Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A cautious word for the Democrats on foreign policy

David Rieff just wrote a piece asking, But Who’s Against the Next War? New York Times 03/25/07. Some of the disputes and "press corps" gossip about the Democratic positions on the war - did Hillary Clinton say her vote on the 2002 war resolution was a "mistake" or did she only make it clear that it was completely unjustified? - sound like the proverbial arguments about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Medieval theologians didn't really argue about that, by the way; that claim was a Protestant polemic. But I'll write about angel theology some other time.

Rieff is being provocative in his article, and I don't actually think he characterizes the various Democratic candidates positions on Iran fairly. Clinton, for instance, took a position in a speech to the Iran-hawkish AIPAC lobby that sounded notably more pragmatic and less warlike than the administration's, and the AIPAC audience was presumably not happy to hear that from her.

But Rieff is worth listening to. Because in the 1990s he was sympathetic toward "humantiarian" military interventions, which is not quite as blatant an oxymoron as "humanitarian war". But he now looks back on such interventions during the Clinton administration (Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo) with a critical sense informed by the preventive war the Cheney-Bush administration launched against Iran. That's a perspective that's necessary in the foreign policy discussion. The United States needs to be far more restrained about "projecting" our military power and re-commit to avoiding war whenever reasonably possible - not to finding prettier slogans to justify them.

And however sound the intentions of one government may be, a US military that's optimized for "humanitarian" interventions all over the world can also be used by a Cheney-Bush or McCain-Giulani administration to launch new Iraq-type wars and turn other countries into the hell that this one has created in Iraq.

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