The Un-discussed Foreign Policy Alternative

I was going to write a longer post on foreign policy vis a vis terrorism and ISIS, but I lack both the time as well as confidence in my foreign policy knowledge.

I will offer this, though:  There seem to be but two policy positions being discussed

  1. The largely Conservative position that there is a dangerous and violent authoritarian streak running through the world of Islam and that we need to saddle up the troops and go break some heads and impose order
  2. The Progressive position embodied by the Obama Administration that there is nothing abnormal going on in Islam and that what we see is random violence spurred by poverty and thus we should not intervene militarily (I consider the current AUMF proposed by Obama to be political posturing to satisfy polls rather than anything driven by true belief).

Why is there not a third alternative to be at least considered -- that there is something really broken in a lot of Islam as practiced today (just as there was a lot of sh*t broken with Christianity in, say, the 14th-16th centuries) and that Islam as practiced in many Middle Eastern countries is wildly illiberal (way more illiberal than any failings of Israel, though you wouldn't know that if you were living on a college campus).  But, that we don't need to saddle up the troops and try to change things by force.

Conservatives who can look at things like serial failures in Federal education policy and reach the conclusion that we should be skeptical about Federal initiatives on education seem unable to draw similar conclusions from serial failures in US interventions in the Islamic world.  And for its part, the Obama administration seems to be living in some weird alternate universe trying desperately to ignore the reality of the situation.

Yes, I know the first response to all folks like me who advocate for non-intervention is "Munich" and "Czechoslovakia".  So be it.  But if we sent in the military every time someone yelled "appeasement" our aircraft would be worn out from moving troops around.  And we seem to be totally able to ignore atrocities and awful rulers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

As a minimum, I would like to see a coalition of Arab states coming to us and publicly asking us for help -- not this usual Middle East BS we hear that Saudi Ariabi (or whoever) really in private wants us there but publicly they will still lambaste us.  Without this support we can win the war but we have no moral authority (as we did after WWII) in the peace.  Which is one reason so many of our interventions in the Middle East and North Africa fail.


  1. a_random_guy:

    "The largely Conservative position that there is a dangerous and violent authoritarian streak running through the world of Islam and that we need to saddle up the troops and go break some heads and impose order"

    Well said. I just can't resist pointing out that this is very self-descriptive for the conservatives.Saddling up the troops to go break heads and impose order in someone else's country surely represents a "dangerous and violent authoritarian streak" if anything does.

    As you point out: why can't we just mind our own knitting? The rest of the world doesn't want or need us to save it. Anyway, recent performance in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya shows that we aren't capable of imposing order, unless we are willing to stay and rule. All we've done is leave chaos in our wake, and inspire a whole new generation of people to hate us.

  2. sch:

    Graeme Wood' very recent essay on the Atlantic website is an excellent overview of ISIS view of the world.


  3. TeeJaw:

    Well, we could build the Keystone pipeline and stop buying oil from people who hate us and want to kill us.

  4. ErikTheRed:

    Reluctantly leaving the moral arguments aside, the simple fact of the matter is that the Woodrow Wilson / Harry Truman / Lyndon B Johnson / George (pick one) Bush / Bill Clinton / Barack Obama approach has us running out of money long before we run out of bodies inhabited by minds of people the US government has enraged to the point that actual violence will be committed. Keep in mind that there is a massive, massive gap between people casually disliking you and people actively disliking you, and an even bigger one between before they actually take action and kill themselves over it. It takes a lot of fuel to keep that fire burning (lots of deeper meanings there), and the progressive / neoconservative (two sides of the same coin) approach provides it.

  5. Richard Harrington:

    Let's become 110% energy self-sufficient - mostly through nuclear. Then we can just let those failed states figure out their own destinies.

  6. J_W_W:

    We pretty much have via fracking. But Obama will try as hard as he can to fix that problem.

  7. HenryBowman419:

    Why do we ignore atrocities in sub-Saharan Africa but get worked up when they occur in the Middle East?

    Hmm—perhaps it's related to oil.

  8. Russell:

    This is exactly the problem I have when I try to talk to many people in the party. They are "free trade" except for some areas like immigration where they are completely irrational.

  9. RTC:

    sch: Great article. Thanks.

  10. ColoComment:

    Presuming that Graeme Wood did his homework, his article clearly explains the expansionist and hegemonic goals of the ISIS crowd. Their claim of establishing a new caliphate extends to, basically, the whole planet, and their interpretation of the Koranic instruction to kill unbelievers and apostates (unless they surrender in dhimmitude and pay jizya) is literal and murderous. And proven, need I say?
    Do we kill the first cockroach that appears in the kitchen, or do we wait until it's reproduced behind the cabinets into numbers that are far, far, more difficult (and costly) to exterminate?

  11. Ann_In_Illinois:

    Drill, baby, drill!

  12. Ann_In_Illinois:

    Why don't we have boycotts such as those against Apartheid, but now aimed at countries that, say, don't allow women to drive or own property or take jobs? Countries that allow fathers to force their daughters into marriage at the age of 11 (and genitally mutilate/sew them shut to preserve their 'honor' before then)? Countries that impose the death penalty on homosexuals?

    A great book on how women are treated under Islam is Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel. Ms. Ali grew up in Somalia, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and Kenya, in a relatively enlightened (for those countries) Muslim family. For example, her father didn't want her to be genitally mutilated, so her grandmother had to do it when the father was away. Ms Ali was an enthusiastic member of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1985 in Kenya, and nearly married an imam of the Brotherhood voluntarily (her family only tried to force her into marriage later, but at first gave her some degree of choice).

    A big part of what changed Ms. Ali's attitudes was working as a translator in the Netherlands and seeing what the lives of Muslim women were like even in Europe. After all, the Dutch didn't want to be culturally insensitive to adult males by giving their women and children rights that weren't part of the immigrants' cultural and religious traditions.

    It's a great book that I strongly recommend.

  13. Ann_In_Illinois:

    Surely there's something between invasion and completely ignoring what is being done to so much of the world's population. What about boycotts such as those against Apartheid, but now aimed at countries that, say, don't allow women to drive or own property or take jobs? Countries that allow fathers to force their daughters into marriage at the age of 11 (and genitally mutilate/sew them shut to preserve their 'honor' before then)? Countries that impose the death penalty on homosexuals?

    Those living in the US who want to have their daughters mutilated usually take them home to have it done. But isn't there something we can do to stop the parents from coming back and living in the US again afterwards? Or does wanting to stop little girls from being sewn shut after their I-won't-say-it is cut off indicate a violent authoritarian streak on the part of those culturally insensitive enough to object?

  14. joe:

    Roosevelt, Churchill and subsequently Truman , made the
    correct decision which was not to win the war but to destroy the culture the
    breeds the warlike mentality. Yes it
    cost more lives in the short term, but today both Germany and Japan are
    productive members of the world economy.

  15. jdgalt:

    I'd like to propose an intermediate position: do less than we do now, while avoiding getting into any new wars.

    Specifically, I'd like to disengage us militarily from the Turks (even if it means leaving NATO) and from Qatar. I see several good reasons.
    1. Turkey has been opposing us in the area for years. They took Russia's side in its wars of aggression against Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine. They also wouldn't cooperate in the second Iraq war, and have been cozying up to Iran. And they fight our friends the Kurds.
    2. Both Turkey and Qatar bankroll Hamas, who are nothing less than Nazis since they have the declared goal of killing all Jews.
    3. Turkey sponsored the Gaza flotilla.

    If the US remains active in the Middle East at all, it should be for at most two purposes:
    1. Defend Israel if attacked.
    2. Rescue, or at least give asylum to, Christians from any country where they are being killed.

    In particular we should stop buying oil from any Arab country. Let Europe and/or China get bogged down trying to pacify those places if they think it's worth that price to get the oil. We have plenty of our own. This also goes for Nigeria, Sudan, and any other place where Muslims are trying to genocide non-Muslims.

    As for Ukraine, I would not want to try to fight there even if Turkey were cooperating with us. The logistics just don't work. But I do believe we made a commitment to them and didn't follow through, so we owe them their nuclear weapons back.

  16. jdgalt:

    If oil were the reason we fight, we would be fighting in Nigeria now. China is there, and for that reason.

  17. jdgalt:

    I agree except that they probably didn't do a good enough job in Japan, and I expect them to try again any time now.

    Indeed, we should never start or join any war unless we are willing to make the long-term commitment to do the same to the enemy. Or annex them permanently, or both. Anything less is a complete waste of American blood and treasure, as we saw in Viet Nam and are about to see again in Afghanistan.

  18. Nimrod:

    I can't say I know specifically what should be done, but this "lie told a 1000 times becomes true" crap from Obama and friends needs to stop. The 60s want their fatalistic utopian philosophy back.

    The only way any of this is going to change is if the Islamic world owns this problem by saying "yes these ISIL people are Islamic", then concludes "no, this is not what we want Islam to be like", and then proceeds to do something about it. Instead everyone, especially Muslims, are treated like children in denial.

    Pluralism relies on everyone to have some common underlying belief in pluralism; it can't accept anti-pluralists who actively try to subvert pluralism. That is, it can't be "universally pluralistic" without being destroyed by the paradox of how to accept its polar opposite.

    The European "solution" to this has been the de facto segregation of "multiculturalism" which has supplanted "equal protection under the law". Now they're finding out that this isn't working so well.

    There aren't any fluffy feel-good answers. At some point bad behavior has to be dealt with in a realistic manner. Continuing to make excuses while ignoring reality just doesn't work.

  19. Nimrod:

    A boycott would be an admission that there's actually something wrong that's going on, but the left in both the U.S. and Europe refuses to even admit that. Instead the belief is that beheading, domestic abuse, torture is all "ok for them because that's their culture, and every culture is equally valid except when it's 'white' culture." Not to mention that "Islam is a race" so protesting Islam would be "racist". The funny thing is that the white people who believe this BS usually don't seem to have many (if any) non-white friends, in my experience. I suspect pathological moral credentialing and moral licensing is going on.

  20. Not Sure:

    What about countries that force men to pay child support for children that aren't theirs? What should we do about them?

  21. obloodyhell:

    }}} Why is there not a third alternative to be at least considered

    The real question is: who the hell is it that's incapable of grasping that an actual solution involves a substantial admixture of ALL THREE of your options?. Other than the blog author and about a half-million other noisy yammerheads "in charge", I mean....


  22. bigmaq1980:

    Not sure that would resolve it, as there are places that would still buy oil from these guys. Also, as we see now, to produce the kinds of volumes to replace their supply to us depresses the price to a level that makes these alternative sources of petro uneconomical.

    However, reducing that dependence does help.

  23. bigmaq1980:

    Why don't we keep war simple:

    Strike only when we or (one of our allies - only countries that abide by
    a set of standards, of our making, get to be an ally) has some violence
    / use of force (of significant scale, cumulative impact) used against
    them them, and diplomatic options fail or are unavailable.

    Use overwhelming force and destroy the leadership and their ability to prosecute further conflict.

    Withdraw and let the locals regroup and reformulate new leadership over themselves.

    Strike again, if necessary, due to renewed provocation. Withdraw, again.

    Repeat, until latest leadership follows a more peaceful path.

    The objective is to have a new leadership that is not actively, ready, willing and able to use violence against us. They can do whatever else within their own boundaries. As much as we may dislike it, it is up to those people to deal with the government they have.

    Forget about nation building, maintaining the peace, etc. Just quick in and out. That gives our threat of use of force miles more credibility than we have today. We will have clear objectives, to ourselves as citizens and to citizens in those and other nations.

    When we lack credibility, clear objectives, and public support, no matter how strong our military, we open the door to more conflict.

    Imagine if we did that with Iraq and Afghanistan? Might have taken two mobilizations on each, but you bet they'd get it "right". Probably would have been far cheaper than it was. Oh, and Iran might well have decided the risk was too great to continue building their nuclear capabilities (e.g. recall how Libya responded on their WMD?).

    How does this apply here? Not directly...

    The fools in Iraq had significant time to put together a credible force to push back on ISIS, yet, their forces ran the other way. Why? Is it our job to pick up the pieces?

    We are selective on atrocities around the world...with good reason. The ISIS atrocities make great headlines (which is what they want). That's not enough, IMHO, to run our troops over there.

    Even after Charlie Hebdo, I don't see the French citizens clamoring for war
    on ISIS, AQ or equivalent group. Why should we unilaterally go?

    It does not mean we don't use our other means to provide support to those who would fight these guys. But, they have to get serious about it. Or, they can reform themselves sufficiently to become an ally - if they want our troops involved directly on their behalf.

    Perhaps there IS enough evidence to demonstrate involvement in direct violence and actively a direct threat to us or our allies as of now. If so, lay that on the table and make the case.

    But...Once we decide to go, take this approach. In and out.

  24. MB:

    So, let me get this straight: you believe there is "something seriously broken in Islam as practiced today", and propose non-intervention. But, you figure it'd be a good idea to go ahead and rile up the presumably "seriously broken" people practicing Islam today first. Yeah - brilliant idea. Can't see anything that could go wrong there...