hans Morgenthau for an example of this or perhaps Kennan. Neo-realism has become all theory (when it’s not just a stalking horse for a vaguely antisemetic tendency) – too concerned with “structure” and devoid of history, domestic politics, and a deep knowledge of the particulars of any given case. This does not fit Garfinkle who is all about the facts, history and domestic politics of the situations he writes about. The neo-cons (in foreign policy) were about harnessing American hard power to create a liberal internationalist system – that died in the deserts of Iraq and the liberal revival in the deserts of Libya. Like his former boss (Powell), Garfinkle never really seemed to have much time for this theory.

          • Curious Mayhem

            That seems a fair description. There’s another tendency I would like to call “conservative internationalism,” although I don’t think Garfinkle fits that as well. About the antisemitic tendency, well, yes, “realism” has become strangely attached to all sorts of weirdo nonsense, including anti-Israel and antisemitic ideologues, as well as bagmen for oil interests. We’ll see how fracking changes the latter.

            “Old-school realism” is the only thing that deserves the name of “realism,” and its last important practitioner was Kissinger. (Colin Powell was clearly influenced by it.) It stretches back to Thucydides and is based on the three things that he postulated about inter-state behavior: interests, honor (or what we call “values”), and internal character.

            The heyday of modern Western realism was the period 1648 to 1914, the classical European state system. The third point — internal character of states — was suppressed because of the need to end the religious wars of the 16th and 17th century. But it’s as essential as the other two. So-called “realists” these days avoid discussing it for ideological reasons, but it’s no more reasonable now. This is also a blind spot of liberal internationalism — this system works only for states of a certain character. It can’t be mindlessly extended to anything else.

            The neocons (or the brief “neocon revival” that happened in the first W. administration — neoconservatism was really finished after the Cold War ended) didn’t shy away from assessing the internal character of states, but their approach was attached to a desire to change the internal character that made and makes everyone else nervous, for understandable reasons. Kissinger has spoken and written on this unbalanced crusading tendency in American history that began with the Union’s victory over the South and ran through World War One, with exceptionally bad results in the latter case. The generation that won World War Two was more realistic; they wanted to alter the international system for the better and understood very well the internal changes in states that would be needed. But they were much more realistic about power and balance of power than Wilson et al.

            What threw everyone off was World War One, the discrediting of realism, and the rise of the Age of Ideology. In the developed world, that age ended in the 1980s. We’re now in the Age of Globalization, and maybe globalization has been extended too far, too fast, especially in areas that aren’t ready for it. The neocons are still stuck mentally in the Age of Ideology.

            The internal character of states is an essential part of realism. That doesn’t mean it needs to be changed by external force; but it cannot be avoided in an accurate assessment.

    • Fred

      The irresistible mega-trend that is just now beginning is for America is disengage from the world at least with respect to the U.S. being the world policeman.

      Yes, and that is extremely unfortunate. Three dates: December 7, 1941; November 4 1979; and September 11, 2001. All three dates were preceded by an extended period of American withdrawal from “being the world’s policeman.” There is no reason to think the current period of American isolationism and withdrawal will end any better.

      • Jacksonian_Libertarian

        I’m all for engagement, let’s sell weapons to the losing side, and keep this fight as hot and bitter as possible. In this way we will keep the innocents in the west from being murdered as the Jihadists resources will be consumed in killing each other, leaving none for attacks on the west. Yes, there will still be self funded attacks from Jihadists living in the west, but the threat will be massively reduced, and local law enforcement can keep a close eye on the Muslims and prevent many attacks.

  • wigwag

    It is extremely horrible, but why is it extremely costly to the United States?

  • Anthony
    • Curious Mayhem

      There’s nothing tragic about the American military — Fallows is a silly man. The problem is the politicians who deploy it. On a technical basis, the US military is very good, one of the best in history. Used properly, as in the Persian Guif war or in Yugoslavia or in Afghanistan (at least until The One became president), it’s been pretty successful.

      I have no idea what Fallows is talking about. He’s another shrill Boomer leftover trying to relive Vietnam and the 1970s.

      • Tom

        And projecting his guilt over draft-dodging to everyone else.

        • Kevin

          Fallows is a man who has been deeply and consistently wrong on military matters for almost two generations. Read what he wrote on air power, technology and procurement in the last decades of the Cold War. He had a great case to make that sounded utterly plausible if you knew nothing, but was proven by history to be fundamentally and utterly wrong. Until he understand and explains why he got it so wrong and how he will avoid similar errors in the future, one us better off assuming that what he writes represents merely the world-view of elite scribblers detached from any contact with reality and not any particular insight on the real world as it actually works.

          • Anthony

            The real world and how it works begins certainly by not suppressing (ignoring general sense of message because I dislike messenger) “message” because of messenger. Such a potentially obtuse dismissal implies resistance to whatever may be objectively the case if it does not harmonize with…. In short whatever James Fallows is or isn’t, his essay requires reader to made significant distinctions, to analyze ideas proffered, to compare, reflect, and seek out difficulties in Fallows’ propositions despite feelings toward the man proper.

          • Curious Mayhem

            I don’t like Fallows, but I wouldn’t make such a sweeping condemnation, as he did good work in the 1970s on the American military of the Vietnam and immediate post-Vietnam era. Like a lot of liberal journalists after 1980, he lost his bearings and his mind when Reagan was elected, and from that point on, Fallows became increasingly shrill and disconnected from reality. He failed to predict or even absorb the end of the Cold War and the US success in the Persian Gulf war.

            Like almost all American journalists, he also didn’t understand Yugoslavia or Afghanistan.– he generally doesn’t understand the Middle East. But of course, so don’t a lot of others.

        • Curious Mayhem

          Excellent point that I hadn’t thought of — thanks for adding that.

          • Anthony

            Do we know for certain that James Fallows dodged draft (I assume we’re talking Vietnam)? And if so, does that make his essay less content filled – special pleading (double standard perhaps).

          • Curious Mayhem

            Fair enough — see my initial comment: Fallows confuses military failure with civilian leadership failure. The problem is clearly the latter. I think he picks on the military because he always has — and the motives take us back to the 1970s ….

      • Anthony

        I don’t know if James Fallows is a silly man. However, I read his piece not as an indictment but an American point of view deserving of consideration sans ideological predilections. Whether Vietnam sentiments affect his writing in this instance, I can’t write to. Nevertheless, I would recommend article to all invested American (and otherwise) without reservations. I have no political axes to grind in this regard.

  • Arkeygeezer

    What “responsibility” have we abdicated? This is a religious civil war that would be escalating whether or not the U.S. is present. The benefit to us is the fact that Muslims are killing and mutilating Muslims; not U.S. troops.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Better them killing each other than Americans killing them. This is a best case scenario, we have been incapable of draining the swamp of Islamic Culture which is spawning all these Jihadists. So the next best thing is for the Sunni Jihadists to focus all their resources on killing the Shiite Jihadists and vice-a-versa. If we are clever enough (selling weapons to the side losing atm), we can keep the fight hot and bitter for decades, consuming all their resources and leaving the Jihadists with no resources left to murder innocents in the west.

  • Frank Natoli

    Once upon a time, Arab oil states controlled the world oil price, thanks to (1) their enormous reserves, and (2) our environmental maniacs successfully strangling our own exploration, extraction and refining. It was important to not let maniacal locals gain control of the oil states. And curiously some fraction of the fantastic sums we paid to the oil states were diverted to maniacs who then hijacked airplanes and flew them into our office towers.

    That has all changed. Hydraulic fracturing on private land, beyond the control of our environmental maniacs, has terminated the ability of Arab oil states to control world oil price. Far less sums are being transferred to them. Maybe it no longer matters what they do to each other.

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