Rice: Military power is "not the way to deal in the 21st century"

Bush's secretary of state sermonizes against the use of military force as a means of delivering a message.

Published August 19, 2008 2:36PM (EDT)

It's hardly news that the U.S., like many countries, espouses standards that it routinely violates, but still, even in light of such routine hypocrisy, wouldn't you think that this, from Condoleezza Rice today, on an airplane to U.S. reporters while traveling to a NATO meeting, would be too brazen to utter:

Russia is a state that is unfortunately using the one tool that it has always used whenever it wishes to deliver a message and that's its military power. That's not the way to deal in the 21st century.

Whatever one's views are on the justifiability of each isolated instance, it's simply a fact that the U.S. invades, bombs, occupies, and interferes in the internal affairs of other countries far more than any other country on the planet. It's not even a close competition.

Just during the time Rice has served in the Bush administration, we bombed, invaded and occupied Afghanistan; did the same to Iraq; repeatedly bombed Somalia, killing all sorts of civilians; fed bombs to Israel as they invaded and bombed Lebanon; top political officials (led by John McCain and Joe Lieberman) have repeatedly threatened, and advocated, that the same be done to a whole host of other countries, including Iran and Syria. That's to say nothing of the virtually countless interventions and bombings in the pre-Bush, "peacetime" years -- from the Balkans and Panama to Somalia, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and on and on and on.

The most enduring and predominant rule of American politics is that every national politician must demonstrate their willingness, even eagerness, to start wars. On the day in 1989 that the first George Bush ordered the deadly U.S. invasion of Panama, The New York Times' R.W. Apple approvingly wrote on the front page that starting wars like that was "a Presidential initiation rite," and that "most American leaders since World War II have felt a need to demonstrate their willingness to shed blood to protect or advance what they construe as the national interest." Thus, proclaimed Apple, Bush's attack on Panama was an example of his "showing his steel" and "has shown him as a man capable of bold action."

A Kos diarist today hailed Joe Biden as an excellent Vice Presidential choice and, to bolster his argument, posted a video of Biden from a couple of months ago, appearing on The Today Show with Matt Lauer. The diarist believes the video shows how "tough" and "aggressive" Biden is. Lauer asked Biden how Democrats could combat the perception that Republicans are more trustworthy on national security because Democrats are "weak," and Biden assured Lauer that he had the right strategy to combat that:

LAUER: [McCain's] argument -- the Democratic Party itself, somewhere in the late 1960s, became weak on national security, at least perceived to be weak -- we started to see a party wringing its hands and blaming American for what's wrong in the world. Now, as we look at the upcoming election, particularly between a war hero and Barack Obama, do you think that's going to be a major problem for Democrats?

BIDEN: I think that's what they're going to revive. There's truth to that. I ran in 1972 as a young 29-year-old guy who won the Senate seat, being the guy who was viewed as a hawk, because I didn't join in that mantra.

It was Bill Clinton -- and, I might say, me pushing it -- saying that you had to go to war in the Balkans to end genocide. It was John McCain initially saying, no no no you can't do that -- the Republicans voting, no no no we can't do that.

Apparently, that's the way many Democrats believe they can and should answer the accusations that they're "weak" on national security -- not by contesting the underlying premises that starting wars is a sign of "strength,' but instead, by proving that they, too, want to prosecute wars -- just perhaps in different places or with different tactics. As Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee in 2002, Biden also voted to authorize the attack on Iraq.

And Biden just returned from visiting Georgia, spouting all sorts of bluster towards Russia ("Russia's actions in Georgia will have consequences") and demanding that $1 billion of U.S. taxpayer money be transferred to Georgia to help them after they decided to start their own war (McClatchy: "Biden talks tough after Georgia visit"). As Billmon documented yesterday, Biden has been a leading proponent of passing legislation to demand NATO admission for Georgia and, even without it, to treat Georgia as though it is a full-fledged U.S. ally (Billmon: "There are times, it seems, when Joe Biden can be damned near as dangerous as Dick Cheney"). In Biden's mind, nobody will accuse him of being "weak" -- because he exudes the mandatory affection for using U.S. military force in a wide variety of situations far beyond self-defense.

The idea that the U.S. can, should and must be, more or less, in a state of permanent war, and can start wars in a whole host of circumstances having nothing to do with defending the country from an attack or imminent attack, is as close to an unchallengeable, bipartisan article of faith as it gets. We're a country that fights wars and uses military force in far more places and for far broader reasons than any other country in the world, by far. Again, regardless of one's views about whether our wars are really Good and Just -- even if one believes that what we drop on other countries are Good and Loving Freedom Bombs -- it's still just a fact that no country views military action as a more appropriate response in more situations than the U.S. does.

That's why it's so amazing to watch Condoleezza Rice, more or less without contradiction, say things like this:

Russia is a state that is unfortunately using the one tool that it has always used whenever it wishes to deliver a message and that's its military power. That's not the way to deal in the 21st century.

Other than our media elite, is there anyone who doesn't recognize how absurd it is for Rice to be issuing a sermon like that? Who is the target audience for that? And what does it say about our political discourse that Rice knows she can say things like that with a straight face -- and, before her, that John McCain can do much the same -- without its being pointed out how darkly laughable it is?

By Glenn Greenwald

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