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Catastrophic Consensus: A Dissent from Spengler and Mead

May 21st, 2013 - 8:09 am

Spengler (aka David Goldman) is one of my close friends and a long-time guru.  William Russell Mead is just a guru, but I’m an avid fan.  So when I find myself disagreeing with both of them, I start by telling myself that I’m probably wrong.

They tell us that the Democrats and the neoconservatives have largely and wrongly agreed on the tumultuous events in the Middle East, starting with the invasion of Iraq, continuing through the fall of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and into the “Arab Spring” across North Africa and deep into the Persian Gulf.   Spengler quotes the enthusiasts, from the Obama administration to leading Republican pundits, hailing the onset of Arab Revolution.  Here’s Spengler:

The Obama Administration saw its actions as proof that soft power in pursuit of humanitarian goals offered a new paradigm for foreign-policy success. And the Republican establishment saw a vindication of the Bush freedom agenda.

And here’s Mead:

both are based on the flawed and distinctly American expectation of a happy ending. A little prudence would have done the neocons a world of good in Iraq, and a bit more of this underrated virtue would have helped both parties during the Libya fiasco and larger Arab Spring.

We can all agree that neither of them looks very smart today,  which is the way of the world.  Most of the time we blunder, in keeping with my conviction that the Almighty created man for entertainment value.  And boy, have we blundered.  We can agree with Mead and Spengler that hurling ourselves into the Syrian “civil war” might very well make things even worse.  But we shouldn’t agree that, once we decided to embrace the cause of revolution in the Middle East, this unhappy outcome was foreordained.

It wasn’t.  There were plenty of decision forks along the highway,  and for the most part we adopted the witty advice (was it Yogi Berra’s?),  ”when you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

I was not part of that consensus (when I see near-unanimity, I run).  I argued that we should stand by Mubarak, and if he fell, we should go all the way down with him.  I thought it was a mistake to make Iraq the centerpiece of our war on terror, since Iran was the driving force of international terrorism.  And I wrote monotonously that Iraq would never have decent security so long as the ayatollahs ruled in Tehran.  So I’m not apologizing for myself when I say that I think Mead and Spengler have misdiagnosed the problem.  They seem to think that it was wrong to support democratic revolution in the Middle East, because it was never likely to succeed.  I think the problem is that we sometimes gave emotional support to the revolutionaries, but did not fight–fight politically, for the most part, only very rarely militarily–alongside them.  That’s why there were so many banners saying “America, where are you?”

I also think that Spengler’s description of Obama’s policy, “soft power in pursuit of humanitarian goals,” is off the mark.  The doctrine of protecting civilians from their own tyrants was invoked in Libya, and was used to justify the use of military power, not soft power.  The other cases–from the very active and aggressive support of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, to the insistence that we can make a deal with the Iranian regime–are not examples of supporting humanitarian goals, but rather supporting radical Islamic movements and regimes.

Obama has talked a lot of talk, but took only a few very short walks, when he walked at all.  Worse still, at crucial forks in the road, he didn’t take it.  For the most part, he dithered.  When the Iranian people rose up against the mullahcracy in 2003 and again in 2009, we either opted out (2003, Colin Powell’s “we don’t want to be part of this family squabble”) or reassured the tyrants (Obama sent reassuring messages to Khamenei in 2009).

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Top Rated Comments   
How can America possibly choose the right fork in the road when:

(1) We can't agree who is the enemy and won't say as much.
(2) We can't agree in our approach - two diametrically opposed views.
(3) We can't break our dependency from those that clearly wish us destroyed.

I know a couple of things for sure. One, Israel is our ally, the only real represent of freedom in the Middle East. She deserves our support as much as any ally we have and maybe more. Saudi Arabia does not deserve our support and never has - we should sever that relationship ASAP.

Second, until America can become completely energy independent or at least only dependent upon North America sources of energy, we allow our enemies to remain an albatross around our necks.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One thing is untried.
A psychological assault on Islam, in native vernacular language. We non- muslims fight, mostly defeat and then tire of Islam. They come back for more.
Ask Islam in its own language why: It never helps its own poor, It never wins a battle, It does not generate progress, It pagan god never inspires, It fails to generate clear thought, Its ordinary inhabitants have unsatisfying sexual lives, Its self proclaimed religious leaders get all the perks, Why madrassas (sp?) make money for the imam and teach nothing of practical value, Why memorization is better than learning to read...
drip drip drip ping ping ping
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"I thought it was a mistake to make Iraq the centerpiece of our war on terror, since Iran was the driving force of international terrorism. "

You have failed to identify the enemy. Terrorism is merely one half of their strategy. The other half is to take advantage of brain dead political correctness to infiltrate our society knowing that we lack the courage and intelligence to examine the ideology of the enemy. And referring to those who are most faithful to the ideology of the enemy as radical or extreme is nuts.

We will continue to lose this was until we have the intelligence and courage to examine (and ridicule) the pathetically anti-intellectual, anti-humane, roots of the enemy's ideology and the ruin it has created throughout the world.

1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (60)
All Comments   (60)
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Amidst all the gloom and doom there is one success story. The nascent Kurdistan where America is liked and respected. The Kurds with a defacto state in Northern Iraq and the prospect of annexing Kurdish Syria are well on the way to realizing their dream, the nation state of Kurdistan. Defending this state will be the Peshmerga, the second best fighting force in the Middle East. When Iran melts down Kurdish Iran may also become independent from Persian Iran.

Interestingly, Turkey seems to be a supporter of the Kurds and there seems to be a new Turkish/Kurdish axis developing.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Just to add this is the kind of discussion we need going forward to try to formulate a better foreign policy. While I agree that both Democrats and Republicans make the mistake of trying to help Arab countries achieve democracy without understanding that we are projecting our own democratic values on people who do not share them (not just because we like happy endings!), I really value this post because it points to that broader spectrum of countries aligned against the US. They are more or less totalitarian. Is that the key? Perhaps, because it explains why totalitarian Islamists are often found on the same side as countries as varied as North Korea and Venezuela. I don't know the answer but if both parties persist in various forms of unrealistic liberal interventionism we are going to keep losing. Longer term I believe that just as the US led global economy has its roots in the British Empire the future MAY see America as a major player in the Anglosphere. But add India and possibly a UK that discovers its future is not in Europe after all, but in a reinvented Commonwealth. So one possible scenario is the totalitarian leaning countries versus a commonwealth of liberal democracies including such unlikely chaps as South Africa and Zimbabwe.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I would respectfully suggest that the policy and events from 1947 through the 70s set the stage for the eventual falures of the entire Middle East. Add to that the back door failures of perpetuating revolution and it dosen't seem difficult to envision/forecast the outcomes we've witnessed today. The Russian oddly liberated Iran from the Brits and then sought the U.S. to liberate them from the occupying Russians. The Middle East would most likely be a very different region today had not the U.S. mismanaged the Iranian relationship decades ago. Likewise, I make no bones about it, I think the U.S. again mismanaged the relationship with Iraq well before the most current Bushs' conflicts most are only aware of. I think the eventual consequences are rather predictable when it comes to promises kept and promises broken.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When we stand back and take a real hard look at Iraq, and the whole Middle East we can see some problems coming on the horizon.
Bush with his war on Irag, even if it was called for, it was not prosecuted correctly. The beginning was good, but then he turned it over to the bureaucrats instead of locking it down under military rule until it was peaceful. Once it was put in the hands of the Crats all was lost and it turned into a mess and until the military once again took over it was a real war zone.
At the end of GW's term things were pretty sane in Iraq.
Obama made it perfectly clear to Egypt and the MB who he was going to be and what he was going to do for them. In fact in his first speech to them he said 'watch and you will see what I will do for you'. This was a promise of who he was......
And we see that Tuniisia, Lybia, Egypt and now Syria are all going to be under the MB in short order. Can Jordan and Lebanon be far behind? Watch, this is Obama in action.
Benghazi? Do you doubt that Obama was not the hand behind the curtain acting on the puppets in the charade of destruction. Morsi was pushing for months for the release of the Blind Shiek. Why was the security of Benghazi sent away and why was Stevens in Benghazi under these conditions, for what purpose??? Why did the demonstrators blow a hole in the Compound Wall and not storm the building. This hole in the wall is the way the exSeals gained access to the Compound, and they found the Ambassador with one aid on the roof of the building with no protection, what was going on? Why were they outside on the roof with no weapons and no protection, were they out there to look at the stars? Or were they waiting for the Ambassador to be Kidnapped by AAS. Was all of this a Sham Kidnapping gone south??
Follow the crumbs and the decisions made by Obama and Hillary throughout the night and for the next few days as they lied day after day to cover up this whole mess.....
Obama has been the best friend of the Musllims in the Middle East and here at home that he could possibly be, why????
These kinds of things are what defines this President and these kinds of things are the things that will destroy our Nation....
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Its not very clarifying when somebody in one case calls himself Walter and in the other William. Its like the quantum computer. You have either a 0 or you have a 1 or you have both a 0 and a 1. Are we now going to see quantum policies from the cowboy neo cons ? In one occasion isolationism under the Tea Party of Rand Paul and in an other occasion geo politics disguised as Catholic driven political Christianity called American cowboy conservatism either neo or paleo ... ?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
We went into Iraq in 2003 for a very simple reason. There was already an existing state of war with Iraq dating from Bush the elder's UN approved action against Iraq and the ceasefire that Saddam had violated continuously. And we also went in because we were then surrounding Iran on three sides, not realizing that that meant Iran could now attack us by merely infiltrating its own neighbors through its remarkably porous borders. Once again, a unified command and the guts to attack an enemy beat a superior position, superior troops, and a scattered, squabbling command.

And then Obama's guideline for intervening seemed to be that he would support the overthrow of every middle eastern government that was friendly to the US, and support all the middle eastern governments that refused to take his calls. No wonder it became a disaster for the US, and also for the world.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Okay, Dr. Steph, Professor of International Mischief, is going to cut to the chase. Was married to an Israeli for many years who had also lived in other Middle Eastern countries, done high-level security work, etc., and so I learned a lot. When Bush first went into Iraq, I said to hubby, "You can't have a democracy in an Arab country, right?" He said, "That's right." End of subject, dolls, and too bad I was not consulted earlier as had someone paid my airfare to D.C. I would have been glad to sit in on cabinet meetings and save the US billions.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Of course, as you know, Iran is not an Arab country.

And, BTW, I don't see it. You cannot tell me that the Arabs are more different from us than the Japanese are. (I live in a country that is 20% Arab. although the ones I see are pretty secular.)
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Obama refuses to back any group that is not either overtly islamist or hiding their islamist agenda behind a thin veil of democracy rhetoric. he has contempt for democracy here and there.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Tyrants like Obama think "democracy" is a joke. Ordinary people are so stupid, don't you know? Especially when their thinking is addled from birth by a worldview that differs from their own.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The only model is the ones used in South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, leverage the tyrant to slowly introduce reforms. This should have happened with Mubarak and with Syria. Closed door, constant pressure, with incentives and penalties.

Mubarak would be alive, probably would have stepped down, an active parliamentary or republican government would be in place.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
What kind of gov't do you feel is in place now?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Muslim Brotherhood didn't topple Mubarak. Nothing like that scenario ever occurred.

And here's a preemptive strike: WE didn't put the MB into the Presidency either.

The U.S. couldn't have gotten its way (whatever way that was) even with a full scale military invasion.

As usual, multiply that by 100 for Iran.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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