Monday, September 28, 2009

the end of 21st century isolationism – unilateralism.

an op-ed i wrote on unilateralism...

The End of 21st Century Isolationism – Unilateralism

I just watched Obama’s UN speech, and it was everything I voted for. Obama has inherited a weakened America facing immense challenges, but despite my domestic policy disagreements, I am thoroughly impressed. Obama’s speech at the UN said everything that needed to be said, including an implicit apology for America’s missteps into the 21st century.

During the 2000 presidential primaries, I shuddered in fear when then Governor Bush was confronted by reporters on his lack of foreign affairs knowledge. I watched in disbelief as he failed foreign affairs quiz after foreign affairs quiz, frequently unable to answer questions that even I could answer just barely half way through high school.

I think at that point, a more humble person’s embarrassment might lead them to question whether they should really be pursuing the most powerful office in the world, but as we would all learn, Bush isn’t really the humble type. I decided during the primaries, when there was still a relatively wide field of candidates, that I would hope for only one thing… George W. Bush would not become president.

Well, that didn’t work out so well. I was still consoling myself with the relative stability of global politics when hijacked planes hit the World Trade Center in 2001. Now a conflict of epic proportions was emerging that intimately involved leaders like Pervez Musharraf, whose names eluded Bush just a year earlier. The path was predictable. Bush’s personal ignorance of foreign affairs yielded self-centered American policies that demonstrated a similar ignorance.

Bush made important foreign policy decisions by talking to God and trusting his gut, which a more scientific person might rightly describe as the amygdala’s projections onto the gut. (Think “fight or flight.”) Consequently, his policies used fear to send America’s amygdala into overdrive, and for the sake of simplicity and expediency, even people who knew better accepted the flawed perspective of foreign policy challenges existing in a vacuum.

As much as I appreciate that Bush rightly lambasted isolationism, sometimes in disagreement with his own party, Bush got it terribly wrong. In the days of Chamberlain, Churchill, and Hitler, Bush’s condemnation of isolationism would have confirmed the courage he saw in the mirror, but what Bush didn’t realize was that it wasn’t World War II and his detractors weren’t present day Neville Chamberlains. Bush was on the wrong side of history, just as Neville Chamberlain was. In today’s interconnected world, unilateralism is the new isolationism.

The flaw of isolationism in the 20th century was the false view that domestic affairs could exist in a vacuum, and a state could act without regard for consequences beyond its borders. It was promoted by oversimplifying foreign affairs, and subverting logical appraisals in favor of the instinctive amygdala. Sure enough, ignoring foreign affairs in the run up to World War II came at a sobering cost.

The flaw of unilateralism in the 21st century is the false view that international relations can exist in a vacuum, and a state can act unilaterally without regard for consequences on a global scale. It too is promoted by oversimplifying foreign affairs and subverting reason and deliberation in favor of “fight or flight.” The invasion of Afghanistan has destabilized a nuclear armed Pakistan, and the invasion of Iraq has strengthened Iran in numerous ways, the direst being America’s loss of credibility in enforcing the non-proliferation of WMD.

Luckily that chapter of American foreign policy is over, and hopefully for good. Obama’s UN speech described a radically different approach to international relations, centered on the recognition that 21st century challenges are global in nature and thus require global cooperation and compromise. America is still the preeminent power in the world, and Obama made it clear in no uncertain terms that he will serve the interests of his constituents, but his global perspective finally realizes something unilateralism didn’t: Our interests are shared, and best served through multilateralism.

Monday, September 14, 2009

waging peace in afghanistan.

an op-ed i wrote on afghanistan...

Waging Peace in Afghanistan

When it comes to winning the peace, the U.S. doesn’t have the best record, and when it comes to learning foreign policy lessons, the U.S. seems to have a steep learning curve. When major combat operations are over, the conflict is in many ways just beginning. The U.S. may not have learned the hard way, but America certainly found out the hard way after the 1980’s effort to supply the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Despite the frustration of many involved, the U.S. turned its back on the reconstruction after it drove the Soviets from Afghanistan, and left a vacuum that was occupied by the most brutal of the rebels, the Taliban.

After the blowback from a forgotten Afghanistan hit the U.S. on September 11th, 2001, one might think military planners would realize that military victory is only a means to an ultimately political end. It is in the U.S.’s interests to see a secure, democratic, and prosperous Afghanistan. However when the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan a month after September 11th, it had a troop commitment of only 1,300. When the Taliban fell, there were only 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Though Afghanistan is a very different story than Iraq, the biggest mistake was similar.

The U.S.’s erroneous beliefs concerning the Iraq War’s immediate aftermath established a poor start for its most ambitious nation-building endeavor since World War II. Blind faith in the now defunct opinions of Iraqi exiles, who assured US officials that they would be “greeted as liberators,” caused them to neglect the need for a post war plan to maintain order following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s regime. In what has been called a “catastrophic victory,” the U.S. was so focused on and so good at winning the war that it had forgotten about and wasn’t ready for winning the peace.

In the absence of a plan to win the peace, Iraq was a power vacuum. Scenes of chaos and looting filled the airwaves. The basic functions of the now absent state, such as protection of property, were opportunistically undertaken by Iraqi opposition groups, greatly consolidating their power. Unconcerned with and often openly hostile to U.S. interests, these groups found themselves in firm command and control of enclaves within Iraq to an extent rivaling the control of the U.S., CPA, and eventually the new Iraqi government.

Luckily the tide turned when General Petraeus took over. General Petraeus understands that victory in Iraq is not only a military challenge, and he inspired his soldiers by asking “What have you done for the people of Iraq today?” It is a good sign for Afghanistan that the similarly perceptive General Stanley McChrystal has assumed command there. He works closely with Karl Eikenberry, the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and is concerned with the well-being of the Afghan people. And it doesn’t hurt that he is an expert in counter-insurgency and special operations.

Today there are about 63,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, more than double the previous year’s amount as part of President Obama’s escalation strategy, but more may be needed. If one follows the polls, it seems war weariness is on the rise just as a torrent of other issues is overshadowing Afghanistan, but now is a critical time for Afghanistan and it is important America doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the past and let Afghanistan go adrift. As the memory of another September 11th anniversary fades, don’t forget the importance of Afghanistan, historically and presently. As I once argued for the President and Congress to give Petraeus all the resources he needed in Iraq, it is now time to give McChrystal all the resources he needs in Afghanistan.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

letters to the president.

so i guess ahmadinejads the president now. i caught letters to the president on hbo awhile back. its a toungue in cheek documentary about the presidents populism... pretty humorous.

speaking of documentaries, they actually caught a couple seconds of my parents in the queen and i, also on hbo. about 3/4s through, they caught my mom standing next to the queen at a charity dinner in dc, and my dads in the background... pretty cool.

btw... anyone catch this? kinda funny.