Answering a Misguided Polemic Against Restraint

Daniel Deudney and G. John Ikenberry have written a long article in Survival criticizing foreign policy restraint in general and the Quincy Institute in particular. (Full disclosure: I regularly write for the Quincy Institute’s Responsible Statecraft website and consider the scholars there to be colleagues and friends.) It is a frustrating article, to say the least, because it fails a basic test of scholarship: they mostly do not cite their sources and they do not engage with the arguments that restrainers actually make. It is notable that their criticism of “the Quincy coalition” does not cite a single thing that the Quincy Institute itself has published.

The authors make a number of effective polemical moves to portray the “Quincy coalition” as an incoherent mish-mash of different groups and traditions, and they make sure to tar restrainers with the brush of Trumpism whenever they can. Deudney and Ikenberry are interested in promoting what they dub a Rooseveltian foreign policy tradition, and so they emphasize their position as heirs of FDR and liberal internationalism. They are determined to ridicule the restraint alternative so that they can affirm liberal internationalism as the best and indeed only foreign policy path worth taking. The article is above all a polemic, and like most polemicists Deudney and Ikenberry do not intend to provide an accurate or fair summary of the views of their targets.

There is nothing inherently wrong with polemics. They can sometimes be clarifying and can force both sides to hone their arguments. When a polemic is just an exercise in denunciation without understanding, it wastes everyone’s time. Unfortunately, this article falls into this latter category. No one will learn anything true about foreign policy restraint from this article that could not be found somewhere else, and there are plenty of misleading and false claims that leave the reader with a worse understanding of the subject by the end.

The conflation with Trump is the article’s biggest error, and it could have been easily avoided if the authors had bothered to consult the writings of the people they are criticizing. They assert, “While the new restraint coalition did not commend Trump’s reckless conduct and administrative incompetence, it is hard to escape the conclusion that the basic thrust of his ‘America First’ foreign policy was a bold – if crude – implementation of the Quincy coalition’s core vision.” This is simply wrong. The thrust of Trump’s foreign policy was one defined by arrogant unilateralism, militarism, and setting international agreements on fire. On almost every issue, restrainers opposed Trump’s policies and were not shy about saying so. I have made a point of referring to him as the “anti-restraint president” because his approach to the world was so antithetical to what I understood foreign policy restraint to be. It is very easy to escape their conclusion.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

How Misinformation Poisons the Iran Debate

Shibley Telhami describes the findings of a new University of Maryland Critical Issues poll taken earlier this summer. There are a number of interesting results from the survey, but perhaps the most striking one was the discovery that more Americans incorrectly believe Iran possesses nuclear weapons than know that Israel has them:

Seventh, more Americans think Iran possesses nuclear weapons than think Israel does. While Israel has been known to possess nuclear weapons for decades (without officially acknowledging it) and Iran is not known to have ever possessed any, the American public perception presumes a different reality: 60.5%, including 70.6% of Republicans and 52.6% of Democrats, say Iran possesses nuclear weapons – compared to 51.7% who say Israel does, including 51.7% of Republicans and 51.9% of Democrats.

The results are maddening on one level, but they make a kind of sense when you consider how Iran’s nuclear program is covered and Israel’s nuclear weapons arsenal is almost never mentioned. It is commonplace in news stories, commentary, and television coverage for people to talk about Iran’s nuclear program as though Iran’s government is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. Many news stories still mislabel Iran’s program as a nuclear weapons program when it is well-established that Iran has not had anything like a nuclear weapons program in almost two decades. Iran and North Korea are frequently lumped together in presidential speeches and in news reports, and the two are often treated as if they pose comparable threats when they absolutely do not.

Iran hawks constantly, dishonestly talk about the nuclear deal as “paving the way” for a nuclear weapon, and our Iran policy debate has revolved around the possibility of an Iranian bomb for so long that it is not entirely surprising if many Americans wrongly conclude that Iran must have already acquired such weapons. It is not an accident that 70% of Republicans wrongly believe Iran has nuclear weapons when virtually every outlet in conservative media is banging the drums of threat inflation and fear-mongering every day. Meanwhile, Israel’s arsenal of dozens of nuclear weapons is never so much as acknowledged even in passing. Israel’s government does not talk about it, and neither does ours, but its existence is an open secret.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

Haitians Don’t Want What the Interventionists Are Selling

The Washington Post really, really wants outside intervention in Haiti:

There is no way for Haiti to pull itself out of the current morass without elections that would certify and legitimize a new government and legislature. That requires at least a short-term international intervention.

It is curious that American advocates for intervention are the ones most eager to hold new elections in Haiti, while many of the Haitian civil society activists are actually opposed to both elections and intervention. Former U.S. Ambassador Peter Mulrean picked up on the latter point and wrote earlier this month that new elections now are exactly what Haiti doesn’t need:

The degradation of Haiti’s democracy is now at a critical point, perhaps the point of no return. It is tempting to think that new elections will clarify the situation and restore stability, but experience teaches us just the opposite. What Haiti needs is to take stock of what is broken and fix it. That is what a broad coalition of opposition parties and civil society is calling for.

Marcela Garcia made the point that Haitians don’t want foreign intervention:

Clesca is spot on. There are resounding calls from Haiti’s civil society groups to reject any foreign intervention. It’s long overdue to start listening to what Haitians want. If the country is going to have a chance at building a true democracy, it must be through a Haitian-led path.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

‘Maximum Pressure’ Is Malicious and So Are Its Supporters

The Wall Street Journal editors want…wait for it…more pressure on Iran:

Abandoning negotiations would mean a return to Mr. Trump’s “maximum-pressure” sanctions campaign, which Biden officials criticized. But the single-term Trump Administration never had a chance to fully realize the strategy. As deadly protests rock Iran’s southwest, the Biden Administration should be increasing pressure on the regime—not giving it an escape route.

Sanctions advocates always have an excuse for why their pressure campaigns fail to achieve their stated goals. If the targeted state does not make concessions, it is because the sanctions are not strict enough or they have not been given time to work. This has become the fallback argument that Iran hawks use to defend the abject failure of “maximum pressure,” but their argument falls apart under the slightest scrutiny. Iran has been under increasingly severe sanctions, both multilateral and unilateral, for most of the last two decades, and each time Iran came under increased pressure from outside their response was to build up the nuclear program in response. More time and more pressure cannot yield the results Iran hawks claim to want because their goals are unachievable.

Continuing “maximum pressure” would take us down the same well-trodden path of escalation as Iran builds more centrifuges and enriches more uranium at higher levels and the U.S. applies more pointless sanctions. The impasse was broken in Obama’s second term when the U.S. and the other members of the P5+1 were willing to strike the compromise on domestic enrichment that they could have had years earlier. All that the sanctions achieved the first time was to get an agreement that required Iran to reverse the expansion of the nuclear program that had been triggered by the imposition of sanctions. The sanctions campaign was all a colossal waste of time and effort, and many innocent Iranians suffered needlessly in the meantime. The same thing is unfolding now, except that the sanctions are being imposed only by the U.S. and have no legitimacy in the eyes of much of the world.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

The Absurd Ben & Jerry’s Panic Is No Laughing Matter

The Israeli government’s panicked reaction to the announcement that Ben & Jerry’s would no longer sell its products in the occupied Palestinian territories has been amusing to watch, but it is part of a chilling campaign to stifle free speech here in the US and to delegitimize all protest of Israel’s illegal occupation. Senior government officials have labeled the decision to respect international law and not sell in the occupied territories as anti-Semitism and terrorism, and they have called on almost three dozen American state governors to enforce their blatantly unconstitutional anti-BDS laws against the company. On one level, this is absurd and the Israeli government is making a mockery of itself, but this is no laughing matter.

When you watch the Israeli government denounce an ice cream company for recognizing the distinction between Israel’s illegal settlements and Israel itself, it is important to remember that the same government wants to erase that distinction. The government would not be reacting so furiously if it were otherwise. When the Israeli government launches an all-out assault on a company for boycotting illegal settlements in illegally occupied territories as an attack on Israel, it is because they see those settlements as an integral part of Israel and they mean to keep expanding them. While they pursue their creeping annexation, they want to intimidate foreign companies from protesting against it. The government wants to make an example of Ben & Jerry’s because they fear that more companies will follow suit unless the costs of doing so are deemed to be prohibitive.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

Foreign Policy Is Not a Game

David Brooks tells a tale of sanitized U.S. foreign policy and likens our two major failed wars of the twenty-first century to a bad night of pitching:

For most of the past century, human dignity had a friend – the United States of America. We are a deeply flawed and error-prone nation, like any other, but America helped defeat fascism and communism and helped set the context for European peace, Asian prosperity and the spread of democracy.

Then came Iraq and Afghanistan, and America lost faith in itself and its global role – like a pitcher who has been shelled and no longer has confidence in his own stuff. On the left, many now reject the idea that America can be or is a global champion of democracy, and they find phrases like “the indispensable nation” or the “last best hope of the earth” ridiculous. On the right the wall-building caucus has given up on the idea that the rest of the world is even worth engaging.

It is very American to look at failed wars that killed hundreds of thousands of people, displaced millions, and destabilized entire regions and conclude that the real victim is America’s confidence in itself. If we have “lost faith” in our “global role,” it is because we have come to realize that many of the myths we have woven about ourselves are false and we are not the benevolent hegemon or indispensable nation that interventionists said we were. Believing in these myths led the US to commit not only major blunders, but serious and terrible crimes against whole nations. The phrases themselves are clichés, but it is the people that cling to them as guides to policymaking that deserve the ridicule.

The baseball metaphor trivializes decades of disaster, and it makes it seem as if wars that last a generation are no more than having an off night playing a game. Foreign policy isn’t a game. The “pitcher” flung countless bombs and missiles at these two countries, committed war crimes against the civilian population, and waged a damaging “war on terror” in many other parts of the world. The “field” where Brooks urges the US to remain is soaked in the blood of countless innocents, and pretty much everywhere that the US has forcibly intervened is demonstrably worse off than it was before our forces arrived.

Brooks asserts that this has “meant that global terrorism is no longer seen as a major concern in daily American life,” but that’s not true. Large majorities of American remain preoccupied with the exaggerated threat from terrorism because our leaders keep telling them almost twenty years after 9/11 that they should still be afraid. The US has “taken the fight” to lots of groups in at least half a dozen countries, and the result has been to make life for ordinary people in those countries much worse. The actual threat to the US from international terrorism is small, but our “war on terror” has been nothing but a boon to terrorist organizations, which have proliferated and carried out far more attacks than they had before the war began.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for Antiwar.com and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.