The furor following Rudolph Giuliani’s ugly slur against President Obama has distracted from what poses a far greater threat to the country than the vile rantings of a washed-up big city pol.
Republicans, joined by some Democrats, are fanning the flames of war, feeding fears, generating hysteria, and pummeling the president as weak because he exercises some limited restraint. Even those sensible enough to divorce themselves from Giuliani’s bile – a universe that revealingly did not include governors Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal – lacerated the president for his “weakness” abroad. With neoconservative commentators pouring gas on the flames, this is likely to become a theme and focus of the 2016 presidential campaign.
ISIS beheadings, Yemen and Libya disintegrating, conflict in Ukraine, a continued war in Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear program, terrorist attacks in Paris: It is easy to peddle fear when the world seems to be coming unhinged.
But the conservative and neoconservative hysteria assumes that more U.S. forces and arms are the solution when, in reality, American military intervention has been a large part of the problem. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Republican candidates want arms shipped to Ukraine and more sanctions slapped on Russia. They urge more “boots on the ground” to assault ISIS in Iraq. They want to “take out” Bashar al-Assad in Syria. They want sanctions that would sabotage negotiations with Iran. They insist that the world grows more dangerous because, under this president, the U.S. is withdrawing from the world and appears weak. Jeb Bush, unveiling his presidential candidacy, denounces the president for failing to be ”engaged:” "We have lost the trust and the confidence of our friends. We definitely no longer inspire fear in our enemies.”
Here’s the reality. The president continues the longest war in our history in Afghanistan, recently announcing that the departure of U.S. forces may be postponed. This started as an attack on Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida in response to 9/11. Now Bin Laden is dead and al-Qaida is dismembered, but we stay, committed to unending nation-building and counter-insurgency in an impoverished land on the other side of the globe.
The president has launched air strikes and dispatched thousands of “trainers” to Iraq against ISIS. But ISIS exists as a direct result of President George W. Bush’s invasion and disastrous occupation of Iraq that empowered the Shiites (and increasing Iran’s influence) and embittered the Sunnis, creating the reaction that fuels ISIS.
The president has authorized drone strikes from the skies in seven countries, in most of them for some years. In every country, the situation is worse, not better, with the drones most likely generating more terrorists than they kill, while alienating whole populations. The American-led “humanitarian intervention” in Libya is a catastrophe, with the people terrorized by competing militias.
The U.S. and European effort to move NATO to Russia’s border by incorporating Ukraine has produced a Russian reaction that was both predicted and predictable. Writing as early as 1997, George Kennan, the architect of containment, argued that expanding NATO after the Soviet collapse was “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-war era.”
Across the board, the Republican response to these calamities is to suggest that the problem was that the U.S. hasn’t intervened enough, bombed enough, flexed our missiles enough. Marco Rubio, who supported the intervention in Libya, now risibly says the problem was that getting rid of Moammar Gadhafi “took too long.” If the U.S. had “engaged fully,” it would have been over sooner. Why that would have solved the problem of a failed state amid warring militias is unclear.
Republicans clamor for escalating against Russia in Ukraine. Russia clearly considers Ukraine joining NATO an unacceptable provocation. Now Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chair Bob Corker asserts, “The United States and our allies must be more invested in Ukraine’s success than Russia is in its failure.” That would require risking war with Russia and bailing out a corrupt Ukrainian economy at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars.
Republicans want more troops in Iraq against ISIS, and criticize the president for not taking out Assad in Syria. They argue that our forces left Iraq too early – a decade wasn’t long enough – and want them kept in Afghanistan even longer. Needless to say, they want more money spent on the military; the nearly trillion dollars a year already devoted is not enough.
This is truly dangerous. Diplomacy is spurned. Military escalation made a first resort. An unending war against terrorism is dismissed as an expression of weakness and withdrawal. Instead the call is for even more military confrontations from Afghanistan to Ukraine to Iran to Yemen to the South China Sea.
Giuliani’s impugning of the president’s patriotism was cankerous, but his bellicose assault on Obama’s foreign policy is part of a growing war hysteria that is far more dangerous. It is far past time for more sensible voices to be heard. This is a time for the U.S. to address its real security needs, not to lurch mindlessly into more wars abroad. We need to focus on rebuilding our economy at home, not policing the world. We need to lead by example, not by force. We must learn that the U.S. military cannot and should not be the answer to every horror and every civil war in the world. Progressives who have been eerily absent from this debate must find their voice.
“Everyone wants to go to Baghdad,” went the neoconservative jibe at the beginning of Bush’s Iraq War, “real men want to go to Tehran.” The resulting debacle cost thousands of lives and an estimated $3 trillion dollars. But that apparently wasn’t enough. Now the stakes keep growing. As Scott McConnell reports, the gallows humor going around Europe is that Washington, having missed out on the beginnings of World Wars I and II, wants to be in right at the start of World War III. If today’s hawks have their way, that might not be so funny.