In the Washington Post, Michael Dobbs writes about the recent outbreak of hostilities in Georgia. Dobbs has a good amount of experience in the region, and he explains how Georgia played a big role in provoking this crisis, possibly at the encouragement of the Bush Administration. Russia’s response was overly aggressive, but despite our promises to Georgian president Saakashvili, there’s little to nothing we can do militarily to stop what’s happening.
John McCain’s electoral hopes are pinned on his abililty to breathe life into the dying myth that Republicans are “tougher” on foreign policy, and he certainly sees this crisis as a way to do so. He decided to send the Larry and Curly to his Moe out to Tbilisi to do whatever it is that they do when they travel closer to the countries they’re terrified of. But beneath the surface, this conflict brings out some of the glaring weaknesses in the Bush-McCain foreign policy playbook. It may sound like toughness, but in the end, our allies get kneecapped and fewer people around the world trust us.
Publius from Obsidian Wings reiterates the central failure of McCain’s foreign policy approach:
David Kirkpatrick’s piece on McCain’s response to 9/11 and the “McCain Doctrine” should have been titled “McCain Repeatedly, Horribly Wrong on Virtually Everything About Iraq.” Kirkpatrick lays out several damning facts, but — frustratingly — makes the reader draw the most important conclusions.
Anyway, what’s frightening about McCain’s response to 9/11 is that it was basely entirely on false assumptions and the knee-jerk use of military force. But it’s more than simply that McCain was wrong about Iraq — lots of people were wrong about Iraq. What’s particularly troubling about McCain’s reaction is that his wrongness stemmed directly from the assumptions of his manichean worldview — assumptions he would bring with him to the White House.
In short, his is a world of good versus evil, where threatening and using force is always necessary, and where wildly diverse countries are lumped together as evil “autocracies.” No matter the country (Serbia, Iraq, Georgia), no matter the circumstances — the problem is always the same (evil), the solution always the same (threaten or use force).
The past decade has shown us how the dangers of this thinking – our belief that we must boil every issue and every conflict that arises in the world into a bi-polar good-vs-evil struggle and use force to combat that “evil” – has stretched our military to the breaking point and left us unable to address real threats. When you become locked in this mindset, and you and your allies are always the “good” in that equation, your view of the world becomes incredibly distorted. In the end, you begin to sound like a confused madman, chastising others for doing the exact same things that you’ve been doing yourself. But in your mind, it’s always justified because you are the “good” in the struggle against “evil.”
Over the past decade, the world has come to see this growing emptiness in our supposed moral authority, even if many Americans never question it. But one can’t cover their eyes with their hands and expect the entire world to become invisible. The Bush Administration has made America weak, and what we’ve been seeing in Georgia this month was Russia’s ability to exploit that weakness with ease.
But while endorsing another 4 years of this failed foreign policy mindset is bad enough, I’m not sure we’re thinking about how dangerous this is when the people in charge feel that the “evil” they’re fighting is lurking domestically as well. Speaking in front of the Urban League recently, John McCain said the following:
Answering a question about his approach to combatting crime, John McCain suggested that military strategies currently employed by US troops in Iraq could be applied to high crime neighborhoods here in the US. McCain called them tactics ‘somewhat like we use in the military…You go into neighborhoods, you clamp down, you provide a secure environment for the people that live there, and you make sure that the known criminals are kept under control. And you provide them with a stable environment and then they cooperate with law enforcement.’ The way he described it, his approach sounded an awful lot like the surge.
Every large myth is supported by a series of smaller myths, and the myth of Republican foreign policy superiority is certainly no exception. The myth that the Surge was some magical tactic that single-handedly ended violence in Iraq is still around. For those who haven’t been keeping score, the drop in violence in Iraq started happening before the Surge, some of the most prominent reductions in violence happened in places where coalition troops left, and Baghdad is now a city of walls rather than a newly pacified urban area.
After everyone with the means to do so fled Baghdad for places like Syria and Jordan, the Iraqi capital city was turned into a series of ethnic prison enclaves in order to dampen the violence. I sure as hell hope this isn’t John McCain’s vision for solving inner city crime. But as Publius explained, for John McCain every problem is an “evil”, and every solution is to threaten or use force. Short of genocide, there’s no greater indication of an intent to use force than trying to turn the place where the “evil” resides into a giant prison, caging it inside.
America’s crime problem is certainly growing again. Mexico’s crime problem is a national crisis. And the amount of illegal immigration that occurs from Mexico is certainly fueled by the latter. While illegal immigrants, on the whole, commit less crime than legal immigrants or American citizens, the sensationalizing about their massive presence overshadows this and quickly drowns out the facts. And the presence of so many people in this country working and living outside the system will undoubtedly start to have serious societal repercussions if nothing is done.
There are two ways to attack these problems. One way involves understanding the roots of why these phenomena are happening, addressing those issues, and beginning to undermine the criminal gangs by going after how they make the money they need to survive. The other way involves seeing drug trafficking and illegal immigration as an amorphous evil that we must combat through brute force. For years we’ve tried the latter, and for years, we’ve watched these problems get worse and worse. In the end, many people have just thrown up their hands and said, “just build a wall,” but while that might work for a while in a city like Baghdad, it won’t work at all across a 2000 mile border. At some point, we need to get smarter, and that’s obviously not going to happen if we put John McCain in the White House.
When it comes to our attempts to keep the peace in Iraq, we’ve seen the use of private security contractors grow. But it’s not just in Iraq that companies like Blackwater win government contracts. Blackwater personnel were on the ground during Katrina, and they’re also conducting anti-terrorism training at a new facility along the U.S.-Mexico border.
In Southern California recently, one of the DEA agents carrying out a raid on a medical marijuana dispensary was seen wearing a Blackwater T-shirt. The picture was then removed from the L.A. Times website. No one knows why this agent was wearing it. Hell, he may have ordered the thing online. But the image reminded us that having a private security agency with little or no oversight like Blackwater enforcing the drug war, or enforcing our immigration laws, is a line no thicker than many of the other lines that the Republican Administration currently in power has crossed.
The growth of paramilitary police tactics throughout America is one of the scariest developments of this era. When someone like John McCain stands in front of us and says that he wants to “clamp down” on the violence in our cities and towns, too many of us still just assume that we won’t get caught in its grips. But tell that to someone like Berwyn Heights, Maryland mayor Cheye Calvo, who had a SWAT team raid his home, terrorize his wife and mother-in-law, and shoot his two dogs for no reason, all because someone randomly addressed a package of marijuana to his house as part of a drug trafficking scheme. Tell that to people like Cory Maye and Ryan Frederick, two young men with no criminal records who awoke to the sound of people breaking into their house at night, reacted by shooting at the intruders, only to realize they’d killed police officers and might have to spend the rest of their lives in jail.
Whether it’s halfway across the world, or in our own backyard, the idea that our power and authority does not come with any form of accountability or responsibility – simply because we are “good” fighting against “evil” – is rapidly eroding the trust in that power and authority. The Bush Administration’s hypocrisy between the Kosovo and the South Ossetia situations shares a common denominator with the hypocrisies over how America fights crime domestically. It starts with a belief that a desire for autonomy can be a dangerous thing if it’s viewed as running counter to that larger struggle.
But the battle for autonomy is the larger struggle. There’s no greater representation of democracy than having the ability to express your desires freely. George Bush and John McCain often say they understand this, and that they’re “spreading democracy,” but by their actions, it’s very clear that they don’t, and they aren’t. And the most dangerous thing we can do right now is to take another 4 years to learn how the failed approach of our foreign policy also fails when applied right here on our own streets.