Power: Congressional and American

Third and final blog reflecting on Garry Wills’ BOMB POWER: THE MODERN PRESIDENCY AND THE NATIONAL SECURITY STATE.   The first blog in the series is Super Power: Is The Bomb America’s True or only strength?

James Madison

In the previous blog, Presidential Power, American Founding Father James Madison was very clear as to war power belonging to the Congress and why – America is not to be governed by one person laying claim to imperial power.  In free government (free from monarchical rule), so Madison says, there must be debate, deliberation and discussion about going to war.  However, since the rise of atomic weapons at the end of WWII, American presidents have laid greater claims to the right to use the countries military to carry out American foreign policy.  Madison wrote“There can be no harm in declaring, that standing armies in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and ought to be avoided, as far as it may be consistent with the protection of the community.”    Madison feared that in general if there was a standing army, the government would always be tempted to use it.  

When it comes the military and going to war, the U.S. Constitution puts the authority with Congress, not with the president:

“The congress shall have power

To lay and collect taxes, duties… to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States…

To declare war, to grant letters of marquee and reprisal…

To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years.

To provide for calling forth the militia to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions.”   (U. S. Constitution)

U.S. Constitution

Garry Wills contention is that since the creation of the atom bomb  toward the end of WWII, the executive branch has usurped the Constitutional authority of congress by making warfare a normal way of conducting foreign policy, thus violating the Constitution.  While almost every President since Truman has used these powers to engage in military conflicts by-passing congress in doing so and becoming ever more secretive about it, Wills thinks former Vice President Dick Cheney has pushed the executive grab for power harder than anyone.   He attributes the disastrous fall of GW Bush’s popularity and failure of his policies as the direct result of Cheney’s effort which resulted in Barak Obama gaining the presidency.   (He doesn’t see Obama as readily giving up the powers that Bush had claimed, which is part of the problem Wills is describing: each president claimed more powers to engage in war, to ever increasing secrecy, to usurping congressional powers, and few have tried to ever reverse the powers previous presidents have claimed for the executive branch.  Congress did pass a War Powers Resolution in 1973 stating “The President in every possible instance shall consult with Congress before introducing United States Armed Forces into hostilities…” but Wills notes this is already congress surrendering its constitutionally defined power to the presidency.  The War Powers Resolution  gives tacit recognition to presidential violation of the constitution; congress is begging the presidents to share the power to maintain a military or go to war with congress whereas constitutionally these powers belong to congress alone!   Dick Cheney opposed this resolution from when it was first proposed, not because he wants to defend the constitution, but on the contrary because he wanted the presidency to have exclusive power!). 

The founding fathers created a constitution in which the powers of government were spread through three branches (executive, legislative and judicial) precisely to prevent a monarchical personage from emerging to control the government and the nation and to suppress democratic debate and deliberation.  Big government consists not only of offering entitlements to some people, it also takes the form of ever usurping the powers granted to the three branches by the Constitution.

More War?

AmConsI read two articles in THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE, both dealing with how America goes to war which I recommend others to read.    As a member of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship I am interested in conversations in this country of political leadership which questions our over eagerness to plunge into war.   As Philip Giraldi sardonically notes, “Washington insiders have only rarely seen a war that they didn’t like.”    Questioning the way America goes to war means questioning how America funds it wars and supplies it warriers – for these become part of the profit motive of war in America, and congressional leaders always want these dollars to flow into their districts, so constantly need military activity to keep the money flowing.  Even those who call for smaller government and less taxes find “supporting the troops” to be highly profitable for their districts and popular with their voters.   Politicians know not to bite the hand that feeds them, and the military lobby feeds most of them.

Droning On by William Lind, director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation in Washington, D.C., questions how effective the American military’s love for hi-tech and highly expensive weapons systems is when fighting a non-conventional war such as in Afghanistan.   He compares the American war in Afghanistan to the fight between David (the insurgents) and Goliath (the well armed U.S.) and asks how many people in the last 3000 years have taken up cause with Goliath?    Thus he says wars are not simply about using expensive technology, they also are about being morally right and winning over hearts and minds which he says America simply is not doing.   The military he says loves expensive weapons systems because it keeps the money flowing into the Pentagon (and no doubt into congressmen’s districts as well).

War Without End: Gen Stan McChrystal and the Never Ending Conflict by Philip Giraldi of the American Conserative Defense Alliance argues that the new commander, the new plan in Afghanistan and the new administration are relying on the same old faulty ideas and persons who guided recent past administrations  and thus continuing the same mistaken path about how in recent years America goes to war.

A Foreign but Friendly Critique of America (2)

This is Part 2 and the conclusion of my blog A Foreign but Friendly Critique of America.

WQSpring09Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, wrote what he considered to be a friendly and loving critique of American government policies,  Can America Fail?  in  THE WILSON QUARTERLY Spring 2009.   I briefly commented what he listed as the first two American policy failures in the first blog.   Mahbubani continued: 

The third systemic failure of American society is its failure to see how the abuse of American power has created many of the problems the United States now confronts abroad. The best example is 9/11. Americans believe they were innocent victims of an evil attack by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. And there can be no doubt that the victims of 9/11 were innocent. Yet Americans tend to forget the fact that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda were essentially created by U.S. policies. In short, a force launched by the United States came back to bite ­it.

Mahbubani believes ill conceived U. S. foreign policies have pushed some Islamic people to see America as their enemy, not ally.   The world can see America’s blindness on this issue, but it is a fault Americans cannot see about themselves.   He thinks Americans totally fail to see how the suffering of the Palestinian people does win them the sympathy of the Islamic world which in turns blames America for the suffering of Palestinians.  He thinks this will also continue to feed an anti-Israeli hatred among Muslims, which cannot be good for Israel.   Americans seem unable or unwilling to see how their own policy causes Islamic anger toward Israel.   He feels instead of America blaming the Muslim world, we should look at how our own policies exacerbate Mideast tensions and end up threatening Israel, our ally.

Because, according to Mahbubani,  Americans tend to think that all of her own problems come from outside of America, they rarely think about how what they are doing as a nation impacts themselves or the world.   Americans also are so often focused on the immediate, and favor instant solutions and instant benefits, that they do not think about the long term impact of their current policy decisions.   This is just another form of entitlement – we are entitled to good things now, we can’t worry about how these will be paid for in the future or what the price will be.   This too is an American blind spot regarding itself.

In democracies, the role of government is to serve the public interest. Americans believe that they have a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The reality is more complex. It looks more like a government “of the people, by special-interest groups, and for special-interest groups.” In the theory of democracy, corrupt and ineffective politicians are thrown out by elections. Yet the fact that more than 90 percent of incumbents who seek reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives are ­re­elected provides a clear warning that all is not well.

How is it that incumbants become so protected that they rarely get voted out of office?   To some extent it is because special interests prefer it that way and they pay to keep current office holders in power.   Special interests rather than public interests have become protected by U. S. policy and they use congressional redistricting as a way to keep their favorite politicians in power.    President Obama noted:  “These days, almost every congressional district is drawn by the ruling party with ­computer-­driven precision to ensure that a clear majority of Democrats or Republicans reside within its borders. Indeed, it’s not a stretch to say that most voters no longer choose their representatives; instead, representatives choose their voters.”

 Mahbubani points out other issues which the rest of the readily sees about America but which Americans fail to notice or discuss.   According to him studies show that the ability to be upwardly social mobile in America has been declining and in many nations in Europe it is far more likely that someone born into the lower class might move to the middle class than it is in America.   Additionally the gap between the wealthiest Americans and poorest Americans continues to widen.  The top 20% of Americans, who complain that they bear too much of the tax burden, earn 15 times what the poorest 20% earn –  “$168,170 versus $11,352.”   And the wealthiest 20% expect the poor not only to live on their meager incomes but to shoulder a tax burden which goes to fund programs that protect the wealth of the top 20%.

The U.S. education system produces children who in the world “ranked 24th in mathematics and 17th in science. It should come as no surprise that though the United States ranks second among 177 countries in per capita income, it ranks only 12th in terms of human development.”   Does our prosperity blind us to these national shortcomings?  We are the wealthiest and military-wise the most powerful nation on earth.   Does this cause us to ignore our domestic troubles and make us blind to the future in which other nations might overtake us because they focused on education and equality?

cemeteryWe may neither like nor agree with Mahbubani’s analysis of America nor with his offered solutions for us.  However, friendly criticism is not “friendly fire” – it is not deadly.  It gives us opportunity to see something about ourselves that we may not be able to see.   Mahbubani feels the one word American politicians always want to avoid is “sacrifice.”  He optimistically feels there are solutions to our nation’s problems, but Americans, especially in the realm of economics, must abandon entitlements and accept sacrifice to solve some of our economic, health care and retirement problems.   He thinks Americans are creative enough to come up with solutions for these problems, but it will require a willingness to make personal sacrifice for the common good.

A Foreign but Friendly Critique of America

“Primum non nocere.”   (First, not to harm.)

Nonmaleficence, as Wikipedia notes, is a fundamental principle in medical treatment reminding “the physician and other health care providers that they must consider the possible harm that any intervention might do.”   It is an idea that American foreign policy makers ought to consider as well since they tend to see America as the medical interventionist curing the world’s ills.  Unfortunately it seems as if our nation’s political leaders sometimes replace “do no harm” with the mythological belief that “we can do no wrong” resulting in the world watching with great unease what America might do in foreign policy.

WQSpring09 I found the article Can America Fail?  by Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, in  THE WILSON QUARTERLY Spring 2009 to be an interesting critique of American foreign and domestic policy.   Mahbubani describes himself as being pro-American and wanting America to succeed as he does believe America has done more good for the world than any other nation on earth.    He is however also a critic of America, though he sees himself as a friendly critic not a hostile one.  As a self proclaimed “loving critic” he writes that one blindspot of Americans is that we do not think we can fail, and consequently we are ill prepared when things don’t go our way.  Mahbubani thinks we need a bit more realism – failure is a possibility in this world – and we should awaken to that reality.  He believes many friends of America around the world can imagine and foresee America’s failings in domestic and foreign policies and these supporters of America are constantly stunned that American’s can’t see this themselves.  He offers this observation:

The first systemic failure America has suffered is groupthink. Looking back at the origins of the current financial crisis, it is amazing that American society accepted the incredible assumptions of economic gurus such as Alan Greenspan and Robert Rubin that unregulated financial markets would naturally deliver economic growth and serve the public good. …  In short, the financial players would regulate ­themselves.

This is manifest nonsense. The goal of these financial professionals was always to enhance their personal wealth, not to serve the public interest. So why was Greenspan’s nonsense accepted by American society? The simple and amazing answer is that most Americans assumed that their country has a rich and vibrant “marketplace of ideas” in which all ideas are challenged. Certainly, America has the freest media in the world. No subject is taboo. No sacred cow is immune from criticism. But the paradox here is that the belief that American society allows every idea to be challenged has led Americans to assume that every idea is challenged. They have failed to notice when their minds have been enveloped in groupthink. Again, failure occurs when you do not conceive of ­failure.

The second systemic failure has been the erosion of the notion of individual responsibility. Here, too, an illusion is at work. Because they so firmly believe that their society rests on a culture of individual ­respon­sibility—­rather than a culture of entitlement, like the social welfare states of ­Europe—­Americans cannot see how their individual actions have undermined, rather than strengthened, their society. In their heart of hearts, many Americans believe that they are living up to the famous challenge of President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for ­you—­ask what you can do for your country.” They believe that they give more than they take back from their own ­society.

There is a simple empirical test to see whether this is true: Do Americans pay more in taxes to the government than they receive in government services? The answer is clear. Apart from a few years during the Clinton administration, the United States has had many more federal budget deficits than ­surpluses…

Mahbubani feels part of what has happened in America is that Americans have undermined individual responsibility by demonizing taxes.  Making taxes to be an evil erodes the basis for personal responsibility as America cannot deliver on all its growing commitments and promises while simultaneously cutting taxes.   The endless drive to demonize taxes means the government is forced into deficit spending (since Americans want – feel entitled to – what the government is currently delivering) which discourages personal responsibility and encourages personal irresponsibility.

Entitlement thinking is found not just in those favoring a welfare state.  Americans on every social level tend to believe they are entitled to what they have and what they receive.  Americans often tend to think all the resources of the world and of the country are theirs for the taking.

Next:  A Foreign but Friendly Critique of America (2)

Patriotism not Nationalism

As I’ve said in the past the wonderful thing about blogging is you really don’t have to know anything, all you have to do is have an opinion.  Fortunately, I am not in any position to have to make decisions about U.S. foreign policy, and so my opinions are of little consequence.  I have opinions anyway, however uninformed, and I vote!

I have commented in past blogs about what I find disconcerting about U.S. foreign policy:  it really does appear to me that the U.S. has come to equate and confuse its foreign policy with its military policy.  I say this as a man who prays daily “for peace for the world.”    My comment has been that when the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail.  So too when the U.S. sees every foreign policy situation as a military situation, we tend to strike the nail.  At one time President Teddy Roosevelt advocated an American policy of “speak softly and carry a big stick” of which critics called it “an amoral pursuit of political power that resembles Machiavellian ideals.”   That policy however seems to have devolved in America to a notion of “stop talking and just swing that big stick.”  And when you have the best military in the world, with the most sophisticated weaponry, there is a temptation to use what you’ve got – convince not only your foes but also your friends that you intend to use that big stick not just carry it.  This (in liberty2my opinion) ends up making the USA appear constantly bellicose and belligerent in the eyes of the rest of the world, including the eyes of our allies.  That problem is compounded by the fact that many Americans could care less what the rest of the world thinks of us or U.S.

I happen to care what the rest of the world thinks, as I do pray for the “peace of the world” not just for the peace of the US of A.    I take my role as a prayer intercessor seriously.  I take the words of the prayers I say seriously.  And I take God seriously when He says that He so loved the world as to send His own Son into the world (John 3:16).  I am both a citizen of the country I am most happy to reside in, and also a citizen of this earth, and neither my prayers nor my concerns stop at the national borders of the United States. 

Over the past eight years a lot criticism was heaped on George Bush and Dick Cheney’s foreign policy and its negative impact on world affairs – much of it well deserved.  These criticisms came not just from their Democratic opponents, but from Republicans, strict conservatives (THE AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE readers boasted that they had a much more thorough and devastating critique of Bush than any which liberals offered), and leaders from around the world. However, Fareed Zakaria in his 23 March 2009  NEWSWEEK opinion piece, Why Washington Worries, notes: 

The problem with American foreign policy goes beyond George Bush. It includes a Washington establishment that has gotten comfortable with the exercise of American hegemony and treats compromise as treason and negotiations as appeasement. Other countries can have no legitimate interests of their own-Russian demands are by definition unacceptable. The only way to deal with countries is by issuing a series of maximalist demands. This is not foreign policy; it’s imperial policy. And it isn’t likely to work in today’s world.

America through history is well noted for opposing imperialism of any kind around the globe.  Our own existence as a nation was born from opposition to imperialism.  We do need to take a good look at ourselves and our own policies, a hard and honest look to see whether in fact by our own ideas of imperialism that we have opposed, we are behaving as imperialists.   Have we confused nationalism and patriotism?  Patriotism is a good thing.  Nationalism caused untold havoc and devastation throughout the 20th Century (Think Nazi German, Imperial Japan, Soviet Russia).

Not so many years ago I remember reading some articles about how “the old world” (“old Europe” included) used to look with some admiration (and at times dismay) at America’s incredible willingness to sit down and resolve problems.  It was even said that “negotiating” solutions was thought of as an invention of those crazy Americans who seemed to believe that any problem could be resolved by ingenuity, creativity, cooperation by not being locked into a “this is the way we always did things” attitude, and by believing that win-win solutions were possible and desirable.  This is the part of America that I would like to see restored to our foreign policy. 

I want Americans to think of this contrast:  Islam does believe it will bring peace to the world by conquering the world and causing everyone to submit to Islam.  Do Americans believe our goal is to force the world to submit to the U.S. as the only means of bringing peace to the world?  I don’t believe we do.  It is one of the reasons that I prefer American values and an American vision to an Islamic one.

In Orthodoxy we pray for the leadership of our country:  “Be mindful, O Lord, of all civil authorities, of our armed forces, of this city in which we reside, and of every city and the countryside; grant them peaceful times, that we, in their tranquility, may lead a calm and peaceful life in all godliness and sanctity.”  Amen.

Israel: Would that You Knew What Makes Peace

Jesus wept as he said to Jerusalem,

“Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!

But now they are hid from your eyes.”  (Luke 19:42)

My observation of U.S. foreign policy is that there is no such thing among politicians of either major political party of being “too” pro-Israel.  A category such as an “excessive” supporter of Israel does not exist among our politicians.  And often to me our relationship with Israel is one of the tail wagging the dog.  Whereas in Israel, Israelis can use vitriolic criticism against the policies of their country even the policies towards the Palestinians, in America almost any criticism of Israel (no matter how well founded) by a U.S. politician gets labeled as anti-semitic.

This fact is brought to light again in the  12 March 2009 issue of the WASHINGTON POST  12 –   Intelligence Pick Blames ‘Israel Lobby’ for Withdrawal.   The case involves Charles Freeman who stepped away from an appointment as chair of the National Intelligence Council (NIC).  I am not writing to defend Freeman, for I know nothing of his particular case, but want only to make a comment about the campaign that was used to prevent him from accepting his appointment.   As the WASHINGTON POST reports:

The earliest cry of alarm about Freeman’s appointment — a week before it was announced — came from a former AIPAC lobbyist. Steve Rosen wrote Feb. 19 on his blog that Freeman was a “strident critic of Israel” …

It is this last phrase that most caught my attention.   Apparently it is forbidden for any United States politician, intelligence officer, or foreign policy officer to be a strident critic of Israel or maybe more true any kind of critic of Israel.  In other words, all leaders in the American government must conform to some kind of pro-Israel position, whether or not that is in the interest of the United States.  And of course being pro-Israel is a bit hard to define when one looks at the politics in Israel and sees the sharp and oppositional ideas which exist among their own politicians, all who presumably are working for the good of Israel. 

It is not the interest of the U.S. that governs this but the interest of the pro-Israel lobby in America.  And the pro-Israel lobby does not seem to represent all of the diverse political opinions one can find in Israel, but rather demands a particular political view of American politicians.

Most interesting is that many, who claim to be ardent supporters of small government in America, do not see a problem with our government’s vast and expansive financial support of Israel.  Our government is not permitted to be critical of Israel.  The pro-Israel lobby makes sure of that.  However, if we did not have to have an American government large enough to support and supply the Israeli government and the nation of Israel, we might be able to get back to the real principles of limited government in the U.S.

Additionally, if we really are going to support free speech, and if we want influence or help bring peace to the Mideast, we need to have voices in the government which do stridently criticize Israel as well as Saudi Arabia, Iran or Syria.  And if our government is ever going to embrace Madison’s principles of republican and limited government, it needs to get out of the business of being responsible for uncritically enforcing and financing the policies of Israel.

Thinking: The Antidote to Ideology

On February 12, 2009, Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) spoke before the House of Representatives.   He asked a series of questions – and I am of the opinion that asking right questions is sometimes even more valuable than having all the  answers because the questions force us to think.  Unfortunately too many claim they already know all the answers so they never have to think!  This is especially true of ideologues of every stripe, which is why ideologues are so dangerous and so readily become demagogues.  It is also why thinking is so dangerous to ideologues, why they discourage it, and why they promote everyone to simply put on their brand of ideological blinders to look at any issue (run to their web page, run to their talk show to get their take/spin on issues you should be thinking about for yourself).    Rep. Paul was one of the Republican candidates for the presidency in the 2008 primaries.   His questions don’t ask you to agree or disagree with him, they ask you only to think.    Without further comment, here are his questions for our consideration:

“What if we wake up one day and realize that the terrorist threat is a predictable consequence of our meddling in the affairs of others?

What if propping up repressive regimes in the Middle East endangers both the United States and Israel?

What if occupying countries like Iraq and Afghanistan – and bombing Pakistan – is directly related to the hatred directed toward us and has nothing to do with being free and prosperous?

What if someday it dawns on us that losing over 5,000 American military personnel in the Middle East since 9/11 is not a fair trade-off for the loss of nearly 3,000 American citizens, no matter how many Iraqi, Pakistani, and Afghan people are killed or displaced?

What if we finally decide that torture, even if called “enhanced interrogation techniques,” is self-destructive and produces no useful information – and that contracting it out to a third world nation is just as evil?

What if it is finally realized that war and military spending is always destructive to the economy?

What if all wartime spending is paid for through the deceitful and evil process of inflating and borrowing?

What if we finally see that wartime conditions always undermine personal liberty?

What if conservatives, who preach small government, wake up and realize that our interventionist foreign policy provides the greatest incentive to expand the government?

What if conservatives understood once again that their only logical position is to reject military intervention and managing an empire throughout the world?

What if the American people woke up and understood that the official reasons for going to war are almost always based on lies and promoted by war propaganda in order to serve special interests?

What if we as a nation came to realize that the quest for empire eventually destroys all great nations?

What if Obama has no intention of leaving Iraq?

What if a military draft is being planned for the wars that will spread if our foreign policy is not changed?

What if the American people learn the truth: that our foreign policy has nothing to do with national security and that it never changes from one administration to the next?

What if war and preparation for war is a racket serving the special interests?

What if President Obama is completely wrong about Afghanistan and it turns out worse than Iraq and Vietnam put together?

What if Christianity actually teaches peace and not preventive wars of aggression?

What if diplomacy is found to be superior to bombs and bribes in protecting America?

What happens if my concerns are completely unfounded – nothing!

What happens if my concerns are justified and ignored – nothing good!”

Money and Words as Modern Weapons of War

I have frequently felt in recent years that the U.S. relies way to heavily on it’s military to conduct much of its foreign policy.  As one veteran told me, “Well, when you have the best military personnel and the best military equipment in the world, it is hard not to use it for foreign policy.”  But that of course is what concerns me.  The military is not the U.S.’s only strength, and I would prefer that we try to use all of our tools rather than rely on the military for all our foreign policy needs.   That is why I was pleased that President Obama asked Roberts Gates to stay on as Defense Secretary.   It is why I also appreciated John Nagl’s article, “The Expeditionary Force ” in   WILSON QUARTERLY (Winter 2009).  Nagl is a former military officer who helped write the military’s current counter insurgency manual.   He begins his article by pointing out:

Georges Clemenceau, France’s indomitable prime minister during World War I, famously remarked that “war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.” …  The counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are battles for the allegiance of local populations, without whose support or at least compliance insurgents cannot survive. In our contemporary struggles, ideas and economic development are as important as heavy artillery was in Clemenceau’s time.

Nagl notes that Defense Secretary Gates has been advocating a change in US foreign policy (see also my Talking With Your Enemies):

As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has noted, the national security community continues to devote the vast majority of its resources to preparing for conventional state-on-state conflicts, but “the most likely catastrophic threats to our homeland-for example, an American city poisoned or reduced to rubble by a terrorist attack-are more likely to emanate from failing states than from aggressor states.” For that reason, Gates has been a vocal advocate of increasing the resources devoted to accomplishing U.S. objectives abroad without relying on military power.

Counter-insurgency strategists have been pointing out that a war against insurgency is not merely a military war, but every bit a diplomatic, economic and public relations war as well:

David Galula, the great French counterinsurgency theorist and veteran of the Algerian War, estimates that a successful counterinsurgency strategy is 80 percent nonmilitary and only 20 percent military-requiring not just armed forces but assistance to the afflicted government in the areas of politics, economic development, information operations, and governance.

In Nagl’s opinion as someone with experience in counter-insurgency:

The struggle against radical Islamists is not primarily a military fight. The Department of Defense will continue to have a critical role to play, but we cannot kill or capture our way out of this problem.

Nagl says in recent years the U.S. has focused almost exclusively on the military as it thinks about the world:

Today, there are more musicians assigned to military bands than there are Foreign Service officers in the State Department.

Nagl sees “words” and “dollars” as being “the bullets of modern warfare, and he advocates the US putting more emphasis in this direction in our counter-insurgency efforts:

Now it is time for the civilian agencies of the U.S. government similarly to steel themselves for a long struggle against a twilight enemy, and for the American people to commit to support those who fight on their behalf with words and dollars-the bullets of modern warfare. The stakes are too high to leave the whole fight to the military.

One thing he did not address in the article is whether he sees the U.S. shifting some of it military budget to these diplomatic and economic efforts in counter-insurgency, or whether he is saying the military budget must be kept the same and additionally the U.S. must fund these non-military efforts.  For if it is the latter it is hard to imagine how the U.S. will find the funds to do it in the current economic crisis.  Perhaps he really does envision diverting part of the military’s budget to such new tactics and weapons. 

Military personnel often see their role as being peace makers.  Perhaps the time comes for our country to embrace that peace making goal by placing more emphasis on non-military means to attain our ends.

Solzhenitsyn, America and the World

The death of Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn this past week has been called the Death of a Prophet by conservative commentator Cal Thomas, among many others, including Orthodox writers.   His courage to stand alone and to stand against the Soviet regime is credited in part with bringing down that ideology which endeavored to destroy the soul not only of a nation but of humankind itself.  Solzhenitsyn did not limit his critique to the Soviet system of oppression.  Keep in mind he was also a Russian nationalist at heart: he was very pro-Russian and against the Soviet ideologues.  Consequently he did not blindly embrace everything American or pro-Western, but proved himself to be quite a curmudgeon in his evaluation of America and the West.   In a speech Solzhenitsyn gave in 1978 at Harvard, he outlined what he saw as a number of problematic issues America and the West needed to face.  I agree with Thomas that we all should read that speech.   One of the prolems for America Cal Thomas writes as:

Solzhenitsyn warned the West not to be deluded by what he said was a false belief that all nations yearn to be like us. This thinking is at the heart of President Bush’s doctrine for dealing with the Arab and Muslim world. Solzhenitsyn called this “the blindness of superiority” and warned against thinking that only “wicked governments” temporarily prevent other nations from “adopting the Western way of life.”

Well Cal Thomas sites this as a critical point against the Bush administration’s policy in dealing with Arabs and Muslims, it is worth reading Solzhenitsyn’s entire comment, because it also applies to understanding Russia today:

But the blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present day Western systems which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is this belief that all those other worlds are only being temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity or incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and from adopting the Western way of life. Countries are judged on the merit of their progress in this direction. However, it is a conception which developed out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet’s development is quite different.

Anguish about our divided world gave birth to the theory of convergence between leading Western countries and the Soviet Union. It is a soothing theory which overlooks the fact that these worlds are not at all developing into similarity; neither one can be transformed into the other without the use of violence. Besides, convergence inevitably means acceptance of the other side’s defects, too, and this is hardly desirable.

 According to Solzhenitsyn it is America’s lack of ability to understand that there really are different ways of seeing the world, that there really are alternative ways of nations developing democracy than how America has done it, which prevents America from dealing realistically with the world.   And as he saw it, the world of Russia and its development and the world of the West’s development puts them on a collision course not a convergence course.   Additionally a convergence is not desirable, since it is the differences in the systems which actually allow each to see the defects in the other.  We don’t need convergence since that means the defects of the systems get transferred to the other systems.   We need an ability to be able to critique the faults and failures of our system, and sometimes this can only come from outside or beyond one’s frame of reference.    Thus America can benefit from listening to the criticisms made of it by competing political or ideological systems or even by listening to its enemies.   There is something to be learned by listening to those who criticize us.

Obviously Solzhenitsyn said what he thought without regard to who his audience was.  The emperor never likes to hear he has no clothes.  Solzhenitsyn fired away from a position not beneath or within American supremacy.  Too bad his words have not humbled our politicians to begin seeing that America exists as part of the global community, not above it.  We may be a great nation, but we as humans have escaped neither the common hubris nor our common humus origins of all mankind.  We in our might-is-righteousness thinking have forgotten that truth about our common humanity, which is tragic for us and a tragedy for the world.  Americans are still humans, fallen beings influenced by sin, living in the fallen world, sharing the same planet with all of fallen humanity.  We have been blessed by God, but sometimes have failed to remember we are “under God” not His equal nor are we the Lord of the world.  That position is held by God alone.
Something for America to consider in this presidential election year.

The “creeping militarization” of U.S. Foreign Policy

I find this news to be good news for the U.S.  as it recognizes what I also think is a problem with our foreign policy.   Unfortunately the U.S.  has had a “if the only tool you have is a hammer than every problem looks like a nail” approach to foreign policy.  We have acted as if the U.S. military can and should solve every world crisis and as if the military is the only way we can deal with the world.  Whatever the issue our executive leaders have come to think the military is the onlcy solution or that the military can handle every need.    I’m glad to see our Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speak against this form of thinking.   This is from the U.S. Department of Defense news:

Gates Highlights Role of Diplomacy, Development in U.S. Foreign Policy

By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday said diplomacy and development should lead American efforts abroad, and he warned against a “creeping militarization” of U.S. foreign policy. Video

“Broadly speaking, when it comes to America’s engagement with the rest of the world, it is important that the military is — and is clearly seen to be — in a supporting role to civilian agencies,” he said.

In a speech interrupted several times by rousing applause, Gates told the audience at a dinner organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign that America cannot simply “kill or capture our way to victory” over the long term.

“What the Pentagon calls ‘kinetic’ operations should be subordinate to measures to promote participation in government, economic programs to spur development, and efforts to address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies and among the discontented from which terrorists recruit,” he said.

For far too long, Gates said, America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development — which lack the ready-made political constituency enjoyed by major weapons systems — have been chronically undermanned and underfunded in comparison to defense spending.

With invigorated emphasis on counterinsurgency, which includes operations that combine elements of military and civilian affairs, U.S. servicemembers are performing functions that formerly were the exclusive province of civilian agencies and institutions, Gates said.

“This has led to concern among many organizations … about what’s seen as a creeping ‘militarization’ of some aspects of America’s foreign policy,” he said.

But Gates added that this scenario can be avoided by putting in place the right leadership, adequate funding of civilian agencies, effective coordination on the ground, and a clear understanding of the authorities, roles, and missions of military versus civilian efforts, and how they are able, or unable, to fit together.