August 4, 2012

“Healthily Hard-Ass” Foreign Policy?

There’s a fascinating interview with Martin Peretz, legendary editor and publisher of the New Republic (the flagship liberal magazine founded in 1914) in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal.

"I bought the New Republic to take back the Democratic Party from the McGovernites," says Peretz, referring to US senator and presidential candidate, George McGovern, who preached engagement and accommodation with communism. Now, Peretz fears McGovern's ideas may be back in vogue within the party, and says the Obama administration's worldview represents a radical departure from the "healthily hard-ass" foreign policy he has long championed on the left. 

The interview is well-worth the read in its entirety (see below), if for no other reason than to better understand the thinking of today’s "Democratic foreign-policy establishment."

We, however, have one question: What in the world is a "healthily hard-ass" foreign policy?! Versus what other kind of foreign policy? A McGovernite policy of “engagement and accommodation”?

"Engagement” sounds nice, unless of course it’s been tried and failed repeatedly, in which case it's simply doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, i.e., the definition of insanity. Same with “accommodation” (code word for appeasement). When has it ever worked, and if it’s never worked, why would it work now? 

These are matters of COMMON SENSE, not foreign policy. Just as Mr. Obama’s doctrine of ‘leading from behind’ is not really a doctrine but "a sick phrase" (and a reminder of something else that leads from behind, i.e., a horse’s ass).

The Obama administration’s national security/foreign policy has been grounded in ignorance from day one. And let’s be clear: voters were not duped. They were willfully ignorant, willfully blind or more concerned with domestic matters such as abortion, gay marriage, global warming and the like, than they were with matters of national security and foreign polcy.

Problem is Americans in general tend to believe matters of national security and foreign policy are best left to foreign policy wonks/elites or academics. That’s fine, of course, until you or someone you know loses loved ones in a terror attack, which could have been prevented if our Commander-in-Chief et al had a better understanding, and been more focused on the national security threats facing our nation today. Sort of the opposite of the way things were handled during the so-called good ol’ days of the Clinton administration. It was throughout the 1990s, when the birth and growth of then little-known terrorist group, al-Qaeda, was largely ignored by the Clinton administration. The result? The attack on the USS Cole, 9/11 and multiple attacks on American interests throughout the 1990s.

So, in answer to a refrain we hear all too often - i.e., What can I do? - here's a suggestion: as is with most things in life, the more knowledgable and informed you (and those around you) are, the better your chances of smelling a rat or identifying a fake (i.e., ignorant) would-be Commander-in-Chief when you see one, and most importantly, the better your chances of not voting for one!

Wall Street Journal  |  August 4, 2012

Martin Peretz: From Truman to McGovern to Obama

Martin Peretz helped return the Democratic Party from its anti-Vietnam excesses to the foreign-policy center. Now he laments that the president he supported in 2008 gets the U.N., the Arab world and Israel all wrong.

By Sohrab Ahmari, New York

Obama & cabinet.jpg
President Barack Obama meets with members of his cabinet in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Thursday, July, 26, 2012. From left are, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, Secreatry of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the president and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

'I bought the New Republic to take back the Democratic Party from the McGovernites," the legendary editor and publisher Martin Peretz says. Now, he fears, George McGovern's ideas may be back in vogue within the party.

The 1972 election and the domestic drama surrounding the Vietnam War caused a major schism between Democrats. On one side were supporters of Mr. McGovern, the U.S. senator and presidential candidate who preached engagement and accommodation with communism. On the other were those who thought the rise of the McGovernites spelled disaster for Democrats and the nation, and who were determined to return the party to a responsible center on foreign policy.

Mr. Peretz, then a Harvard University lecturer and a veteran of the antiwar movement, was in the latter camp. Two years after Richard Nixon thumped Mr. McGovern in the election, he purchased the New Republic, the flagship liberal magazine founded in 1914. Under Mr. Peretz's ownership the magazine promoted a set of foreign-policy ideas that gradually reconquered the Democratic mainstream. Chief among these were a willingness to deploy military power to advance national interests and values, plus an abiding commitment to Israel as a mirror of American ideals in an unfree Middle East.

Since selling the New Republic to Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes in 2011, however, Mr. Peretz, now 73, has emerged as a vociferous critic of Barack Obama and much of the Democratic foreign-policy establishment. His break with the president he campaigned for in 2008 has been sharp and painful. The Obama administration's worldview, he now thinks, represents a radical departure from the "healthily hard-ass" foreign policy he has long championed on the left. Mr. Peretz is especially disturbed by Mr. Obama's failure to support Israel at a time when the Jewish state faces an unprecedented combination of threats.

Born into a devotedly Zionist household in New York City, Mr. Peretz attended Public School 28 in the Bronx, "largely a Jewish school with Irish teachers." At a Christmas pageant in second grade he was cast as the star of Bethlehem. ("It did not harm my Jewishness one bit.") At the front of the classroom that day there were an American flag and a large banner adorned with the United Nations logo. "The world's last, best hope," read the words above the logo.

These were the immediate postwar years, when American faith in a cooperative international community remained intact. "I think I must've believed it," Mr. Peretz reminisces, "for a very long time."

The leap from that childhood faith to leftist activism in 1960s Boston—he graduated from Brandeis in 1959 and went on to earn a Ph.D. in government at Harvard—was a logical one. Mr. Peretz would grow a big beard (a friend called his look "rabbinical Ho Chi Minh") and join the marches against the war in Vietnam. But unlike many others in the antiwar crowd, Mr. Peretz always remained skeptical of the Viet Cong.

An epiphany came in the fall of 1968, when he and Sam Brown, a prominent fellow activist, were granted an audience with Viet Cong emissaries in Paris. At the end of the four-hour meeting, the Viet Cong presented the Americans with ashtrays they claimed were made from the wreckage of a U.S. plane that had been shot down. Mr. Peretz, who found these souvenirs revolting, refused to accept his. "This is a morally compromising gift," he told his hosts, and left.

When the 1972 presidential election came around, Mr. Peretz cast his ballot for Nixon. "I could not stand the politics of George McGovern," he says. He doesn't regret the vote: "In retrospect I realized that McGovern would not have interceded for Israel in the Yom Kippur War."

The lesson of that 1973 war—when four Arab armies backed by the Soviet Union launched a surprise attack on the Jewish state—was searing. The Arabs were once again on an expedition to annihilate Israel, and the U.N. was nowhere to be found.

Throughout the war, Mr. Peretz would often make tense, 6:30 a.m. phone calls to Simcha Dinitz, Israel's ambassador to Washington at the time, to hear the latest battlefield developments. "One day Dinitz said, 'The tide has turned,'" Mr. Peretz recalls. The newspapers told a different story but the ambassador insisted he had "incontrovertible evidence" of an impending Israeli victory—the Israel Defense Forces had permitted Leonard Cohen to play a concert in Israel. Mr. Peretz got the message: If the Israelis were losing the war, the army would never have let the Canadian bard demoralize them with his famously depressing tunes.

The 1973 threat passed but the region and the world today appear equally chaotic and perilous to Mr. Peretz. "In our age the question of what a nation-state is has come into sharp relief," he explains. "The international order—the international disorder!—is made up mostly of non-nation-states." The nation-states, he claims, are clustered in and around Europe, East Asia, North America and South America. They also include Israel, Australia and New Zealand. "It's not an accident that these are the most peaceful of the nations," Mr. Peretz observes.

Most Arab and Muslim states, by contrast, are inherently unstable. To Mr. Peretz, the notion that Arab cultures are beset with endemic pathologies is noncontroversial, almost a banal point. "[Mitt] Romney was said to have made a tremendous faux pas when he said that the difference between the Palestinians and the Israelis is a matter of culture," alluding to historian David Landes's book, "The Wealth and Poverty of Nations."

"Mostly David discusses their social cooping up of women as a factor in Arab poverty, backwardness, et cetera," Mr. Peretz explains. "Now, this would be, if you were talking generally, a very acceptable and progressive critique." Indeed, "one of the reasons that you have economic backwardness is that women do not work and women do not get education."

That Mr. Romney should have to go on the defensive over his remarks, Mr. Peretz thinks, has to do with the fact that "the magazines and the websites that are popular among the liberal, semi-intelligent, semi-intellectual readership of America have their own ideological blinders."

Mr. Peretz has little patience for such pieties. And he holds few hopes that the recent Arab uprisings will make the region more liberal or peaceful.

Take Egypt. "I have no nostalgia for the [Egyptian] military," he notes. "But I have no great anticipations in the [Mohammed] Morsi government either, largely because, it seems to me, the Muslim Brotherhood's program in its essentials will not alter the social rules of Arab societies. That is, if you expect that in 20 years someone will be able to say that what Romney said is not true, you will be bitterly disappointed."

This state of affairs should, Mr. Peretz says, disabuse the Obama administration of its trust in institutions like the United Nations.

Mr. Peretz says he laughs when he hears that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon or recently resigned Syria envoy Kofi Annan "are distressed by the fact that they can't get an agreement in the Security Council, except on things that don't work."

Mr. Obama's faith in the power of international deliberation to move tyrannical regimes, Mr. Peretz argues, is equally deluded. "The Obama administration came into office pledging to revivify—revivify from what?—the moral and political standing of the United Nations," he wrote in a February item for the New Republic. "This, too, is one of the great self-deceptions of the president and his crowd, in this particular case Susan Rice and Hillary Clinton, who thought that somehow the president's tranquilizing words and theirs would bring honesty and reason to Russia, to China, to African tyrants and, their biggest bet, to the intersecting orbits of Arab states and Islamofascist mullahs."

Then there's the Obama administration's sustained badgering of Israel as its neighborhood grows ever more unstable.

"The catechism is that the reason you can't make peace with the Palestinians is the settlements," he says. "I don't think if you stopped settlements it would improve the chances for peace by one bit." He goes on: "Given what has happened in the Arab world, I would not give up territories that as a Zionist I do not want—until it was absolutely clear that borders could be kept and that weapons would not be aimed at the Israeli body-politic.

"There are no instruments to guarantee the borders of Israel or to guarantee that terror with increasingly lethal weapons would not be unleashed against Israel. One of the reasons is that there is no one to guarantee that peace. It is un-guaranteeable." Nor can outsiders, Mr. Peretz thinks, uphold a negotiated settlement: "NATO is nothing, really—if only the Russians knew how little NATO is! And I as a Zionist don't want American troops to die for Israel." No, Mr. Peretz says, "Jews should defend themselves, and there is no indication that they can't."

Perhaps the circumstances wouldn't be so dire if the Obama administration were less "schizophrenic" in its approach to Israel. The arms transfers to Israel in recent years have been significant and admirable, Mr. Peretz says, yet Mr. Obama is plainly cool toward Israel's leadership and ignorant of its history.

Is it too late for the president to visit Israel and mend fences? "Obama can't visit Israel," Mr. Peretz responds. "The Israeli public is uncontrollable. There would be a lot of unpleasantness. If he visited the Knesset—the Knesset is one of the most rambunctious parliaments in the world."

Such rapprochement, moreover, is foreclosed by Mr. Obama's indifference to the basic Zionist ideal, which was on full display in his 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world. There Mr. Obama cited the Holocaust—not millennia of Jewish ties to the land—as the basis for Israel's legitimacy. "It took him three-and-a-half years to get to the point where he could recite some version of Zionist narrative," Mr. Peretz sighs. "My father first went to Palestine in 1912"—that is, three decades before the destruction of European Jewry and the establishment of Israel.

All this stands in jarring contrast to the Democratic Party's foreign-policy traditions, Mr. Peretz argues. "You know, I disagreed with Bill Clinton on some things and I didn't disagree with him on others," Mr. Peretz recalls. But Mr. Clinton's administration "was in the deep tradition of the Roosevelt-Truman idea." He concludes: "In any case, I think the Democratic Party was restored to a center role. Yes, it took a lot for the Clinton administration to rescue Bosnia. And it took a lot for the Democrats to admit to a mistake in Somalia." But they eventually did both.

"We're now in a new era," Mr. Peretz warns. "I think that Obama is a child, or maybe let's say a grandchild, of the New Left, with casual moral judgments made about very intricate ethical alternatives." Later he thunders: "Leading by following—it's really a sick phrase."

Mr. Ahmari is a Robert L. Bartley Fellow at the Journal this summer.

Original article here.


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