Our war-loving Foreign Policy Community hasn't gone anywhere

The belief that Iraq taught America's "experts" a lesson about anything is wrong.

Published September 21, 2009 12:22PM (EDT)

A wounded U.S. soldier receives first aid inside a bunker in the village of Bargematal, Nuristan province, August 25, 2009.
A wounded U.S. soldier receives first aid inside a bunker in the village of Bargematal, Nuristan province, August 25, 2009.

[updated below - Update II (with correction)]

Advocates of escalation in Afghanistan chose Bob Woodward to "reprise his role as warmonger hagiographer" by publishing Gen. Stanley McChrystal's "confidential" memo to the President arguing for increased troops.  As Digby notes, the vague case for continuing to occupy that country is virtually identical to every instance where America's war-loving Foreign Policy Community advocates the need for new and continued wars.  It's nothing more than America's standard, generic "war-is-necessary" rationale.  That is not at all surprising, given that, as Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch notes:

The "strategic review" brought together a dozen smart (mostly) think-tankers with little expertise in Afghanistan but a general track record of supporting calls for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy.  They set up shop in Afghanistan for a month working in close coordination with Gen. McChrystal, and emerged with a well-written, closely argued warning that the situation is dire and a call for more troops and a new counter-insurgency strategy. Shocking.

The link he provides is to this list of think tank "experts" who worked on McChrystal's review, including the standard group of America's war-justifying theorists:  the Kagans, a Brookings representative, Anthony Cordesman, someone from Rand, etc. etc.  What would a group of people like that ever recommend other than continued and escalated war?  It's what they do.  You wind them up and they spout theories to justify war.  That's the function of America's Foreign Policy Community.  As one of their leading members -- Leslie Gelb, President Emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations -- recently wrote in re-examining the causes of his enthusiastic support for the attack on Iraq:

Coming from Gelb, of all people, that observation speaks volumes.  As I wrote in 2007:

The Foreign Policy Community -- a term which excludes those in primarily academic positions -- is not some apolitical pool of dispassionate experts examining objective evidence and engaging in academic debates. Rather, it is a highly ideological and politicized establishment, and its dominant bipartisan ideology is defined by extreme hawkishness, the casual use of military force as a foreign policy tool, the belief that war is justified not only in self-defense but for any "good result," and most of all, the view that the U.S. is inherently good and therefore ought to rule the world through superior military force.

That "experts" from the "Foreign Policy Community" endorse more war is about as surprising -- and as relevant -- as former CIA Directors banding together to decide that they oppose the prosecution of CIA agents.  The only event that would be news is if a group of people drawn from that "community" ever did anything other than endorse more war [and in the few instances where one hears war hesitation from them, it's always on strategic grounds ("we may not be able to achieve our mission") and never on legal, moral or humanitarian grounds ("it's really not morally or legally justifiable to slaughter enormous numbers of innocent human beings under these circumstances, or to bomb, invade and occupy a country that isn't attacking us or even able to attack us").

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We're not even out of Iraq yet -- not really close -- and there is already an intense competition underway to determine where we should wage war next.  Escalation in Afghanistan is just one option on the menu.  Iran, of course, is the other (although Venezuela has replaced Syria as a nice dark horse contestant).  In October, 2008, The Washington Post published an Op-Ed from former Senators Chuck Robb (D-Va.) and Dan Coats (R-In.) urging the next President "to begin building up military assets in the region from day one" towards "launching a devastating strike on Iran's nuclear and military infrastructure."  That October, 2008 Op-Ed was based on a new report they co-authored for the so-called (and aptly named) "Bipartisan Policy Center," which I analyzed here.  

Today, they have a new Post Op-Ed breathlessly warning that "we have little time left to expend on Iranian stalling tactics" because "Iran will be able to produce a nuclear weapon by 2010" and therefore, if there is no quick diplomatic resolution, "in early 2010, the White House should elevate consideration of the military option."  Today's Op-Ed is based an updated report they issued which shrieks in its title that "Time is Running Out" (a phrase melodramatically super-imposed on the cover over an Iranian flag and an almost-expired hourglass:  be afraid, for time is running out on all of us).  The report itself (.pdf) repeatedly demands that the U.S. threaten Iran with severe military action, beginning with a naval blockade (the Report's advocacy for that action begins by noting, with a dismissive yawn:  "Although technically an act of war . . . ." - what we're advocating is "technically an act of war":  whatever).  It then proceeds to lay out the more advanced stages of what our attack on Iran would entail.

The arguments for attacking Iran are so similar to the ones used for Iraq that it's striking how little effort they make to pretend it's different (Iran will get nukes, give them to Terrorists, we'll lose a city, etc.)  The Bipartisan Policy Center Report never takes note of the irony that it "justifies" a threat of attack against Iran by pointing to that country's violations of U.N. Resolutions, even as Article 2 of the U.N. Charter explicitly provides that "All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state" -- a prohibition which Sens. Robb and Coats demand the U.S. violate over and over.  As always, we're exempt from everything.  Just imagine what our elite class would say if Iran's leading newspapers routinely published articles from leaders of its two largest political parties explicitly advocating a detailed plan to attack, invade, blockade and bomb the U.S.

Also today in The Post, Fred Hiatt's Deputy Editor, Jackson Diehl, argues that Israel's so-called "success" in its attack on Gaza and the lack of bad outcomes from that attack may/should create the view that "even a partial and short-term reversal of the Iranian nuclear program may look to Israelis like a reasonable benefit."  When examining the costs and benefits, Diehl does not weigh or even mention the more than 700 civilians killed in Gaza (252 of them children, according to an Israeli human rights group), nor the fact that, according to a U.N. Report, Israelis (and Hamas) engaged in war crimes so serious that they may constitute "crimes against humanity" warranting a war crimes tribunal (see correction below - Update II).  When I interviewed one of the "expert consultants" on the Robb/Coats Attack-Iran report last October (Kenneth Katzman), he explicitly acknowledged that, when formulating its recommendations for attacking Iran, the "Bipartisan Policy Center" never considered the number of Iranian civilians we would slaughter if the plan were implemented (you remember Iranian Civilians:  the ones whom Bomb-Iran cheerleaders recently pretended to care so much about).  "Number of civilian deaths" never enters the war-justifying equation because the people doing the weighing aren't the ones who will be killed.

* * * * *

It's hard to overstate how aberrational -- one might say "rogue" -- the U.S. is when it comes to war.  No other country sits around debating, as a routine and permanent feature of its political discussions, whether this country or that one should be bombed next, or for how many more years conquered targets should be occupied.  And none use war as a casual and continuous tool for advancing foreign policy interests, at least nowhere close to the way we do (the demand that Iran not possess nuclear weapons is clearly part of an overall, stated strategy of ensuring that other countries remain incapable of deterring us from attacking them whenever we want to).  Committing to a withdrawal from Iraq appears to be acceptable, but only as long as have our escalations and new wars lined up to replace it (and that's to say nothing of the virtually invisible wars we're fighting).  For the U.S., war is the opposite of a "last resort":  it's the more or less permanent state of affairs, and few people who matter want it to be any different. 

The factions that exert the most dominant influence on our foreign policy have only one principle:  a state of permanent warfare is necessary (the public and private military industry embraces that view because wars are what bestow them with purpose, power and profits, and the Foreign Policy Community does so because -- as Gelb says -- it bestows "political and professional credibility").  In his 1790 Political Observation, James Madison warned:  "Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded. . . . No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."  Can anyone doubt that "continual warfare" is exactly what the U.S. does and, by all appearances, will continue to do for the foreseeable future (at least until we not only run out of money to pay for these wars -- as we already have -- but also the ability to finance these wars with more debt)?  That proposition is indisputable; it's true by definition.  Doesn't turning ourselves into a permanent war-fighting state have some rather serious repercussions that ought to be weighed when deciding if that's something we really want to keep doing?

* * * * *

On an unrelated note:  Tomorrow at roughly 10:30 a.m., I'll be on NPR's On Point with the ACORN-obsessed John Fund of The Wall St. Journal to talk about the ACORN "scandal."  I have many things to say to/about John Fund (some based on this post); along those lines, note this amazing report that 25 of the GOP Senators who just voted to cut off funding to ACORN opposed, in 2006, legislation to curb abuse and fraud by federal contractors, including the ones eating up billions upon billions of dollars in taxpayer funds in Iraq.   Local listings and live audio feed for On Point are here.


UPDATE:  It's worth noting that, almost invariably, the people who beat the drum for endless, debt-creating wars and a bankruptcy-inducing imperial foreign policy love to parade around as "fiscal conservatives" and "deficit hawks" when it comes to providing actual services to Americans.  They support constant war and occupation which burns trillions of dollars and turns us into a debtor nation, and then run around lecturing everyone on the need to restrain spending.


UPDATE II:  As well-expressed are Les Gelb's lessons about the "disposition and incentives" of the American Foreign Policy Community to support wars, it seems he has not learned them very well, as he goes today to The Wall St. Journal to advocate escalation in Afghanistan and at least another two to three years of occupation:

Even though I strongly believe that the United States does not have vital interests in Afghanistan, I also believe that Mr. Obama can't simply walk away from the war. A lot of Democrats don't seem to fathom this. At a minimum, the president has got to give Afghan allies a fighting chance to hold their own and prepare the ground to blunt the Taliban and al Qaeda. That will take time. . . . Surge two additional combat brigades, or roughly 10,000 troops, to lift the U.S. total to about 78,000 from 68,000. Deploy an additional 5,000 to 10,000 troops strictly for the purpose of training and supporting Afghan police and armed forces, and embed U.S. advisers with heavy intelligence backup. . . . Putting this strategy and the attendant capabilities in place would take two to three years. But doing so would make this war Afghanistan's responsibility. It must be this way in order to avoid defeat. . . . Defeat for America in Afghanistan and Pakistan can be avoided only if Democrats acknowledge that the Afghans need major help for two to three more years, and Republicans admit that the political clock at home won't give them much more time than that.

And on and on and on.  Meanwhile, The Washington Post Editorial Page -- one of the nation's leading cheerleaders for the Iraq War -- today hauls out standard neoconservative insults to attack Obama for daring to consider whether escalation is really a good idea ("Wavering on Afghanistan?").  It's certainly true that the original justifications for Iraq and Afghanistan differed, but the rationale for prolonging the wars is quite similar (if we leave, Al Qaeda will take over and we'll be doomed), and many of the prime advocates of the attack on Iraq are now taking the lead in demanding more war in Afghanistan.

And a correction is needed for something I wrote above about Jackson Diehl's Op-Ed. About that, I wrote:  "Diehl does not weigh or even mention the more than 700 civilians killed in Gaza (252 of them children, according to an Israeli human rights group), nor the fact that, according to a U.N. Report, Israelis (and Hamas) engaged in war crimes so serious that they may constitute 'crimes against humanity' warranting a war crimes tribunal."  That's actually untrue.  In a paragraph I inexcusably overlooked, Diehl mentions exactly that:

But what of the grievous Palestinian suffering in the invasion -- Israel itself counted 1,166 dead Gazans, including more than 450 civilians -- and the international backlash that has caused? Just last week a U.N. commission headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone condemned what it called "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population," and suggested that responsible Israelis be hauled before the International Criminal Court on war crimes charges.

Apologies to Diehl for that error, and thanks to the commenter who pointed it out.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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