Gerson’s Foreign Policy Op-ed: All Kinds of Wrong

Reading Michael Gerson’s latest piece on foreign policy and the idea America is in retreat at the moment from the rest of the world leaves one wondering how he even conjured this view of policy in the first place.  So much of this argument is questionable it is hard to address all that is wrong.  But here goes!

His first line is interesting but suggests a my-way-or-the-highway perspective:

Declining national influence is a choice, and America seems to be making it.

The bulk of Mr. Gerson’s argument has to do with the cuts in military spending due to the sequester and the potential effects we will see from that “choice”.  The problem with this line of thinking is it implies that it’s impossible to have influence around the world in any way other than through military strength and, of course, a nearly overzealous hankering to use it.  No other options are allowed, such as investing in education instead of bombs.  The idea that we could still be the world’s superpower and lead by example through having the brightest minds is ludicrous apparently.  Same goes health care, information technology, or human rights.  Not that we are at the bottom of the world in those areas, but there is more than one way to be an inspiration and make others watch with envy.  This also implies the military can’t take even the slightest of cuts at any point or we will be invaded by North Korea and blown to bits.  Feel free to insert your favorite joke about North Korea’s military prowess here.

Iran is on the verge of building the Shiite bomb and igniting a sectarian nuclear arms race (and you thought a purely ideological nuclear arms race was scary)…If you are the Iranian regime, you might wonder if America’s nuclear red line is truly red.

Very scary stuff!  Just one thing Mr. Gerson needs to do here: give something that looks like even the slightest bit of proof that Iran is actually pursuing a nuclear weapon.  The fact is, up to this point, not one shred of evidence has been produced to suggest this and further stoking the idea of this boogeyman is dangerous for everyone.  As I’ve said before, we’ve been down this road where a Middle Eastern country has been alleged to have WMDs and many people died over the illusion.  How can we let ourselves get fooled again?

In the Middle East and North Africa, a combination of economic stagnation, a youth bulge and a sense of historical grievance — all the preconditions for radicalism and terrorism.

The funny thing about this statement is there is no further elaboration about the fact the United States played a pretty big role in both the economic and grievance parts in these areas of the world and that, just maybe, the people are a little ticked at us for it, particularly the latter.  My question to Mr. Gerson would be this: what should these folks do about their “historical grievance”?  Just forget about decades of oppression at the hands of dictators who were backed economically and militarily by the United States?  Frankly, they should be angry at us for the time being and should not want our “influence” in their countries as they transition away from those former governments.  In this area of the world, the U.S. made its bed in a very bad way for a very long time and now we are going to have to sleep in it, whether we like it or not.  Engagement with these countries will be possible and likely down the road but an effort must first be made to let them work out their new governments and give them the chance to make what they want of their lands without an overbearing outside influence.

Elements on the right and left apparently believe that reducing military resources will constrain future interventions. This is perhaps true of a European country. For America, with a set of unavoidable global interests, it doesn’t work this way. Constrained resources generally mean that interventions, when necessary, come at a later time, under less favorable conditions, from a weaker position.  (Emphasis added)

I’m honestly not sure why Mr. Gerson did not just go ahead and use the word he wanted here: imperialism.  The phrase “future interventions” obviously implies there will be many more no matter how things play out in the world and the U.S. will mostly be alone in conducting them.  Our interventions over the past few decades, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Latin America in the ’80s, have typically gone so poorly that maybe the time has come for us to entertain some other options.  But, then again, we do have our “unavoidable global interest”.  And judging from our actions, those interest are not stopping genocide-like massacres, such as what occurred in the Sudan for so long, or spreading democracy, indicated by our support of rulers like Hussein and  Mubarak, but going after resources.  Whether those resources are oil or cheap labor, we have our priorities and we need to be able to control them, especially when the lands they are produced in are not actually American soil.  In short, just go back to that i-word at the beginning of this paragraph.

A campaign (drone attacks) conducted by U.S. intelligence services and military forces with exceptional patience, restraint and care in targeting is vilified for political gain and ideological pleasure. Could there be a more potent symbol of the unlearning of the lessons of 9/11?  (Emphasis added)

Incredibly well phrased piece of propaganda supporting drones.  I almost want them over my head!

Not really.  And if Mr. Gerson thinks they are carried out with such “care”, I would issue a small challenge.  Leave your cell phone and anything you could use to tell people where you are behind.  Now, move to an area of Pakistan where militants are being targeted by drones and live there for a year.  Are you sure you trust the policy that much with a roughly 3-to-1 ratio of militant to civilian death rate by drones in Pakistan?  I’m going to say, probably not.  And if Mr. Gerson is not willing to take that chance, he may want to adjust his wording when describing the policy next time.

(Quick side note: not sure how the word ‘care’ makes its way into a description of drones.  Why not really go for the gusto and add rainbows, cuddly teddy bears, and prancing unicorns in your argument as well?)

But he is so wrong about so much in this foreign policy argument, why should we expect anything else?

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