Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Wanted: A Twenty First Century George Kennan

In July 1947, George F. Kennan published an article in the quarterly edition of Foreign Affairs entitled “Sources of Soviet Conduct." Kennan originally drafted the article as a paper for Defense Secretary James Forrestal. When he submitted it to Foreign Affairs, Kennan used the moniker “Mr. X.” The piece was known as “containment” and is credited with guiding American foreign policy under presidents of both parties during the cold war.

America was an exhausted nation in 1947 and Kennan’s ideas helped President Harry Truman mobilize a war weary population for long-term struggle against Soviet expansionism. Ostensibly, Kennan wanted to firm America’s resolve against the Soviets but the greatest legacy of “containment” is that almost sixty years later the world is still spinning.

Today, civilized nations of order desperately need a credible strategy that firmly stands up to the challenge posed by radical Islam without igniting another world war. As Bob Herbert sagely wrote in the New York Times yesterday,

“There is no grand solution to the centuries-old problems of the Middle East. As with the cold war between the United States and the Soviet Union, you try to keep things as cool as possible, step by sometimes agonizing step. It may not be pretty, and it will surely be frustrating. But if the conflict, however aggravating, can be kept cold as opposed to hot, you’re ahead of the game.”
The lynchpin to any containment policy against radical Islam is a rapprochement between Israel and the international community. Hezbollah’s aggression inside Lebanon and Israel’s heavy-handed response illustrates that a long-term rapprochement must be initiated forthwith. Unless the schism between Israel and the civilized world that includes the Western Alliance and hopefully emerging moderate voices in the mid-east is healed, there will be more conflicts like Lebanon that can spin out of control.

Tactically, Israel was responding to incursions inside their borders and the kidnapping of their soldiers. When viewed in that context Israel’s response is morally reprehensible and strategically stupid.

“War is politics by other means” as the brilliant Prussian General Claus Von Klauswitz once postulated. Hezbollah appears to be achieving their political aims even as Israel overwhelms them militarily. Hezbollah is a political idea that simply can't be wiped out or “degraded” militarily.

Their enemies understand that Israel is a first class military power, which can’t be defeated in conventional warfare. So instead Hezbollah has successfully provoked Israel into a conflict that undermines their moral standing in the world. Innocents are dying on both sides with nothing good being accomplished. The cause of peace has not been advanced. Only more innocent blood has been spilled.

But Israel is not an evil country in spite of vile Anti-Semitic diatribes on the blogosphere or the international community. Israel is also not stupid. I am opposed to how Israel handled this crisis and disgusted by the loss of innocent life in Lebanon. But I can also understand why Israel was compelled to respond as they did.

This was not about their two kidnapped soldiers. Israel’s response was due to radical Islam on their doorstep. Both Hezbollah and Hamas are proxies for a lunatic regime in Iran on record for supporting Israel’s destruction. Iran is a formidable adversary that has gained substantially from the Iraq War. Israel’s number one ally, the United States is overextended and their influence in the region severely diminished.

Meanwhile, under Iranian direction Hezbollah and Hamas have demonstrated the ability to penetrate Israeli territory, commit acts of terrorism and they now possess sophisticated missiles that target Israel’s cities. In that context what is a disproportionate response? The United States responded to 9/11 by knocking off two governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. And Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11!

Too many of Israel’s critics dismiss their loss of life as simply not comparable to the blood spilled in Palestine or Lebanon. Fair enough but Israel is a small population and a few deaths are keenly felt and any democratically elected government is compelled to demonstrate resolve when their citizens are murdered.

So Israel is encircled and from their perspective the international community is hostile to their existence and indifferent to their loss of life. Israel regards the international community as largely Anti-Semitic and unsympathetic to its struggle of preserving their democracy in a despotic and hostile neighborhood. The Europeans for example are distrusted by Israel for their historic Anti-Semitism and feckless pattern of portraying Israel as morally equivalent to terrorists.

Hence, when Israel is confronted with radical Islam at their doorstep they’re convinced that other than a weakened United States they have no friends. There is no coherent international effort to isolate radical Islam. They see no alternative other than to crush those dedicated to their destruction with overwhelming force. In the Israeli mindset, it’s them or us and we’re on our own. In fairness to Israel their perspective is not without merit. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan recently condemned Israel and only grudgingly acknowledged Hezbollah’s culpability.

To the world at large Israel is an inflexible nation that pours kerosene on fire. As far as much of the world is concerned Israel sets impossible conditions for peace with Palestinians. Israel claims it wants to do business with a moderate civilized society but makes it impossible for one to emerge as the Palestinians struggle to live under a humiliating and oppressive occupation. Israel claims it prefers moderate elected governments in the Arab world but undermines Abbas in Palestine and with military power brings the democratically elected government in Lebanon to its knees. Israel drops leaflets warning the Lebanese of bombings to come but destroys the infrastructure required for them to safely escape violent death.

Hence, Israel is viewed by much of the world as an obstacle to peace. I consider myself a friend of Israel. I’m Jewish and proud of my heritage. But even friends of Israel must be intellectually honest and acknowledge that a legitimate critique of their policy is in order. Their heavy- handed treatment of the Palestinians as well as their killing of innocent life in Lebanon has strengthened Islamic fascism. It may not be fair given my country’s transgressions and ill-advised military ventures in recent years but I expect more of Israel anyway.

Either way the civilized world and Israel are disappointed in each other and have let each other down. So how do we move forward? The first step is for the civilized world to accept that Israel shares their humane values and objective for stability. The world and Israel both lose if they’re working at cross purposes against radical Islam. Meanwhile, Israel must adjust their strategic posture from unilateralism to coordination with the international community against radical Islam. Otherwise, their divisions will continue to be exploited by Islamic fundamentalists and eventually an act of terrorism will engulf the world in unremitting conflict.

There may be an opportunity to salvage something positive from the horrific loss of life these past two weeks. Israel has signaled their willingness to accept an international peacekeeping force serving as a buffer on the Lebanese border. That is a major leap for Israel given their suspicion of the international community. The international community should seize this opportunity to earn Israel’s confidence and in return enlist their cooperation to coordinate their policies instead of Israel's historic unilaterism that can be disproportionate.

Sadly, the New York Times reports that while numerous nations favor an international force in theory there is reluctance to commit:

“The United States has ruled out its soldiers’ participating, NATO says it is overstretched, Britain feels its troops are over committed and Germany says it is willing to participate only if Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that it would police, agrees to it, a highly unlikely development.”
Obviously the world today does not have statesmen such as Churchill and FDR. The real obstacle is weak leadership from Washington. America is still haunted by its participation in a multinational force after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Furthermore, President Bush has no political capital with an international community he’s disrespected for five years and an American public he lied to about Iraq. His administration is incapable of persuading a weary and increasingly isolationist American public to participate in such a force or to heal the breach between Israel and the international community.

This is unfortunate. An Israel that is convinced there is an international community that has its back against radical Islam will be less inclined to respond to every provocation with overwhelming force. An international peacekeeping force that even includes Arab nations can preserve stability, build political bridges between Israel and the world and further isolate the Jihadists.

It might also be something to build upon and utilize in the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian Authority is not capable of policing against terrorism and the presence of the Israeli military only serves to poison the atmosphere. A multinational force in the territories that earns both the confidence of Israel and the Palestinian population may allow the Palestinians to better develop a civil society that facilitates a two state solution.

Most importantly, the flame of radical Islam won’t be continuously fed and better contained. Part of the price for this is that Israel will have to accept that when terrorist incidents take place they can’t simply respond unilaterally and inflame matters. Israel will have to compromise and accept that they’re part of an international effort.

As for the international community there must be an understanding that stability and order come with a price as well. That price is resources and people put in harms way to prevent a wider conflict from engulfing the planet. If the world doesn’t want Israel to act against terrorism then an alternative mechanism of enforcement must be in place. There will setbacks and miscalculations. The learning curve will be steep.

No country can undertake this alone but America will have to take the lead. The contradictions of interests among nations as diverse as Russia, Egypt and Israel are immense. Integrating such a coalition into a containment policy against radical Islam will require tremendous skill, persuasion, patience and resolve.

All fires burn out eventually if they’re contained and not fed. It may take decades but a global strategy of containment is far better than a “global war on terror” which might result in Armageddon. Hopefully, the next American president will have strategic thinkers such as George Kennan in 1947 who has given the matter some thought.
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ADDENDUM:
I cross posted this topic on the European Tribune community blog and their comments are interesting and provocative. One person even compared me to Joe McCarthy! They also went off on all sorts of tangents. Click here to review their comments. European Tribune is a terrific community blog and excellent information source regarding European politics. But only there could I be compared to Joe McCarthy!

26 comments:

Deirdre Helfferich said...

An interesting analysis, but you neglect to mention a couple of things. First, the United States has lost nearly all credibility in the Arab world with its foray into Iraq and its rattling of the nuclear saber at Iran, and with the recent veto by the US of a UN resolution calling for a ceasefire by both sides, the overwhelming vote in Congress toward a similarly one-sided resolution in support of Israel's right to defend itself, and Condoleeza Rice's inflammatory statement opposing an immediate ceasefire have all blown any appearence left of the US as a neutral party. (Rice was certainly correct that a long-term solution needs to be found, but to reject the ceasefire to the point of actually walking out of a meeting with Egypt's foreign minister doesn't look like she cares much about loss of civilian life--if it's Lebanese.)

The second point is that, although a peacekeeping force is a nifty idea, nobody's volunteering. Every nation knows what a nasty hornet's nest that would be, and that it would not take a small group. Nor would it be a matter of a year or so--it would be many years, probably decades. The interview on NPR with Richard Armitage this morning was very interesting.

Either way, the US can't be part of this solution--we've already declared that we are way too overstretched (due to our debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq).

jay lassiter said...

Rob, can you recommend my latest at MLW?

i'm gonna go back and read this piece now. anything with USSR in it i AM ALL OVER!!!

how have you been by the way? long time no chat,

jay

liberal journal man said...

Deirdre,

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think Rob in fact did address the two points you say he neglected.

The post stated "President Bush has no political capital with an international community he’s disrespected for five years and an American public he lied to about Iraq" and "the New York Times reports that while numerous nations favor an international force in theory there is reluctance to commit."

liberal journal man said...

Also, the post is dead on about containment. The very nature of battling terrorists among civilian populations results in a neverending cycle of violence. Greuling negotiation and pragmatism is the only way forward.

bill said...

Rob- I like the Herbert column. As usual, he's right on the money about keeping the conflict cool whenever possible with the radical Islamists who aren't actively attacking us, rather than picking fights with everyone on the block.

You have a finger on one of the larger strategic points someone will have to address in US policy, after the Cheney Administration leaves office. I'm not a Kennan fan, but the analogy is interesting.

Deirdre Helfferich said...

I suppose it's the specifics of the thing that weren't mentioned: losing political capital over the last five years is a general trend, but the specific and recent slam-dunk raspberries aimed in the last two weeks have been much more direct. And it isn't just reluctance to volunteer for a peacekeeping force, or wasn't at the time of my post, it was absolutely NO ONE volunteering. I think the Italians have since said they would send somebody, so that part of my comment is now rendered incorrect. So I recant, in part.

Anonymous said...

I strongly disagree with the post for three major reasons:

1. Your analysis implies that cold war containment policy was successful and a model that should be used today. You ought to see Bill Moyers documentary "The Secret Government." US containment policy meant directly meddling in the political affairs of countries like Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Cuba etc. Democratically elected leaders pursuing their own national interests were overthrown and violent dictators were installed in their place, unleashing horrific regimes of terror. All of this was done by collaborations between the Executive and CIA, without Congressional approval. The legacy of 'cold war containment' is clearly evident in Bush's administration today.

2. What exactly do you mean by the term 'radical Islam'? This term gets bandied around, and is used to lump very different groups with very different agendas together as part of an "axis of terror" or "axis of evil" threatening the "civilized" nations of the world, like the US and Israel (how ironic!). It is the exploitative and violent policies of the US and Israel that have earned them the enmity of the majority of the world, and its not only "Muslims" who are angry, upset, and striking back.

3. Israel has had opportunities in the past year to respond positively to proposals to put in an international peacekeeping force in southern lebabon in order to get rid of Hezbollah and to establish the control of the Lebanese army in the region. They rejected these overtures. They are also now rejecting the idea of a case-fire and international force. Why? Look at their interests in controlling southern Lebanon up to the Litani river themselves. Ben Gurion envisioned an Israeli state that extended up to the Litani. Ever since, Israel's interest in the waters of the Litani river has been a major reason for the pursuit of war against the Lebanese. This time is no exception. They simply got the inevitable provocation that they were looking for to justify their war to control the south. An international force would observe international boundaries and water rights, and this would be bad for Irsael's interests.

In short, your analysis on this issue is far too simplistic and naive about the historical facts, in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Also, we should remember that such terribly bloodly and deadly conflicts as the Korean and Vietnam wars were part of US cold war "containment" policy. What we sought to contain, then as now, are leaders and countries that act in interests that go against the powerful, wealthy corportions in our own.

VtPoet said...

/Your analysis implies that cold war containment policy was successful and a model that should be used today/

Containment had horrible consequences, but would they have been any worse than the alternative? The United States used & supported Saddam to contain Iran. Saddam also, as it turns out, "contained" any number of terrorist groups, yes, radical Islamists. To date, Saddam's removal has been immeasurably worse for the region and for the Iraqis. In this case, the alternative appears to be worse the Saddam. We know that the US killed at least 30000 to 50000 by the administration's own admission, up to 300,000 using more scientific methods. At present, hundreds are dying every day because of the civil war. Just in terms of preserving life, Saddam would have been better.

/What exactly do you mean by the term 'radical Islam'?/

I don't know what Rob means, but the answer is obvious: any and all terrorist groups who kill in the name of Allah. I can't think of any non-Islamist terrorists in the middle-east. Can you? There must be one or two somewhere...

/Israel has had opportunities in the past year to respond positively to proposals to put in an international peacekeeping force in southern lebabon in order to get rid of Hezbollah.../

Hezbollah's stated aim is the destruction of Israel. No one was ever going to "negotiate" or "propose" Hezbollah out of Southern Lebanon. They themselves stated that they had no interest in being just another political party. How you square this with your assertion that they could have been talked out of Southern Lebanon is beyond me.

Was Israel right to attack? Are they right to continue attacking? Only history will tell.

liberal journal man said...

"your analysis on this issue is far too simplistic"

Your dismissal of containment is overly simplistic. While the Cold War was not a perfect time in our history. It certainly would have been worse had our leaders been more "pro-active." I think the analogy is accurate.

Anonymous said...

/What exactly do you mean by the term 'radical Islam'?/

"I don't know what Rob means, but the answer is obvious: any and all terrorist groups who kill in the name of Allah. I can't think of any non-Islamist terrorists in the middle-east. Can you? There must be one or two somewhere..."

Yes, I can think of one or two non-Islamic terrorists at work in the Middle East: the USA and Israel. The loss of life due to these two countries vastly outweighs that of 'Islamic' terrorists.

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"Containment had horrible consequences, but would they have been any worse than the alternative?"

Well, I would ask what exactly were we 'containing'? The vast majority of the democractically elected leaders that we ousted -- Arbenz in Guatemala, Mossadesgh in Iran, Lumumba in Congo, etc -- were not 'communists' -- they were nationalists who wanted to nationalize their industries and get them out of the hands of European and American corporations. But by mud-slinging the label 'communist' on them (as McCarthy did domestically), the US justified its actions. Really, to call these leaders communist, and to allege that they were part of a communist threat to the US, is quite a joke.

Containment (whether of 'communists' or 'radical Islam') has been, and continues to be today, about maintaining or continuing to grow the disparity between the tiny, tiny wealthy few and the vast majority of the world's population that lives in poverty, without clean water, sanitation, education, etc. There is a reason so many people in the world hate the US. Only a progressive foreign policy that works to make global trade, production and labor law more equitable will improve this situation.

-------------
"The United States used & supported Saddam to contain Iran. Saddam also, as it turns out, "contained" any number of terrorist groups, yes, radical Islamists. To date, Saddam's removal has been immeasurably worse for the region and for the Iraqis. In this case, the alternative appears to be worse the Saddam. We know that the US killed at least 30000 to 50000 by the administration's own admission, up to 300,000 using more scientific methods. At present, hundreds are dying every day because of the civil war. Just in terms of preserving life, Saddam would have been better."

Here you write as though Saddam was keeping a lid on all of these nasty terrorists, and once the US came and removed him from power all hell broke lose. The civil war in Iraq has everything to do with the US invasion, conquest, and occupation of that country. Historically, and now, we produce the people fighting against us. Just look at our history with Osama Bin Laden -- a former US trained and supported Mujahedeen against the 'communist' threat in Afghanistan.

Anonymous said...

liberal journal man said...

"your analysis on this issue is far too simplistic"

Your dismissal of containment is overly simplistic. While the Cold War was not a perfect time in our history. It certainly would have been worse had our leaders been more "pro-active." I think the analogy is accurate.
----------------

I do not understand how you can allege that the US leaders (or really the CIA) was not 'proactive' during the Cold War. The cold history is one of US violent coups and civil wars ALL OVER THE WORLD. We put such lovely folks as Pinochet, the Shah, Mobutu in power as our puppets. We trained Osama Bin Laden and supplied him with weapons. Again, this is to say nothing of the Korean and Vietnam wars. It seems that you have bought into the ideology of the Cold War with little knowledge of (or regard for) the actual facts.

VTPOET said...

Here's something that has been bothering me. In a recent CNN article the following was written:

"Mehdi Noorbaksh, associate professor of international affairs at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, said the United States miscalculated on two grounds in its stance on the Israel-Hezbollah violence."

I know it's standard Journalese to say that the "United States" did this or the "United States" did that but I really wonder if this is a good way to write. The fact is that, no, the "United States" did *not* miscalculate. A bunch of incompetent neo-conservative ideologues, otherwise known as the Bush Administration, miscalculated.

They are an embarrassment to the United States. They didn't even win the elections: 2000 and now, apparently, 2004 was mucked with too.

thepoetryman said...

I find many valid points in your post my friend... Yet I am not so sure that Radical Islam is the best way to frame the problem that faces the world. Radical Islam is a very confusing term. Maybe a certain number of radical that use Islam as their front, and given that they are, or better yet, were of the faith, use it and bastardize it and have decided that the best way to deal with empire is to cut off its head. Maybe that is closer to reality. Far too many good Islamic peoples to pigeon hole them by using a term that ends with the faith. I know you are not saying that all Islamic people are terrorist and pose a great threat. It is just an inflamatory phrase.

America is the Goliath in this particular era. Oil is the game. Hegemony is its path. Religion its fuel. And fear and greed its bankroll.

VTPOET said...

/Yes, I can think of one or two non-Islamic terrorists at work in the Middle East: the USA and Israel./

This would be a loose definition of terrorism. By this standard, you could call any military action a terrorist action. The allies fighting Hitler during WW II would count as terrorists. Mind you, I don't like Bush's actions in the Middle East anymore than you do. However, accusing anyone and everyone (that you don't like) of terrorism, doesn't change the fact of *Radical Islam*, my definition of it, or the *fact* that they *are* terrorists. If you don't like it, go tell some of these radical Islamists to stop, then tell me where to send your remains.


/Well, I would ask what exactly were we 'containing'... [snip] they were nationalists who wanted to nationalize their industries and get them out of the hands of European and American corporations./

This was true of Castro. I have *never* liked how the various administrations have treated Cuba and Castro. Sheer stupidity.

Anyway, no one is arguing, not even Rob, that any given administration make the same mistakes past administrations have made. You're making a straw man out of him. The question he is asking is whether the idea of containment, judiciously applied, could work. I don't see that you have offered any alternatives.

/Containment (whether of 'communists' or 'radical Islam') has been, and continues to be today, about maintaining or continuing to grow the disparity between the tiny, tiny wealthy few and the vast majority of the world's population that lives in poverty, without clean water, sanitation, education, etc./

You are blaming world poverty on containment? Rubbish. I have heard the citizens of some of the poorest nations bravely take responsibility for their own poverty. One needs only look to the various African nations to see how corruption derails even the best of intentions. Some in these nations have out and out stated that the last thing they need are more handouts.

In other words, they are saying that their poverty is their own responsibility.

The problem is with that minority who wants to blame somebody else. All the violence in the middle east could stop tomorrow if a small minority of people decided that peace mattered more than some religious or political principle. But they don't and won't. So... how does one stop them from killing others?


/There is a reason so many people in the world hate the US. Only a progressive foreign policy that works to make global trade, production and labor law more equitable will improve this situation./

I agree, but the US can't decide the labor laws of other countries. The US is not responsible for Mexico or China's willingness to poison its lands and people. The US is not responsible for Islamic societies extreme gender discrimination. The US can't be blamed because some Islamic prigs chose to let a school full of little girls be burned alive (rather than rescue them) because they weren't wearing modest clothes. The US can't be blamed because Iranian mullahs ordered the hanging death of two young boys who were accused of being gay. But if people want to hate the US, so be it. Easier to blame others, isn't it?

-------------
/Here you write as though Saddam was keeping a lid on all of these nasty terrorists, and once the US came and removed him from power all hell broke lose./

Yes. And that is exactly what happened.

/The civil war in Iraq has everything to do with the US invasion, conquest, and occupation of that country./

Yes. You're making my point. If Bush & his neocons hadn't removed Saddam, there would be far greater stability in the middle east and, eventually, Iraq might have moderated on its own. Tyrants don't live forever.

/Historically, and now, we produce the people fighting against us. Just look at our history with Osama Bin Laden -- a former US trained and supported Mujahedeen against the 'communist' threat in Afghanistan./

Yes, and at the time, the Muslims of Afghanistan loved us. The Taliban loved us. Osama bin Laden loved us. Those were better times, eh?

8:47 PM

Anonymous said...

/Well, I would ask what exactly were we 'containing'... [snip] they were nationalists who wanted to nationalize their industries and get them out of the hands of European and American corporations./

"This was true of Castro. I have *never* liked how the various administrations have treated Cuba and Castro. Sheer stupidity.

Anyway, no one is arguing, not even Rob, that any given administration make the same mistakes past administrations have made. You're making a straw man out of him. The question he is asking is whether the idea of containment, judiciously applied, could work. I don't see that you have offered any alternatives.

/Containment (whether of 'communists' or 'radical Islam') has been, and continues to be today, about maintaining or continuing to grow the disparity between the tiny, tiny wealthy few and the vast majority of the world's population that lives in poverty, without clean water, sanitation, education, etc./"

But you have not explained what exactly you want to contain? 'Radical Islam'? You still have not explained who and what this is. What did 'containing' Saddam in Iraq have to do with 'containing' Osama in Afghantistan? Saddam and Osama were unconnected. What we were containing, by direct military conquest, was the ability of other countries (like China) to get their hands on these countries oil reserves. If anything, if you scratch beneath the surface, the US is now following a policy of 'containment'. It is one designed to contain other countries access to oil while preserving the rights of our oil companies do its pumping and sale.

-------------------

"You are blaming world poverty on containment? Rubbish. I have heard the citizens of some of the poorest nations bravely take responsibility for their own poverty. One needs only look to the various African nations to see how corruption derails even the best of intentions. Some in these nations have out and out stated that the last thing they need are more handouts.

In other words, they are saying that their poverty is their own responsibility."

Have you no knowledge of European and American imperialism? Do you not know that European countries colonized African countries for 50+ years, during which they turned them into raw material suppliers and cheap labor sources. Are you unaware of the current imperialist regime run by the IMF and World Bank known as 'structural adjustment', whereby a handful of rich countries including the US dictate the economic and domestic (health, education, etc) policies of the poorest countries of the world? African countries do not have a chance to manage their own affairs, because the rich ones won't let them persue economic policies that are in their own interests (but would harm the interests of wealthy US corporations with investments there). We do most definitely make the labor and other laws for poor countries, by forcing rules on them that ensure that labor and raw and natural resources are kept dirt cheap for the benefit of rich, western corporations. The idea that these countries should just pick themselves up, stop looking for 'hand-outs' from rich countries, and pull themselves up by their boot-straps is completely naive. Moreover, I would again point out that the few that have tried -- again Arbenz in Guatemala (who fought the United Fruit Company to argue that control over the Banana industry should below to Guatemalan companies and people, not the US), Mossadegh in Iran (who sought to nationalize his country's oil reserves, arguing that the profits from its sale belonged to the Iranian people not the British and American), Allende (who sought to nationalize the metal reserves in Chile to improve the welfare of Chileans, rather than Americans and Europeans) etc etc were all ousted by CIA coups and replaced by cooperative US allies (the Shah, Pinochet, etc).

VTPOET said...

/But you have not explained what exactly you want to contain? 'Radical Islam'?/

Yes, Radical Islam. I'm of the Sam Harris school of thought. See http://www.samharris.org/. I'm not interested in religious apologists. Religion is irrational and dangerous in the present day world, including Christianity. If using the phrase "Radical Islam" is incindiary, then so be it. The discussion needs to be had. Why does Islam inspire such violence? You don't see Christian suicide bombers, or Tibetan Buddhist suicide bombers (who have suffered equal if not greater indignities than the Palestinians). It's just the those within the Muslim religion who call for murder and mayhem. But look, I am paraphrasing Harris. Rather than attack me, read his book and get back to me. If you think he's dead wrong, then convince me.

/You still have not explained who and what this is./

OK. Here it is: Terrorist groups who maintain cultural support for their violence through religous doctrine & affiliation. When a religious leader can call for another's murder (read Fatwa) then there is something fundamentally wrong with the religion.

/What did 'containing' Saddam in Iraq have to do with 'containing' Osama in Afghantistan?/

There were no active terrorists in Iraq while Saddam was ruling. Period. He also provided a counterweight to the religious extremism of Iraq. This is what Saddam was containing. It was to contain Iraq that America propped up Saddam. Bush's invasion of Iraq was sheer stupidity.

/Saddam and Osama were unconnected. What we were containing, by direct military conquest, was the ability of other countries (like China) to get their hands on these countries oil reserves./

That may have been the neo-cons' objectives, but they backfired miserably. Again, you and I don't disagree on the idiocy of the Bush Administration's policies.

/If anything, if you scratch beneath the surface, the US is now following a policy of 'containment'./

That was their intention, but they blew it, didn't they? I find it ironic but you, yourself, are making the argument for a man like Kennan. Kennon was the political realist. He would never have condoned Bush's dreamy-eyed removal of Saddam. Bush, ostensibly, wanted to help (as he saw it) the mid-east by bringing Democracy. He was trying to right a wrong. Listening to you, I would expect you to support Bush!

/It is one designed to contain other countries access to oil while preserving the rights of our oil companies do its pumping and sale./

OK... but this is a completely different discussion and I don't entirely disagree with you.

VTPOET said...

/Have you no knowledge of European and American imperialism? Do you not know that European countries colonized African countries for 50+ years, during which they turned them into raw material suppliers and cheap labor sources./

Yes, I understand this, but what I was responding to was the following: "Containment (whether of 'communists' or 'radical Islam') has been, and continues to be today, about maintaining or continuing to grow the disparity between the tiny, tiny wealthy few and the vast majority of the world's population that lives in poverty, without clean water, sanitation, education, etc."

You are saying that since you believe that containment caused these problems, further "containment" could only excascerbate these problems and that, in fact, the whole purpose of containment is to worsen these problems. I disagree. The kind of containment Rob is proposing would have, as its aim, the minimizing of terrorism, first and foremost. Terrorism needs to be dealt with *somehow*. Addionally, unlike you, I find corrupt governments to be the real issue *at this point*. And our ability to straighten these governments out is minimal unless, you think, like Bush, that we can just move in and "nation build"?


/Are you unaware of the current imperialist regime run by the IMF and World Bank known as 'structural adjustment', whereby a handful of rich countries including the US dictate the economic and domestic (health, education, etc) policies of the poorest countries of the world?/

Maybe so, but at this point it's a moot point. The more pressing problem is corruption. I think you can't see the forest for the trees. Even if the IMF turned into messengers of God tomorrow, the graft and corruption of these "poor countries" would continue unabated.

/African countries do not have a chance to manage their own affairs, because the rich ones won't let them persue economic policies that are in their own interests.../

That might have been true decades ago, and this may be true today to a very, very limited extent. The much, much bigger problem is corruption, religious and civil strife. I don't disagree that colonialism is largely to blame for the corruption in these countries, but invading them is not going to reverse that.

/We do most definitely make the labor and other laws for poor countries..../

No we don't. We certainly influence them but we don't decide them. If certain countries adopt deliterious labor laws, then you can be sure it benefits some clique within the country's power structure. The problem is corruption. The USA does *not* have a monopoly on greed.

/The idea that these countries should just pick themselves up, stop looking for 'hand-outs' from rich countries, and pull themselves up by their boot-straps is completely naive./

The idea that we have any other choice is completely naive. What are you going to do? Invade these countries? Are you going to replace their governments with a Democracy? Hasn't Bush taught you anything? Giving these corrupt little countries money, relieving their debt, aid, etc... doesn't do a bit of good to the people who need it. Time & time again the money goes into the pockets of the ruling elite. You know this. You would have to be utterly naive not to know this. I don't think I'm an isolationist, but it's becoming increasingly clear that the best way to help these countries is to let them sort out their own problems.

/Moreover, I would again point out that the few that have tried -- again Arbenz in Guatemala (who fought the United Fruit Company to argue that control over the Banana industry should below to Guatemalan companies and people, not the US), Mossadegh in Iran (who sought to nationalize his country's oil reserves, arguing that the profits from its sale belonged to the Iranian people not the British and American), Allende (who sought to nationalize the metal reserves in Chile to improve the welfare of Chileans, rather than Americans and Europeans) etc etc were all ousted by CIA coups and replaced by cooperative US allies (the Shah, Pinochet, etc)./

The CIA couldn't have done it without help from the powerful & greedy elites within those countries. So... as I am saying over and over again, let's stop meddling in these countries.

VTPOET said...

/There were no active terrorists in Iraq while Saddam was ruling. Period. He also provided a counterweight to the religious extremism of Iraq. This is what Saddam was containing. It was to contain Iraq that America propped up Saddam. Bush's invasion of Iraq was sheer stupidity./

Oops. I meant to write Iran. The purpose of Saddam was to contain Iran.

Deirdre Helfferich said...

I think what we're discussing here is the concept of blowback. Our messing about in Iran brought us to support the Shah, who was awful to his people, which led to the overthrow and the long-term distrust of us (with good reason!). Anonymous is right here in many ways (by the way, it would be nice if you gave us a name to work with). We DO create our own enemies, largely because we don't actually stick to our professed ideals. Torture, lack of due process, the "disappearing" of the accused, sending in the CIA to overthrow democratically elected leaders in South America and around the world, claiming we want a mid-East peace process while doing what we can to impede it (as though people can negotiate with sincerity while they are shooting at each other--a temporary ceasefire is the place to START getting a sustained peace), using banned and immoral weapons such as white phosphorus or depleted uranium or cluster bombs, stealing from the poor to give to the rich via such organizations as the IMF and the IRS....all these things make our government's reputation over the years pretty untrustworthy.

The Soviet Union fell because of two major problems: containment from the US and its allies, and internal corruption. It was the corruption that was fatal--as it is in any government.

camel said...

I am formerly "anonymous." Apologies for the lack of a name; I'm new to blogging.

In response to VTpoet, the accusation of corruption has become the single major justification for de-facto US and European control of the economic policies of African countries. But how hypocritical is this? Yes, of course, there is corruption in these countries, but the biggest corruption comes from the affluent countries that control the IMF and World Bank and force these countries to liberalize their economies and cut back expenditure on health and education so that they can send all of their money back to the Banks in the form of debt repayment. We are the *corrupt* ones robbing these countries.

Moreover, while I grant that it is true that there are leaders in these countries who sustain this process (mostly puppets installed by the US, by the way), what do you make of our own government? Is there not a more corrupt system around anywhere? We have leaders that are unaccountable to their citizens, to basic democratic process, and to the rule of law. These leaders also steal from the hardworking middle and lower classes in order to give to the rich. The disparity between rich and poor is nowhere greater in the ENTIRE WORLD than it is in our own great nation -- and it is only growing. If we don't have the most corrupt government in the world, than I don't know what we have. But I hardly think we can point the 'corruption' finger at poor, struggling countries while maintaining that we operate on a higher, more equitable moral register.

Finally, I agree with Deirdre and I think that we need to recognize that all of the major 'terrorist' threats have come into existence precisely because of our 'containment' polies over the last half century. If we were to allow these countries to democratically elect their own leaders and pursue economic polies that were in their national interests, people would lose their anger and wrath against the US. But if you live in a very poor country controlled by a puppet dictator installed by the US; and you see your country's resources being siphoned off by US corporations and the corrupt puppet and his or her coterie; and you have no way to challenge this corrupt system except through acts of 'terrorism', then what would you do? Sit back and watch? Most do sit back and try to live the best lives they can in a peaceful way. But that some are so angry that they want to strike back -- for this we have only our own corrupt government and its 'containment' policies to blame.

VTPOET said...

Hi Camel,

I appreciate that you haven't gone personal. You're a rare one in these kinds of discussions and its nice to see.

/In response to VTpoet, the accusation of corruption has become the single major justification for de-facto US and European control of the economic policies of African countries./

I see it from both sides. I understand why the US and Europe want to control the economoc policies of some of these African countries. The shear exploitation of some of these governments toward their own people can't be overstated. I can also see how this policy might be seen is damaging, as you do. However, I continue to assert that you see these countries with rose-colored glasses, breathtakingly underappreciating the degree of corruption. Here is article for you to read: (You might have to knit this together...)

http://washingtontimes.com/
commentary/20060604-093624-2318r.
htm

/force these countries to liberalize their economies and cut back expenditure on health and education so that they can send all of their money back to the Banks in the form of debt repayment./

Give me some examples. Right now, all of the countries I can think of never had (or were token at best) any health and education expenditures to begin with.


/We are the *corrupt* ones robbing these countries./

This is history and I don't disagree. The greater powers have always taken advantage of the lesser. This is the human condition. Humanity has always done it. Everywhere. Which is not to forgive it. But... *now* what you going to do? You can't just start giving these corrupt governments money or aid? Who will you give it to? How? How will you ensure it reaches who it needs to reach? I ask these questions over and over and you never give an answer. All you do is rail at the US and Europe. Fine. Have a ball. Once your done, tell me how you plan to help the people of these countries? The IMF would love to know. Unlike you, I do *not* believe, based on my own reading, that the heads of the IMF are out to crush every up and coming third world country. I know there are good people in this organizations - if sometimes misguided. However, if you think they are a bunch of Nazis, then go to the streets and burn some cars. That really helps.

/...what do you make of our own government? Is there not a more corrupt system around anywhere?/

OK. I write: Helping poor, third world countries with corrupt governments is practically impossible.

In reponse to which you go postal over the USA.

What's your point?

I'm not going to get into the "US is *THE* most corrupt government in the world" argument. The question is whether *any* government or organization can pragmatically aid a country whose government is steeped in corruption. You keep dancing around this central problem.



/But I hardly think we can point the 'corruption' finger at poor, struggling countries while maintaining that we operate on a higher, more equitable moral register./

I never made this comparison. You're making a straw man that has nothing to with me or my assertions.

And, yes, I *can* point the 'corruption' finger at these poor little countries. How do you propose to aid them? Answer the question! Corruption is very much the issue here!


/Finally, I agree with Deirdre and I think that we need to recognize that all of the major 'terrorist' threats have come into existence precisely because of our 'containment' polies over the last half century./

I don't agree.



/If we were to allow these countries to democratically elect their own leaders and pursue economic polies that were in their national interests/

Ifs, ifs, ifs... Yes *IF* North Korea could hold democratic elections... yes, *IF*. Wouldn't that be wondeful. And *IF* pigs could fly... An argument built on IFs is built on sand.

/But that some are so angry that they want to strike back -- for this we have only our own corrupt government and its 'containment' policies to blame./

Yah, that's like the wife-beater who blames his wife for the beating. If she did what he told her to do, he wouldn't have to beat her, eh?

What do you do to wife beaters and pedophiliacs? You CONTAIN them. You put them in prison. You don't go blaming the victims. What about thugs and killers?

Anonymous said...

Hello, I have been listening to each of you arguements and wonder what any of you would propose the US do to spur Israel towards peace. Keep in mind Israel has always been our little brother and, while they have a "us or them approach", they have it simply because Israel has never had to critically think about any negotiations with any country in its region. Mainly due to the big guns given to them by the US.

christian_left said...

I agree with you that Israel's attacks on Lebanon are "morally reprehensible and strategically stupid." These attacks are certainly not in Israel's interests, nor are they consistent with the ethical tenets of Judaism as a religion (as I understand them) or in any remotely conceivable way in the interests of Jewish people around the world.

Yet I also find much of your interpretation puzzling. Why must we always dredge up this view of some kind of primordial "Islamic radicalism" (or whatever it is called)? Haven't pretty much all violent Islamic fundamentalist groups arisen out of the concrete circumstances of foreign invasions, occupations, and control of their resources (e.g., Hezbollah in Lebanon after 1982, Al Qaeda in Afghanistan during Soviet occupation, Hamas in occupied Palestine, American domination of Saudi Arabia and now Iraq, etc., etc.)? If we really want to end the violence perpetrated by these groups (and end the attractions of moderates to them), shouldn't we try to understand their root causes instead of inflaming them further?

Obviously the worst moral aspect of this situation is the appalling loss of life, injuries, and civilian infrastructure that sustains life, most egregiously in Lebanon perpetrated by the Israeli military but also in Israel itself on a smaller scale caused by Hezbollah rockets and in Palestine of course too. Yet from a long-term strategic-political point of view, what I worry most about is how the Israeli attacks on Lebanon (and, crucially, the utterly predictable Hezbollah rocket response) have been used to manipulate American public opinion in favor of the long-term agenda of dominating the Middle East by violent force. Many otherwise liberal or moderate opponents of the Bush Administration who are supporters of Israel (Jewish and non-Jewish alike) are being co-opted into this odious plan through their sympathies with Israel. We must resist the effort to conjure up an "Islamic menace" to gain our support for violence and domination, which will only generate more violent insurgencies and counter-attacks in response.

VTPOET said...

/ Hello, I have been listening to each of you arguements and wonder what any of you would propose the US do to spur Israel towards peace./

I don't know. If I knew, my name would be immortalized. I don't think any single "plan" is going to achieve peace in the middle east.

If anything, I suppose that Ireland offers the only model for how to achieve a lasting peace -- namely, economic opportunity & prosperity. When Palestinians, Arabs & the peoples of the other surrounding countries (Persians) are too busy making money to strap bombs to their midrifs (or instruct others in the same), then there will be peace. Unfortunately, Islam itself takes much of the blame for the economic failure of the Arab countries (which would be little more than trible war zones if not for oil). In answer to Christian Left, I would say that Islam is very much a part of the root problem in these countries. Their poverty does not cause "religious extremism", their religious extemism is causing poverty. Any religion that throttles the ambitions of half its population (women), has *got* to change. Islam in these countries is an ugly mess. It just baffles me how anyone can't see the problem that religion is playing in all of this -- yes, Radical Islam included. I support Israel because it is a model, economically, for what the rest of the region could be; and it is a model because it is far, far, far more tolerant, religiously, than any of its Arab neighbors, esp. in terms of religious and economic freedom for all and freedom for women. They are not perfect, but they are heads and shoulders above their neighbors. You simply *cannot* build a strong & prosperous nation when religion is stifling your population. The solution cannot come from without, it must come from within Islam. This is a concept that baffles Bush & his cronies.

/Keep in mind Israel has always been our little brother and, while they have a "us or them approach", they have it simply because Israel has never had to critically think about any negotiations with any country in its region. Mainly due to the big guns given to them by the US./

It's a two way street. No country in the region has thought "critically" of negotiating with Israel. They may not have the big guns, but they have extemists. And as long as the extremists are *obsessed* with Israel, they won't be obsessed with their own governments. Imagine if Hezbollah had used all its resources to build an economy in Lebanon, rather than collect tens of thousands of missiles, literally, just so they could kill a few jews.

What have they gotten for all that? So they killed a few jews... They can't even make a damned Light Bulb, let alone a computer. Where is their economy, their prosperity? They put all their money and know how into confronting Israel. What a waste. What a waste.

Deirdre Helfferich said...

There's an interesting book by Robin Morgan called The Demon Lover: The Sexuality of Terrorism (second edition subtitled The Roots of Terrorism). She explores the idea of, among other things, the class orgin of your typical terrorists. By far most terrorists are men, middle- or lower upper class, educated, and reasonably comfortable in life. They've got time to blow things up--and motivation on a sexual level, she claims. Masculinity = violence as a cultural equation (in many modern cultures) is a powerful influence. This was a very powerful read for me. I've not yet read the second edition.

Regarding the influence of religion: speaking as an aethist/agnostic, it's pretty clear to me that all those monotheistic hairy thunderer desert religions make people as mad as hatters. The Judeo/Christian/Islamic religion seems essentially the same to me, all one religion, fine details notwithstanding, with a bloody history as soon as their leading mystics/prophets/originating speakers are dead or have been around a few years.

But that's really another discussion...