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Author Topic: US Foreign Policy  (Read 155909 times)
Power User
Posts: 41390

« Reply #800 on: October 07, 2017, 12:56:01 PM »

The author here is no fool, but IMHO she fails to note:

a) Trump ran on no more endless wars-- public support for going heavy back into the ME on the ground is near zero-- no to mention that American military bandwidth is mightily stretched already with various other BFD problems requiring attention (Norks, South China Sea, and more)

b) IMHO as he wisely did with DACA, there is wisdom is putting this on Congress.  Congress needs to man the fk up and do its job instead of what we now have-- pissing and moaning after the fact no matter what is done.  The country needs to make a unified decision on this.
Power User
Posts: 41390

« Reply #801 on: October 09, 2017, 06:25:01 PM »

Dec. 9, 2015 As the strength of many Arab states deteriorates, it may not be possible to think of the Arab world as a whole anymore.

Turkey and Iraq are engaged in a diplomatic spat. The dispute is over Turkey placing troops and armor inside of Iraq’s borders ostensibly to train Kurdish peshmerga fighters, as well as Arab Sunnis and Turkmen, to fight Islamic State without Iraq’s permission. The number of troops at this point – Reuters reported it to be about a battalion, so between 400 and 1,000 troops – is not enough to change realities on the ground by itself. It may be that Turkey is in the very initial stages of either participating in or helping to plan an offensive on the Islamic State-held city of Mosul. Even if it is, such a development is a long way off. The deeper issue is that Turkey, a non-Arab country, felt it could station troops in an Arab country without having to be concerned with that country’s reaction – in this case Iraq.

We speak often of Turkey’s strengths and advantages compared to other would-be regional powers: it has a strong military, a strong economy, it controls some of the most strategic real estate in the world as the gate keeper to the Bosporus. The flip side of this is the weakness of the region’s Arab states. Indeed, it may not be possible to think of the Arab world as a whole anymore. Like the terms “Syria” and “Iraq,” the term “Arab world” has become a hollow phrase.

Since the peoples of the Middle East encountered Western imperialism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the word “Arab” has referred to the notion that the Arabic-speaking people of the region constitute a nation to themselves. The various borders drawn by Great Britain and France were for imperial purposes; the states that began to emerge were all part of the Arab nation. The word “Arab” however has meant many things over the course of history. As Bernard Lewis notes in “The Arabs in History,” its first meaning was to describe the nomadic Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Peninsula. After Mohammed’s conquest and the birth of the caliphate in the 8th century, the term was used often to distinguish between the Arabian conquerors and the masses of the conquered. Over time the term lost its explicitly ethnic content, becoming a social term which described a class of people who tried to preserve the old nomadic ways, though the importance of Arabic language remained constant. It gradually became imbued with its now-familiar nationalist ideas towards the end of the 19th century.

At Geopolitical Futures, one of the core principles that informs our work is the importance of the love of one’s own. The international system is based on the existence of nation-states, and the foundation of the nation-state is the natural love of what one considers to be one’s own people. Nationalism uses the love of one’s own as the bedrock out of which to establish the nation-state – which is precisely what Arab nationalism tried to do in the second half of the 20th century after casting off the imperial yoke.

There is a rough equivalent to the love of one’s own in Arabic thought, a concept used prominently by the famous historian Ibn Khaldun, who wrote and lived in North Africa in the 14th century. Ibn Khaldun wrote of a concept called “asabiyya,” which roughly translates to “social solidarity.” Ibn Khaldun thought that the nomadic Bedouin – the original “Arab” – destroyed civilization but founded states. This was because the Bedouin had a natural asabiyya, one that Albert Hourani described as a “mutual affection and willingness to fight and die for each other.” With asabiyya came the strength and courage to defeat civilizations, and which allowed for the formation of states after conquest. Once the state was established, a new asabiyya had to develop, one that put the state before all else. But Ibn Khaldun recognized that in this region, the relationship of soldiers and citizens to a state could never be as strong as the primal asabiyya that exists between those related by blood and not by political convention.

With the exception of Saudi Arabia and a few other monarchies, like Jordan and Morocco, the political structure of the Arab-national world came to be dominated by two main ideologies imported from Europe: socialism and nationalism. From Algeria to Iraq, socialism and Arab nationalism were the asabiyya that held these brand-new states together. These ideologies however have failed to fulfill their promises. Socialism did not bring prosperity to the masses. The existence of independent nation-states did not usher in an age of freedom – in fact, it propped up authoritarian dictators.

IS is one response to the failure of these ideologies. IS lives in the world of the failure of socialism and Arab nationalism, and all of its targets in the Middle East – Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Lebanon – are states to varying degrees where the cohesion of the state has broken down as a result. It is easy to dismiss IS as a bunch of violent radicals, but the fact of the matter is the IS’ ideology appeals to Arabic-speaking Muslims in the Middle East as well as many non-Arab Muslims around the world. Islam is the only thing that has ever succeeded at uniting the various tribes and clans and ethnic groups scattered across the region into a whole. In a similar way to the European fascists, who used nationalism to establish legitimacy and communal bonds, the IS harkens back to an imagined-golden age where the only thing that was important was whether one was a true believer or not.

But another manifestation of the breakdown of Arab political power is in the fact that on Dec. 4, Turkey reportedly deployed 220 Turkish troops backed by approximately 8 tanks and other support elements to the towns of Zlekah and Bashink outside of the IS-held city of Mosul. Also, on the same day, the Turkish military released details of a training program for Kurdish peshmerga fighters that it has been engaged in for over two and a half years. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi characterized the news as a violation of Iraqi national sovereignty, and he wasn’t wrong. And yet all the broken state of Iraq can do is to threaten to take it up with the UN Security Council, or to make calls to NATO officials and Kurdish political leaders, as Abadi has done in response. Abadi does not have the national strength necessary to do anything besides take offense. Turkey can bomb northern Iraq to hit PKK positions when it likes, and it can station troops outside Mosul if it chooses. Whether Ankara’s motives are to train the peshmerga against IS, to send a signal to the Russians, to halt the successes of the Syrian Kurds matters little. Turkey, if it wishes, can do as it pleases in Iraq right now.

This is not just an Iraqi issue. Or a Syrian issue. The most capable “Arab” state left is Saudi Arabia – and the Saudis do not speak to any broad coalition of people within the region itself. The influence they have is a result of money and previous American support. Egypt has its own economic and security issues; the beating heart of pan-Arabism flat-lined decades ago and nothing has arisen in its place. Libya no longer exists. Yemen is a permanent war zone. There is no Arab unity. There is tribalism and factionalism and sectarianism. There is primal asabiyya – small groups battling to survive for the sake of surviving and protecting their own.

The age of the Arab caliphates ended when the Mongols besieged a Baghdad already weakened by centuries of Turkic and Persian attacks in the 13th century – from that point on, until after World War I, the Arabic-speaking peoples of the Middle East were ruled by foreign powers, and for the bulk of that time by the Turkic Ottoman Empire. The period from roughly 1918 to 2011 was a rare moment in history where Arab states controlled their own destinies far more than they had in previous centuries. That time however has come to an end. The Arab world in so far as it exists is completely fractured, so much so that the very notion of speaking about the “Arab world” in a way that transcends clan, tribe, or sect is quickly losing any real meaning.

And this is the usual state of affairs in this part of the world. The region has always been a magnet for competition between great powers – the Ottomans and the Safavids, the Americans and the Soviets. Today, military elements of the U.S., Russia, France, and the UK are all active in the region. Persian Shiite Iran wields a tremendous amount of influence in Baghdad via the Shiite militias it funds, and throughout the region with its various proxies. Turkey is being drawn into the vortex that Islamic State has created within the old Syria and Iraq borders. The Kurds are caught between it all, with the Turks using some clans and tribes for their own purposes, and fighting others as necessary. People look at the Middle East as if it is in chaos but really the region is reverting to a familiar state of affairs. The exception has been the last 100 years or so. The present is familiar to the student of history.

The Turks have little interest in making what’s left of Iraq angry. Ankara will do what it can to assuage Abadi’s hurt feelings. Even so, there is something remarkable happening here to take note of. It has become increasingly hard to speak of the Arab world as anything beyond a vague description of the Arabic-speaking people of the Middle East. There is the Islamic State and there is narrow asabiyya. For the time being, the region’s fate rests ultimately in the inevitable clash between the former and foreign powers.
Power User
Posts: 41390

« Reply #802 on: October 10, 2017, 08:10:08 AM »

North Korea: Where China Can Beat the US
Oct 10, 2017

By Jacob L. Shapiro
Of all the parties involved in the Korean missile crisis, the most difficult to read is China. The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s almost daily platitudes about the need for a peaceful resolution do little to reveal what China’s real interests and objectives are – and what they are is multiple and conflicting. At one level, China is concerned with the balance of power on the Korean Peninsula. China doesn’t want Pyongyang to have nuclear weapons, and it doesn’t want the peninsula to unify. But at the same time, what happens on the Korean Peninsula also affects China’s relationship with the U.S., and despite the deep economic ties between the two countries, from Beijing’s perspective that is a relationship defined ultimately by fear and mistrust.
(click to enlarge)
Roots of Mistrust

To understand where this mistrust comes from, we need to revisit some history. When North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, it did so without Chinese participation. What assistance China did offer before the invasion was rebuffed by Kim Il Sung’s young regime, confident as it was that it would not only succeed in its attack but that the invasion would provoke a popular uprising in South Korea as well. North Korea’s invasion caught the U.S. flat-footed. In its panicked analysis of what had happened, the U.S. feared that the invasion might be part of a much larger attack by the communist bloc against U.S. interests. That is why two days later, then-U.S. President Harry Truman ordered the 7th Fleet into the Taiwan Strait.

At the time of Truman’s order, the People’s Republic of China was less than a year old. It was led by Mao Zedong, who was deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions toward his regime. Mao’s concerns were not unfounded. Mao remembered what happened after World War I, when, upon arrival at Versailles, Chinese delegates discovered that the U.S. had recognized a Japanese claim over Chinese territory that European powers had once held. Mao also lived through the United States’ breaking off support for the Chinese Communists – after the U.S. had supported them in their fight against Japan in World War II – because of the Cold War. The U.S. instead poured its resources into rebuilding Japan, which had invaded and brutally occupied China during the war. In addition, the U.S. threw its support behind Chiang Kai-shek’s Chinese Nationalists in the hopes that they would defeat the upstart Communist forces. (The term “Chinese nationalists” has always been something of a misnomer – the Communists were just as nationalistic as Chiang’s forces, but that is what history has come to call them.)

Moving the 7th Fleet into the Taiwan Strait was the last straw for Mao. To him, the U.S. was the only thing standing between his Communist Party of China and the creation of a unified Chinese nation-state beholden to no one but the Chinese people themselves. But China could do nothing to avenge the slight directly. It didn’t have the military force necessary to conquer Taiwan with the 7th Fleet standing guard. The only place China could hope to respond was in North Korea, where the rugged geography negated some of the advantages of the United States’ technological and military superiority. China entered the Korean War in October 1950, and because of China’s intervention, the Korean War ended in a stalemate that remains unresolved to this day.

Cycles of History

Fast forward to today, and it is plain to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Korea is still divided, and despite momentous growth in the economy and the military capabilities of the People’s Republic of China, Taiwan remains outside of its control. But it’s not just the strategic reality that is the same. It’s also true that for China, the North Korea and the Taiwan issue are inextricably linked.

On Dec. 2, soon after the U.S. presidential election, President-elect Donald Trump did something that no U.S. president had done for more than 37 years: He had direct contact with the president of Taiwan. It may seem a small thing, but for Beijing, this was not a trivial moment. It took Trump another two months to accept the “One China” policy – two months where Chinese strategic planners were left to wonder what the United States’ true intentions were with regard to Taiwan, and China’s territorial integrity in general.

 Chinese vendors sell North Korean and Chinese flags on the boardwalk next to the Yalu River in the border city of Dandong, northern China, across from the city of Sinuiju, North Korea, on May 24, 2017. KEVIN FRAYER/Getty Images

From the perspective of the Communist Party of China’s political legitimacy, Taiwan is the only part of China it has been unable to capture and integrate into its revolution. From the perspective of China’s defense strategy, Taiwan is an island 100 miles (160 kilometers) away from the mainland that a powerful navy could use as a base from which to blockade China or even to attack the mainland. If Taiwan were to gain U.S. recognition and perhaps even host U.S. forces, what is already a Chinese handicap would become an existential threat. It would also make a mockery of China’s faux-aggressiveness in the South China Sea, and would make previous American freedom of navigation operations look friendly in comparison.

China also faced another potential threat from the Trump administration: the potential that the U.S. might block Chinese exports from the U.S. market. A trade conflict between the two sides would hurt both parties, but China was always going to be hurt more, and President Xi Jinping could not afford an economic crisis in the lead-up to this month’s Party Congress, where he will solidify his dictatorship over the country.

What China needed, then, was a bargaining chip, a way of turning its position of weakness into one of strength. Enter North Korea. China had to proceed carefully. On the
one hand, China had to appear to have enough control over Pyongyang to divert the Trump administration from following through on some of its threats to redefine the U.S.-China economic relationship. On the other hand, China could not overstate its influence in North Korea such that the U.S. could hold China directly accountable for failure to help denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. The July 2017 revelation by China’s Ministry of Defense that contact between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army and North Korea’s military forces has completely ceased in recent years was meant to underline the limits of what Trump’s bargain with Xi at Mar-a-Lago in April had bought.
In reality, Xi has as little control over Kim Jong Un’s actions as Mao had over Kim Il Sung’s. But Xi does not need total control over Kim’s regime to use Kim to China’s advantage; all he needs is for China and North Korea to share an interest in limiting U.S. power in Asia, and there is little to suggest that interest is going away anytime soon. North Korea is pursuing a nuclear weapons programs to establish a nuclear deterrent against the United States. China doesn’t have to make such moves. It already has nuclear weapons and is far more powerful than Pyongyang. That allows China to be more pragmatic – that is, cooperative – in its dealings with the United States. But China’s pragmatism and willingness to work with the U.S. should not obscure the fact that, like North Korea, China is deeply suspicious of U.S. motives.

This, in turn, is one of the major limiting factors on the U.S. ability to attack North Korea. China has a mutual defense treaty with North Korea. And China, though it would prefer the status quo on the Korean Peninsula, does not necessarily lose if the U.S. were to try to solve the North Korea issue by force. This is because the attempt, absent some unknown technological devilry, wouldn’t work. The U.S. has tried and failed twice to win a war on the Asian mainland, and the situation in Korea hasn’t improved enough to think that the third time would be any different. China can’t beat the U.S. at sea, and it can’t take back Taiwan, but it can beat the U.S. in North Korea. That allows China to remind the U.S. that, though Beijing may not yet be able to achieve One China, its memory is long, its patience is vast, and classes in Confucian humility are readily available to those who seek them out.
Power User
Posts: 41390

« Reply #803 on: October 10, 2017, 09:37:09 PM »


    Regions & Countries



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Deep ideological differences and mutual mistrust have marred the relationship between the United States and Iran since the Islamic Republic replaced the nation's monarchy nearly four decades ago. But time has done little to heal the wounds that each country has inflicted on the other. Their enduring enmity will be on full display this week as U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to "decertify" the deal Iran has struck with global powers on its nuclear program by arguing that the agreement isn't in the best interest of U.S. national security. Though Washington will likely keep sanctions relief for Tehran in place for now, Trump's speech will trigger a 60-day review period during which Congress will have the power to reimpose them.

Despite this apparent setback for the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the prospect that the longtime adversaries will eventually set aside their grievances hasn't entirely dimmed. Because while political narratives come and go, the geopolitical forces that led to the nuclear deal's inception are here to stay, pushing the United States and Iran closer and closer to rapprochement.
The President's Gamble

The current U.S. administration has placed far more emphasis on curbing Iran's activities throughout the Middle East than its predecessor did. Within the past year, the White House has tried to unite Arab states, led by Saudi Arabia, into a coalition against Iran while stepping up its military aid and weapons sales to Sunni powers across the region. In all likelihood, Trump will steadfastly maintain this tough stance when he unveils his administration's policy on Iran later this week, announcing additional targeted sanctions against it. As long as the nuclear deal remains intact, though, the use of Washington's strongest tool against Tehran — wide-reaching sanctions — will be off the table.

By reopening the debate about the JCPOA with the threat of withdrawal, Trump hopes to either rein in Iran's regional meddling or persuade Tehran to broaden the deal to include restrictions on its ballistic missile program and on its support for militant groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas. The president's strategy, however, is not without risk. Any cracks that open within the JCPOA's framework could spread quickly, perhaps even leading to the deal's collapse. Trump's approach also relies on the assumption that Iran — a country with a precarious political balance to maintain within its borders — won't respond aggressively to provocation.

Still, the president's gamble may not be as risky as it seems. We need only look at the forces that shaped the JCPOA's signing in the first place to see why. Over the past decade, the United States has searched for a way to reduce its presence in the Middle East and shift its attention to other parts of the world, including a resurgent Russia and a rising China. The solution it has settled on is to balance Middle Eastern powers — including Iran — against one another, forming a built-in check to prevent any one country from becoming too influential. But Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapons program was something that neither the United States nor its European allies could allow. The JCPOA thus offered a means of halting the program's progress without risking the outbreak of war.

The United States' pressing need to look beyond the Middle East persists to this day. In fact, if anything, it has become even more imperative: China's economy and military prowess are growing, the standoff between Russia and the West endures, and the nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula has deepened. Reviving the nuclear ambitions of — and the threat of conflict with — Iran by abandoning the JCPOA would doubtless detract from the United States' ability to address these urgent needs in Eurasia and the Asia-Pacific. It would also harden North Korea's belief (not to mention Iran's) that negotiation with the United States on nuclear issues is futile.

To make matters more complicated, Washington is alone in its newest strategy to contain Iran's influence. Unlike the United States, Europe considers Iran's regional ambitions to be separate from its nuclear activities, and the JCPOA to be pertinent only to the latter. The White House has blurred that distinction in a way the deal wasn't designed to handle. This discrepancy is the reason that the rationale behind Washington's decertification of the accord is key: The United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agree that there is no evidence to suggest that Iran is not complying with the deal. And as long as Iran upholds its end of the bargain, the European Union will likely push back against any U.S. attempt to reinstate broad sanctions, which would damage several European companies. (The Continental bloc has already vowed to challenge the United States in the World Trade Organization if it tries to do so.)

All of these factors will make it difficult for Congress to put sanctions back in place against Iran. But perhaps that's exactly what the Trump administration is counting on. After all, the president derided the nuclear deal during his campaign for office. By punting the issue to Congress, where lawmakers will have a hard time resuming sanctions, Trump can wash his hands of the decision and gain the political cover needed to keep the agreement in place while adopting a tougher stance toward Iran.
Weighing the Cost of a Nuclear Weapon

Of course, the United States is only half of the JCPOA equation. And though Iran is often portrayed throughout the West as an erratic and unreliable partner, the country — like all nation-states in the global system — is a rational actor whose moves reflect its constraints and imperatives.

Chief among them, for the Islamic republic, is the simple need to survive. Throughout history, Iran has faced the threat of invasion from the west, first from powerful forces in Mesopotamia and then from the state of Iraq, particularly under the rule of Saddam Hussein. Seizing the chance that revolution afforded, Saddam invaded the Islamic republic not long after its establishment in 1979, prompting former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini to restart the deposed shah's nuclear weapons program in search of a credible deterrent against Iraq. Vital oil reserves along Iran's border with Iraq has only heightened its vulnerability in modern times.

With Saddam's removal from power, Iraq presented more opportunity than risk to Iran, and Tehran began to exert influence over its neighbor's Shiite leaders. But Iraq's fate also served as a stark warning: The weapons of mass destruction that were once an asset for Saddam became the liability that led to his downfall. The message was not lost on Iran, which halted most of its nuclear weapons development in 2003, even as it used the facade of the program's progress to drive a grand bargain with the United States.

This strategy, though quite rational, backfired by encouraging the creation of a powerful sanctions regime that crippled the Iranian economy. Prior to 1979, Iran's economy was roughly the size of Saudi Arabia's; today it is only three-fifths as large. As a result, the Islamic republic has struggled to make good on many of the promises that brought it to power. And in a country with a lengthy history of revolution and political upheaval, the popular backlash that sustained hardship tends to generate doesn't bode well for the government’s self-preservation.

Iran's leaders, who lack the immunity to widespread discontent that North Korea's dictatorship enjoys, believe that the greatest threat to the nation's stability today comes from within. Countering it requires a stronger economy and the careful management of social and political discord — both goals that have reinforced the growing sentiment among Iranians that the pursuit of a nuclear weapons program isn't worth the steep cost of sanctions. Consequently, Iran is keen to avoid making any rash decisions about its nuclear weapons development. Rather than uniting the United States and its allies by restarting its shuttered program, Tehran will likely keep using the issue to drive the wedge between them even deeper.
A Piece of a Bigger Puzzle

Iran will enter into any new negotiations over its nuclear program with an eye toward the rest of the international community as well. Iran has little incentive to remain a pariah state, given the extent to which that status has already devastated its economy, and a movement toward diplomatic moderation has blossomed among the country's leaders since the late 1980s. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is now the standard-bearer for that movement, though the volatile nature of the nation's politics has hampered his attempts to act on that ideology so far.

Nevertheless, he and his contemporaries have the heft of geopolitics on their side. Though Iran's rhetoric has traditionally targeted the United States, it is Turkey and Russia that may be more likely to threaten Tehran's security interests, especially as Washington withdraws from the region. Iran is deeply concerned about Turkey's resurgence in the lands it previously controlled during the Ottoman Empire, including Iraq and the Levant. And Russia — a country with which Iran has fought numerous wars — has similarly increased its involvement in Tehran's backyard over the past decade. Detente with an external powerhouse like the United States would certainly improve Iran's position against both threats.

Saudi Arabia is another regional rival that Iran is sure to watch, particularly given the Sunni kingdom's close relationship with the United States. Despite that partnership, however, Washington's strategy of balancing power in the Middle East requires just that: balance. Saudi Arabia's influence could therefore wane in the coming decades, especially since its prominence is based in oil reserves and the wealth that comes with them. As the Saudi oil industry becomes less lucrative over time, it will call into question the kingdom's economic vitality — and by extension, its utility as the United States' most powerful Middle Eastern ally.

Of course, Iran's economy relies on oil, too. But it is far more diversified, which suggests that it will fare better in a world where oil no longer reigns supreme. Moreover, Iran has the advantage of strategic location. As China works to build land routes through Asia to Europe, it will have to choose whether to pass through Iran or Russia — a decision that Beijing's natural rivalry with Moscow will make easy. With a quick glance at the map, it is clear how Iran's position on China's newest Silk Road would give Washington plenty of opportunities to counter both China and Russia if Tehran were its partner.
A Partnership Checked by Politics

The slow-moving undercurrents of geopolitics can take years to shape domestic policy. In the meantime, Iran and the United States will continue to display their mutual animosity at home. Iran's powerful hard-line groups, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, have staunchly opposed negotiation with the United States. Trump's recent actions have only reinforced their belief that Washington cannot be trusted, and if Rouhani's administration offers to discuss scaling back its conventional weapons program, as some have suggested it might, their objections will only grow louder. Until Iran takes true strides toward a more moderate foreign policy, its conservative groups will continue to disrupt any agreement with the United States that stretches beyond its nuclear program.

Back in the United States, Iran's support for Middle Eastern militant groups and threats to the Persian Gulf have slowed Washington's attempts to pull back from the region. The reputation Iran has gained among the American public hasn't made things any easier: Many of Iran's current leaders were visible figures during the Islamic Revolution, the subsequent hostage incident at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the talks regarding Iran's nuclear program, all events that painted a picture of an untrustworthy nation. That paint will only start to chip away when the next generation of political leaders rises to power in both countries.

For now, Iran and the United States have reached a crossroads in their relationship. Many of their long-term imperatives have begun to align. But it remains to be seen how quickly they will override the more immediate national and regional problems that each state now faces. And should the nuclear deal collapse, it could push back the lasting relationship that Iran and the United States have begun to build by another decade.
Power User
Posts: 41390

« Reply #804 on: October 15, 2017, 02:12:13 PM »

Link copied…

    Opinion Commentary

Is ‘Classical Liberalism’ Conservative?
Trump didn’t divide the right. Centuries-old philosophical divisions have re-emerged.
By Yoram Hazony
Updated Oct. 13, 2017 6:38 p.m. ET

American conservatism is having something of an identity crisis. Most conservatives supported Donald Trump last November. But many prominent conservative intellectuals—journalists, academics and think-tank personalities—have entrenched themselves in bitter opposition. Some have left the Republican Party, while others are waging guerrilla warfare against a Republican administration. Longtime friendships have been ended and resignations tendered. Talk of establishing a new political party alternates with declarations that Mr. Trump will be denied the GOP nomination in 2020.

Those in the “Never Trump” camp say the cause of the split is the president—that he’s mentally unstable, morally unspeakable, a leftist populist, a rightist authoritarian, a danger to the republic. One prominent Republican told me he is praying for Mr. Trump to have a brain aneurysm so the nightmare can end.

But the conservative unity that Never Trumpers seek won’t be coming back, even if the president leaves office prematurely. An apparently unbridgeable ideological chasm is opening between two camps that were once closely allied. Mr. Trump’s rise is the effect, not the cause, of this rift.

There are two principal causes: first, the increasingly rigid ideology conservative intellectuals have promoted since the end of the Cold War; second, a series of events—from the failed attempt to bring democracy to Iraq to the implosion of Wall Street—that have made the prevailing conservative ideology seem naive and reckless to the broader conservative public.

A good place to start thinking about this is a 1989 essay in the National Interest by Charles Krauthammer. The Cold War was coming to an end, and Mr. Krauthammer proposed it should be supplanted by what he called “Universal Dominion” (the title of the essay): America was going to create a Western “super-sovereign” that would establish peace and prosperity throughout the world. The cost would be “the conscious depreciation not only of American sovereignty, but of the notion of sovereignty in general.”

William Kristol and Robert Kagan presented a similar view in their 1996 essay “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy” in Foreign Affairs, which proposed an American “benevolent global hegemony” that would have “preponderant influence and authority over all others in its domain.”

Then, as now, conservative commentators insisted that the world should want such an arrangement because the U.S. knows best: The American way of politics, based on individual liberties and free markets, is the right way for human beings to live everywhere. Japan and Germany, after all, were once-hostile authoritarian nations that had flourished after being conquered and acquiescing in American political principles. With the collapse of communism, dozens of countries—from Eastern Europe to East Asia to Latin America—seemed to need, and in differing degrees to be open to, American tutelage of this kind. As the bearer of universal political truth, the U.S. was said to have an obligation to ensure that every nation was coaxed, maybe even coerced, into adopting its principles.

Any foreign policy aimed at establishing American universal dominion faces considerable practical challenges, not least because many nations don’t want to live under U.S. authority. But the conservative intellectuals who have set out to promote this Hegelian world revolution must also contend with a problem of different kind: Their aim cannot be squared with the political tradition for which they are ostensibly the spokesmen.

For centuries, Anglo-American conservatism has favored individual liberty and economic freedom. But as the Oxford historian of conservatism Anthony Quinton emphasized, this tradition is empiricist and regards successful political arrangements as developing through an unceasing process of trial and error. As such, it is deeply skeptical of claims about universal political truths. The most important conservative figures—including John Fortescue, John Selden, Montesquieu, Edmund Burke and Alexander Hamilton —believed that different political arrangements would be fitting for different nations, each in keeping with the specific conditions it faces and traditions it inherits. What works in one country can’t easily be transplanted.

On that view, the U.S. Constitution worked so well because it preserved principles the American colonists had brought with them from England. The framework—the balance between the executive and legislative branches, the bicameral legislature, the jury trial and due process, the bill of rights—was already familiar from the English constitution. Attempts to transplant Anglo-American political institutions in places such as Mexico, Nigeria, Russia and Iraq have collapsed time and again, because the political traditions needed to maintain them did not exist. Even in France, Germany and Italy, representative government failed repeatedly into the mid-20th century (recall the collapse of France’s Fourth Republic in 1958), and has now been shunted aside by a European Union whose notorious “democracy deficit” reflects a continuing inability to adopt Anglo-American constitutional norms.

The “universal dominion” agenda is flatly contradicted by centuries of Anglo-American conservative political thought. This may be one reason that some post-Cold War conservative intellectuals have shifted to calling themselves “classical liberals.” Last year Paul Ryan insisted: “I really call myself a classical liberal more than a conservative.” Mr. Kristol tweeted in August: “Conservatives could ‘rebrand’ as liberals. Seriously. We’re for liberal democracy, liberal world order, liberal economy, liberal education.”

What is “classical liberalism,” and how does it differ from conservatism? As Quinton pointed out, the liberal tradition descends from Hobbes and Locke, who were not empiricists but rationalists: Their aim was to deduce universally valid political principles from self-evident axioms, as in mathematics.

In his “Second Treatise on Government” (1689), Locke asserts that universal reason teaches the same political truths to all human beings; that all individuals are by nature “perfectly free” and “perfectly equal”; and that obligation to political institutions arises only from the consent of the individual. From these assumptions, Locke deduces a political doctrine that he supposes must hold good in all times and places.

The term “classical liberal” came into use in 20th-century America to distinguish the supporters of old-school laissez-faire from the welfare-state liberalism of figures such as Franklin D. Roosevelt. Modern classical liberals, inheriting the rationalism of Hobbes and Locke, believe they can speak authoritatively to the political needs of every human society, everywhere. In his seminal work, “Liberalism” (1927), the great classical-liberal economist Ludwig von Mises thus advocates a “world super-state really deserving of the name,” which will arise if we “succeed in creating throughout the world . . . nothing less than unqualified, unconditional acceptance of liberalism. Liberal thinking must permeate all nations, liberal principles must pervade all political institutions.”

Friedrich Hayek, the leading classical-liberal theorist of the 20th century, likewise argued, in a 1939 essay, for replacing independent nations with a world-wide federation: “The abrogation of national sovereignties and the creation of an effective international order of law is a necessary complement and the logical consummation of the liberal program.”

Classical liberalism thus offers ground for imposing a single doctrine on all nations for their own good. It provides an ideological basis for an American universal dominion.

By contrast, Anglo-American conservatism historically has had little interest in putatively self-evident political axioms. Conservatives want to learn from experience what actually holds societies together, benefits them and destroys them. That empiricism has persuaded most Anglo-American conservative thinkers of the importance of traditional Protestant institutions such as the independent national state, biblical religion and the family.

As an English Protestant, Locke could have endorsed these institutions as well. But his rationalist theory provides little basis for understanding their role in political life. Even today liberals are plagued by this failing: The rigidly Lockean assumptions of classical-liberal writers such as Hayek, Milton Friedman, Robert Nozick and Ayn Rand place the nation, the family and religion outside the scope of what is essential to know about politics and government. Students who grow up reading these brilliant writers develop an excellent grasp of how an economy works. But they are often marvelously ignorant about much else, having no clue why a flourishing state requires a cohesive nation, or how such bonds are established through family and religious ties.

The differences between the classical-liberal and conservative traditions have immense consequences for policy. Establishing democracy in Egypt or Iraq looks doable to classical liberals because they assume that human reason is everywhere the same, and that a commitment to individual liberties and free markets will arise rapidly once the benefits have been demonstrated and the impediments removed. Conservatives, on the other hand, see foreign civilizations as powerfully motivated—for bad reasons as well as good ones—to fight the dissolution of their way of life and the imposition of American values.

Integrating millions of immigrants from the Middle East also looks easy to classical liberals, because they believe virtually everyone will quickly see the advantages of American (or European) ways and accept them upon arrival. Conservatives recognize that large-scale assimilation can happen only when both sides are highly motivated to see it through. When that motivation is weak or absent, conservatives see an unassimilated migration, resulting in chronic mutual hatred and violence, as a perfectly plausible outcome.

Since classical liberals assume reason is everywhere the same, they see no great danger in “depreciating” national independence and outsourcing power to foreign bodies. American and British conservatives see such schemes as destroying the unique political foundation upon which their traditional freedoms are built.

Liberalism and conservatism had been opposed political positions since the day liberal theorizing first appeared in England in the 17th century. During the 20th-century battles against totalitarianism, necessity brought their adherents into close alliance. Classical liberals and conservatives fought together, along with communists, against Nazism. After 1945 they remained allies against communism. Over many decades of joint struggle, their differences were relegated to a back burner, creating a “fusionist” movement (as William F. Buckley’s National Review called it) in which one and all saw themselves as “conservatives.”

But since the fall of the Berlin Wall, circumstances have changed. Margaret Thatcher’s ouster from power in 1990 marked the end of serious resistance in Britain to the coming European “super-sovereign.” Within a few years the classical liberals’ agenda of universal dominion was the only game in town—ascendant not only among American Republicans and British Tories but even among center-left politicians such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

Only it didn’t work. China, Russia and large portions of the Muslim world resisted a “new world order” whose express purpose was to bring liberalism to their countries. The attempt to impose a classical-liberal regime in Iraq by force, followed by strong-arm tactics aimed at bringing democracy to Egypt and Libya, led to the meltdown of political order in these states as well as in Syria and Yemen. Meanwhile, the world banking crisis made a mockery of classical liberals’ claim to know how to govern a world-wide market and bring prosperity to all. The shockingly rapid disintegration of the American family once again raised the question of whether classical liberalism has the resources to answer any political question outside the economic sphere.

Brexit and Mr. Trump’s rise are the direct result of a quarter-century of classical-liberal hegemony over the parties of the right. Neither Mr. Trump nor the Brexiteers were necessarily seeking a conservative revival. But in placing a renewed nationalism at the center of their politics, they shattered classical liberalism’s grip, paving the way for a return to empiricist conservatism. Once you start trying to understand politics by learning from experience rather than by deducing your views from 17th-century rationalist dogma, you never know what you may end up discovering.

Mr. Hazony is president of the Jerusalem-based Herzl Institute. His book “The Virtue of Nationalism” will be published next year by Basic.

Appeared in the October 14, 2017, print edition.
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