Most of the essays I wrote in 2012 I didn't publish. This is one of them; the only change I've made is the title, which was originally "On the Road to Perdition With U.S. Foreign Policy."
Monday, June 18, 2012
In a voice positively trembling with emotion Senator John McCain told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute the other day that America's founders believed that the Creator endowed Man with certain inalienable rights and that these rights applied to all humankind. This was Mr McCain's fallback rationale for strong U.S. intervention in Syria; this after his verbal house of cards, which built the entire edifice of the Middle East's problems on Assad's regime, became so shaky it risked collapse.
The only major dissenting voice on the Syria panel that followed Mr McCain's speech belonged to one Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism specialist who found himself in the fool's role when he injected clear thinking into Mr McCain's arguments. Did Washington have a Plan B, much less a Plan A, for further U.S. intervention in Syria in case Assad's fall had unintended consequences? Was there a plan for securing the numerous bio-chem WMD sites around Syria in the event Assad was toppled? Had Washington made heads or tails yet of the various opposition groups fighting Assad? These and several other embarrassingly basic questions Mr Fishman believed needed answering before the U.S. waded any deeper into Syria.
Yet it was left to a member of the audience, who identified himself as a teacher, to ask for clarification on Mr McCain's interpretation of the founding fathers' fundamental rationale for disputing the English monarchy's rule of the American colony. The moderator passed the question to the panel; two took a stab at a reply but neither addressed the question head on, and the moderator quickly asked for another question from the audience before the clear-headed Mr Fishman had a chance to weigh in.
The clarification, of course, is that it's a perversion of the intent and meaning of the Declaration of Independence to wrest from it a rationale for U.S. intervention in Syria. However, perverting the meaning of American values to rationalize American intervention in the affairs of foreign countries has become the signature foreign policy of the United States of America. To blame this on President Obama or even the Responsibility to Protect crowd is to be ignorant of history. Over the course of 70 years American foreign policy went from making the world safe from the Nazi Axis to making the world safe from Communism to making the world safe from Soviet Russia to making the world safe from Vladimir Putin but because that last didn't look quite right on the letterhead the proper application of American ideals to foreign policy was recast as making the world safe from authoritarian heads of state.
Makes no matter if the authoritarians have no special truck with the United States, or even that they're al Qaeda's natural enemies or that they hold the line against radical Islamic groups in their nations. (Mr McCain confided to another confused AEI audience member, who was under the impression that the Muslim Brotherhood was an implacable enemy of the United States, that there are "certain layers" of the Muslim Brotherhood the U.S. government can "work with")
Nor does it matter that when it comes to certain authoritarian leaders the U.S. government studiously refrains from invoking the Responsibility to Protect doctrine no matter how many atrocities the strongman carries out against defenseless civilians in his country -- a point raised by another confused AEI audience member.
Yet another confused member of the audience asked Mr McCain how U.S. policymakers were squaring the Islamist leanings of Turkey's government with the country's participation in NATO. Mr McCain explained that Turkey was one of America's staunchest allies and that one shouldn't confuse Islamism with authoritarianism; although he said he was disturbed by the government's detention of many Turkish journalists and about other authoritarian actions such as arresting 100 members of the country's military, he insisted that these actions had nothing to do with Islam.
It would be naive to dismiss John McCain as a crackpot or warmonger; he's become the darling of the American news show circuit since he began advocating for the right to protect Syrian dissidents. His views are very useful to a large number of players. Last week U.S. public television's PBS NewsHour, which is the veritable U.S. branch of the BBC when it comes to reporting on foreign affairs and a supporter of the Democratic Party when reporting on domestic affairs, gave Mr McCain, a Republican, a platform to criticize Mr Obama for what Mr McCain considered his recent 'in your face' attitude toward Pakistan's generals.
Mr McCain is doing a lot of talking on the airwaves these days -- C-SPAN television snapped up his speech at AEI -- and in the process revealing more about the present state of U.S. foreign policy thinking than State Department press conferences.
Mr McCain is the ranking Republican member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which means he's in a position to know how the winds are blowing in Washington's defense/foreign policy establishment. So, confused Americans need to study the C-SPAN airing of Mr McCain's remarks at AEI and the riveting panel discussion and Q and A session AEI provided so they can stop being confused and get with the program.
Confused Americans can start on their journey of comprehension by noting that few members of the American Enterprise Institute's audience were Americans. The audience represented a cross-section of the International Community; Mr McCain's first questioner was a member of Sweden's Green Party.
So how did we get from the Treaty of Westphalia to the doctrine that any sovereign nation is a candidate for invasion by the International Community if its government inflicts alleged atrocities on its civilian population?
How did we get from the Declaration of Independence to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement of U.S. economic sanctions against Uganda's government and any other national government (excluding Pakistan and Afghanistan's, of course, and other --er -- Sharia-compliant governments) if it trampled the human rights of lesbians, homosexuals, bisexuals and gender-switching people?
How we got from there to here is a long story, and if you don't want to walk the cat all the way back to events that led to U.S. involvement in World War One, you can pick up the thread by starting with the boast of a White House official during the Reagan presidency that the U.S. had gotten so skilled at peacefully toppling regimes that it no longer needed the CIA to mount soft coups.
The skill was based on the application of Gene Sharp's codification of tactics for nonviolent protestors. It sounded good on paper, the idea that the American government could create at least the appearance of major internal organized opposition to a foreign government by translating the 'divide and rule' stratagem the English colonizers perfected into one of 'instigate and divide' in order to manage outcomes at the voting booth.
Thus, even though roughly half of Ukrainians wanted good relations with Russia, through divide and instigate tactics in combination with media manipulation, the U.S. government and its NATO allies were able to create the impression that all of Ukraine was protesting against human rights abuses by the Russia-tolerant government, and then ram through a Russia-unfriendly candidate. (The "Orange Revolution.")
The American-backed Ukrainian regime soon collapsed under the weight of reality but the biggest downside of a foreign power weaponizing civil rights protests became evident when the internet era got off the ground: with the widespread dissemination of detailed information about Sharp's codified tactics, authoritarian heads of state were able to study the tactics then deploy countermeasures, which invariably translated into even greater losses of freedom for the populace.
By the time of the botched Green Revolution, which found Iran's Revolutionary Guard positioning snipers on rooftops to pick off Tweeting and Texting civil rights activists who were wielding their cell phone cameras like weapons, it was clear to the International Community that it needed to deploy more muscular ways of unseating authoritarian leaders.
Thus, the ascendency of the argument that with Rwanda and Darfur as the grim examples, it was necessary to codify the right of the International Community to ignore the sovereign rights set forth in the Treaty of Westphalia in order to save populations at the mercy of a government's genocidal campaign.
The argument got complicated when Gamal Mubarak acted to strip Egypt's military of its hold on the Egyptian economy -- a move quietly backed by Gamal's father, Hosni, the titular head of Egypt's government. No genocide was being committed, no democide. But the military, considered by the United States and its NATO allies to be key in upholding Egypt's peace deal with Israel and holding the line against Iran, needed help in dealing with the Gamalists. The Gamalists, for their part, were very determined to free Egypt of its dependence on American handouts and saw a genuinely improved Egyptian economy as the means -- a goal that couldn't be achieved with Egypt's generals standing in the way.
And so U.S. gongos -- the same ones that figure prominently in orchestrating 'color revolutions' -- and hordes of American and European 'activists' were dispatched to help whip up unrest in Egypt, already widespread because of bad economic conditions in the country, in the name of protecting Egyptian human rights.
The Tahrir Square production, or Cecil B. DeMille on the Nile, which didn't require overt NATO military intervention, was so successful in toppling the Gamalists that the U.S. government and its EU/NATO allies turned their sights on Bashar al-Assad's regime. The problem was that most in the Syrian Allawite minority supported Mr Assad and few in the majority wanted an Islamist regime. Some means had to be found to instigate serious trouble and sharply divide the Syrians.
A few days ago the means were inadvertently revealed to CNN viewers by a young American blogger at TIME magazine. I've blanked out the blogger's name, in horror at the fact that she was very proud of the means -- although clearly she hadn't thought. Tech-savvy American and European activists were sent into Syria to show human rights activists there how to flummox the Syrian military's countermeasures against the use of cellphone technology to relay information about civil rights protests. If the instigators had just stopped there, it might have worked out to a standard Gene Sharp-type stage production, but they didn't stop there. They also told the activists that they would arrange with their governments to publicize in their national media outlets every video of Syrian government atrocities that the activists could create.
In other words, all the activists had to do was film instances of the military firing on protesters, and these would be edited and shipped to Western audiences. This was as much telling the activists that there were setting up a kind of global reality television show. Surely, one would hope, they left unspoken that the activists simply had to instigate instances of Syrian military oppression in order to get the footage on global TV, but they didn't need to spell this out to people who wanted Assad gone at any cost.
Do you understand? The Gene Sharp approach, which was perverted by the U.S. and EU governments to serve a variety of geopolitical aims, was about peaceful regime change through the voting booth -- and to achieve this through foreign powers engaging in rather simple media manipulation and the staging of nonviolent civil rights protests. But once the Responsibility to Protect doctrine jelled, once it became acceptable to use military invasion to unseat a regime, Mr Sharp's approach looked old-fashioned. Now, all that's necessary is to create conditions where the International Community could cite mass murder of civilians as the justification to invade a country.
So. Here we are today. Where, exactly, is "here?" On the road to perdition.