Presidential Hawks,
Left and Right

The best that can be said about the upcoming presidential election is that in January 2009 President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney will be out of office. It is tempting to believe that their successors couldn’t be worse.

Yet only the “second tier” 2008 aspirants offer a clear break with the Bush administration’s disastrous policy of promiscuous war-making. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) voted against the Iraq war and has forthrightly denounced the Bush administration’s failures. On the Democratic side, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) and former Sen. Mike Gravel (D-Alaska) have sharply criticized the interventionist philosophy behind the Iraq debacle; Gov. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) also has called for withdrawal from Iraq. Former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) now admits that his vote for war was a mistake.

In contrast, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) seems more hawkish than President Bush. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani acts as if his steadfast demeanor on 9/11 justifies making ignorant, belligerent policy pronouncements today. The true convictions of Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) are unknown: she has shamelessly shifted from defiant hawk to moderate dove.

Even more disappointing are former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) and Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), two of the leading “new faces” in the campaign. Both have contributed articles to Foreign Affairs, the nation’s premier foreign policy journal. In doing so, both have demonstrated why they should not be elected president.

Gov. Romney at least wins the contest for best title – “Rising to a New Generation of Global Challenges” – though his article is drenched with the trite pronouncements that characterize election-minded politicians. He contends: “We need new thinking on foreign policy and an overarching strategy that can unite the United States and its allies – not around a particular political camp of foreign policy school but around a shared understanding of how to meet a new generation of challenges.” What candidate doesn’t argue for preparing to meet new challenges?

Romney compares Islamic jihadism to Nazism and Communism:

"[T]he jihad is much broader than any one nation, or even several nations. It is broader than the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, or that between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Radical Islam has one goal: to replace all modern Islamic states with a worldwide caliphate while destroying the United States and converting all nonbelievers, forcibly if necessary, to Islam. The plan sounds irrational, and it is. But it is no more irrational than the policies pursued by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s and Stalin’s Soviet Union during the Cold War. And the threat is just as real."

This is a common but bizarre, even silly, claim. First, whatever the occasional blather from jihadists about reestablishing the caliphate and destroying America, most terrorist attacks directly or indirectly reflect perceived attacks on Muslims. For instance, the 1983 Lebanon Marine barracks bombing, the 1996 attack on the military housing complex in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, and al-Qaeda’s ongoing depredations in Iraq all responded to specific U.S. military interventions. Even former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz acknowledged that the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia helped spark Osama bin Laden’s vile campaign. None of this justifies terrorism, but officials who don’t understand why most terrorists kill are likely to adopt misguided policies, multiplying the number of terrorist attacks.

Moreover, the jihadists possess nothing like the destructive capability of the 20th century’s great mass murderers, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong. Hitler, Stalin, and Mao slaughtered millions. Hitler plunged the world into its worst war ever; Stalin could have launched a nuclear strike, triggering global annihilation; Mao could have unleashed conflict in East Asia and pushed the U.S. and Soviet Union toward a destructive confrontation.

Jihadists are evil, but they typically kill scores or hundreds, and occasionally thousands, not millions. Bin Laden might desire nuclear weapons, but he doesn’t possess them and there is no evidence that he is close to acquiring them. The threat of terrorism requires a response, but the Iraq invasion has made the problem worse, generating a dramatic and ongoing grievance that is creating more jihadists. No policy better suits bin Laden’s purposes than neoconservative talk of an Iraq occupation running years, decades, or forever.

Equally bizarre is Romney’s nonsensical claim that the U.S. has “let down our defenses.” Indeed, he charges, “in 1993, the Clinton administration began to dismantle the military.” Huh? America is the strongest nation on earth. It accounts for roughly half of global military outlays. Washington is allied with every major industrialized state. America’s enemies are a pitiful lot. Moreover, additional conventional forces are unnecessary for combating terrorism.

Nevertheless, Romney argues, “We need to increase our investment in national defense. This means adding at least 100,000 troops and making a long-overdue investment in equipment, armament, weapons systems, and strategic defense.” Rather than committing “to spending a minimum of four percent of GDP on national defense,” however, the U.S. should cut back, allowing its allies to defend themselves and their regions. South Korea should deal with North Korea; Japan can take over responsibility for East Asian sea lanes; the Europeans should worry about the Balkans, missile defense against Iran, and a more assertive Russia.

Romney’s confusion is evident when he couples a call for ever more military spending with a proposal for strengthening the economy – while wasting vast sums on “our generation’s equivalent of the Manhattan Project or the mission to the moon” to achieve energy independence. The U.S. has been spending huge amounts on dubious energy programs for decades, with little practical result. Romney wants to toss even more money down a budget black hole for a bigger military and new energy programs – while achieving “smaller government, lower taxes, better schools and health care, [and] greater investment in technology.” He doesn’t specify whether the Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny will make this all happen.

Romney closes with a call for “leadership.” But real leadership would entail a critical look at U.S. foreign policy that studied the causes of terrorism and avoided the usual blizzard of clichés about the need for Washington to run the world. So far among the Republicans only Rep. Paul understands that war is the biggest government program.

Unfortunately, Americans also can expect little relief if Obama is elected president. In his Foreign Affairs piece he disgorges a stream of blather rivaling Romney’s output: “Today, we are again called to provide visionary leadership.” Moreover, we cannot “cede our leadership in world affairs.” Of course, the U.S. must “provide global leadership.” Has the U.S. ever not been called upon to provide visionary leadership, leadership in world affairs, and global leadership?

Obama also sounds like Romney’s twin when he declares that “This century’s threats are at least as dangerous as and in some ways more complex than those we have confronted in the past.” Can a bright man like Obama really believe such nonsense? He points to terrorists, rogue states, weak states, and “a warming planet.”

This is, to borrow Jeremy Bentham’s memorable phrase, nonsense on stilts. Terrorists, rogue states, and weak states all create problems; they sometimes impose enormous hardship on their own and nearby peoples. But none of them possess the ability to destroy America or other industrialized states, as do evil “strong states” – such as the 20th century’s monstrous murderous tyrannies. If only Nazi Germany in 1939 and the Soviet Union in 1945 had been weak states.

Equally silly is Obama’s claim that “the security and well-being of each and every American depend on the security and well-being of those who live beyond our borders. The mission of the United States is to provide global leadership grounded in the understanding that the world shares a common security and a common humanity.”

The fact that we share a common humanity actually tells us nothing about whether we share a common security. There are manifold advantages to being the globe’s sole superpower. The U.S. possesses the world’s largest, most productive economy, one of the planet’s most stable political systems, the world’s dominant culture, and the globe’s most powerful military. Therefore, much of what goes on in the world really doesn’t matter to America.

Who rules what piece of real estate in the Balkans? What group is slaughtering another in a small, collapsed state in Africa? What new repressions are being imposed by one or another authoritarian state? From a security standpoint, they are irrelevant. All of these raise important humanitarian concerns, but these usually do not justify U.S. military action. Many issues can be left to other parties, such as our prosperous and populous allies, to resolve.

At least Obama wants to get out of Iraq. But he, like Romney, promises to “revitalize our military” by enlarging it: “We should expand our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines.”

What will this bigger military do? He says, “To defeat al-Qaeda, I will build a twenty-first-century military,” even though adding more troops and weapons will not aid the fight against terrorism. Obama also promises to “use our armed forces wisely,” but if he is serious in his Foreign Affairs article, he might be more irresponsibly interventionist than President Bush. Writes Obama: “We must also consider using military forces in circumstances beyond self-defense in order to provide for the common security that underpins global stability – to support friends, participate in stability and reconstruction operations, or confront mass atrocities.” Even more ominous, in discussing the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs Obama says, “In confronting these threats, I will not take the military option off the table.” Moreover, he proposes tossing tens of billions of dollars more into foreign aid programs that have failed for a half century.

Along with his demand for a bigger military, Obama calls for strengthening all of the outmoded alliances left over from the Cold War. Instead of suggesting that the Europeans, Japanese, and South Koreans do more to advance their own interests and safeguard their own neighborhoods, the U.S. must grow even more deeply involved everywhere. He writes, “I will rebuild our ties to our allies in Europe and Asia and strengthen our partnerships throughout the Americas and Africa.” Even Africa requires more U.S. military involvement, in his view.

In short, America must do it all – fight real wars, eliminate terrorists, disarm prospective nuclear powers, and act as the globe’s 911 number. The only surprise is that Obama apparently doesn’t believe there is a military solution to global warming. (Actually, if we invaded China, we could destroy their industry and reduce their CO2 emissions. But don’t suggest that to Obama – he might include it in his platform!)

If war with Iraq has turned into a disaster, what does he think war with Iran and/or North Korea would look like? Add intervention in Sudan and a couple more humanitarian disasters. Americans might find themselves pining for the return of President Bush. No wonder the usual interventionists, from neoconservative Robert Kagan to the liberal Washington Post, laud Obama: with the Bush administration going down like the Titanic, they see Obama as a lifeboat for those who believe that America must be prepared to wage war against anyone and everyone.

Obama concludes: “This is our moment to renew the trust and faith of our people – and all people – in an America that battles immediate evils, promotes an ultimate good, and leads the world once more.” Defeating German and Japanese aggression in World War II, containing the Soviet Union and Maoist China in the Cold War, and aiding the economic recovery of a score of war-ravaged nations hasn’t been enough. Obama believes that Americans must sacrifice more lives and wealth “leading” the world in more deluded foreign crusades.

The purpose of an opposition should be to oppose. Some of the lesser Democratic presidential contenders agree. But many of the candidates, most notably Obama, are offering an echo, not a choice – contra the famed advice of Sen. Barry Goldwater more than four decades ago.

Warmongering interventionists have had their day. We live in a dangerous world, it is said, but Washington’s promiscuous war-making makes the world even more dangerous. Americans desperately need a new president who believes in a strong America, but also in a peaceful America. The U.S. government’s primary responsibility is to ensure the liberty and security of its own people. In the 2008 election, Americans should demand that their next president exhibit real leadership by rejecting new proposals for global social engineering.