The View From 1776

Defending Our Vital National Interests

In his foreign policy speech at West Point, President Obama proclaimed a policy of common sense with which most people agree: we should take military action if necessary to defend our vital national interests, but we must refrain from military intervention in foreign troubles that are not matters of national interest.  The rub comes in identifying, then in anticipating threats to, short-term and long-term vital interests of the United States.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 05/29 at 08:59 PM
  1. Thomas,

    Your claim that Iraq invasion left Iraq with a government favorable to the United States is nonsense. The Iraq invasion is only the most recent example of letting a foolish militaristic foreign policy create havoc and misery.

    Neither the Iraqi Shia nor the Sunni have the tiniest bit of love in their hearts for the USA and they were obviously overjoyed to see us finally leave the country so they could get back to the business of killing each other as they have been doing for the last 700 years.

    The only folks in Iraq who benefited from the Bush invasion were the Kurds, who managed to get out from under the thumb of Saddam.
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  05/30  at  03:02 PM
  2. We have been too quick to see a national interest in every corner of the world. There is an interesting and debatable basis for arguing that we should not have entered any of the last 100 years wars, or that we could have entered them less directly and intensively. For example Russia and Germany could have been let destroy each other?

    It is not at all clear what national interest is at stake in Afghanistan yet Obama has kept pouring American lives and treasure in there for the last six years. Bush proved that we cannot nation build Muslim states as we did Germany and Japan after WWII. Something about Islam that cannot coexist with free markets and democracy.

    The real national interest would be to accelerate energy independence and exports. Then there would be no national interest in the Middle East. We could just leave that area for others to squabble over.

    The other most pressing national interest, dwarfing all foreign policy issues, is our domestic finances, balancing the budget, lencouraging entrepreneurship, lowering barriers to innovation and investment, reforming the banks and Wall Street. In the long run these will have a bigger impact on our kids than the Crimea, Iraq, or Russia's treatment of its gay community.
    Posted by Bill greene  on  06/02  at  12:54 PM
  3. J. Jay,

    You liberals are forever accusing conservatives of racist/ethnic stereotyping, but just what is that “… (Iraqi Shia & Sunni) were obviously overjoyed to see us finally leave the country so they could get back to the business of killing each other …” crack of yours if not a case of ethnic stereotyping. Where’s the love? Where is that famously fatuous ‘we’re all the same under the skin’ stuff you claim as a hallmark of liberal superiority?

    It has never been claimed that quashing Saddam would or could guarantee an Iraqi government permanently favorable to American interests; and, was never a criterion for mission success. The Bush primary objectives were:
    a) Remove Saddam as a threat to regional interest and allies
    b) Eliminate Iraqi WMD
    c) Secure evidence of Iraqi weapons programs
    d) Capture or drive out terrorist and roll up their networks
    e) Place coalition forces where they could suppress terrorism long-term
    f) More effectively gather intelligence on terrorist networks

    The Bush secondary objectives were:
    g) Minimize loss of life, suffering, and property/infrastructure during our attack
    h) End Saddam’s reign of terror over his own people
    i) Secure Iraqi oil fields against destruction by Saddam
    j) End sanctions hurting ordinary Iraqis and provide humanitarian aid in their recovery
    k) Assist Iraq in creating its own stable (preferably representative) government
    l) Insure Iraqi territorial integrity and sovereignty against regional adversaries and internal diehards

    Of the above objectives, seven were fully and irreversibly met, one was partially met (WMD), four were largely met but have been subsequently nullified by Democrat policies (e.g., release of terrorists, withdrawal of support), and one was met but is now at risk from a deliberate policy of obligation nullification. Most of the Bush primary objectives were met within weeks of our invasion. If the Iraqis are no longer fully open to us, neither are they a threat nor are they likely to resume their old ways anytime soon, and that is a truer measure of long-term mission success than is your specious “favorable government” criterion.

    Already you forget what it was like in Iraq before we invaded, and how joyously most Iraqis greeted the fall of Saddam. You claim the Iraqis have no love for us, and I have no doubt that is true of some Iraqis (the fanatical among them), but plenty has been written by temperate Iraqis, and even by our own liberal press, to gainsay this antipathy you presume is (or was) widespread. More thoughtful Iraqis worry we pulled out too soon, creating a vacuum some new Saddam will fill. Read what Iraq’s own ambassador recently said about the U.S./Iraq special relation and the need to renew our commitments to them (see http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/04/world/middleeast/iraqi-envoy-calls-on-us-to-strengthen-relationship.html?_r=0 ). His is not an expression of hostility, but one of worry we have lost interest in them, their internal affairs, their security, and their stability all too soon.

    Regardless, the current government WAS favorable to us for some time, and is still far more favorable to our interests than was its predecessor. It can always be said this or that government is (in some degree) opposed to our interests. That is true even of closest allies. But, the fact remains they are with us more than against us; and that is the truer measure of ‘partiality’. They still prefer that we got rid of Saddam for them. They still prefer and trust us more than they do their hostile neighbors and even most potential alternative protectors (e.g., Russia, China). They still prefer their new government (however corrupted) over their prior system. They still recall with relief (and even some gratitude) that we came as humanitarians rather than conquerors, and left behind a deep legacy of generosity and good will. Yes, they probably wish we’d have interfered less and left sooner, but overall their experience of us was positive, and that is still reflected in our relations with their government and people. It is only now and because of Obama that this relation has soured and begun to suffer; and that is a result of Presidential mishandling (Obama’s, by failing to support and sometimes undermine allies while courting implacable foes).

    Put yourself in their shoes. Having gone from Bush, who kept his promises to them and remained steadfast in his support while opposing threats to their autonomy, to an Obama who does neither, it is understandable they would seek allies less prone to the shifting polices and allegiances of American presidents. Our system of flipping administrations (and policies) every four to eight years may be great for us, but is troubling to those who rely heavily on our strength and integrity. You seem to think loyalty should outlast the reasons that created it in the first place; that it is they, and not we Americans, who behaved unreliably or, even, unfaithfully. The Brits, Israelis and, now, the Iraqis are faithful to us because we have (mostly) been steadfast in our fidelity to them. This is a coin that loses value fast however, and is in need of constant refreshing; and it is that which has not been forthcoming from this administration.

    You may, as Bill does, disagree with the above clearly stated Bush invasion objectives, but it is quite another matter to misrepresent them the way you do – which is nothing short of a lie.

    http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2003/04/operation-iraqi-freedom-military-objectives-met
    http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/06/10-years-after-the-fall-of-saddam-how-do-iraqis-look-back-on-the-war/277362/ - even among liberal writers it is uncertain regime change was the wrong way to go.
    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/09/06/iraqi-sheikh-to-obama-we-miss-you.html# - interview with a prominent Iraqi leader refuting idea Iraqis were hostile to American military presence back when pull-out began.
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    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/07  at  09:03 AM
  4. J. Jay,

    Regarding your “… foolish militaristic foreign policy create havoc and misery …” condemnation, how do you show our invasion and rebuilding of Iraq created more havoc and misery than already existed under Saddam’s reign of terror? I don’t disagree with you the country is still a mess, but you are confusing effects with causes. Prior to the invasion (2003), the misery of ordinary Iraqis (not just Kurds) was so great as to be unbearable; and many Iraqi exiles and dissenters cried out to us to invade and overthrow Saddam. Was there some misery and havoc resulting from our initial invasion? Of course, but that was quickly rectified, and we left Iraq in far better order, free of Saddam’s tortures and assassins, economically back where it was (in 1980), freed from our own economic sanctions, and misery substantially reduced from when we arrived.

    Here is what one prominent Iraqi (a Kurd, in this case) has to say about the after effects of our invasion (see http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/06/10-years-after-the-fall-of-saddam-how-do-iraqis-look-back-on-the-war/277362/ ). While he may agree things could be much better, and feel some of that is our fault, he is also quite clear things are better and still improving. What this report ( http://www.irinnews.org/report/97909/economy-grows-but-how-many-benefit ) by a humanitarian group shows is that while ordinary Iraqis are no richer today than they were under the best of the Saddam years (early 1980s), they are far better off than they were at the time of the invasion. Moreover, the fact they are not better off (than the 1980s peak) is entirely attributed to Iraq’s still corrupt government and state ownership of oil, not to the invasion itself or to American mishandling other than we allowed too much say to the Iraqis in how they will be governed (their opinion, not mine). Yes, I realize there are far more reports (in the press and blogs) they are worse off than under Saddam, but most of those reports are shallow in their analyses, and some of them (deliberately?) confuse the Iraqi economic timeline.

    If you recall, there was an awful lot of insistence by you on the left (from 2003 onwards) that we shouldn’t indulge in ‘regime change’, shouldn’t play at ‘nation-building’, and shouldn’t interfere too much in how Iraq will be governed; that that should be left entirely to them to decide. Bush was all in agreement with you on that point, and here is the result. Recall also, that sanctions are the liberal alternative to war, that it was Democrats who insisted (and still insist) it was the better way to go. It was also Democrats who, in 1992, insisted we stop our war against Baathist aggression in Kuwait short of deposing them. War is painful but brief, and, also, sometimes effective; whereas half-measures and economic sanctions are simply painful, prolonged and pointless whenever the target is personally insulated from their effects (usually the case).

    So, no, we did not sow havoc and misery by invading, we rectified most (if not all) of the havoc and misery brought on by a brutal dictator and, then, compounded by an ineffective Western response to his aggression.
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    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/07  at  10:27 AM
  5. Bob,

    I enjoyed your list of 12 objectives that Bush probably had in mind when launching the Iraq invasion. The liberal media tried to spin it that our only objective was to remove WMD, which turned out to be hard to find in any great quantity. But all the other objectives made a certain strategic sense-- especially if one recalls that America was still reeling from the Twin Towers attack, in fear of another attack, and looking for some form of action to minimize the terrorists ability to mount additional attacks. And Bush accomplished that--all the terrorists went to Iraq to fight us there--better than them coming here to our homefront!

    While I have grown skeptical that anyone can nation build in the Middle East, that is not a criticism of Bush's policies. If I'm right, he proved it; plus he accomplished the other goals you list. I have believed from the outset that historians may never really know if the Iraq invasion was wise or a waste of time, life, and money; after all, we cannot know what might have happened if we hadn't gone in. On balance, I think Bush did the right thing.

    The bigger question--Deciding what is in our national interest, requires the wisdom of Solomom. For example, I still wonder if we really needed to go into WWI, Vietnam, etc. Or whether we should not have waited, gone in in a more limited way, and let the other combatants exhaust themselves. And, in the Middle East, a better policy may have been, starting 30-40 years ago, after OPEC signaled the future problems, to have sought energy independence and simply left the Middle East to their own devices. Thus we can second-guess everything. We can never know what might have happened if we had done something different. But now, I think the best Middle East policy would be to completely remove ourselves from the area--close the embassies, etc. (Note that our State Department has never really accomplished much--like the fabled European diplomats who have ineptly watched 1,000 years of almost constant warfare beteen the countries on the Continent!)

    I'm not sure what our national interest in the Middle East has been--but oil and Israel might be involved. But solving those two problems is so difficult that maybe we should have just changed our strategic interest--produce our own oil, and let Israel do what it wanted. Our "diplomatic" efforts over the past 60 years have not helped one whit--indeed we have hamstrung Israel from doing what it could and should do! Thus, perhaps we have no strategic interest in the Middle East!?

    A final larger concern is whether America can ever win another "war" even if our national interest is clearly at stake? Since Vietnam, the American radical left has opposed every foreign engagement--even the ones Democrats initiated. Our adversaries in Vietnam and the Middle East were heartened by seeing the almost fanatical internal American schism; and soon knew they simply had to outlast us. The American media spent months castigating our Iraq invasion because in the prison we humiliated prisoners! The Liberals constantly demanded an "exit" date which encouraged the terrorists to hold on until we left.

    The two world wars and Korea were fought, and won, with great national vigor and unanimity once started. Infact, the most liberal Supreme Court Justices allowed the internment of Japanese citizens, we rationed consumption, and we loathed the enemy. Many Americans today blame us, forgive the enemy for their atrocities, and ridicule our leaders, finding every device to sabotage the war effort. The major media oultlets aid and abet that undermining of national will. In short, future presidents may decide an intervention is wise, maybe essential, in our national interest. and winnable--but still, unlike Bush, do nothing--because he or she can reasonably expect the Left's protests to encourage the enemy to fight harder and longer until we weaken and quit.

    Posted by BILL GREENE  on  06/07  at  09:03 PM
  6. Bill,

    Actually, those were the officially listed objectives. While I took some liberties in rearranging and parsing the list, I got them from the Heritage Foundation; where they have been long archived from the Bush/Powell declarations.

    Before you write off the claims of WMD, you should read this (see http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/277115/saddam-what-we-now-know-jim-lacey ), which shows there was, in fact, a very real and substantial WMD threat in Iraq. Moreover, and as I have argued heretofore, the nine months of political wrangling and handwringing we gave Saddam while debating the advisability of invading provided him ample time to move his stock of WMD out of country. Plus, satellite data (see http://www.worldtribune.com/2012/12/07/flashback-un-inspectors-saddam-shipped-out-wmd-before-war-and-after/ ) taken prior to the attack shows that is exactly what happened to it. Whatever it was in these photos, it was moved hurriedly and can only have been something Saddam desperately wanted hidden. As you may recall, some of that WMD arguably showed up in Syria (see http://www.examiner.com/article/syrian-chemical-weapons-may-shed-light-on-saddam-s-missing-wmds ), providing a further evidence of this dispersal.

    I agree the threat was somewhat over-emphasized in the rush to convince others of a need to invade (there were, after all, other legitimate reasons to invade which were, unfortunately, downplayed as a result), but it is also unfair to characterize the Iraqi WMD as all but non-existent knowing (as we now know and I long suspected) that they were simply shifted out of country. During the 9 months we squabbled while Saddam hid behind human-shields and professed to all who would listen there were no WMD (nor any terrorist) in his country, many of us on the right knew full well he was lying and using the time to hide his WMD and shred his paper trails. We said back then that, by the time we got around to invading, the proof would be gone. There was even clear evidence his minions spent those months hiding and destroying the evidence. Had there been no WMD and no terrorist activities, do you really suppose Saddam would have spent all that energy hiding stuff that ‘didn’t exist’ while opposing every demand for inspections behind an ever shifting narrative? Or is it more likely that, at the first threat of invasion he would have insisted on inspections. As it was, he only allowed inspections at the eleventh hour, and even then continued to restrict where inspectors could go. We knew then and there he had succeeded in getting his WMD out of country, and was simply cleaning up some last minute paper trails and sanitizing his ‘dual use’ equipment.

    Despite all this, the liberal press had (and still has) a field day blasting Bush (and the right) for staking invasion on WMD and on terrorist the Left could (now) convincingly claim never existed. In a very large sense, therefore, both the Left and the press aided and conspired in this cover up by a foreign enemy. They went on from that to whip up anti-war fever exploiting the presumed ‘lack of evidence’ (just as we feared they would) purely for political grist, never caring what that meant to an effective response to terrorist and to their more ‘senior’ sponsors. Were we talking about proof of a crime in one of our law courts, then, yes, such a lack of evidence (even when known it was destroyed) matters to the outcome; but, we are talking about WMD in the hands of a madman (with an army and suicide-bombers at his beck and call) and still in the hands of madmen and not a domestic criminal; and should not deter us from the course we’d already decided (short of some more reliable proof they’d never existed). So, the real question is not (or no longer) did he have these fearsome weapons, but where they went and who has them?

    BTW, this is not the first time I have posted this information, so I have to assume you do not take these evidences seriously. Therefore I must ask, what does it take to convince you? I don’t mean this to be flippant or dismissive, because I regard you forthright, thoughtful and open to facts; and honestly want to know what level of proof it takes to convince those (like you) who are honest but deeply committed to non-interventionism. I too prefer leaving others to their own devices, but am realist enough to see that is not always the best … or safe course.
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    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/08  at  12:38 PM
  7. Bill,

    Here is one more link I meant to include in my last post: http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/277115/saddam-what-we-now-know-jim-lacey
    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  06/08  at  03:58 PM
  8. Bob, I agree that there were some WMD, they were mostly moved, the press emphasized that few were found, and ignored all the other valid reasons for toppling Sadaam. Thus the media and Left were wrong.

    However, I question our need to interfere with every foreign nation. Obama toppled the relatively stable leaders of Libya and Egypt and brought on misery to all concerned and let the radical Islamists take over. I believe we no longer have any national interest anywhere in the Middle East. We don't need their oil--we should concentrate on energy independence in North America. As for Israel, 60 years of "diplomacy" has not helped--in fact we have hamstrung Israel and financed the PLO. Why continue a failed policy?
    Posted by BILL GREENE  on  06/08  at  09:27 PM
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